I am Not Sex-Favorable: Identifying as a Sex-Indifferent Asexual, and What That Actually Means.

So, when I first heard the term sex-favorable, I thought it was great – I knew of a couple people who had long felt that they were something other than just indifferent, but that never had a good way to describe that. It seemed like a nice way to round out our terminology – sex averse/repulsed for the folks who can’t stand the idea, sex-indifferent for the types who are kinda “meh” about it, and sex-favorable for the folks that actually are kinda interested.

Unfortunately, over the last few weeks that hasn’t been how things have played out, in part I think to a bit of a misunderstanding over what “sex-indifferent” actually means. See, what’s happened with sex-favorable is that instead of being used to describe those who felt positively about sex enough that indifferent didn’t work for them, it’s recently been used to simply replace the term indifferent to create a more drastic averse-favorable binary that’s just missing the point.

See, it’s not about “liking sex” vs. “not liking sex”. A lot of people I think hear “oh, you aren’t averse to sex? that means you like it which means you want it!” But that’s not really how it works.

I like metaphors, so let’s try one: Instead of talking about aversion/indifference/favorability of sex, let’s talk about cleaning toilets.*

(* of course, this metaphor doesn’t align perfectly because non-consensual toilet cleaning is nowhere near as bad as non-consensual sex, and unlike avoiding sex avoiding cleaning your bathroom can actually have negative consequences on your health and happiness. But I hope that it can still explain things a bit).

See, there are some people I know who absolutely hate the idea of cleaning toilets. Like, the thought of having to touch a toilet with their hands or even go near one for anything other than excreting waste just grosses them out. Or maybe they don’t object to the toilet itself, but maybe the smell of cleaning products makes them gag. But for whatever reason, these people would almost never willingly agree to clean a toilet under any circumstances. You could perhaps describes these people as “averse” or “repulsed” by toilet cleaning.

Then, on the other hand, there are people like me who don’t really mind. Like, it’s not fun, but we can see that it has certain benefits, like having a clean bathroom, that are useful. And when I do decide to clean the bathroom, there’s no instinctual revulsion or anything that I have to deal with. Like, it involves weird smelling chemicals and some elbow grease and other unpleasant things, but nothing that bothers that much in the overall scale of things.  Let’s call these people “indifferent” to toilet cleaning

And then, on the theoretical other end of the scale, there’s probably some people who are actually kinda into cleaning bathrooms. Maybe they have like a porcelain kink or something, or maybe they just find the routine of cleaning things a good form of stress-relief. These people could maybe be described as “favorable” towards the act of toilet cleaning.

Still, let’s note some things. First, the fact that I am not repulsed by the idea of cleaning toilets doesn’t mean that I’m automatically going to say yes if someone asks me to clean a toilet. Like, if someone comes up to me and says “hey, wanna clean my toilet?” I’d laugh in their face. Heck, even if one of my close friends comes and pleads for me to help clean their toilet, I’m still probably not going to. See, even when you’re indifferent to something, you’re still not going to do it unless the benefits are greater than the costs. Cleaning toilets involves missing out on other things I could be doing, it requires energy that makes me tired, etc. so I’m only going to do I if there’s some reason I think I’ll benefit.

So to exit from the metaphor, being sex-indifferent (or sex-favorable, for that matter), doesn’t mean you’re going to say yes to sex – now, or maybe ever. It just means that if the right circumstances arose, you might be comfortable considering it. It does not mean that you’re automatically willing to have sex with a romantic partner, or that you would ever be automatically open to anything.

Also, from a historical perspective, words like  “indifferent” and “averse” were meant to be less about your willingness to do certain acts than they were about your comfort level around certain things. At least, when I first encountered the terms on AVEN, they were often used much more broadly to describe things like not just dis/comfort with having sex but also various levels of dis/comfort with things like talking about sex, or watching sexually charged movie scenes, etc. And just being “averse” or “indifferent” didn’t really say anything about how you would choose to act in certain circumstances – for example, there are some people who consider themselves sex-averse or sex-repulsed who may decide that some level of sexual activity has, in their view, more benefits than costs, and may choose (for whatever reason) to engage in certain things, even if they might be uncomfortable with them – while on the other hand a person who feels more indifferent may nevertheless decide that for them, the costs aren’t worth the benefits.

Unfortunately, it seems like these definitions are being lost now – “indifference” has been extremely warped where it hasn’t been completely erased, and that “averse” and “favorable” have been bastardized into shorthand for “would you be willing to have sex with a partner”, which for people like me has never been what they were meant to mean. And at this point, I’m still wondering if those originally meanings can be reclaimed or if the concept has just been too far warped.

12 thoughts on “I am Not Sex-Favorable: Identifying as a Sex-Indifferent Asexual, and What That Actually Means.

  1. It seems like what’s happening is linguistic drift (from “sex indifferent” to “sex favorable”) of an idea people already had, i.e. that if you’re not sex-repulsed you are probably pretty okay with having sex. The Notes Which Do Not Fit wrote about it for last Carnival, if you haven’t already seen: http://thenoteswhichdonotfit.wordpress.com/2014/07/11/why-are-sex-indifferent-aces-assumed-to-be-open-to-sex/

    What I find really curious is that it seems like there are a fair number of people off tumblr writing about how sex-[whatever] terminology shouldn’t be absolute, and that some people can’t easily shove all of their feelings toward sex into the sex-indifferent-averse-favorable trifecta–just off the top of my head, Elizabeth (at Prismatic Entanglements), The Ace Theists, The Notes That Do Not Fit, and Fistfelt have all written about it in the past few months. It seems like tumblr (surprise, surprise) is where people are being divided up into explicit groups. Tumblr: surprising no one, still not particularly good at nuance.

