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.
I realized after getting married, i’d never really had sexual attraction before – wanting to be kissed was about it but now i know that’s not really the same thing – i wasn’t even sure what sexual attraction would feel like, or what sex was like at all – having only seen roosters and hens (that’s scary, ya’ll. roosters are violent.), and until a few weeks before marriage when i got a slightly more informative variation on ‘the talk’, i didn’t know women were capable of getting pleasure out of sex beyond the pleasure of pleasing their husband. I came from a ’emotional purity’ sort of background too. We had a no-touch courtship. In my case, i didn’t turn out to be asexual (and wouldn’t have know that anyone could be asexual, though i believe it now), but that part of me just hadn’t been woken up yet.
I realize now that we are rather fortunate among ultra conservatives, not to have any significant sexual issues in marriage despite knowing so very little… i think sometimes we’re okay despite courting, not remotely because of it…
(I’m sharing this because you mentioned wondering when people develop sexual attraction, not to indicate you aren’t really asexual.)
Thanks for sharing your story. I’m really sorry that your boyfriend did that to you, and even sorrier that you didn’t have any way to handle it. it makes me so mad how purity culture strips girls of their boundaries and the ownership of their own bodies 😦
Do you think that “demisexual” might fit your experience? Demisexuality is the correlation of sexual desire with emotional connection. That is, in order to feel sexual desire, a demisexual first has to feel that there is mutual love going on.
Thanks for sharing your story. The extent of the crazy brainwashing you went through while growing up makes it just that much more impressive that you’ve come so far in your thinking. Still, it’s heart-breaking and unbelievable what so many homeschool parents buy into, and the damage they do to their children under the guise of love. I’m so sorry that you had to go through such a painful and confusing past before you could more clearly know yourself and understand a healthier future.
thank you for putting into words what i could not about asexuality.
“To learn more about what asexuality is and is not, this is a great informative video:”
IT’S SWANKIVY! I ran into her on some LiveJournal comment threads a few years ago — she’s a small-press fantasy writer looking for her first big break into the big leagues.
Note: No, I’m not a small-press fantasy writer. I’ve never published anything with a small press. I’m on submission to large publishers through my agent with my fantasy series but I’m not sure where the “small press” thing came from.
” 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.”
Both porn and preachers agree: ANY interaction or interface between male and female is sexual, and will lead to meat-in-meat quickly and inevitably. The only difference is porn says “YEAH YEAH YEAH” and the preacher says “THOU SHALT NOT”.
I have long maintained that Christians are just as screwed-up sexually as everyone else today, just in a different (and usually opposite) direction.
“There was also the problem that having a crush on someone was called, a la Josh Harris and his book ‘I kissed dating goodbye’,”
Josh Harris (THAT Josh Harris) recently came out as to how he had been sexually abused at some point as a child. That can really mess up your head sexually, and I wonder how much of that baggage got into “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”. I do know from comments all over the Web that that book caused more problems than it solved.
“here 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.”
At which point, when taken to the extreme (and there are a LOT who take it to the extreme), what is the difference between a wife and a personal sex slave?
“Did this crazy upbringing ‘make’ me asexual? I don’t know.”
It sure didn’t help.
“Both porn and preachers agree: ANY interaction or interface between male and female is sexual, and will lead to meat-in-meat quickly and inevitably. The only difference is porn says “YEAH YEAH YEAH” and the preacher says “THOU SHALT NOT”.”
Wow. Thank you. You have no idea how big of an “aha” moment I just had. I was addicted to pornography throughout my early teenage years, and I couldn’t understand why the addiction simply came so naturally to me. Later, after a miracle eliminated the draw of pornography and the establishment of a fear of any sexual attraction due to my lack of knowledge about sex itself, I became thoroughly asexual. Only now (well into my generally secular college experience) have I become comfortable with the thought of myself as a sexual being.
Hi! I’ve been reading your website for a long time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Humble Tx! Just wanted to tell you keep up the good job!
I completely understand the lack of attraction. I’m 20, and I’ve never been attracted to any male and to only one female.
