Asexuality in Christianity: Both Ideal and Reviled
It’s Asexuality Awareness Week this week!
In conducting interviews for my book, I had the pleasure of speaking to a young woman, Kay, who is married and identifies as asexual. I wasn’t all that familiar with asexuality, beyond knowing that it’s the “A” in LGBTQIA, so I was glad for the chance to talk to her about it. She spoke to how her experience in purity culture prevented her from realizing that she’s actually asexual, because not having sexual desire was the presumed end goal of the abstinence and anti-lust teachings.
But before we get to that, we should talk about what asexuality is. According the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network, people who are asexual experience little to no sexual attraction. Asexuals experience attraction, “but feel no need to act that attraction out sexually.” There are variations within the identity, as many identify as asexual but romantic – meaning they don’t experience sexual attraction but still participate in romantic relationships.
This isn’t an identity addressed very often in the evangelical purity movement, but it does have an interesting relationship to it. Throughout the purity movement’s abstinence only education and warnings against lustful thoughts and untoward sexual desire, asexuality becomes the goal without it being spoken of as such. Stopping lust is translated as stopping all sexual desire – so not having sexual desire is the highest of all states a purity movement person can reach. This makes asexuality the unspoken ideal.
At the same time, the constant discussion of how everyone has sexual desire and sexual desire expressed rightly within marriage is “God’s ideal” turns asexual persons into outcasts. Asexuality is the ideal, up until the point of marriage – then you’re somehow freakish. The purity movement both praises and demonizes the asexual person’s identity – which makes it the only queer identity that receives such treatment. It’s good – up until the point when it becomes a problem to be corrected.
This assumption that everyone has sexual desire is a form of privilege that not a lot of people consider. Indeed, in my own writing, I often shorthand my discussion by talking about “perfectly normal sexual desire,” which has the unsavory effect of alienating asexuals – which is something I’m sorry about and I’m working to fix. The fact that there is little to no awareness about asexual identity leads to ignorant assumptions about sexual desire.
If we really are going to honor people as God created them, not assuming everyone experiences sexual desire or that lust is a problem for everyone is a necessary step to take. We need to make it clear that both sexual desire and the lack of it are perfectly normal states of being when it comes to sexual identity. Whether you have attractions toward the same gender or different genders, or you experience attraction but not desire, that identity should be honored as a God-created part of you.
I’m working to educate myself on asexuality. You should be, too. Let’s work together on making the world a better place for people of all sexual and gender identities.