    • I think a lot of the drift (from indifferent to favorable) is pretty directly tied into the drift from “comfort level” definitions to “willingness to do this” definitions.

      Like, when you are talking about how much something bothers you or makes you uncomfortable (which is how I first encountered these terms), it makes sense to mostly discuss things in terms of “I am bothered by it” (sex repulsed/sex averse) and “I am not bothered by it” (indifferent). I think that’s part of why we didn’t have a term like “sex favorable” for so long, since “extra not bothered by it”? doesn’t seem like a salient category..

      But when you switch to willingness to engage in a certain behavior, then you have “someone who will do the behavior” (which favorable has become) and “someone who won’t do the behavior” (which repulsed/averse has become). And then “indifferent” gets booted because, you either do or you don’t right?

      Conversations about aversion/indifference/etc. have always have a bit of both definitions, but I think on tumblr there’s less history with the former and people have latched on the latter a lot more than I see in people who have been in more communities. (I also see the drift as partially the result of concepts being transmitted imperfectly across communities, but then I haven’t been very active on AVEN recently so I don’t really know if it’s changed the same way there or not).

      (Also, thanks for the link! I’m really behind in catching up on ace blogging community stuff since…well, late june or so.)

      • I’m wondering if part of the reason for the drift from “comfort level” to “willingness to do this” has to do with the pressure to be sex-positive on tumblr. Namely, when I was lurking on AVEN, I quite often saw people saying that they were repulsed by sex talk or were uncomfortable during sex scenes in movies, whereas if you say that sort of thing on tumblr, you’ll have a bunch of people leaping on you to tell you that you’re shaming sexually active people. So if “sex-averse” can’t mean “isn’t comfortable with sex” (because if you’re uncomfortable around sex you’re probably a slut-shaming, sex-negative prude), then it has to mean “isn’t comfortable HAVING sex,” right?

        Check out last month’s Carnival! There were a whole bunch of good posts on being sex-averse/sex-indifferent/sex-favorable/not into the whole sex-[whatever] labeling system.

        • Actually, that’s a good point about the way that “not being comfortable with sexual talk” etc. is a bit of a taboo topic on tumblr – because that was actually the kind of topic that prompted me to take up “indifferent” as a label. Like, it wasn’t so much the fact that I might be comfortable having sex that made me feel different than a lot of aces on AVEN at the time, it was the fact that I was *comfortable talking about* having sex.

          Like, a lot of the time on AVEN the divide between repulsed and indifferent aces was not so much how likely they were to have sex, but how comfortable they were being around things like explicit discussions of sexuality. Back in the day there used to be really common attitudes of “we come here to avoid people talking about sex” or “this is an asexual forum, why are you talking about sex here?”. So a lot of us who ended up identifying as “indifferent” did so as a part of trying to build spaces where we could talk about more sexual things that made many other aces uncomfortable. (I’m thinking of things like the TMI thread on AVEN, which was one of my favorite threads before it kind of died).

          But on tumblr now, it’s completely different – unlike on AVEN, the expectation is that everyone is and or should be fine with any amount of in-your-face discussion of sexuality, so there’s less of a need for articulating that you aren’t bothered by it or making spaces for it, since it’s taken for granted (although it probably shouldn’t be).

          And I think maybe because of that, people who are used to that status quo might not understand the reason that *anyone* would feel the need to specify that they aren’t repulsed by sexual things, unless it’s to indicate that they are sexually available.

      • I think it’s important that we don’t valorize the repulsed/indifferent dichotomy, as if it didn’t have problems of its own. Honestly, it was one of the most grating dichotomies discussed on AVEN. Even if its intention was just to discuss whether people were or were not bothered by sex talk, the word “indifferent” strongly suggests “neutral”, as if it were the middle of a spectrum. So it always felt like a trichotomy (you have a negative, neutral, or positive attitude towards sex in relation to yourself), but with the last option removed because it was just too unthinkable. The repulsed/indifferent dichotomy has basically demanded the “sex-favorable” category for a long time, and what’s surprising is that it took so long to happen.

        The shift in emphasis from comfort with sex to willingness to have sex… I’m not sure that this is really caused by the addition of “sex-favorable” as a term. Rather, it could be caused by the focus on sex-favorable aces, no matter what we call them. The issues of repulsed aces and aces who are willing to have sex (or even seek it out) are asymmetrical. In a conversation centered on repulsed aces, we’d talk more about navigating a world which expects everyone to be sexual, while in a conversation centered on aces who like sex, we’d talk more about navigating sex and relationships.

  2. A year ago, I was talking about this subject under the heading “asexuals who like sex”. When “sex-favorable” came into use, it seemed like a perfectly good replacement for a previously awkward phrasing. I didn’t put much thought into the differences. “Asexuals who like sex” could potentially overlap with sex-indifferent or sex-repulsed, while “sex-favorable” is seen as part of a trichotomy. Interesting…

    Although it’s a rather subtle point. I feel like the community has so many separate bubbles that it’s hard to enact any sweeping changes in our language without some really blunt justification.

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