i don’t want to have sex

This is the first part of 2 posts on hypersexualisation within the queer scene. This part outlines a general feeling that in order to be queer, you have to be sexual and the second explores specifically attitudes around polyamory. Look out for part 2 next week!

At the moment I am reading this wonderful zine I picked up at the Zinefest Berlin this weekend. It’s called ‘Wer ‘A’ sagt, muss nicht ‘B’ sagen‘ (‘B doesn’t automatically follow from A’) and it’s about asexuality. Asexuality. A word that I have been aware of for a while – it was always included in the breakdown of queer I used to do at high school workshops on homophobia (LGBTTSIQQA, phew!) – but, to be honest, we never really addressed it. Reading about asexuality, and asexual folks touched me because it reminded me of similar thoughts I have been having about socialising in the queer community.

I don’t want to have sex. I don’t want to have a lover. I am not an asexual person, but at the moment this is how it is.

“Deciding to be single for a while has been one of the most self-loving things I have done for myself this year”

A few weeks ago a friend asked me whether I have had a lover since moving to Berlin. When I said no, she said ‘oh, that’s tragic.’ And I thought, why would you assume that it’s tragic? It’s not. Deciding to be single for a while has actually been one of the most self-loving things I have done for myself this past year. She assumed that as a ‘normal healthy queer’ I will want to have a lover and I will want to have sex.

I have spent years trying to fit in. When I was at school I spent a lot of energy trying to become part of the crowd. To have the normal style and normal opinions. Then, when I was 14, fully a teenager, I realised I didn’t want to fit in anymore. I wanted to be one of the freaks. Where I belonged. And I worried, is it too late? Have I lost my own individuality? I think I am coming to the same place in the queer community.

At a queer festival I attended this summer I was excluded from ‘the most exciting party of the week’ because it was a sex party and I don’t want to go to sex parties. I had fun decorating the sex spaces with UV reflective string, but I ended up spending the evening by myself in my bedroom. There should have been another option.

“I would like us to examine the difference between sexpositivity and feeling obliged to have sex because it’s cool”

In a community which defines itself by alternative gender and sex expressions, not wanting to have sex makes me feel like an outcast.

There is a huge pressure to have, and to want, sex all the time. This pressure is not exclusive to the queer community. I have felt it ever since I was a kid; when am I going to get my first boyfriend, when am I going to lose my virginity, when am I going to fall in love? It is a truism that we live in a hyper-sexualised society and I would like us to examine the difference between sexpositivity and feeling obliged to want/have sex because it’s cool. The question of where sex belongs in the queer community is a really interesting one. The queer community as I see it has emerged from lesbian and gay communities which historically defined themselves by the sexual desires of their members. Although our queer community is now based on alternative gender as well as sexual expressions, I imagine, non-history-major that I am, that this sexual root is where our scene today comes from.

Living in a queer community whose members are mostly girls and guys who were assigned female at birth (cis guys are in the minority at the spaces I frequent), I totally get the feminism of asserting our right to own our sexuality. We have been told that as ‘women’ we are naturally frigid, naturally monogamous. All we want to do is settle down and have babies. Erm, actually, not everyone, no.

So we have asserted our right to fuck who we want, when we want, however we want. I get where the sex positive movement has come from and I love the fact that BDSM is out of the closet, as it were. However, poly and kink and sex have become undeniably cool. And that’s where the problems start. Because it creates a hierarchy. Many queers assume that poly and kink are inherent to being queer. If you’re not into them, then you’re not queer. Not cool.

Working against such stark cultural assumptions – women are naturally frigid and monogamous – leads us to take the opposite position – we are slutty and naturally polyamorous. However, I don’t think the answer to sexist assumptions is to just flip the coin. Things are always more grey, more nuanced than that.

Now, as someone who is working some shit out, I need to not have sex or a relationship for a while. This doesn’t mean that I have lost my sexuality, rather that I am prioritising finding out other stuff about myself. I am sure that my experience is not unique. People go through less sexual times in their lives and I think it’s important that we recognise this too. Sometimes sex is not okay.

