I received a reply from Matty Silver in response to my previous post, which I posted on Twitter. I thought I would share it here and add some final comments.
You say that the asexual community needs acceptance and support not disbelief and condemnation and you find my article “incredibly disappointing”. You state: “It is worth pointing out that I have yet to come across a piece of academic writing that ‘discredits or disbelieves asexuality as you do”.
I would have thought that the AVEN community, who proudly announce on their website that they strive to create honest discussion about sexuality among sexual and asexual people alike, could deal with an article that differs from their opinion.
Nowhere in my article do I say the asexual community has got it wrong. Neither do I suggest “that it’s easy to label yourself asexual and that you are all deluded souls, snatching the first label you come across to hide behind because you are scared or repressed”. Neither do I deny or pathologise asexuality.
You state: “Being asexual is a source of pride for me. It is a part of who I am, a label I am proud to wear, a subject I am happy to talk about .Labeling ourselves as asexual is an act of belonging, courage, and freedom. For most of us, that doesn’t come as easily as your article seems to suggest”. Again my article does not suggest this as you can see from the links I provided and the photographs that accompanied it.
I very much agree with you Jo, that if someone doesn’t experience sexual attraction, doesn’t have a sense of sexuality, it’s not a problem unless the person thinks it is a problem and it causes distress. However, that was the case with the client I discussed in my article and who I will talk about later.
Let’s agree to disagree with my statement “that we are all sexual beings from the day we are born to the day we die”. If scientific research one day finds out that’s not the case, I happily will retract my statement.
This is another statement you make: “What the asexual community needs from sex therapists (and everyone else!) is acceptance and legitimation, not disbelief. We want people to actually listen to our experiences, not pick and choose individual quotes that suit their purposes.”
“Articles like your own only contribute to the marginalisation of asexual people in a society that already upholds (hetero) sexuality as the only way to be.” Surely society has progressed beyond this seemingly old-fashioned statement?.
Let’s first explain why I wrote this article. I am an accredited sex therapist in Sydney and write a fortnightly blog for Fairfax Media’s online Life-Style page about sexual issues, which are mainly educational. I am not an academic or a researcher, and the articles have to be less than 700 words, which means I can’t always include all the information I would like.
If you use this link you can access them all, and you will find that I have written about many issues, involving a lot of research. I have a file of 60 articles about asexuality, collected since 2009 and I can assure you I wrote this article with no intention of being disrespectful.
I specialise in sexual dysfunction for both men and women, and help couples who have relationship problems which are usually sexually related. I have been in full time practice for about six years and have spoken to hundreds of people. I take a sexual history from every client I see, which means that I have a broad understanding of the sexual problems or issues people experience or struggle with.
The client I mentioned in my article was unhappy that she had no interest in sex; she was distressed, which is why she came to see me. She wanted to explore with me the possibility of her being asexual. After some sessions, she decided she was not asexual but she was petrified of intercourse.
I certainly would never want to change anyone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction or doesn’t have a sense of sexuality and identifies as asexual.
You say: “We want people to actually listen to our experiences, not pick and choose individual quotes that suit their purposes”.
Most of the articles, I have read are by journalists who explain what AVEN is about and usually interview asexual young people. These were some of their quotes I used in my article:
“I enjoy physical contact, and I don’t find sex offensive. I just don’t want to interfere with someone else’s bits and pieces or have them interfere with mine”.
“For me sex is revulsion, it really is, just ugh, cuddling is OK but not kissing”
“I don’t want to marry, nor have children, because of the sex involved!”
“The thought of penetration, of being touched or having to touch someone makes me shudder”
As a sex therapist I can’t ignore the fact that some of these people may be experiencing sex phobia or sexual aversion. Contrary to what you may believe, for some women the thought of sexual intercourse may cause extreme anxiety or a panic attack. They fear that sex may hurt, feel embarrassed about the look of their vaginas, are scared of being naked in front of somebody else or of having to touch a penis.
The same can happen to young men who may experience some sort of sexual dysfunction that turns into performance anxiety, which then turns into avoiding sex.
You mention that you are an asexual activist, and you are always happy to see asexuality featured in public discourse. Maybe it is time that the asexuality community stopped seeing anyone who has a different opinion as “the enemy”.
Silver’s response disappointed me, because as I see it, she made no effort to engage with my overall arguments. Despite the fact that she quotes sections of what I wrote at length, she takes no responsibility for the implications of her article and the way she contributes to the marginalisation of asexuality.
Firstly, she denies outright that she said anything to discredit or question the existence of asexuality or its community, and that anything she said pathologises asexuality. But if you look back to the original article, she states:
I believe people who claim to be asexual should explore a full range of possibilities that may affect their sexual desire. A number of things could be going on, but a person’s sexuality will always be present.
This reads to me as saying ‘people who are asexual must have an underlying cause for their asexuality,’ and the fact that she then goes on to speak about sex-phobia and sexual aversion disorder strongly implies that the underlying cause is one of phobia, repression or disorder. The quotes by asexual people she uses are pulled from various media pieces and are decontextualised; you can see two of the articles she has drawn from here and here. Neither see asexuality, or their lack of sexual interest in other people, as a problem.
Furthermore, in a comment, Silver said this:
I personally don’t believe belief that asexuality is a “sexual orientation” or that anybody is born asexual.
There is nothing ambiguous about this statement. Asexuality, as described by AVEN (not the ‘literal definition’ that Silver has pulled from thin air to suit her own purpose), is a sexual orientation, one where people are not sexually attracted to any gender. For Silver to say that she has never suggested that the asexual community is wrong is ridiculous. For her to continuously demand scientific proof that people can be asexual before she accepts someone’s personal experience of their identity and sexuality is accurate is hugely problematic.
Later parts of her response are copied and pasted directly from her original article, which to me shows a lack of interest in actually engaging with my concerns. I am well aware that people do suffer from sexual disorders or problems that are based in fear or repression. However, it seems that this is actually the focus of Silver’s argument. So why bring asexuality into the picture at all, if this is what she actually wanted to talk about?
Some parts of her response seem completely out of touch with what society is like. For instance, she states that surely we have progressed past heteronormativity in the present day. I would say we have not. Any queer-identifying person (and a good lot of heterosexual people as well!) will agree with me. Surely if we had progressed past heteronormativity, we wouldn’t still be arguing about marriage equality, for one.
In my experience, the asexual community welcomes discussion of asexuality and sexuality in general. I cannot say that I speak for all of it. But what I cannot accept is people whose ‘different opinions’ directly contribute to the marginalising of a minority sexuality and have a harmful effect on that community. I find it baffling that Silver cannot seem to see or accept that her article is doing this. I also find it sad, because as someone in a visible, influential and authoritative position, I feel Silver could do a lot of good for the asexual community and for anyone who is questioning their identity and sexuality if she put her mind to it.
It would be as easy as writing an article that went like this: ‘I had a client once who was concerned that she was asexual. I told her that there were a range of possibilities. She could have some issues she needed to work through. Or she could be asexual, which would be perfectly fine, because it is a perfectly valid side of the spectrum of sexuality. Ultimately, the only person who could decide which possibility fitted her better was her. And whichever she ended up with, I was able to provide support and encouragement.’
Unfortunately, Silver seems determined to make sure no-one sees asexuality as a valid sexual orientation. Well, at least I can say I tried.