I suspect my near-total asexuality was trauma-induced, something I witnessed thirteen years ago. All that time, eight medications, and three therapists later, and I’ve only been able to say what happened to one person other than the direct victim. And that took most of one night and some extreme patience to release it then.
My mother and step-Dad were nowhere near as restrictive as was yours, but the “damage” likely had already been done. Trauma is trauma, whether it happens over 2 hours or over 2 decades.
For my trauma, the only thing faith does is provide me some excuses for not having a man in my life: “I haven’t found the right one”, “They’re only after one thing,” etc. But excuses are never solutions.
Hi, Christine. I used to think of myself as asexual, can I give an opinion?
I’m older now, and I found out 2 things of myself:
The one is that I do have a sexual interest when I trust, when my heart (not romantic heart, but the issues I care about) and mind feel that it goes the same way as his heart and mind. That makes me very suitable for marriage, and not at all for one-night-stands.
The second is that sexual desire in women tend to increase as they get closer to 40.
So, I’d advise you to accept yourself as you are, but be willing to accept evidence to the contrary (evidence that you are a sexual being) when it arise. And BTW, it is a smart move to not mention your name on the Internet in connection with your asexuality.
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Conservative Christians deny the existence of asexuality because any sexual orientation outside of heterosexuality is threatening to their world view. If people can be born asexual then that means that they can be born gay or bi or transgender, and even the slightest possibility that these orientations aren’t 100% by choice is impossible to their minds.
Hi, Christine. I’m sorry you had to experience something as horrible as that, and I thank you for the courage to write about it
I’m a single Christian guy who gave up my search for a mate a while ago when I realized that I had no reason to get married because a.) I didn’t want kids, and b.) I’m darn close to being asexual. My sex drive has died a slow painful death from blunt force trauma administered by depression, lack of self-confidence, and Matthew 5:27. The so-called purity movement’s emphasis on virginity and lack of sex-positive messages has done more harm than good, and the physical abuse that you experienced was the wound that the movement poured salt into. I pray for you and the other casualties.
Firstly, I’m deeply sorry for all the sorrowful things that have happened to you, for the pain and shame and hurt you have felt, it truly breaks my heart. It touches my heart even more as I am an Asexual Christian who was homeschooled (though luckily the home schooling was entirely unrelated to my religious affiliations). I’m so thankful that I was raised in such a supportive, none judgemental, loving environment and actually for me being homeschooled was a blessing. I wasn’t raised with a ‘Christian’ view of sexuality, I was never really told by anyone what I ought to do or not or to keep myself pure or save myself for marriage or anything, though the option was suggested and praised as an idea when I got to about 17 or so, and deciding to get myself baptised and dive into the Christian life I knew this was on the list of christian behaviours that God liked so I saw no problem with it. I didn’t realise at the time that others would have a problem with it. Anyway it only took me a couple of years after that to figure out I was asexual but when I realised it, I also found myself immensely relieved that I was homeschooled for five years from 12-16ish years old. I was a mess in my teens. I had depression, I was suicidal, I had social phobia, ocd, a lot of self hate and a very poor self image, I was very lonely and emotionally fragile and basically a mess. I don’t even want to imagine what might have happened if 14 year old me had a boyfriend. My best friend for some of my teen years, who was in regular school, she had several older boyfriends, we’re talking their 16 she’s 12 kinda thing. Now I’m not saying it definitely would have happened, but I could have ended up in situations that scarred me for life. Not to mention actually being faced with the reality that I’m not normal instead of dealing with my other problems alone, could only have fed my other issues and I don’t even want to consider how that could have ended. Sometimes however I wonder what would have happened if I didn’t figure out I was asexual until after marriage. That’s historically been my concern with asexual christians. Anyway I dont think there was a point to my story I guess the point is I love my mum for raising me how she did. Thanks mum x. But thank you for sharing your story, I wont be forgetting it any time soon. God Bless x