An old colleague of mine from Canada has recently been involved in an art exhibition in London called ‘The Flipside: When Sex Is Not Okay.’ They define not okay experiences as

“times when someone has felt unsafe, unable to say no, threatened, misled, or pressured into something, as well as experiences of sexual abuse or assault.  It also includes times when people have had distressing emotions or states of mind during sex – which might mean feeling dirty, guilty or ashamed; having flashbacks; or disassociating.”

Although this group is more focused on survivors of sexual assault, it does highlight that sometimes people cannot or do not want to have sex.  That sex isn’t always a positive experience. I, still, feel pressured to have sex in the same way that I felt pressured to lose my virginity when I was a teenager. I still have a hard time saying no.

The friends and acquaintances I know in the queer community seem to be fairly aware of the fact that sexual assault exists and of the need for safer spaces. Although I do not want to appropriate other people’s experiences, maybe we can extend this understanding to an awareness that some people don’t want to have sex at times for whatever reason. I am not sure how to do this but let’s put our thinking caps on. Maybe just keeping this in mind next time you ask me which sex party I am going to on Friday (where you assume that I will of course want to go to a sex party) would help.

I would really like to live in a community which recognises that my decision to be single for the next while is actually a really positive thing. That celebrates the fact that I am able to do this for myself. It takes a lot of guts to sit down here and write my personal story. But I hope that in outing myself, other people will also feel able to say, actually, I don’t want to have sex today, this year, whatever. Not everything revolves around sex.

Don’t forget to check out part 2 on polyamory next week!

39 thoughts on “i don’t want to have sex

  1. »Paula«

    Wow, thank you for this entry! Its so important to talk about the sometimes way too sexed up attitude in queer communities (which, fortunately, is not always the case).

    Also, I don’t think it’s only ok to have “phases of not wanting to have sex (for valid reasons)”, but not ever wanting to have sex is ok, too. And nobody should be judged for it, period.

    1. Lipstick Terrorist

      Yeah I wanted to say that too – that’s it OK to never want to have sex. Well done for pointing it out Paula 🙂

  2. emma ca

    sorry – epic comment! but i think this is a compliment for a writer, shows that your piece made me think 🙂

    just wanted to point out – at copenhagen queer festival on the night of the sex party there was the danceaoke (or however its spelt) dance karaoke anyway! this was arranged for the night of the sex party specifically so that people who didnt want to go to the sex party would have something else fun to do. the people planning the festival last year also deliberately planned the sex party as earlier in the week so that it wasnt viewed as the ‘ultimate party’ of the festival, and they did this because they appreciated that its alienating for people who dont want to have sex. in fact sexuality in general was deliberately de-emphasised at this particular fest. it still found its way in of course becuase for a lot of people there, that is their focus. but just thought it was worth pointing out that there is actually a lot more consciousness in the queer scene around asexuality/people not currently wanting sex than might first meet the eye. my feeling is that the emphasis on sexuality is more than just structural. becuase it doesnt need to be the structural focus of an event or community to still have a strong presence. my thoughts are that sex and sexuality are so loaded, as sites of insecurity, fear, joy, trauma, desire, angst, jealousy, gender, closeness, love etc. etc., thats its always going to carrying a heavy weight. and take up space. i have to say that personally, having spent time in spaces with long term heterosexual monogamous couples and noticing the complete lack of sex and sexuality, ive come to appreciate that the queer scene is not like this! im really glad we’re more likely to sit around discussing the opening of a new sex shop than the new set of designer plates we want to buy.

    also – i dont know if you mean me as the person who gave you a sympathetic response when you said you’d never had a lover in berlin? perhaps it was. i just wanted to make it clear that if i responded sympathetically its becuase i’ve known many femmes (including myself of course) come to berlin and feel the cold, sharp shock of how unsexy and undesirable femme gender is in berlin. and i’ve commiserated with a number of other femmes about how frustrating it can get (if you *do* want a lover) in a town where you’re desexualised and not valued. especially when youre used to an environment where you are totally valued and celebrated! femmephobia that results in awesome hot femmes being ignored and getting no dates (when this is what they want) is tragic. not wanting to have sex (and therefore not) is never tragic! just wanted to clarify that. 🙂

