HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Christine” is a pseudonym.
I am an asexual. This means that I feel the same amount of sexual attraction for men that a straight man does, and the same amount of sexual attraction to women that a straight woman does. I remember that the conservative community denied the existence of asexuality, but I can’t remember the exact reason. I think it was something along the lines of ‘they’re just celibate’ or ‘they’re just abstinent’. However, many celibate or abstinent people feel sexual attraction, and many asexuals are not celibate or abstinent. To learn more about what asexuality is and is not, this is a great informative video:
I don’t know whether I was born this way or whether it has roots in my upbringing. All I know is that this is the way I am and the doctors say it has nothing to do with my hormones.
You’d think that asexuality would be a good fit for someone raised in a purity culture. However, due to the ignorance some are deliberately kept in about our own bodies, feelings, reproduction, and sexuality, asexuality and purity teachings can be a toxic mix.
Many homeschoolers try to ‘protect’ their children from knowledge about sex, sexuality, and reproduction. My parents fit into this category. As a result, I didn’t learn about human reproduction until I was in college, and didn’t learn that other people experience sexual attraction. Or rather, I misunderstood what sexual attraction was. I thought ‘being attracted’ to someone meant thinking they were smart, or good looking, or fun, because those were the kinds of attraction I experienced. As a teenager, I developed crushes based on those attractions. I did not know that other people experienced the world a different way, so I did not know that my experience was different or that I was asexual.
Due to the way my mother covered the TV screen when a couple would begin to lightly kiss in the 1940s comedies we were allowed to watch – and in the rare other shows and movies we were able to watch – I received the impression that all affectionate touching between a man and a woman was ‘sexual’. After all, sexual lust was supposed to be a desire that we all feel, and the desire I felt was one for affection. I wanted to be hugged, long and firmly. I wanted to lie with my head in my crush’s lap while he stroked my hair. I desired these things so badly it hurt, but I believed that they were obscenely sexual thoughts that I must, and did, repent of in tears. It wasn’t helped at all by the fact that our pastors and community leaders taught that the slightest amount of affectionate touch between a man and a woman was sin, must be avoided at all cost, would sully us for our future spouse, and would lead to procreational intercourse. “Don’t heat up the oven if you’re not going to put something inside” they said – and completely missing the sexual reference of that statement, I thought it meant ‘don’t touch someone if you’re not ready to procreate with them’.
There was also the problem that having a crush on someone was called, a la Josh Harris and his book ‘I kissed dating goodbye’, ‘giving away a piece of your heart’. Someone went further than this and said that having a crush on someone you weren’t married to was being an ’emotional whore’. So I had a huge amount of guilt about my crushes, even though they weren’t sexual (which I didn’t know). As a teenager, my best friend told me that ‘girls like us’ don’t have or respond to crushes on boys. My mother told me that homeschooled girls who talked to boys ‘are the ones they like now, but not the kind of girl they’ll marry.’
The long and the short of it is that a lack of information about sex and sexuality combined with the sexual-attraction-blindness of my asexuality led to many, many painful hours and tears over very innocent matters. It also led to ignorance of my orientation, which is not helpful when you hope to meet a compatible spouse, and which caused a lot of complications in my relationships.
There was another toxic teaching that reacted badly with my asexuality. There’s a letter in Paul’s epistles that was taught by our pastors and leaders as follows: A wife must allow her husband to have sex with her whenever he likes. This teaching is obviously toxic by itself. But for an asexual who doesn’t know she’s asexual and for whom this is the entirety of her sex-ed, this is what I thought sex was. Sex was something a man does to a woman. “It’s clear from nature, from very human biology” said Douglass Wilson, author of “Her Hand in Marriage” and the Credenda Agenda, “that men are for initiating and women are for responding.” (my paraphrasing) After leaving my family and starting into the world on my own, I decided that I didn’t think premarital sex was sinful, but that I personally didn’t want to have sex until after marriage (due to my desire for sex being tied very closely with reproduction). When my boyfriend raped me, I felt horrible but thought it was sex. I thought to complain about it to a friend would be to say that sex was wrong. So I stayed with my boyfriend and tried, futily, to convince him to ‘not have sex with me unless I wanted it.’
The above story wasn’t helped by the fact that I had not been taught about ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’. As a child, I was taught that I must always put my own interests and feelings aside and serve other people, and not argue. My body had never been my own – not when my parents coerced me to hug someone (‘to make them feel loved’) or when they’d told me to pull down my pants so that they could give me more spankings, or walked into the room while I was getting dressed, or had to go to a homeschool class when I had a 104 degree fever. So I was unused to being in touch with what my body told me, which made it even harder to recognize the full extent of what was happening to me. When touch felt bad to to me, I didn’t know to name it ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘undesirable’ or ‘repulsion’ or ‘fear’. I described the feelings to my boyfriend. He told me it was arousal and excitement. I didn’t know enough to know that he was wrong.
So, ironically, the teachings that my parents thought would keep me abstinent and make me a ‘good girl’ actually ended up putting me in unwanted sexual situations.
I sometimes wonder if some of the other things I was taught helped make me asexual. Not having a name for my vulva until college except for “pee pee thing’. Being taught that my vulva’s function was only for ejecting pee and babies (I was taught that pregnancy began when a man and a woman stood too close to each other.) Being taught that my ‘pee pee thing’ was very dirty and must never be touched. The close companionship each of my parents had with me instead of each other, called by some psychologists ’emotional incest’. As a young girl, I saw older girls mocked and derided by my parents, friends, and role models for being interested in boys. When I got my period, its function was not explained to me, but my mother cried and wished I wasn’t growing up. As my body began to develop, I was mocked and shamed. My breasts were a shame to me. My periods were a shame to me. Other maturing features of my body were a shame to me. The more I kept them hidden, the less I would be mocked. I never dared to mention a crush I might have on a boy because I could not bear the mockery and shame I knew was due to come.
Did this crazy upbringing ‘make’ me asexual? I don’t know. I do know that there was never a time when I felt sexual attraction, so if it’s due to my upbringing, that upbringing took affect before the time when sexual attraction would have normally developed. I’m still clueless about some things: As I’m writing this, I’m wondering when that time is for other people.