What you said about your childhood really rings a bell with me. I also identify as asexual, and probably aromantic too. My mother is a Catholic youth minister, although I was never homeschooled, I remember I did get a quick accurate description of sex when I was mine, during the Clinton/Lewinski scandal, when they were talking about sex on the radio and I asked what sex was. Beyond that, everything about sex, my body, relationships, were all shot down really aggressively. Beyond being a conservative Christian, my mom is also a narcissist. When you mentioned you felt like affection and privacy was forcibly taken from you, same here. In fact, it’s gone as far as being molested by my dad, and of course being told to stop fighting and just go with it. (They of course go back and forth from claiming not to remember to saying, “what was I supposed to do?” Or blaming me.) Being controlled like a rag doll was very common for me as a child, and just how you describe it, I was encouraged to sit and take it, to be submissive and recieving, to be considered good in the eyes if God. I would look unhappy, and my mother would grab my arm and demand that I tell her what I was feeling, stare me down and hiss in my ear to ask me what was wrong with me, and what I was thinking, and when I cried and told her (one instance being really bad period cramps) she told me with her lilting tones that she’d never experienced that before, and she had no idea what I was talking about, and that I was lying for attention and I should just deal with it. I stopped telling her anything after a while because I knew she only interrogated me so she could put me down and invalidate me, but when I became a teenager she developed this habit of teaming up with dad, and completely unprovoked, chasing me from room to room, not taking no for an answer, shoving me into the corner until she could get me to cry, and I mean that. I learned not to cry, but the abuse only intensified the longer I didn’t cry! I think she simply wanted to get me to cry. She’s still teaching youth ministry, and I am very much afraid no one would believe me if I told them because she is such a wonderful person in public. She is almost exclusively abusive in private, I find it very hard to remember times when she was neutral, let alone loving. The happiest memories I have if childhood are specifically being away from her.
But, back to asexuality, I think I have always lacked sexual attraction. I’ve never had a significant other, and I don’t desire one, and I don’t get the reason why anyone would want one, and I don’t understand why people want sex, but only that they do. Am I asexual and aromantic because I was raised by monstrous parents? Does it matter? I do not care to be “fixed” if I am asexual because of abuse, because to me someone trying to fix me is just another type of control. Relationships for me are repulsive, even though cognitively I recognise not everyone is like my parents. Sex for me, is non-existent, I’ve read all the lists of qualifiers for “are you asexual” and I fit almost all of them. I really thought for a long time my mother was loving, and that what she was doing was making me better than all the “heathens” outside Catholic-World.
Besides that, we never got sex ed in school, because it was a Catholic school. When I got molested by my dad, it was in the middle of a crowded street and I had had enough, and I told him, that’s something husbands and wives do, not fathers and daughters. And it was in front of my mother, but she turned away and pretended it wasn’t happening. Like, literally, I walked around to face her and she wouldn’t look at me and she told me she didn’t want to get involved. I knew was sex was, and even if my mother had not told me, I don’t know if I would have found out on my own. I was, as you described, exceptionally obedient even when mom and dad weren’t there. But I’m glad she told me when I asked, even if she was characteristically angry when she said it. She was always angry. One time I heard on the tv “one night stand” and I asked my dad what it meant, and he simply turned around and walked out of the room. We asked about sex in theology class (it was Theology of the Body, we were reading some book by JPII,) and the teacher would dodge questions, tell us we didn’t need to know about that. Conversely, a different teacher told us quite graphically with a red-faced embarrassed smile, that wives should have sex with their husbands even if they done want it that time, and the same for husbands if they don’t want it at that time. There was this concept of giving yourself fully to your spouse, which I never got, or agreed with. One time, out of the blue, my mom told me that my dad had a vasectomy, and I knew about that because we were told vasectomies were against the Church’s teachings.
It’s almost as if all this has really made me rationally think that I’m definitely not interested in sex or relationships. It could be that I’m naturally asexual though. I’m athiest now, so the teachings of the Church don’t mean anything to me. But still I don’t have a desire to find someone to have a relationship with or have sex with, in fact the concept seems suffocating, and I have always been happier alone. I have expressed this in school, and I was given to solution, “you’re thinking about it wrong, you’re not thinking about it correctly.” That is really sad when instead of changing the actions you are directed to apply a coping mechanism. Seems really messed up.
Even if I am asexual because of this growing up, does it matter? I don’t experience sexual attraction, and I don’t care to be “fixed.”
