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Asexuality, virginity and stigma

October 30, 2013

The social importance of virginity has long been a subject of some confusion for me. It remains the only term in our everyday language to describe a person who has not yet performed an act. There are no Burgerins who have never before eaten burgers, or whatever the equivilent might be if there had ever been strong social and religious importance attatched to ground beef. Sex is so socially important, that the concept of one who has not partaken of it is met with surprise, intrigue and sometimes scorn or pity.

In history, a “virtuous” or chaste woman was considered to be a higher ranking citizen than a ruined woman or someone who had committed the sin of having (and presumably enjoying) sex outside of marriage. But even then, the concept of an “old maid” was met with pity and marginal disgust, as it suggested that the woman was so undesirable, no man wanted to touch her (we now know, of course, that just because you aren’t fucking men, doesn’t mean you aren’t fucking).

These days, the pressure is on both men and women to have sex as soon as possible. Here in the UK, our sex education is woefully lacking and everything we learn about sex comes from our alcohol-ridden peers and porn – then we wonder why he have the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe. If you are well into adulthood and still a virgin, you may live in fear that you will be “found out” and will receive implicit criticism for your lack of achievement; perhaps you have not been trying hard enough. Perhaps you are waiting for the right man or woman for you, or else you are struggling to come to terms with latent homosexuality; all that well-meaning, patronising nonsense.

After all, you’re desirable and socially capable. You’ve had my fair share of advances from both men and women who were quite interesting, regular, attractive people who you might well have been interested in if it were not for their fundamental preoccupation with sex. And yet, you have not done so. You are befuddled as to why other people find it so inconceivable that this is the conscious choice of a healthy, functioning individual. If that is the case, perhaps you are some variation of asexual or semi-sexual.

Yet, we barely recognise this group of people, particularly if they’ve never tried sex. It tends not to get taken seriously, in the same way that in some circles being gay is not taken seriously, rife with comments such as “How can you know you don’t like it if you’ve never tried it?” My favourate comment in response to this comes from  self-professed asexual I spoke to online, who said simply: “I’ve never been caught in a bear trap, either.”

For the majority, sex is an instinct that bears its own rewards, but the idea that one should enjoy it is bizarre. It is almost as if you are expected to force yourself for the sake of “experience”, like bungee jumping or white water rafting. The difference is that, in those two examples, it is only a minority of people that think you should “try it at least once”, rather than the whole damn public.

What reason is there to do what makes you feel uncomfortable even to contemplate, let alone to attempt? We are told you we missing out on something fantastic but it doesn’t much matter if some are more than happy to take other people’s word for it. Good sex is great for people who like sex and have probably always liked the idea of sex… But are we genuinely expected to believe that those who have encountered lacklustre, meaningless teenage or drunken fumbling are in some way more fortunate than those who have had none at all?

I hear all about other people’s escapades and am bombarded from all sides with questions about sex from those who appear to be interested in me and my sexual history. I find it vaguely off-putting, as one finds any person obsessed with just one subject off-putting. I will happily discuss sex – I am fascinated with it sociologically, psychologically and indeed physiologically for its complexity and variation, but being probed about my experience is not an enjoyable experience.

I consider its perceived importance a fascinating inter-cultural phenomenon. What other physically enjoyable activity forms the basis of so many subcultures? We have support groups for gay people and tons of forums dedicated to discussing sexual technique, preferences and kinky asides. Such groups do not exist for, say, sleeping, and exist to a lesser extent for eating – subgroups such as vegetarianism are largely ethical as opposed to relating to a fixed identity. By the same token, any slight move away from “usual” food choices does not usually lead people to assume that you are some kind of deviant.

I have heard asexuals cite humorous comparisons illustrating the arbitrary and faintly ridiculous nature of our views on sex. A popular comedic writer and internet personality known as Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw wrote on the subject in his personal blog. He avoided referring to himself as “asexual” for fear of sounding pretentious (such is the current perception), but proceeded to describe how he thought of sex like “spam”. Here is what he says:

“It’s like you’ve eaten spam a few times from a few popular brands and in a few serving suggestions, and found you’m not really keen on spam, ‘cos it’s salty and slimy and looks like something you might find in the alien queen’s litter box. But you’ve found yourself in a world that’s completely obsessed with spam. People spend their entire lives in pursuit of spam. Every single advert on TV sells their product by placing it alongside spam. Movies have to work in at least one spam scene to reach the broadest audience. People break up and get divorced because they don’t exchange enough spam. Soldiers are given time out to go have some spam. Low-risk prisoners are given spam visiting rights. People die for spam. Entire economies have been based around spam. Selling spam is the world’s oldest profession. The lack of spam has been linked to mental disorders. The only thing getting teenagers through difficult puberty is the thought of one day getting to have spam of their very own.”

For me, this accurately describes the world we live in. To develop Yatzee’s mention of media depictions of “spam”, persaonlly I find it excrutiating to watch any films or prograres that deal with the issue of virginity. They will invariably depict the male virgin as some unfortunate sap who has somehow missed a vital window of life and needs to be saved. To start with this difference between the male and female depiction serves only to highlight the inequities between men and women, inequities which do a disservice to certain types of people within both groups.

The Forty Year Old Virgin for me is a classic exmple of 21st century perception on the subject and is neither original nor witty enough to be considered satire. It is a dull, predictable and wearing depiction of a man who was oh-so-very hopeless; somehow managing to reach middle age without having lost his cherry (a vastly more impressive achievement than the alternative).

To my mind, a better ending to that film would have been if his immature and tedious friends stopped overreacting, backed off and let the man live his life. Instead, what happens? Of course, he succeeds in the great act of getting laid. I’m so glad he didn’t, say, write a best-selling novel or start his own business from scratch instead. Oh, of course… That wouldn’t be funny. ‘Cause, you know, sex is funny. But serious. Deadly, deadly, serious.

Not to say that one cannot be successful and sexual, but I think it high time we started on the path of dispelling the notion that everyone in life craves nothing more than oneness and monogomous physical intimacy with another. I for one like to think that the success of my life is not defined by how often I get my end away. As it is, most countries give precedence to people in pairs – the financial sector and the legal system favour marriage over singleness. Social practice follows in the footsteps of the law, so you will find that, wherever twos are given more perks than ones by their economy and legal system, there will be social stigma against those who do not have any inclination to become a two, even for one night.

And why all the sympathy? Ought one really to feel sorry because one doesn’t particularly lust after random people on the street? Should you feel sorry that you can go about ordinary life, not really caring whether or not the next fuck is around the corner? These encounters are so short lived and more often than not won’t be remembered. They are more functional than emotional – you are quenching a thirst. If you do not have the thirst in the first place, you do not have the inconvenience of attempting to satisfy it. Those men and women who complain because they have not had sex in three weeks… Perhaps they deserve the sympathy. I would certaily never like to find myself in a position of such dependency.


From → LGBT

One Comment
  1. Asking questions are really pleasant thing if you are not understanding something totally, but this article offers fastidious understanding yet.

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