The academic asexual
I had a really odd experience earlier today. I ended up helping a couple of heterosexual people understand a bit more about BDSM, of all things.
Now I have to say right here and now, before anyone starts getting either excited or appalled (depending on your point of view), that I personally find BDSM just as mystifying as any other kind of sexual practice. I have never had the slightest attraction towards it. However, one rather marvellous thing I’m starting to realise now that I can clearly identify as asexual is that people’s attitudes are changing. When everyone (me included) thought I was just bog-standard heterosexual, I generally sensed that most people who had other sexual preferences were not quite comfortable about explaining them to me. I think they thought I would judge them, because the assumption was that I had a different set of sexual preferences. However, as soon as you make it clear that you think all sex is just a little bit weird, I’m finding that people are becoming much happier to explain. Rather than treating you like a potential critic, they suddenly start treating you like an intelligent alien, which is pretty much the way I feel myself in such circumstances.
And I really like that. Not that I generally like to talk about sex for the sake of it, but I do like to understand what makes other people tick, and sometimes that includes trying to make sense of their attitude towards sex.
So, anyway, some weeks ago I was in a conversation where someone mentioned BDSM, and I rather shyly mentioned that I really didn’t grok that. In every other similar conversation I’ve had prior to telling my friends that I was asexual, this has automatically been taken as meaning “I am not comfortable with this subject” or even “I don’t approve of BDSM”, and the subject has rapidly shifted. This time, for the first time ever, someone took my incomprehension at face value. It was totally refreshing. She got me into a private conversation and explained quite frankly that she had been investigating the subject academically and was interested in trying it herself, but her present boyfriend was not keen on the idea. She then proceeded to share with me a couple of academic papers which she felt gave an excellent explanation of what was going on.
I was most grateful. I read the papers, and discovered that BDSM is very common among otherwise “normal” people (whatever “normal” really means), so it is probably best viewed as part of the normal spectrum of sexuality rather than some kind of aberration. I learnt that masochism is very much more common than sadism, and I learnt something of the mechanism which is normally behind it. The typical masochist is someone who has power or authority in their everyday life, and seeks a form of depersonalisation in order to relieve the pressure of this. I discovered why, although BDSM is so common, there isn’t a large activist community associated with it; much of the pressure-relieving effect of masochism is apparently enhanced by secrecy (in other words, if everyone knows you’re a masochist, there’s no point in being one – though, like most generalisations, this does not appear to be universally true). I learnt that consent is an absolutely essential element in a BDSM relationship, and a great deal of trouble is taken to establish that. I also found out that the idea is to cause a certain level of pain without actually causing injury, and injuries are generally seen as a no-no by both sides of the relationship.
I still don’t grok it at an emotional level, but, as you’ve just seen, I now have a reasonable intellectual understanding of the basics; and this, in turn, means that I can find myself in a situation where I’m explaining it to someone who’s been reading 50 Shades of Grey and is not clear whether what is going on is BDSM or just plain abuse. And if I’d gone on thinking I was just another ordinary heterosexual, I’d never have been able to do that.
I reckon I like being an intelligent alien. 🙂