On Sexual Abuse, Repulsion, and Aversion in the Asexual Community

On Sexual Abuse, Repulsion, and Aversion in the Asexual Community

By | 2018-04-10T00:14:30-04:00 August 27th, 2015|Categories: Personal Narratives|Tags: , , , , |7 Comments

This post originally appeared here and was a submission for the July 2014 Carnival of Aces.


TW: discussion of sexual assault, rape

On Sexual Abuse, Repulsion, and Aversion in the Asexual Community

I questioned for a long time whether or not I was sex repulsed or simply sex averse. A quick Google search will tell you that repulsion and aversion are synonyms, but our community hasn’t always used them in their dictionary defined sense.  I think that we’ve differentiated these  terms to help us better describe ourselves. In most contexts “aversion” has been used to mean “strong dislike” whereas “repulsion” implies physical reaction involving disgust. In theory, neither of these things actually involve sexual attraction (which we define sexual orientation on), they just happen to frequently accompany the asexual experience.  Unfortunately sex aversion/repulsion also frequently accompanies the aftermath of sexual assault. This posed a dilemma for me: If I did feel sexual aversion, was it the result of my asexuality or sexual trauma?

I think for any of us, especially ace survivors, we have to battle the idea that humans inherently sexual when answering this question.  Answering the question for myself was  part of a long battle I’ve had between my asexuality and survivor identity. For several years I was thoroughly convinced by every external influence in my life that I was asexual because I was raped (oddly it never came up in conversations about my romantic attraction to women). It wasn’t until I took a summer off from therapy that I realized sexual assault affects behavior, not attraction (or lack thereof). However, that still left aversion and repulsion up for debate.

In my adolescence I spent a lot of time trying to picture myself in sexual situations with crushes I had, which as I grew older turned into actual partners. I tried to do this because I couldn’t stand the idea that I may not be sexual like everyone else, but these “thought coaching” sessions were my first signs of sexual repulsion and aversion. It always played like those dreams you have where you’re trying to run but you can’t seem to move forward— a lagging that’s caused by the stage of sleep you’re in. My thought scenarios would lag as I tried to put the pieces together and never moved forward. The parts of sex I found repulsive were completely cut out.  That lagging came from a mixture of repulsion and aversion.

In the 9th grade I was sexually assaulted by the person I was dating, and after that the lagging began to stop. By the time I hit the next round of sexual assaults in the 11th grade, the lagging had completely stopped. It wasn’t necessarily pleasant to think of sex happening to me, but it was easier to picture it as possible. After that year the only time my repulsion  resurfaces is when I’ve hit my breaking point. Have you ever got into a staring contest? It’s easy to hold your eyes open at first, but after a while you can’t take it anymore. You need to blink because your body is programmed to do it. Resisting the repulsion is like a staring contest for me— I can only tolerate it for so long.

Most people think that sexual abuse causes aversion/repulsion, but I think we fail to realize it can be the other way around. If it weren’t for my history with sexual abuse, I think my default would have been sex repulsed. When you’re in the middle of being raped you don’t have room for physical reactions of disgust— there is only room for surviving the moment. A combination of rape and internalized acephobia trained me to be less disgusted by sex for the sake of survival, similar to how mothers must train themselves to be less disgusted by feces so they can change their baby’s diaper.

After what happened I only experience sex aversion instead of repulsion.  When I was first coming out as asexual I didn’t want anyone to believe I was sex averse because I thought it would diminish my chances of finding love. My aversion had already cost me one girlfriend, and I wasn’t terribly interested in losing another. Now I accept that I am sex-averse, but no longer repulsed.  Some would say that I’m not my true self because of the switch, but I disagree. Changing from my “default setting” does not make my lack of repulsion less valid. Being averse is a part of me now, and that’s okay.

