Labels Can Be Quite Useful

(When they’re self- or co-applied)

So I talked a while back about how calling myself an extrovert made me a lot more outgoing. That’s still true, and I’ve found that I’ve been generally a lot happier since figuring that out. I suppose labels are partially to blame for the original problem, of course.

If I hadn’t called myself an introvert, would I still have had such intense social anxiety? I think I would have, if only because I don’t think I knew the word ‘introverted’ until after my social anxiety developed. However, I do think having that label made it more difficult to fight the anxiety.

So that’s one label.

I recently found another label for myself. Kind of. I’m unsure of the exact label, but it’s somewhere in the spectral essence of asexual/demisexual. If I gave it a rating from 1 to 10, with 1 being asexual and 10 being allosexual, I would put myself at a 2.86 (though that number is lowering the more I think about it).

Basic term definitions: An asexual is one who does not feel sexual attraction. A demisexual is one who only feels sexual attraction to those they have developed an emotional connection with. An allosexual is one who feels sexual attraction, which is what most people are. (There are more in between a- and allosexual, but I’m not going to go into them since they’re not relevant). Sexual attraction is the desire to have sex with someone.

That last one is the thing that really matters. See, I can’t remember ever wanting to have sex with anyone. Ever. In fact, I don’t understand why anyone would. I can’t even really comprehend it. For me, I would much rather talk, cuddle, kiss, etc. Apparently most people will randomly see someone in public and think that they’re hot. That’s just weird to me. I don’t even understand the concept of ‘hot’.

This whole idea then feeds into something that’s come up a few times with my family and me. I’ve often said that I don’t understand aesthetic beauty like others seem to. If you show me a ‘beautiful’ sunset, I can appreciate its beauty as a conceptual beauty. It’s cool how the photons from the sun refract through the atmosphere, producing these colors, but the colors themselves are not all that interesting to me. The only time the colors impress me are when they are out of the ordinary, and even then it’s the strangeness that I like, not the color itself.

I’m not entirely sure how closely these are linked, though, since I do appreciate human beauty. While I won’t see someone and think that they’re hot, I might think that they’re super beautiful, but I think they are very different things (like I said, I don’t understand ‘hot’ well enough to say). But then, if I do consider someone beautiful, it doesn’t affect my interactions with them any more than anything else.

Musings complete. I’m bad at conclusions.

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4 thoughts on “Labels Can Be Quite Useful”

  1. Odd definitions. Most relevantly, your most relevant (I don’t think that sexual desire is nearly so narrow). I lack a good definition of sexuality, sexual desire, or sexual attraction, however.

    The rest sounds pretty normal. I doubt most people comprehend the desire for sex apart from some exposure to relatively deep levels of intimacy–either through cultural education of a kind you and I were not much exposed to, or through the development of a relationship through less sexual interactions to more sexual interactions (e.g., progressing from talk about surface to deep things, touch increasing, etc.,). So, prior to 2013 or so, your definition would have me an asexual.

    On aesthetics: such sensitivity at least requires training, which you may or may not have received or taken advantage of. That’s what I chalk my lack of aesthetic awareness up to, anyway. Also, I am quite sure you have at least some sense of aesthetic beauty, since you have critiqued mine (if you recall the brown-skinned dwarf with the red beard?).

    1. The definitions used are paraphrased versions of what is generally used by those that use the words in question. Seems a good standard for the definition.

      The rest of your comment seems to just be saying that a-/allosexuality is at least partially a trait determined by nurture, which is entirely possible. And a note of clarification that may or may not be necessary: asexual != aromantic, though many asexuals are also aromantic.

      The aesthetics: that only proves I know what isn’t aesthetically beautiful, not necessarily that I know what is.

  2. Well, there is a sort of “sex” drive”, which may manifest in a sort of arousal or sexual compulsion occurring in males or females based off what is happening randomly in their body, or what they are experiencing relationally in a moment, or off of seeing someone that they detect it would be on some level, at least in theory, pleasurable to, in some world, engage in sexuality with that person.
    Then, there is the belief- either from personal experience or from hearsay- that engaging in sex or sexual activity in general would be pleasurable.
    And then there is actually wanting to have sex with a specific person- something that general sexual trauma or lack of intimacy with said person or dwindling sex drive often prevent.