    1. Lipstick Terrorist

      Hey Emma, I will take your epic comment as a compliment. I do appreciate that the danceaoke thang happened at the same time as a sex party and part of my desire to not go out that evening was because I was exhausted by being social all the time. And I was very happy the sex party was deliberately not the final party at the festival. However, I still feel that so much attention was paid to this event that it felt like if you didn’t want to go / didn’t want to go to a sex party in general then somehow you were being weird or acting in an unexpected way. I think sex and desire have their place in the queer scene but at the moment they are overemphasised. I still think that in order to be a cool queer you are meant to want to have lots of sex, in a kinky way and to want to be in poly relationships. I have got the very strong impression from fellow queers that my desire to be monogamous meant there was something wrong with me – that I hadn’t worked out my issues. Which frankly I find offensive. Anyway, this is off the topic of your comment – more on this next week!

      And, really, you have been in lots of unsexual heterosexual spaces? Hmm. I always felt that the heterosexual bars and parties I’ve been at with friends were pretty sexual. Will think about that…

      And thanks for the empathy about the lack of femme appreciation here. God knows I agree with you!

      1. emma ca

        the straight spaces i was talking about was the type of monogamous long term couple who like to socialise with other long term monogamous couples – situations such as dinner parties/meals out/’parties’ – specifically those types, not all heterosexual spaces! of course regular straight bars and parties are sexual spaces. but personally, an evening spent listening to a group of 12 people about 8 years younger than me all discussing what colour they’re planning to paint the bathroom, or their retirement plans was enough to make me pretty anxious to get back to a scene where that kind of set up is not the goal!

  3. thank you for writing this. I keep having similar conversations with friends about a slant on this in the London queer scene, where by being in most queer spaces you’re inadvertently signified as ‘available’ if you’re single. There’s a difference between sex-positive & sex-dominant ! x

  4. cece.disco

    Hey, nice post. I was involved in the flip side group in London-which was not beyond having major problems of its own- but it was really helpful regarding these issues in some parts. I really agree and encourage (not to sound patronising i hope) this:
    ‘Deciding to be single for a while has actually been one of the most self-loving things I have done for myself this past year. She assumed that as a ‘normal healthy queer’ I will want to have a lover and I will want to have sex.’
    I did this quite young (also just after suffering abuse), and it has really helped me since to be single for longer periods, wether wanting sex or not, and feel great about myself. I do believe there is a lot of validation in the queer scene through having sex with as many people as possible and being ‘kinkier than you’, which I find also leads to a lot of abusive, misinformed and dishonest practices of BDSM.
    There needs to be more space in our communities for recognising asexuality, maladjustment, sexual frustration existing as queer practices.
    (on a lighter note, I would love more talk about wanking, maybe even a zine)

  5. Thanks for this post. I haven’t been able/wanting to have sex for a long time now, due to chronic illness, survivor issues/triggers and gender/body issues, and I definitely feel the pressure of not complying with the ‘sexual’ demand.

    As someone who’s in a leadership position in my local community, I’m also wondering how these ideas can be implemented in practice. We’re already trying to work on consent and sexual safety within the community, but there’s definitely still a poly/kinky/sexual standard…

    Anyway, I’ll be looking forward to reading the next post about this.

    Thanks again ^_^

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  7. Just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate this post, having gone through some very similar things.

    I’d like to hug you for this sentence –
    “Deciding to be single for a while has actually been one of the most self-loving things I have done for myself this past year.”

    That’s exactly what I did some years ago and I realized some bigotry concerning this. The years before I was able to accept my being single as a fully valid life-form, everyone around me seemed to tell me how I wanted a lover too badly and how I was too cramped about finding that special someone (yes, I had a very romantic concept of love then, and yes, being a femme-desiring femme at odds with ‘lesbian culture’ made an epic tragedy of it). When I finally made peace with being single and turned the energy I had used for trying to have relationships or finding a partner to some other existential things – and at that time, several important areas of my life were in crisis and needed much attention and energy – , people around me suddenly started wondering why I didn’t seem to want a relationship or even sex.

  8. Ali

    Hi Laura, what an interesting post! I was actually DJing the Danceoke party that was put on as an alternative to the sex party and I’m pretty sure (at least I really hope) that it wasn’t the less-cool, less-exciting thing to do that evening- everyone who attended seemed to be having plenty of fun!

