An interesting parallel
My lodger is a highly intelligent programmer with a degree in physics. He is also high-functioning autistic. That is to say, he’s never been formally diagnosed, but he does have a set of behaviour patterns which are typical of the autistic spectrum, and he also has a severely autistic teenaged son. (When I say “severely”, I mean he doesn’t speak and he was still in nappies when my lodger last had contact with him; he was then aged thirteen. The fact that my lodger is no longer able to contact his children is a real tragedy and not something for which he is in any way to blame, but I’m not going to go into the details of all that here.)
Now he is, as I say, highly intelligent, and once he began to realise that he didn’t process social cues in the same way as everyone else, he set about learning to use his mighty brain power to compensate so that he wouldn’t be disadvantaged in social situations. He now does this so well that most people don’t notice unless they have worked with people on the autistic spectrum in a professional capacity. These people can still invariably pick him out. I have nothing but admiration for him, because it is obviously quite a feat to have to do intellectually what most people do instinctively.
And then I suddenly realised I do pretty much exactly that with sex.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t consider asexuality to be some kind of disability or malfunction; if anything, I find it a blessing. Nonetheless, the parallel is still useful, and it’s something I can point to in order to explain to other people how I relate (or, generally, don’t relate) to the whole mysterious world of sex. As stated previously, I’m not totally asexual; I can feel sexual attraction in very limited circumstances. That still doesn’t make the whole thing easily comprehensible from my point of view. I still can’t see a sensible logical basis for the existence of porn, for instance, even though I can see that it is obviously very popular.
As a matter of fact, even that is a parallel. My lodger is not totally asocial. He likes people in general, and has always been comfortable in one-to-one conversations where there is a definite subject. It was just small talk that confused him. It’s not hard to compare that to where I am with sex.
The key is knowing where you are starting from. My lodger was really bewildered until he realised that he was mildly autistic rather than everyone else being strange. I had very much the same experience, and it was considerably amplified in my case by the fact that there have been large shifts in societal attitudes towards sex during my lifetime. To take an example, one thing I really don’t instinctively understand is sex without commitment. That just makes me blink. Now I was brought up at a time when that was not only frowned upon, but considered to be somewhat abnormal, and so of course it was very easy for me to believe that it was abnormal. These days it is both much less frowned upon and considered more normal, even by those who feel that the best thing eventually is to form a long-term relationship. For a very long time, when I thought about it at all, I had this vague impression that society had gone slightly insane, because who in their right mind would want to sleep with someone they weren’t certain they truly loved?
And then the penny dropped. I’m asexual. The way I look at it is actually rare.
Once that happened, it was extremely helpful, because it meant I was able to start re-evaluating everything from a different perspective. It does seem to be true, to some extent, that fashions in sexual behaviour change somewhat; someone who wouldn’t have been comfortable sleeping around in the 1970s might well feel more free to do so in the early 21st century. Sexuality does not seem to me to be a totally individual thing. One obvious area where this applies is the increasing acceptance of homosexuality. When I was growing up, as far as I was aware I didn’t know any gay people, although I almost certainly did by sheer force of statistics. The first time I knowingly met a gay person, I was at university (and very charming he was too, although he did rather waste his time trying to convince me that Shakespeare was gay. The Bard was almost certainly bisexual.) Now, I know a whole lot of gay people, and the phrase “openly gay” is happily starting to become defunct. (Let’s face it, was anyone ever “openly straight”?) And I think this is great; nobody should have to hide such an essential part of who they are. The proportion of gay people in the population is very unlikely to have changed in that time, but the proportion of people who will tell you they’re gay has gone through the roof. Why? Obvious – the more people there are who are open about it, the more confidence other people gain to do likewise. There is safety in numbers. Whether or not you personally are gay is a matter of how you were born, but how society treats you if you do happen to be gay is a social more subject to change, and thankfully it has improved a lot during my lifetime.
Nonetheless, despite the broad changes in the way society looks at all things sexual – some of which I think have been positive like the one detailed above, others much less so – I think there would still have been a pretty basic disconnect for me, even if society had stayed much the same as it was when I was growing up. The bottom line is that most people think sex is great, whereas I think it’s a really rather tedious idea except in certain very particular circumstances. However that is interpreted in society, that’s still going to leave me scratching my head at some point.
But now at least I have some idea where I’m coming from myself, so when other people do something I don’t understand, I can allow for that and quite often I can work it out intellectually. It’s actually quite liberating.
Sometimes it’s comforting to realise you’re the odd one out. 🙂