Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How sexual are people?

The Asexual Catch-22

Being involved in asexual visibility efforts has made me aware of a particular aspect in people's worldview.  That is, how sexual is society?  How sexual are people?

There are some people who think that sex is just the greatest thing, and everyone wants to have sex (especially the guys).  According to this worldview, all teenagers are super horny, all Republicans are repressed, and the internet is for porn.

Other people think the media just exaggerates the amount of sex in society, and there are plenty of married couples who just stop having sex.  According to this worldview, people are not actually having as much sex as it would seem, or if they are, it's because society tells them they want it.

That's just my caricature of the positions.  I'm sure people actually have more complex and developed views than that.  But you wouldn't know it based on their response to asexuality.

Asexuals are caught in a catch-22.  If an asexual is too sexless in comparison to someone's worldview, then that person thinks there is something wrong with them.  If an asexual is not sexless enough in comparison to someone's worldview, then that person thinks, "What's the point of the label?  They must buy into society's exaggeration of sex!"

I get more of the latter response because I am gray-A.  But I have indeed gotten both responses.  I sorely wish people with the former response and people with the latter response would talk to each other, and not put me in the middle!

I don't know and you don't either

The most common response from asexuals is to argue: You have an incorrect view of how sexual people are (and I have the correct view).  Of course, this can't really be true.  Asexuals can't all have the correct view; they don't even have the same views as each other.

It's not that we're all equally wrong.  There is, after all, some underlying objective truth to the matter.  There is a certain percentage of people who have a certain kind of sex at a certain kind of frequency, and there are certain set of chemicals going through their brain under those circumstances.  Some people have more accurate views of this than others.  And some people believe definitively wrong things, such as the "men think about sex every seven seconds" myth.

But there are two problems: The definition of "sexual" is unclear, and our knowledge of the facts is unclear.

I think it's comparable to the question, "Is human nature essentially good?"  What does it mean for human nature to be good?  Does it mean humans, untouched, would perform more good actions than bad ones?  Which actions are good, and how much weight should different actions receive?  What does "untouched" mean?  And even if the question were more clearly defined, how would we know the answer?  "Good nature" presumably involves thousands of factors, each of which would require dozens of experiments to really pin down, many of which would require some mad (unethical) social science.  Without experiments, we must resort to media depictions and personal experiences, which are both afflicted with all sorts of biases.  For example, we hang out with people who are like us, thus creating the illusion that most people are like us.

Likewise, what does it mean for people to be more or less sexual, and how would we know the facts of the situation?

I know when uncertainty has me beat.  I know when it's time to admit, I do not know just how sexual people are.

Now, if only I could convince other people to admit the same.  Non-asexuals should admit it when responding to asexuals.  The existence of asexuals who label themselves as such is an empirical fact that should inform one's worldview, not something that should be denied because of a prior worldview.  Asexuals too, should be aware of their own uncertainty (and they frequently are).  One's own experience is known directly, but the "typical" experience is only inferred from clues.  I feel it is safe to conclude that most people experience sexual attraction (and that's enough for most asexuals), but some of the finer details are fuzzy.

Tomorrow, I will continue this thread by posting some statistics on sexual behavior.  See next post.

1 comment:

drransom said...

I vaguely seem to recall some statistics finding that college students tend to overestimate the amount of sex their peers have and the amount of alcohol they drink. I wonder if that's more generalizable (or if it's actually accurate). I'll be interested in seeing the stats you post later.