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At times, my college housemate identified as asexual. She had boyfriends, but didn’t fool around much. She wasn’t interested in losing her virginity right away. She was really interested in corsets, and gothic fashion (which can be very sexy), and sexuality in general, but she didn’t feel the need to explore any of it with a partner. She was just comfortable with this aspect of herself. She is partnered now, and her unwillingness to compromise has made for a long, drawn-out, but ultimately spectacular pairing with the kind of man who’s ready to honor that particular part of her personality.

A few weeks ago, another friend was trying to find the right way to express to her husband that she just wasn’t feeling sexual lately. She still felt warm, affectionate and compassionate towards him, but had no interest in sex or anything leading to it. She recounted times that she felt like an outsider coming of age in the queer community of drag contests and burlesque, of a kind of extroverted, aggressive expression of sexuality that grabbed you by the face and kissed you against your will. She still can’t recognize herself in the arched backs and come-hither pouts of models and actresses. She felt like her subtle, whispering, reticent sexuality was overshadowed by giant caricatures of the body and sexual expression. Her sexuality feels controlled, subdued, lazily napping in the sun. Like a cat being called to dinner, she is in no rush to get up, feels no pangs of desire for any sustenance that she can’t find herself.

We have some words for these beautiful, vibrant, unique women in our society, but they are not kind. Our Madonna/whore complex is resolute: women who don’t want sex are prudes, uptight, frigid, withholding. (“She won’t put out.”) Because her duty to herself is not enough. She must also cater to the projected desires of the men in her life. She must be a certain amount of sexy, available, willing, interested. But that doesn’t work for everyone. Women who identify as asexual to any degree have to grapple with the gaps between expectation and reality. And, like anyone, what they really need is for the people in their lives to accept them.

And then, on the other hand, there are women like me. Women who have dated men, but never felt 100% fulfilled unless they were consistently and frequently immersed in passionate sexual experiences with their partners. Women who have been both extremely “out” in their everyday sexual expression (revealing clothes, sexually provocative conversations, initiating sexual experiences with their partners often, talking about sexual experiences with friends), and perhaps, at other points, more reserved in public (“a lady in the streets and a freak between the sheets,” if you will). Our sexuality is voracious, insatiable, and as much a part of us as our birthmarks or our sense of style. And that creates its own challenges. In my own experience, I have rarely encountered a man who is on the same page as me. Once the honeymoon phase of connecting had passed, I was left feeling frustrated, unwanted, and extremely unfulfilled. Society has words for women like us, too. “Slut” is the most common. But when you’re in a relationship, the insults can be more subtle, “You want too much.” “You care about sex too much.” “Is that all you can think about?”

Perhaps for my partners, sex was a non-issue and they could take it or leave it. But I have never, since I became sexually active, wanted to leave it. If it’s there, I want it. As I have written before, “Sex is the question to which the answer is always ‘Yes!’” Like my asexual friends, my hypersexual friends and I have been engaged in the tedious process of trying to find a sexual partner who can match our libidos.

These kinds of desires aren’t talked about in everyday life. Women lack opportunities to vocalize this private, important aspect of who they are, and it is to the detriment of relationships in general if people are not getting exactly what they want. Whether you are oversexed or undersexed, you might not feel like you are able to tell anyone or ask for advice. There is a very rigid way that women seem to be able to express themselves to others, and it is not any more practical to be a motherly ice queen than it is to be a bimbo, unless that is who you truly are (and if it is, just own it – the world needs all kinds of ladies). Nevertheless, in the same buildings and offices that we work, there are women who don’t want to have sex at all, and women who want to have sex all the time, and women who are into S&M, and women who want their partners to be gentler, and women who want to try new things. And, as I learned through The Vagina Monologues, a lot of women out there are still looking for their first orgasm.

What is the solution? I think it is to be who you are, and to be proud about it. Don’t allow anyone to dictate it to you, model it for you, or force it onto you. In the bedroom, ask for exactly what you want and be unashamed of the process. With friends, ignore the giggling or blushing long enough to whisper the questions you’ve been dying to ask: “Do you get what you want in the bedroom?” “How do you tell your husband you don’t want to do it?” or even, “Do you watch porn?”

As far as I’m concerned, we can ignore and bypass the mainstream media and conventional ways of approaching sexuality as much as we want. The sexual revolution allowed us to be sexual beings, but the over-sexualization of women in the media has made the lady mold very inflexible. The only way to stop this nonsense is to take back the power. We’ve always had it. It’s simply a matter of choice, and of action. Walk past the magazines with the airbrushed models and the recycled sex tips. Don’t go to the movie about the friends with benefits if that’s not your thing. Read real books about real people. Ask questions. Most importantly, refuse to ignore your desire! Embrace it. However it manifests itself. If you are fearless, it will send a message to the people around you: What I want matters. Whether it’s a good night’s sleep or to be up all night, it’s your world.

Heather Thomas has spent the last 10 years of her life as an overzealous xenophile, living in Japan for a year and in Australia for three years. Heather is a current language teacher and writer who loves gluten-free pancakes, spinning, and ridiculously loud music. Her work can also be found at Across the Margin, an online publication featuring an eclectic collective of brilliant writers (www.acrossthemargin.com). http://www.acrossthemargin.com read more about