“Not everyone is interested in sex.”
The sentence, projected onto the front screen of 233 Wellman, welcomed students strolling into a workshop sponsored by the ASUCD Gender and Sexuality Commission this past Tuesday.
An installment of GASC’s Generation Sex Week, the seminar shed light on asexuality, seeking to raise awareness of the community and provide alternative ways to regard the mainstream sexualized culture we live in today.
But what exactly is asexuality? At the workshop, the presenters defined it as a sexual orientation characterized by not feeling sexual attraction.
“Put it this way,” said Evelyn Milburn, a recent Davis graduate with a B.A. in psychology and one of the workshop’s three presenters. “I could see a person with really aesthetically pleasing features and be like, ‘Oh, you’re so beautiful. Can I follow you around and stare at you all day?’ rather than feel any sexual attraction. I’m attracted, sure, just not like that.”
Every year, GASC organizes GenSex Week, an event that aims to educate students about various topics ranging from safe sex to sex toys to sexual diversity. Appropriately dubbed “the hottest week in winter,” this series of programs, workshops and guest lectures works toward encouraging more positive attitudes about sex and promoting education on all forms of gender, sex and sexuality.
Though GenSex has become a campus staple, the asexuality workshop is original to this year’s agenda.
“This is the first time we’re doing this,” Milburn said. “It wasn’t too long ago that I learned what asexual was and joined AVEN.”
AVEN, Asexual Visibility and Education Network, is an online asexual community that was founded in 2001 by David Jay, who, while a student at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, identified himself as asexual and launched the site. Today, it is the largest of its kind and now boasts over 26,000 registered members who together help the site achieve its two distinct goals of “creating public acceptance and discussion of asexuality and facilitating the growth of an asexual community,” according to the website.
Co-presenter Tommy Dombrowski, a senior philosophy and political science double major, looked to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center last October in hopes of finding other asexuals on campus.
“After [Jay] visited campus the first time, I wanted to know more and see if there were others like me,” Dombrowski said.
There he met Milburn and Cory Dostie, a senior math and linguistics double major and the third presenter. At the workshop, Dostie expressed that the need for this kind of event extends beyond mere visibility and awareness.
“Asexuality brings something to the table that benefits both sexual and asexual people alike,” Dostie said. “This information can be really relevant to all our everyday lives.”
However, many people do not truly understand what it means to be asexual. Many people hold a common misconception that asexual people never have sex. Though there are many asexuals for whom this is true, there are many reasons why an asexual person may want to engage in sexual activity, such as to please a partner, to conceive a child or to increase intimacy in a relationship.
At the workshop, the speakers said an asexual person might also engage in sex or masturbation as merely a way to “scratch an itch.” Like any person would scratch an itch or clear their throat, an asexual person may engage in sexual activity to relieve him or herself of the physical feeling of libido, Milburn said.
“But none of these reasons invalidate that person’s identity as an asexual,” Dostie said. “The term itself is a tool for self-exploration. It is there to help people conceptualize and apply an identity they may not have known about before.”
Another misconception is the confusion between asexuality and antisexuality. The language around the term “sex positivity” could be troublesome, Milburn said, in that it carries the potential to estrange the asexual community from fair and equal representation. In an event like GenSex Week where sex positivity is glorified, does that equate lack of sex with negativity?
Milburn, Dombrowski and Dotsie believe otherwise.
“Asexual people can definitely be sex positive – just because a person is asexual does not mean they believe sex is bad or immoral,” Dotsie said.
“Sure, there are asexual people who can be utterly repulsed by sex, who find it immoral and what-have-you, but the same could be said of sexual people,” Milburn said.
Though sexual and asexual people alike can take similar stances on questions of sexual morality or positivity, asexuality can offer alternative ways sexual people view both their own relationships and the world around them.
Dombrowski believes taking sex out of the equation of any relationship is beneficial.
“There are ways to express intimacy other than sex,” he said. “Just because I don’t wish to have sex with someone doesn’t mean I don’t want to get close to them. People don’t realize that asexuality calls for us to rebuild current models of relationship. It is very difficult trying to form intimate relationships that don’t revolve around sex, when the social expectation is sex as the natural conclusion to an intimate relationship. Why does intimacy need to be sexual?”
In today’s society, the phrase “sex sells” is there for a reason. But strategically sexy advertisements cause asexual people to disidentify with the dominant culture, Milburn said.
“An asexual person might look at an ad and wonder why they’re not responsive. They ask themselves, ‘Is there something wrong with me?’ which in turn renders feelings of invisibility.”
But the Asexual Association, which Milburn described as an unofficial, informal group of about seven students that is not associated with the university, tells people who are either asexual or questioning that they are not alone.
“For an asexual community, we’re pretty large at this campus. And we hope to continue encouraging visibility, so that any others who are questioning can feel supported in our little loving community,” she said.
For more information on asexuality, David Jay, founder and webmaster of AVEN, will be hosting a guest lecture tonight from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in 261 Olson. Called “Cockblock,” the workshop will focus on how the asexual community disrupts sexuality and gender.
“It’s going to be great,” Milburn said. “I’m really excited to listen to [Jay], and I encourage anyone who’s interested to drop in.”
MARIO LUGO can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.