    I’ve had long periods of celibacy in my life as an out queer, sometimes by choice or need and sometimes because I couldn’t get any action, and at those times I have been aware of feeling left out of some of the excitement of queer spaces. I think though that I haven’t found an absence of spaces where I could socialise and have fun in other ways, and where the other things I was doing were as valid as topics of conversation as anybody’s sex life. Actually, I am curious where these places are where everybody thinks that a person alone is available and ready to be hit on, because at this point in my life, I would love to go to them! Maybe we could swap, I’ll tell you all the places that I go where nobody is at all interested in my availability or lack thereof, and you can tell me where the places are that are full of people who are over-keen to make a move. We could both win!

    I completely agree that shaming people over their decisions to have or not have sex is unacceptable, and I think that it’s really important to provide explicitly non-sexual spaces for hanging out, and to remind communities to respect those spaces. But I don’t think there’s much validity in complaining about something being over-sexualised when a well-attended, well-promoted non-sexual alternative is offered, but you choose not to go to it. If the existence of a sex party and other people’s excitement about that sex party are enough for you to feel excluded, then that is indeed problematic, but I’m not sure that asking other people to limit their excitement about that thing they’re excited about is the answer.

    Anyway, all of the responses indicate that this is definitely an important topic you’ve raised, so good on you for writing it!

    1. Lipstick Terrorist

      Hey Ali, thanks for the comment 🙂 I don’t think I am asking people to limit their excitement about going to sex parties. I am describing an expectation in the queer community that, as a queer person, I will want to have a certain amount of sex (a lot), a certain type (kinky) and certain forms of relationships (poly). This expectation excludes people who don’t fall in with these norms. And I have a right to complain about that.

      At this particular festival I disagree that there was a non-sexual alternative offered. To go to that Danceaoke party you had to consciously enter the sex party, which included answering questions in order to prove you had read the rules and were entering a specifically sexual space. The Danceaoke was held next to the BDSM room and separated only by a curtain. I would have appreciated having it outside of the sex party. But I do appreciate the efforts of the festival crew to de-emphasise the sex party and to offer alternatives.

      However my purpose in using examples is not to ‘name and shame’ specific queer spaces, but to illustrate the dynamic I see happening in the queer scene in general. I fully support queer festivals and I fully support sex parties, just as I expect people to support my decision to not go to them.

  9. Annie Oakley

    One of my former lovers died this summer. Sex will not be okay until I can trust people not to disappear and it will never be okay with someone who cannot give me the same level of love and respect that he always did. In fact if you hit on me without my explicit consent you’re running the inside track to making me cry.

    Thanks for sharing your story. This is mine. Solidarity. xxxxx

  10. Ricky

    Well done on you for writing this. Don’t see yourself as an outcast, weird or something… I’m a queer myself, transguy, boi etc but I think what’s most important in life above anything is to follow yourself, your own instincts, your own desires.
    I feel that too about being queer, like you have to be poly..people that meets me assumes that “Oh, you must get into a lot of sex parties”…or the occasional queer friend that gets close to us as a couple “maybe we can all play together?”.
    I love sex, absolutely love it but I rather do it when I’m really into someone, build a certain intimacy and able to express my sexuality freely.
    Anyway, congrats for writing this and please keep going.

  11. This is a fantastic post on so many levels. It reminds me very strongly of two things. First, my own discomfort—even as a sexual person, not an asexual person—around what feels like omnipresent sexualization in the queer community, coupled with the glaring blind-spot in the the sex-positive Scenes fail to decouple performativity from feminineness—and also Greta Christina’s excellent essay “Being Single,” which I think you’d love if you don’t already know of it.

    Thanks for writing this piece. 🙂 It gave me new words to articulate what had already been on my mind for quite some time.

  12. ubik

    thank you for writing this. There is definitely a stigma about being asexual/not wanting to have a relationship in the queer community that always made me feel uncomfortable and not part of the ‘scene’. People don’t normally say it out loud like in your example above, but you get the vibe that many people think there has to be something wrong with you.

    I also sometimes get the need to justify this by referring to past experiences, ‘listen, this made me what I am’, when I think I should not have to explain anything. Your point is certainly valid that some people had abusive experiences that can make ‘sex not ok’. But it should not be necessary to have to ‘defend’ yourself in the first place.

    just ‘no sex is ok too.’

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