    So when discussing peoples’ sexuality, perhaps it is helpful to know which of the three we are talking about, and what each does or doesn’t say about someone’s sexuality- I suppose it’s helpful to have a solid, thorough, agreed upon definition of sexuality.

    Working backwards through the three, and speaking of people who consider themselves allosexuals, it seems that people with a high view of sex and of humans do not typically actually want to have sex with random people on the street or even people they’ve dated briefly;
    It seems it takes most people a lot of thorough scientific sex ed or personal relational experience or cultural education to come to the conclusion that sex itself is pleasurable, though they probably realize that “lesser” sexual activity is pleasurable sooner- it seems to grow gradually;
    And it seems that people who are more rational, more sheltered, or more (whatever), would have these factors affect how easily their sex drive was aroused by, say, random people on the street.

    By this working backwards, I suppose I want to say that it doesn’t seem quite accurate to simply say Ben’s words mean that someone’s sexuality is partially determined by nurture. I suppose I want to show by adding my words to them that they imply that someone who feels “slow” or “late” to feel like they experience much sexual attraction may actually prove to be a quite healthy version of allosexual or they might fit the label demisexual. I take it you agree with at least the demisexual part, and that Ben agrees with at least the allosexual part, and whether or not you both agree with both is a question. (What’s at the root of each sexuality and whether they’re good or not would be another question.)

    Also, it seems dangerous to me to consider romance as separate from sexuality. But I suppose this is contentious here, and I wouldn’t know how to begin arguing about it! But I guess it brings me right back to the first idea- that a solid, thorough, agreed upon definition of sexuality is probably what you two want to attempt to hash out.

    It is interesting that you don’t experience much attraction at first sight, even if I think there’s a good number of other weird people who are similar without being asexual. 🙂 Why do you think you notice beauty in humans but not nature?

    I wanna hear more about why you appreciate labels. 😉

  3. I think I want to claim that your desires for kissing, etc., reveal a bodily desire for sex, insofar as those behaviors have their significance (their telos, their end, their biological point) in sex. But that depends on allowing the possibility of bodily desires, which you might not. So, the kind of sexuality which I am talking about is probably close to Lydia’s first type. I think this is the most fundamental type of sexuality, and that the latter two are dependent on it (at least the third, anyway–I can imagine a case like Schneider, below, coming to believe that sex would be pleasurable, assuming he would be capable of the necessary abstractions).

    If your definitions are how those words (particularly sexual attraction and asexual, I have no complaint about allo- and demisexual, except that the latter is clearly a species of the former) are currently being used, then much has changed in the last 50 or so years. Sartre and Merleau-Ponty both used the term far more broadly than the above suggests, and I suspect the same goes for other thinkers of the time (at least, those who wrote about it–I know, at least, that Merleau-Ponty interacted with Freud). “One patient [Schneider] no longer seeks sexual intercourse of his own accord. Obscene pictures, conversations on sexual topics, the sight of a body do not arouse desire in him. The patient hardly ever kisses, and the kiss for him has no value as sexual stimulation. Reactions are strictly local and do not begin to occur without contact. If the prelude is interrupted at this stage, there is no attempt to pursue the sexual cycle. In the sexual act intromission is never spontaneous. If orgasm occurs first in the partner and she moves away, the half-fulfilled desire vanishes. At every stage it is as if the subject did not know what is to be done. There are no active movements, save a few seconds before the orgasm which is extremely brief. Nocturnal emissions are rare and never accompanied by dreams.” (Phenomenology of Perception 179, depending on the translation) “Our existence cannot be anything – spatial, sexual, temporal – without entirely being such, without appropriating and assuming its ‘attributes’ and turning them into dimensions of its very being. Accordingly, even a minimally insightful analysis of any of these ‘attributes’ will actually disclose subjectivity itself. There are no dominant and subordinate problems: all problems are equally central (Phenomenology of Perception 469 or 410, depending on the translation).” And this broader understanding of sexuality seems to go back at least to Plato’s Symposium, where the discussion of love is, in large part, a discussion of the meaning of sexual behavior where that is clearly understood to include more than sexual intercourse, as it extends to homosexual sexual behavior, where a definition of sex cannot be identical to that for heterosexuals.

