Tag Archives: sexuality
“People wonder why asexuals bother to get together, but Amanda and I have been happily married for nine months now and we’re both still virgins. Some people even think asexuality doesn’t exist. It’s so underrepresented, I can understand why people are skeptical. I was too, even though I was perfectly used to thinking of myself in this way. For years I just thought I was the only person in the world who felt like this.
My parents are agricultural scientists, so I’ve lived overseas since around the age of 10. I was in India until I was 16, then Zimbabwe for two years, and then Kuwait. I studied in China and New York, before settling in London. Even at 10, I had a sense that I didn’t want to get married and have children. I know a lot of kids say things like that, but I didn’t change my mind about it later on. I wasn’t interested in relationships or finding a girlfriend, and was very sure I didn’t have an interest in boys either.
Gradually my school friends spent more and more time talking about girls and pursuing relationships, but I could never grasp what they were expecting to get out of it. There were family parties in India where all the kids would gather outside in the garden.
I was 13 and had a best friend, Kasim, who was a year younger than me. He had a crush on an Australian girl called Jessica – everyone seemed to think she was the prettiest. We had lots of whispered discussions about what he could say to her, and even though I thought it was a ridiculous game, I wanted to fit in, so I pretended I had a crush too – on a French girl called Sylvie. She was a safe bet because she was so unlikely to reciprocate. I knew she wasn’t at all interested in me. I’d just discuss her with the boys.
There were times as I got older when girls did seem interested in me, but I always deliberately ignored their signals. I wanted to avoid getting into a situation I’d feel uncomfortable with, so I never even kissed a girl. The first girl I kissed became my wife.
When I was 13, my father gave me a book on sex education. I felt as if I was reading about a foreign culture; I just couldn’t see why anyone would go to so much trouble just to have sex. I tried looking at pornography on the internet. I wasn’t disgusted or appalled – it was just boring, like looking at wallpaper.
Masturbation was another topic of conversation in those days, and I did masturbate. It wasn’t a sexual urge for me, I didn’t fantasise, it was just something my body decided to do. People say about asexuals: “But if they masturbate doesn’t that make them sexual?” It’s hard to explain, but if you’re asexual you don’t necessarily feel an explicit connection between masturbation and sexual orientation. It’s just part of having a human body – a physical, biological process.
After we moved to Zimbabwe I went back to visit my old friend Kasim. The last time we’d seen each other we’d been into computer games, drinking Coke and going for pizza. Two years on, it was a shock to see how much Kasim had changed. Sex was his major preoccupation. He had a girlfriend and was on the brink of going all the way with her. One afternoon we were with some of Kasim’s friends, and he began goading two of the girls into kissing each other in front of a camera. The whole atmosphere was really charged, and I felt out of my depth. I’d fallen behind. Kasim had been my friend a long time, but he’d entered this different world without me.
By the time I went to university, I was happy to let people wonder about my sexuality. I wasn’t pretending to talk about girls any more. Some people assumed I was gay, but my best friend Simon was the first person to confront me directly. We were studying in Hangzhou, in China, just south of Shanghai. It’s a very beautiful city, on a lake with mountains, and we were walking through the streets when Simon asked me outright. First he made a joke about whether “I liked girls … or boys?” I laughed but he persisted and said “So what are you?” I just said, “I’m not straight and I’m not gay, and that’s it, full stop.” Back then I didn’t know what term to use.
The following summer I was surfing the internet when I read a post from a girl who wasn’t attracted to anyone. Someone had suggested she should be aware of “asexuality”, and gave the address of a website:asexuality.org. When I went to the site and read the material, I was quite dismissive at first, because you just don’t hear about other asexuals. Since Freud and Kinsey, and even to an extent the sexual revolution of the 60s, we tend to believe anyone without a sexual orientation must be repressed or delusional. Asexuality is therefore an impossibility. Kinsey labelled us “X”, a statistical throwaway category for anyone damaged to the point where they can’t express any sexuality.
Gradually, though, through visiting the site, I came to realise that these were just ordinary people; people who were writing things I’d thought myself, but had never heard anyone else express. It was such a relief. Finally I had a label – a way to explain myself that could settle all the awkwardness and questioning.
I told my close friends straightaway. Only one female friend didn’t really believe me. I think she thought I was secretly in love with her.
Back at college I decided to get it over with in one day by wearing a T-shirt saying: “Asexuality is not just for amoebas”. I was nervous, but I’d already told a dozen or so people, and was used to answering the same questions over and over. No one has ever reacted really badly to me – I’ve been lucky.
I told my mother shortly after finding the asexual website, and she said: “Well as long as you understand the possibility that one of these days you’ll meet someone and want to settle down with them.” I wasn’t so sure. I’d already resigned myself to a solitary existence. I’d convinced myself I could form strong friendships and was independent enough to fare OK. Luckily my mother always ends up being right about everything.
