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.