Wow, so glad to see this topic being written about. I had a similar experience. Extremely sheltered and raised under purity culture, I remember feeling absolutely mortified if I ever even thought of so much as holding hands with a boy. I had no clue how sex actually worked, and this ignorance combined with fear of failing meant that I entered into adulthood completely asexual. But I didn’t even know. For me, it was simply as if I had been forced to completely ignore and dull my sexuality. I remember (at 21!) feeling baffled after a teenager in my youth group expressed shock when I genuinely said that I did not find this particular photo of a shirtless, hot guy in any way attractive. There was no sexual attraction there at all. This lasted into my mid 20s, and it was only then when I realised I did not have to remain in ignorance, and began to educate myself about my body and about sexuality (mostly by reading books and websites designed for teenagers!!). It was a HUGE relief to let go of that fear and ignorance – and for me, my sexuality gradually awakened (even while celibate, you can be aware of being a sexual being – I feel that this was a much healthier way to be, even before I became sexually active). There was also a fair amount of grief once I realised there was a whole part of me that I had not been able to value for so long. I also agree that it puts you in some very vulnerable positions – I have some stories to tell too. Teaching ignorance and trying to create a generation of asexual adults is not the way to go. (Having said that, I completely acknowledge that asexuality can, and does exist in its own right, and in no way wish to demean that! I am merely speaking of those in similar situations to my own, where the asexuality was forced upon them.)
I am not asexual, but I don’t remember ever being sexually attracted to anyone until I was in my 20s so I related to so much of this article! I too thought any desiring any affection (even the most innocent types) from the opposite sex was lustful and sexual.
I was also taught from very early on that crushes were, like you said, “giving away pieces of your heart” and being an emotional whore. I too got the “boys will talk to you now, but you won’t be the type they’ll wanna marry” talk. I still remember when I was about sixteen confessing to my mum (under heavy interrogation) that I ‘liked’ a boy at church and her getting so upset that I had “stolen” back my heart from my father and given it to this boy (who I had never even spoken to). She ran to my father and both of them came back to yell, berate, and shame me for liking a boy. Looking back, I just thought he was kind to people and sorta cute and that was about it. There was nothing sexual in my thoughts of him – I mostly just wanted someone gentle to talk to – but my parents’ were horrified and they acted as if I’d just confessed to getting pregnant out of wedlock.
Then there’s the “good touch”, “bad touch” part of your article. That really struck a cord with me too. That whole paragraph and especially the “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.”
Thank you so much for sharing! ❤
Priests in the Catholic Church are supposed to be asexual, through God’s love and ‘mercy’ (sic) and many of them actually manage to shut down this part of their humanity and not offend. Others of course are not so able to adapt and find themselves in compromising situations. Some have sex with nuns, prostitutes, children.
Humanity is sexual. The body develops autonomously and we become fertile at some point or other in pre-adolescence or adolescence. Nature looks after continuing the species but that does not mean that we have to go along. If a natural development is punished and crushed, well, that is the way it is…
I remember being scared out of my wits by my first orgasm. It was so overwhelming I sort of blacked out for a moment and came back to consciousness in a kind of panic, wondering if i was suffering a medical emergency… I know this might sound like a good laugh now but it horrified me and then of course, I had to deal with the shame and blame of Christian denial too, that sex is dirty and lustful thoughts a highway to hell. And then there was the ejaculated sperm… I had no idea (this was before internet porn) what sperm was and for all I knew, it could have been white blood or puss! Thank-you, religion, for how you completely missed the boat and allowed my parents to avoid being responsibly close to their kids and instead gave them a ancient template to use to shame and blame us, to live in denial of a remarkable world out there. Fuck you, religion. Fuck you, purity culture, Doug Wilson et al.
Those of us who have come out of the religio-bizarre upbringings have no idea what normal is, none at all. We have lived in holy smoke for our whole lives.
Hang in there, all…. Continue to care for yourselves and believe that you are worth every breath you take. When the smoke clears sometimes, the world itself is poetry and life is full. Thank-you for sharing here.
Having reread my comment, I feel that it does not properly allow for varied experience and is not very well-informed. I apologize to those who feel it does not properly represent their feelings and/or orientation. I am very grateful for your sharing here.