I wanted to write some more on the subject of asexuality, which is the A in my bonnet at the moment. What’s particularly on my mind at the moment is the sensual.
I googled sensuality and got a whole slew of images that were basically about sex (or is it just me?), but then this one caught my eye. Probably one of the most sensual moments in the entire Buffy series, Willow paints a poem by Sappho on Tara’s back during a dream sequence. Sigh… Anyway, where was I?
I am for some reason largely wanting to work all this out for myself, before I walk through the doors of the most prominent asexuality forum and get engulfed in a tidal wave of terminology and other people’s ideas about what words and experiences mean. (Oh, well, for that reason, then.) So this is my take on what I’m experiencing and how to talk about it. There may or may not be other ways of discourse within the asexual mainstream (why does everything sound like a double entendre suddenly? Get over yourself. Okay…)
What’s on my mind, then, is a distinction between sexual and sensual. If you’ve been following my previous meanderings on this subject, you’ll know that I’ve only recently come out to myself as never having enjoyed sex. And that an inevitable element in that experience is having been sexually abused as a kid, so I have no objective way of knowing to what exactly I owe my non-enjoyment of sex. But I really, really enjoy everything that goes with sex. Actually, that’s not even putting it strongly enough: the stuff that normally goes with sex – affection, intimacy, touch, nakedness, kissing, passion – are all vital to me, all nourishing.
So far, so already said it. What I’m thinking about today is sensual attraction as compared to sexual attraction. the thing is: I’ve had a lifetime of assuming that whenever I was attracted to someone, it was a sexual attraction. This is partly a consequence of abuse, but it’s also partly a consequence of growing up in a culture that blows sexuality way up out of proportion, all the damn time, so it’s always artificially in focus.
Over the years, I started to notice that for me, attraction was like set theory, and I evolved this model – there’s a set of people I’m attracted to, and within that, a subset of those I’m physically attracted to (as opposed to being attracted to their personality, mind, or suchlike). then within that, there’s a subset that I’m sensually attracted to (as opposed to just finding them aesthetically pleasing, nice smile, or suchlike). Then within that, there’s a subset that I’m sexually attracted to (actually turned on by, as opposed to just considering them cuddleable). And finally, there’s a fairly tiny subset of people to whom I’m sexually attracted, that I actually want to have sex with (because I like them enough, and feel safe enough with them, to do that).
But this model isn’t right at all. It only made sense back when I thought that sex was in the centre of the equation – back when I was still persuaded that sex had to be in the centre, had to be present (and back when I was still kidding myself I enjoyed it, as opposed to just feeling less scared compared to more scared). Now I’m seeing it not as a series of concentrics, but as a probability field of attraction.
There are loads of people I find attractive in different ways: aesthetics, intellect, imagination, humour, textures, sensuality… This is my new discovery, really: that almost all the time that I’ve assumed I’m sexually attracted to someone, I’ve actually been sensually attracted instead. There are certain people I really, really want to touch. Because their skin is lovely, or their hair is lovely, or their face or hands are lovely, or simply because they’re lovely and I want to express my loving through touch.
For sure, on occasion they make me feel horny too, but I’m very unclear where the line is. And of course, there’s a huge difference between the body responding with arousal, and actually wanting sex (something else I learned by being abused). And when I’m with someone who’s aroused by me, then it’s been very hard for me not to assume I’m into it, as I was strongly conditioned to expect I have to be sexually available.
Here I am, then, in this newly discovered asexual space, wanting to explore how to be sensual with people within that. And my googling makes it clear that in many people’s minds, sensuality is really “just foreplay”, so I’ve got to be very clear and careful and communicative and other things beginning with C. Chilled, curious, compassionate, california poppy…
Which brings us back to this amazing picture at the top. That scene from Buffy is to me a wonderful example of the sensual – non-sexual nakedness, intimacy, loving. It’s all poetry. Soft like this.