Runaway sex-positivism creates obligations, overlooks nonsexual

Spencer Wharton

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When it comes to relationships, Whitties either go for short-term hookups or long-term commitments, or so it’s said. Regardless of which you go for, however, there tend to be underlying expectations of sex. Leave a party with someone and we expect that means the night’s ending with sex. Date someone for so long, and sex, it seems, practically becomes mandatory (“You’ve been dating for how long and you still haven’t done it?”).

For some people, this works without problem. But this isn’t always the case, and relying uncritically on these expectations can create big problems for anyone who, for whatever reason, at whatever time, just doesn’t want sex. Generally speaking, Whitman’s a sex-friendly place, but in our eagerness to promote healthy, sex-positive attitudes, we have to be careful not to overlook or disparage those who aren’t sexual. Sex is not on everyone’s list, and we owe it to ourselves and others to recognize that that’s perfectly okay.

To be sure, sex can be powerful, intimate and fun. We live in a culture that teaches us to deny and be ashamed of our sexualities, and it’s important to fight that with the radical notion that sexuality is perfectly fine. But there’s a danger of going too far and suggesting that absolutely everyone should be sexual. Embracing sexuality should mean accepting its many variations, including nonsexuality; runaway sex-positivism that says everyone should love sex is just as myopic as conservative beliefs saying that no one should.

There are myriad reasons one might be nonsexual, whether that means turning down sex in a particular instance or remaining abstinent throughout an entire relationship. Some people choose not to have sex because it’s physically painful for them; for others, sex triggers traumatic emotional responses. Some people are simply asexual and don’t feel sexual attraction. People might abstain from sex because they’re tired, because they don’t feel good, because they’re not ready or simply because they just don’t want it. Nobody gets to judge anyone else’s reason for being nonsexual. Everybody has that right––after all, it’s their body––and nobody should feel obligated otherwise.

Whether you’ve got nonsexual inclinations or you’re as sexual as they come, the key to figuring out a partner’s inclinations is by talking with them. Everyone’s different, and people’s tastes can change from day to day, so you can’t assume you know what your partner wants, nor can you assume your partner knows what you want. Since nobody goes around wearing a name tag reading “not interested in sex,” the only way to tell what someone wants or doesn’t want is to ask. Whether you’re hooking up or in a long-term commitment, talk about what everybody involved wants and doesn’t want. It’s the best way to make sure you’re on the same page and that nobody’s pressured into doing anything they don’t want to.

Finally, while it’s perfectly possible to have a healthy nonsexual or partially sexual relationship, by no means is it for everybody, just as sexual relationships aren’t for everybody. Take the time to get comfortable with and confident in your own tastes. Learn your deal-breakers. For some people, sexual compatibility is paramount; others are willing to compromise when it comes to sex as long as other parts of the relationship are strong; and only you know where you personally stand on the issue. If the nonsexuality of your relationship is a deal-breaker, then there’s nothing wrong with compassionately ending your relationship and trying to find a more compatible one. Doing that is far preferable to imposing your sexuality on someone else.

In our modern, sex-negative culture, I’ll be the first to argue for a sex-positive worldview. But the proper character of that worldview should be acceptance, not compulsion. A healthy view of sex and sexuality should understand that, alongside all the other manifestations of human sexuality that we encourage, there are people who simply don’t want sex. They deserve to be heard too.

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