When my studies took me to New York, I got more involved with the asexual community there. I posted messages on their website and there were regular meet-ups in a little pink tea shop in the East Village – I guess you could call it the asexual equivalent of a gay bar.
One day I got an email from Amanda. She was asexual, living close by, and offered to show me around the neighbourhood. In case she was cruising for an asexual boyfriend, I responded with a warning that I was “vehemently anti-romantic”. But we met up anyway, for tea and ice-skating, and we took to meeting a lot.
I loved Amanda’s attitude to life and enjoyed hanging out with her. And she was pretty. At first I tried to treat it like any other friendship. Then I found myself travelling four miles downtown to deliver sandwiches when she told me she was hungry. Two months in, we were at a gig and it seemed like a good idea to hold her hand. I felt cautious about it but just wanted to. I wondered if I could. Then I found I couldn’t let go.
That evening ended with us agreeing that our friendship was an important thing. We wanted to commit for life. In the asexual community we don’t form relationships lightly. If you don’t want to spend the rest of your life with a person, there’s no reason to make such a special commitment.
When we announced our engagement, our families were happy for us, and our friends in the asexual community were particularly pleased. On our wedding night, my mother-in-law insisted on booking us into a honeymoon suite, so we invited all our friends to an after party. We played Scrabble late into the night and everyone stayed over and slept on the hotel-room floor.
People always ask how our marriage is different from just being friends, but I think a lot of relationships are about that – being friends. We have built on our friendship, rather than scrapping it and moving on somewhere else. The obvious way we differ is that we don’t have sex, though we do kiss and cuddle. We like to joke that the longer we’re married the less unusual this is. By the time we’ve been married five years we’ll be just like everyone else.
Do I feel as if I’m missing out on something? Not really. We’ve decided that if either of us wants to try sex out in the future then we will see what we can do. We would both be willing to compromise because we’re in a relationship and that’s what you do.
When it comes to the future and to children, we’re big advocates of adoption. We’re not so fussed about passing on our own genes. Right now we’re quite happy with what we’ve got. After moving around so much, I can say now that wherever Amanda is – that’s home.
· Paul Cox was interviewed by Bridget O’Donnell. Some names have been changed.
· Do you have a story to tell about your life? Email it firstname.lastname@example.org. If possible, include a phone number.”
Posted: 07/29/2014 11:47 am EDT Updated: 07/29/2014 2:59 pm EDT
“It happened yet again. As I was sitting at the table for dinner with my children, I noticed my daughter’s hand fishing around under her skirt.
“We don’t play with our vulvas at the table. Go wash your hands and finish your food,” I scolded. She nodded, ran off to wash her hands, and resumed picking at her dinner instead.
Small children, they touch themselves. A lot. It’s fascinating to them. And when you’re a small child, you have no sense of shame or disgust or fear of your body. Your body is what it is. It does what it does. And everything that it does is kind of amazing, because you’re not old enough for lower back pain. It’s not sexual, it’s just… fact.
The first time I caught one of my kids playing with their genitals, I said absolutely nothing. I was momentarily paralyzed with indecision. One thing I knew for a fact I did not want to do was to shout, “No!” or “Stop!” What good could that possibly do? Sure, I would be spared the awkwardness of catching my child playing with her genitals on the living room floor, but what kind of lesson is that? To fear or ignore your own vagina?
I thought about it almost constantly for two days, and of course she gave me a second chance to react.
“Sweetie, we don’t play with our vulvas in the living room,” I said. Which sounded ridiculous and strange, but nonetheless true. Why is everything with little kids “we” statements? “It’s OK to touch your vulva, but people are private, and it’s a private thing. The only places where you should touch your vulva are in the bathroom or in your bedroom. If you want to play with your vulva, please go to the bedroom.”
And she smiled and did, without question, because compartmentalizing where you do certain activities makes sense to little kids.
“We don’t eat in the bathroom, and we don’t touch our vulvas in the living room,” became the new mantra. And yes, eventually it became, “We don’t touch our vulvas at the table.”
I’m what some people call “sex-positive.” That doesn’t mean I talk with my 4-year-olds about how great sex is and how good it feels. It means I don’t pretend it’s something other than it is.
As parents, we lie all the time. About the Easter Bunny or Santa or the Tooth Fairy, about how long 10 minutes is, about whether or not we remembered they wanted to have grilled cheese for dinner again… We lie a lot. But one thing I never lie about is sex.
I don’t want them to grow up ashamed of their bodies or confused about what they do. I don’t tell them about cabbage patches or storks; I make an effort, always, to be honest about human reproduction. Every aspect of it.
