There seems to be a lot of intrigue around what asexual people think about porn. I know because it’s one of the first things that people ask me when they learn that I’m asexual, and I’ve spoken to enough asexual people to notice an awkward pattern emerging.
Asexuality is characterized by a lack of sexual attraction towards any person of any gender. That might sound simple enough, but it’s one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted sexual orientations there is. In essence, it’s the sexual orientation that isn’t really oriented anywhere. It isn’t the synonymous with being celibate or abstaining from sex - asexuality has nothing to do with the frequency of any kind of sexual activity. It isn’t a fear of having sex or being faced with anything sexual. It isn’t having anti-sex attitudes. It isn’t an inability to become aroused, not having a libido, not having any sexual interests, feelings or desires. But that’s what people tend to think it is. Consequently, it’s assumed that pornography (or any kind of sexual material) should be an asexual’s kryptonite.
I’ve seen the media try to test this theory multiple times, often using what I like to call the ‘sex shop test.’ I first noticed this in the BBC3 documentary, tactfully titled, “I Don’t Want Sex,” which I unfortunately happened to be in. The producers put an asexual guy in a sex shop, placed him in room full of dildos, just to have someone say to him, “I can see that you’re uncomfortable in here, it’s all about sex!” The situation was probably more uncomfortable than the mere presence of plastic, penis-shaped objects. I’ve travelled as far as the Czech Republic and found that the ‘sex shop test’ is used there too – the awkward scene was mirrored with uncomfortable similarity in their 2018 documentary, Asexualove.
But not all asexual people squirm at the sight of sexual material. In fact, quite a lot of us are either neutral to it, or are quite into it. Keep in mind, that it isn’t uncommon for asexual people to – wait for it – have sex, and we can actually enjoy it. Not to mention that asexual people are fully capable of pleasuring ourselves if need be. Not experiencing sex attraction can make achieving sexual pleasure a little different for asexual people, but that doesn’t make it impossible. Sexual attraction or the desire to have sex with someone are not essential for the appreciation of pornography, erotica, sex toys, kink culture, or anything else along those lines. In fact, it can be a healthy substitute for actually participating in sexual intercourse, allowing us to experience and experiment with different layers of sexuality without taking the so-called ‘deep dive.’
I wouldn’t describe myself as a kinky or sensual person, and I’m actually yet to find a use for the sex toys I’m occasionally gifted from brands. However, I’ve found that other forms of sexual material can be beneficial in the same way as watching sports or listening to fast music is helpful before or during working out. It can help me think about sexual pleasure before I try to attain it myself – if necessary. But this article isn’t about my specific experience. I reached out to other asexual people and asked them to share their thoughts on sexual material like pornography or erotica, and was surprised by how many (anonymous) responses I received. They revealed the complexity and diversity of asexuality, and showed the various ways and reasons why asexual people can appreciate things like porn in a way I personally related to.
Some respondents said that sexual material helped them to learn more about their asexuality. “I think porn, toys, and erotica are helpful because there are definitely people on the Ace spectrum who are trying to figure out how sex-positive/sex-repulsed they are. And it’s easier to discover those preferences on your own compared to with another person,” one asexual Twitter user explained. Another spoke specifically of their use of erotica and pornography, and how it not only helped them to explore their sexuality, but it helped them to learn about other people’s experiences: “Engaging with sexual content allows me to learn about sexuality and desire in a safe and controlled environment, on my terms. I think sex is a fantastic thing, even though I don’t want to have it myself, and I don’t like the shame and pressure surrounding it. I’m more comfortable with my asexuality now because of access to explicit content. I enjoy reading explicit fan fiction because it allows me to understand the emotions connected with sexual intimacy, without having to experience it personally. It’s different from when I watch porn; I don’t get the same connection to the emotions of the participants, but I get to appreciate the visuals of their bodies moving together.”
Aesthetic attraction is as common for asexual people as it is for anyone else, but when it comes to porn, an aesthetic attraction towards the performers isn’t necessary. A respondent explained that they are “often drawn to videos with good/interesting lighting, framing and other such things instead of a sexual attraction to the people depicted that most people seem to experience.” Another anonymous respondent had a similar experience, and expressed a specific preference for Erika Lust’s porn over more mainstream porn (No, I didn’t ask them to say that!). “Mainstream accessible porn is boring. It bores me to a level where I start to analyze it from a visual artist/ filmmaker point of view. Some is okay, most of it is terrible. It is not appealing for someone who is on the spectrum of asexual because my brain works different on visual sexual impulses. For me every aspect of porn has to be done right visually so I can enjoy it. My standard is sillily high. But Erika Lust Shows that it is possible, I think. I don’t watch porn for the pure idea of trying to get off, I want it to take me into a visual fantasy, just like fan fiction does.”
One respondent said that they were in a relationship with a bisexual woman, and that porn was one of the tools that helped them to connect to their sexual interactions. “We occasionally have sex because it’s important to her as a way to be intimate with each other. I’m mostly indifferent to sex, and sometimes get lost in my own head when we’re being physical with one another,” they explained, “I have occasionally watched porn/read erotica specifically about things that she’s interested in trying together. We’ve found that it helps me feel more grounded/connected to what we’re doing.” However, the respondent did add that they’re “not particularly inclined to care about stuff like that” without their partner’s prompting.
For some, porn is like the back-scratcher to help you reach that very particular itch. A heteromantic respondent said, “It is simply a thing that I feel the need to handle, separate from lust for a person or for intercourse. For this reason, I sometimes employ the use of pornography to more effectively complete the task.” In contrast to what some non-asexual people have described, the respondent emphasised that they don’t imagine themselves being in the situation depicted in the videos. “It seems like a terrifying notion. Part of why I enjoy pornography is that ‘distance’ from what is actually happening and that enjoyment would be ruined by proximity to the acts depicted. I would experience an aesthetic appreciation for what was happening and enjoy it a lot, but I would never wish to be in there in the moment.”
Most of the asexual people I asked specifically mentioned the importance of distance between themselves and the scenarios they’re consuming, which is something I can relate to. A respondent even stated that they only usually consume gay porn, rather than straight or lesbian porn, to “steer clear of any scenario that I could possibly place myself in.” This was similar to what another respondent told me: “I need to be completely cut off from my own identity and from intense or forced identification with the characters for me to appreciate it.”
This experience is common enough within the asexual community that there’s actually a word for it – aegosexuality. It is defined as, “A disconnection between oneself and a sexual target/object of arousal; may involve sexual fantasies, or arousal in response to erotica or pornography, but lacking any desire to be a participant in the sexual activities therein,” according to MOGAI Library. There is a group within the asexual community that specifically and unashamedly appreciates sexual material and pornography, just as there are groups of asexuals who enjoy sex, or enjoy kinks, and they aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.
I would like to close this article with a quote by an anonymous respondent, whose statement – I believe – is something a quite lot of people could empathise with, whether they identify as asexual or not. “Sex to me feels much like magic in fantasy genre stories: it can only happen in fiction, and its real life counterpart is unappealing and disappointing. But I don’t mind not doing magic in real life, I don’t mind having to dive in fictional settings to see sexual content. I feel real life sex is ‘too much’ when fictional sex is ‘just the right amount.’”
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