Recognizing this presents an even larger issue: survivors are frequently told that everything about them is the result of the trauma, instilling the idea that no part of them is actually real. Asexual and sex averse/repulsed survivors are especially prone to this kind of commentary on their identities. People believe that we can never be our “true selves” because the assault may have altered us from our original form. I hate to spoil this for all the nay-sayers, but there is no true self or real form.  Your life alters you. Every single experience you have from picking flowers to living in poverty will build who you are. To say that our identities are fabricated by assault isn’t just ridiculous, it’s flat out insulting and invalidating. That’s like saying “your true self was meant to speak Irish Gaelic, but you were taught English from birth. This English speaking person isn’t the real you— you’ll never be the real you.” No matter what you’ve been through, you are the realest you that will ever exist. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

Describing yourself as sex averse or sex repulsed involves a lot of politics, even though the majority of our community is sex averse. We take a lot of time reassuring people that asexuals can have sex and like sex if they want to, which implicitly throws sex averse asexuals under the bus.  The pressure to reassure others that asexuals can still have sex is rooted in acephobia. Sex-capability reassurance comes from our community’s desire to convince allosexuals that we have the ability to be just like them. Because if we’re not just like them, we’re somehow inferior. It’s okay to inform people that asexuals can still have sex, but we need to avoid giving the impression that most asexuals enjoy sex when we educate. It can foster some pretty acephobic ideas in people who are ignorant of our community. We need to accept sex-aversion and repulsion for what they are: a state of being that is valid, no matter what your background, and is perfectly okay.

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  1. Katie Harper August 23, 2016 at 10:08 am - Reply

    Lovely brave post well done ! So sorry to hear you’ve been through so much ! Just live in the moment and know that whatever you feel is ok ! Regardless of others opinions. I have always wanted to be in a committed relationship with a man but found myself having no interest in sex , other than to feel the relationship was secure, and never ever feeling sexual attracted to anyone I feel that means I have always been asexual. To add to that when my fiance raped me because he was angry at me I started to struggle having sex at all , whereas before it was like washing up didn’t want to do it but didn’t hate it and got on with etc . I now have genuine repulsion to the idea and flinch when he passionately kisses me or anything . It’s very hard because he now says that I just don’t find him attractive or love him and kinda blames my sexual aversion on being asexual. In my case I think I’m asexual just like people are LGBT and just like anyone after abuse I’ve developed phycological side affects the sexual aversion being one of them . Everyone’s different and that’s ok !

  2. ettina December 5, 2016 at 7:25 pm - Reply

    In my case, it was CSA, so I have no ‘before’ data to compare with. However, I feel that I’m more sex-repulsed than I would be otherwise. For me, I do think sex is gross, but I also instinctively associate it with violence. If I think someone wants to have sex with me, or I imagine someone being sexually attracted to me, it makes my heart race and I feel scared of that person. I also instinctively feel ashamed and dirty, like I did something disgusting to get them attracted to me.
    Without the CSA, I doubt thinking about someone wanting to have sex with me would make me feel scared or dirty. But it might still gross me out, I don’t know.

