I Mistook My Asexuality For Sexual Purity

lover holding hand

Not once did it occur to me that my aversion to sex was anything other than godliness.

I’m not normally a person who watches TED talks. I want to be, but the idea of committing myself to something educational when I could be watching videos of dogs is a hard sell. When a Facebook friend posted Ash Beckham’s Owning Your Duality, though, something about it compelled me to watch.

This short 15-minute video managed to ease a tension I thought I’d always carry. The suspicion that I hold several identities within myself has long lingered. Christian, leftist, wife, writer, weight lifter. I’m not singularly any of those, just as I’m not singularly asexual or married to someone who isn’t.

Beckham speaks of having the courage to hold two things: the good and the bad, the easy and the hard. Asexual and Christian don’t seem contradictory; “True Love Waits” and sexual purity movements have made it pretty clear that a large portion of the church doesn’t want young people getting it on.

As a deeply religious teenager, I mistook my lack of sexual interest for piety. I wore my modesty with pride, choosing loose-fitting T-shirts and JNCO jeans over my peers’ preference for baby tees. I made sure to place my hand over my chest any time I leaned over to address someone lest my shirt somehow billow out and allow a glimpse of my breasts. My youth group crush once said to our youth minister, “The only girl in our whole group who dresses appropriately is Lindsey.” Strangely enough, he ended up dating a series of girls in the group whose wardrobes contained much less fabric than mine. My dad even took me aside once and said, “Lindsey, men like to see curves.” He mimicked the shape of an hourglass with his hands. “You aren’t ever going to get a boyfriend dressed like that.” He was gross, but he was right. I didn’t ever get a boyfriend.

But I didn’t really care. Boyfriends meant marriage, and marriage meant sex. I had no interest in sex with anyone, which to me meant that I was the best Christian ever. When friends had a pregnancy scare and admitted “we just got caught up in the heat of the moment,” I scoffed. How does that even happen? I’d never felt that kind of intense passion so I assumed I was too holy for that sort of thing. Even so, I felt a little bit abnormal, having no struggles with lust. Self-righteous and beloved by God, of course, but also different in that scary teenage way that makes you want to shrink yourself. I even tried to generate sexual feelings so that I could understand my friends. I pictured my crush naked, and I cringed. I pictured us having sex and buried my face into my pillow, my whole body trying to curl up. It was just—ugh. I could imagine kissing and holding hands, but anything that involved us taking our clothes off was repulsive.

Karena was the first of my friends to have a serious boyfriend. Sitting in my bedroom, our bottoms against carpet and our backs against the bed, Karena told my sister and me about giving her first blowjob. Her boyfriend, Ethan, had guided her through it. Though Karena was excited and cosmopolitan now for having not only seen a penis but also put it in her mouth, I felt a tube of ice forming between my lungs. My stomach dropped like I was on a roller coaster. Would I have to do that when I dated someone? I wasn’t afraid of the sin behind it so much as disgusted at the very idea of touching someone else’s genitals. I wrote in my diary that night, “Karena gave Ethan a blowjob—gross! When I have a boyfriend he’ll be a Christian so I won’t have to do that.”

Not once did it occur to me that my aversion to sex was anything other than godliness.

Throughout college I was known by friends as “The Mighty Oak,” because of my stalwart devotion to singlehood. I’d loosened up my morals enough not to obsess over everyone’s purity, but I still had no interest in coitus. I figured that meant I was destined to be single, which was fine. God had obviously called me into a life of chastity, since it was so easy for me. My famously untouched nethers were part of my pedigree for leadership positions in campus ministry, which I used to occasionally scorn women and men of looser morals. Yet I struggled with the idea that I was holding them to a standard I didn’t have to meet; they gave into lust while I had no lust to give into. I recognized that I was passing judgment on a situation I’d never experienced, but I had yet to realize the reason I’d never experienced it or what that meant.

I started dating my husband the summer before I started my senior year of college. For the first time in my life, I understood lust. I loved him so desperately that I wanted to be as physically close to him as I could at all times—skin to skin, heart to heart, mouth to mouth. Even with him, though, I had no problem enforcing my virginity. There was never a “heat of the moment” experience in which I was so overcome with sexual fervor that my conviction faltered.

Because he inspired the only sexual arousal I’ve ever felt for another person, I assumed that once we were married I would be a sexual tyrannosaurus, the way God intended. While my passion for my husband did continue to grow, over the years I found myself more interested in pleasing him and in the emotional connection brought by sex. My own pleasure was an excellent side effect, but it was almost never the goal.

Once again I found myself feeling different, like I was 15 all over again. This time the conflict wasn’t between my sexual orientation and my religion; it was between my sexuality and my feminism. I found myself stuck in a negative feedback loop: Because I was having sex for reasons other than satisfying my own desire, I couldn’t enjoy it as much because I felt guilty. Was sex positivity lost on me?

This time, I had the internet and I decided to educate myself.

Like many folks, I’d incorrectly assumed the A in LGBTQIA was for ally. Upon realizing that asexuality was an option, I reasoned pretty quickly that my feelings of never wanting to have sex with anyone weren’t a symptom of my virtue, but of my sexuality. My husband being the exception meant I was gray-ace, though I also liked the term “asexual-ish.” More importantly, I discovered that plenty of asexual folks liked to have sex for the reasons I did.

Discovering that I was normal and that the only required reason for sex is “I want to” answered the never-ending question of “but why do I really want this and is it OK?” No longer worried about why I want to have sex and just that I want to, I’m back to pleasing my husband, growing closer to him, and excellent side effects.

I’ve realized, like Ash Beckham, that I don’t have to be either or. I don’t have to be either a Jesusy type of person or an asexual-ish type of person. I don’t have to choose between satisfying my husband or myself. Like Beckham, I can live in duality.

Lindsey Harris is a writer and MFA student in the best city in Kentucky, where she lives with her husband and a smelly meatbag disguised as a dog. She also teaches creative writing to middle schoolers. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Story Collider Magazine and xoJane. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.

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