Before I knew the word “asexual”, I didn’t think about why I was the way I was; I just accepted it as something about me. But since discovering the term, I’ve wondered many times if I’m ace or sex-averse (I use that term somewhat interchangeably with sex-repulsed, because it’s broader but still encompasses sex-repulsion) because of something in my upbringing—especially the purity culture that I was immersed in through my church.
I knew that I didn’t want to have sex before I was old enough for Sunday school classes on purity, so I know those didn’t cause my asexuality or my personal sex-aversion—I was already not just uninterested in sex, but actively did not want to ever do it. But I do think purity culture contributed somewhat to my overall sex-aversion—I’m not just repulsed by the idea of engaging in sex myself, but don’t like to see it on film, read about it, hear people talk about it, or think about other people doing it. And it’s not just that I feel squicked by those things; rather, sex—any sex—has a wrongness about it to me. I don’t actually think that sex is inherently bad or wrong, but, hard to admit as it is, that’s my instinctual, unconscious reaction.
And I really wonder if I feel that way about sex because of hearing over and over how harmful sex is [outside of marriage], how it’s a sin [outside of marriage], how it will leave you scarred, broken, damaged [outside of marriage]. I’ve read stories of people who grew up in purity culture having issues having sex with their spouses; while that “outside of marriage” is always tacked on, and at least in certain churches/circles there’s plenty of talk about the goodness of marital sex, being told about the badness of premarital sex over and over still makes an impact. So thinking that I, who was already predisposed to not be excited about sex, internalized these messages isn’t very far-fetched.
Why does this matter? Because purity culture is messed up and is hurting people—those who wait till marriage and those who don’t (cw for mentions of rape at the link). If you do wait, you might end up in tears on your wedding night. If you don’t, you’re considered “damaged goods” and shamed, either by other people or just by yourself, because you’ve been told again and again that you’re not worth as much if you sleep with someone before getting married to them.
But more important to me right now is, it matters because it’s okay to be sex-averse. It’s okay to not want to hear about sex, it’s okay to be uncomfortable with it, and it’s okay to not want to do it—and that holds true even if you got that way from unhealthy attitudes, or through some form of trauma.
People need to realize this, for their own sake and for the sake of aces, because some Christians who rage against purity culture use “asexual” to mean “broken”, and emphasize sexual enjoyment as an essential component of marriage and a hallmark of a healthy life (not linking because these articles were upsetting, but let me know if you want them). But these people shouldn’t view being able to have fun, guilt-free sex as the ultimate goal; rather, the goal should be acceptance of and support for people who don’t like sex, who can’t make themselves go through with it, people for whom it always feels wrong. Nobody should have to teach themselves to like sex in order to feel healthy or healed.
No matter where they come from, asexuality and sex-aversion are legitimate, and aren’t things that need to be changed or corrected. Whether you were born sex-averse, or picked it up somewhere, or had it forced on you, it’s still you, and while you certainly aren’t obligated to like it, it’s not inherently bad.
I’m saying this to everyone who’s been hurt by purity culture—including myself.