    This is an important point if you define sexual attraction in terms of sexual desire, and then homosexuality as a sexual attraction toward those of the same sex–what desire does the homosexual have? A desire for sex? What, then, is sex? This may be a reductio on the validity of homosexuality as a healthy kind of sexuality, if one accepts that the homosexual then has a desire for something impossible, or it may be a desire for something other than sexual intercourse of the kind uniquely possible in heterosexual relations. The first horn of this dilemma seems to invalidate homosexuality’s health too easily, even if the conclusion is correct, but the second horn seems to violate your definitions. Perhaps you have a definition of sex which can help you out of the dilemma? (I would be interested to see you try this, because I am not sure that you will be able to do it without analyzing yourself as an allosexual through the back door–but you might be able to).

    Another point to make regarding how we define sexual attraction: normally, sexual attraction is spoken of in terms of attraction to people, not behaviors or experiences. That is, sexual attraction is desire for someone, not desire for something. It may, however, be a desire for someone in some manner, such as a desire for sex with someone. If we define sexual attraction as merely desire for sex with someone, however, then the desire for the person seems rather flat–the desire is not for them, we might think, but for them qua source of a particular kind of pleasure. That kind of flat desire, I think, would be objectionable. Of course, we can define the term any way we like, but I would want to point out that desire for sex with someone is permissible only within a broader context of desire for the other as an other person–that is, one should not desire it in an objectifying manner (in certain senses of the word “objectifying”–Martha Nussbaum has teased out several meanings of the term, some of which might be permissible). I would be unlikely to permit my saying “I am sexual attracted to Lydia” to be replaced with “I desire sex with Lydia”–not because I don’t, but because my former claim seems, to me, to involve much more than the latter (Sartre is helpful here, in explaining how the desire for sex connects with broader sexual behavior, highlighting the caress).

    So my problem with defining sexual desire in terms of desires for sex–particularly in the above context–is that it seems to cut off sex from We the rest of sexuality, as if the rest were irrelevant to it. Part of my claim, above, was that those behaviors which you do express desire for are such that continued engagement of them tend to awake desire for sex, so that an (semi-)asexual of the stripe you suggest you are cannot be expected to stay that way. That is, the label you have applied to yourself is merely a contingent matter of the stage of life you find yourself in at the moment, and not any more fundamental to who you are than, say, the size of your bank account.

    We certainly ascribe sexuality apart from knowing others’ desires for sex. Rather, sexual desire is desire for sexual experience, which is broader and vaguer than mere experience of sex, but is constitutively related to it (that is to say, if there were no sex, there would be no sexuality either).

    I don’t think aromantic is a word (buttressed, but not entailed, by the red squiggly I now see). If it is, then it is a technical term, and a neologism. At any rate, the distinction is not too helpful without a definition of some sort. I might even allow such a distinction: perhaps we could make it along the lines of the divide between biology and meaning. Thus, sexuality is the biological level upon which romance arises. Romance emerges from and depends on the sexual biological givens which we share with other animals (So, were I to develop this thought further, it would be in interaction with Merleau-Ponty’s idea of the three ontologically continuous levels of reality which emerge one from the other). So, I think we can distinguish between romantic and sexual behavior, but that all romantic behavior is sexual and, in humans, vice-versa

    Our difference may be a matter of definitions. I think those are important, however, because labels are powerful, and thus only helpful when they approximate to reality in one way or another. Labels are destructive when they cut against the grain of reality, even if self-applied. Also, your labels need to be consistent, and I have given a challenge to that above.

    So my objection may be expressed disjunctively: either what you are talking about doesn’t matter, or it is false. Either the label predicates normality of you (given considerations of stage of life), and it is not the case that most people are dissimilar to you, or it predicates something of you which I take to be false, such as that you are enduringly asexualish. Or, to put it another way: if I’m reading your OP right, then your main abnormality is in your expression of your normality.

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