  3. Rachel June 29, 2020 at 7:28 pm - Reply

    I am gray-A and I have never been sex adverse, despite getting my first corrective rape threat at 13, being coerced into sex under threat of rape for the first time at 20, and being assaulted and held hostage in a room till I said I liked it and was “fixed” at 21 (after which I was diagnosed as mentally ill when I tried reporting it – not for being traumatized…I was diagnosed as ill for not wanting it and not being grateful my rapist had put such an effort into trying to “fix” me), and being coerced into a series of abusive relationships and less intensive assaults between ages 18 and 25). I just simply rarely had interest in sex, and in my mind if I wasn’t interested and didn’t enjoy it, why do it? But what I would like to talk about is something that I personally feel never comes up as a possibility when you aren’t sexual: I actually came in a sense hyper-sexually active from my assaults. The narrative that sexual is what you’re “supposed” to be and that asexuality is just a reaction to assault (a sign something is wrong with you) is so prevalent that I still find there are few places to talk about for me that it was the opposite: I’ve had a lot of sex after being assault, and it was because I fundamentally didn’t think saying no was an option (cause it’s not like it ever had been treated as an option in my life. As far as I was ever told I was a “cock tease” who “was asking for it”, it was “unfair” of me not to be sexually available, and (as I was told repeatedly) “no doesn’t mean anything if you were never going to say yes”) so I thought the only way to not be raped again was just to say yes to everyone and everything, which is what I did for years. Hell, I even thought I needed a partner to be safe, cause if I had a partner people would respect that that was the only person to have sex with me, but if I was single I had to worry about everyone, so I’d literally run though partners and offer pretty much anything just to have one so I could focus who I needed to be afraid of (it never actually occurred to me that you shouldn’t be afraid of your partners). And obviously, this is all symptoms of being deeply traumatized, if I wasn’t asexual-spectrum people would be pointing out that I obviously had PTSD and needed a lot of help (which I eventually did get), but since I am asexual-spec it’s really hard to get people to accept that for me having sex can be a trauma response.

  4. AC July 13, 2020 at 1:24 am - Reply

    This was so validating and helpful to read. Thank you!

  5. Tommy August 19, 2020 at 7:30 am - Reply

    Hello I have a question, during quarantine I came to terms that my asexual ex bestfriend was sexually abusing me for 11 years and no one will believe me cause she’s asexual. It doesn’t help that she smeared campaign me with her friends and we also got into physical altercation that they don’t believe me and think I’m lying and offending the asexual community, I felt bad cause I didn’t believe in asexuality because of her and I recently just found out my brother was asexual. I did read up and learned that asexuals can have sex or masturbate but it was like she would course me into fellatio and then when she got off would use she asexual on me when it was my turn. When I was younger I was raped by a man and female and my therapist help to contain my mania and hypersexuallity, but when she sexually assaulted me it brought back that hyper sexually and she would flip that switch constantly to get what she wanted. I wanted to be in a relationship with her but she keep using I’m asexual I don’t want to be in relationships but when I would get into a relationship with a guy she would emotionally and mentally abuse me while still sexual abusing me, when I finally had enough and told her that I didn’t want to keep having sex with her she told me that she never wanted to have sex with me she only did it to get her “nut” off I want to report her but I don’t think I could cause this a really sensitive topic. I need some help to explain this to the authorities cause I tried to warn her friends that she’s a sexual assaulter but I feel like I’ve waited to long cause I was afraid to tell the police cause I’ve been smeared by her I lost a lot of friends and I’m super paranoid that no one would believe me and call me the sexual assaulter… I’m sorry this seem really dumb but I do feel like this isn’t going to matter cause it’s been too long and I didn’t speak up cause I’m not knowledgeable about asexuality and everyone thinks I’m making it up. Her boyfriend that asexual kind of cussed me out cause I said something

  6. anon January 4, 2022 at 12:03 pm - Reply

    My background was the opposite of physical/sexual abuse, but there was lots of the emotional kind. I wasn’t allowed to have or even learn about even a primitive social life. As a result I’m not even able to carry on a social conversation, I was always isolated and scared, my mother was such a malignant narcissistic abuser she finally drank herself to death. My father was her most brain-dead enabler, according to him she could do no wrong, the chances of them getting a divorce and emancipating me were zero. I’ve tried for decades to get therapy and figure this out but the therapists have no answers at all. I suspect maybe I never had the proper stimulus to develop a ventral vagal capacity (according to polyvagal theory), if anyone knows what I’m talking about, but nobody anywhere else seems to either.

  7. Serena June 22, 2022 at 6:49 am - Reply

    I felt really supported and understood reading this post. It felt like you unlocked this piece of perspective that I’ve been longing for, this understanding that I couldn’t reach on my own. Thank you… I really appreciate it.

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