I’ve had talks with lots of other moms about having “the talk.” I don’t think my kids and I will ever have that particular talk, because they already know. And we talk about it often — kids are obsessive creatures. We read Where Did I Come From? andWhat Makes A Baby, which together cover every aspect of the subject. We can talk about IVF and C-sections, because both of those are part of the story of their births, and we can talk about the fact that yes, mommy and daddy still have sex regardless. And when they’re older, we’ll start talking about contraception.
Because lying to your kids about sex helps nobody. Telling them that sex is “only between mommies and daddies” is a lie that leads to confused, hormone-charged teenagers. Telling them that sex is “only something that happens when two people love each other very much” is a lie that causes hormone-charged teenagers to confuse “love” with “lust,” or “obsession.” It leads to leaps of logic like, “If I have sex with this person, we must be in love.” Or worse: “If I love this person, I have to have sex with him or her.” And how many teenage tragedies are based on that misconception?
The truth is that human beings, almost universally, like sex. It feels good. And it’s supposed to feel good. If it didn’t, the human race would die out. The truth is that sex isn’t special and magical just because it’s sex. The truth is that you can have spectacular sex with strangers whose names you don’t even know. The truth is that just because you can, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should.
And that’s what sex-positive parenting really is. Not telling my kids lies about sex to keep them from behaviors I don’t think are healthy. It’s telling them the truth, the whole truth, and letting it sink in so they can make their own good choices.
It’s telling them that sex is good, but that it’s dangerous if you’re not careful. It’s teaching them to require their partners to use condoms, to buy their own condoms if they’re planning on having sex. It’s teaching them that while sex feels good, they can feel good on their own too. (Just not at the table.) That while sex combined with love is often the best sex — transcendent sex — that grows the bond of love and builds a closeness that is almost impossible to find otherwise, sex isn’t always like that, even with people you love. That sex can lead to pregnancy, even with protection, so engaging in it is a commitment to deal with any consequences.
It’s telling them they’re not wrong, or sinful, or bad, if they have sexual feelings. Or even if they have sex. It’s teaching them that sex happens, whether people always make good choices or not. And it’s giving them the tools to ensure that when they’re ready, they’re smart and cautious and conscientious.
There’s a lot of black-and-white comparisons when it comes to sex education. Some people think that once kids hit puberty, if they don’t have a strong fear of sex they’ll have as much as they can, as often as they can. There’s a lot of abstinence-only sex education, based on telling kids, “SEX IS SCARY! DON’T DO IT!” and it appears to be about the least successful program anyone has ever invented.
Telling children the truth about sex isn’t giving permission for them to have it — and this is the most important part — because when the right time comes, nobody has the right to deny them permission for sex but themselves.
And that’s the thing I try to keep in mind when I say things like, “We don’t touch our vulvas at the table.” Sex is something that ONLY happens when both people WANT it to happen. And that means that the only people in the entire world with any kind of say over whether or not my daughters have sex is them.
I don’t get to tell my daughters they have to have sex, but I also don’t get to tell them they can’t. They’re in charge. Your body, your decision.
I never want to be responsible for setting the precedent that another person gets to tell them what to do with their bodies, and especially with their sexuality. I don’t want to be the gateway for a manipulative, potentially abusive boyfriend.
So I teach boundaries. Appropriate places. Hygiene. I teach my children that nobody is allowed to touch their bodies without permission. When we get in tickle fights and they say, “Stop!” I stop.
And when we talk about pregnant friends, we talk about uteruses and sperm and eggs.
And most of the time, it’s not uncomfortable. Most of the time, I’m verifying information and the conversation lasts 15 seconds.
And someday the conversation is going to be a lot uglier. Someday, we’ll have to actually talk about rape, and explicit and enthusiastic consent, and contraception. Someday we’ll have to talk about healthy masturbation and pornography and realistic expectations of sex and sex partners and body image and a lack of shame for their bodies. And those conversations are not going to be as brief or straightforward.
But I’m ready. Whenever that day comes, I’m prepared. Because the groundwork is there.
“We don’t touch our vulvas at the table.” It’s absurd, but it’s got all the important pieces. It’s a micro-lesson in safety and consent and social propriety. I don’t think I’ll be able to say “We don’t lose our virginity in the backseat of a car after a prom party” with a straight face, but I will be able to say, “We don’t have sex without thinking long and hard about it first, and we certainly don’t do it without being careful, and being safe, and being totally confident in the maturity of our partner and our ability to handle the repercussions if we get a disease or get pregnant.”
Because it’s true. We don’t.
But I like that when that time comes, I’m part of the “we.” Because if I can tell my girls, “we” have to be careful, they’ll know that no matter what happens, I’m still in their corner. I’ve still got their backs. Even if “we” make bad choices, I’ll still be there to help make things right again.