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Sexual Orientations:

(Are there six?—or only five?)

(c) 2012, Davd

Some time during my sixties, my sexuality became a vanishingly small part of my life activity both physical and mental, and while i am still male both anatomically and physiologically, my “sexual orientation” has changed to “asexual” from “heterosexual”: The usual meaning of “heterosexual” is so far from my actual orientation toward sex, that i began describing myself as “asexual” or “abstinent”.

Most people to whom i said that, who knew how, and how comparatively seldom, i associate with women, both understood and agreed.

One reason i found fairly ready acceptance as “asexual” may be my age: There is a French folk saying which so far i have met only in translation: When a boy is eight, he thinks his penis is only for urinating; when he is eighty, he knows it.1 Sixty-something is not eighty, but it is much closer to eighty than to eight.

However, asexuality is not limited to the old, nor are heterosexuality and homosexuality the same thing for men as they are for women: The convention that there are two sexual orientations, “gay and straight” or more formally, homosexual and heterosexual, is simplistic nonsense. This can be fairly easily “shown” by reference to differences between the two sexes. Once the misleading habit of treating “sexual orientation” as a dichotomy2 is broken, the addition of “asexual” and the differences between male and female homosexuality, become easier to consider.

Women’s sexuality includes pregnancy and lactation (Morgan, 1973), which men cannot experience. It follows logically, that the two sexes cannot have the same “heterosexual orientation”: Men’s heterosexuality does not include pregnancy nor lactation; women’s includes both3. For example, i read somewhere that most women experience uterine contractions while breastfeeding, and this helps the uteri of brand-new mothers return to a non-pregnant size. Many women also experience uterine contractions while they are involved in adult active-sexuality4. Men, obviously, never experience uterine contractions; those are something we have no way to “do”, nor to feel. Ergo, their heterosexuality is not ours—nor close to being ours.

Plainly, there are other differences between men’s and women’s heterosexuality; uterine contractions were chosen as an example “to show that they differ”, because men don’t have uteri. The other differences are well worth serious consideration—though having reached asexuality in my old age, i may not be the best man to write about them.

If men’s and women’s heterosexuality differ, it becomes not merely plausible but “a corollary”, that men’s and women’s homosexuality differ also. It’s “an obvious inference”, for instance, that some Lesbian women will experience uterine contractions during their erotic episodes5—that if at least some heterosexual women experience them while involved in “sex play” with men, other than penile intercourse; there will also be Lesbian women who experience them during “sex play” with other women; (and since homosexual men cannot experience uterine contractions, their homosexuality is not the same as Lesbian sexuality—nor is it likely close to being the same.) Homosexual men, and Lesbians, have written about the differences; here, it is enough to show that Lesbian and male-homosexuality are significantly different.

That “asexual” might be the same orientation for men and for women, is imaginable; but so is the possibility that the outlooks of asexual men and women differ. It is clear to me that there is an orientation toward sex—toward eros and erotic pleasuring, specifically—that acknowledges the existence of sexuality but genuinely abstains, not by any great effort but by well-established and comfortable habit, from active eros and even from erotic imagery6. One might plausibly reason that this orientation is the same for men and women, or one might plausibly reason that there are two distinct asexual orientations. So far, i have not noticed any urgent reason to pursue this potentially interesting question; hence the subtitle.

I began writing this “reflection” from an awareness that the convention that there are two sexual orientations is simplistic nonsense—and some awareness also that the nonsense can do harm. One misuse of the two-sexual-orientations convention, is the attribution of homosexuality to asexual people: It has been said of many men, “He must be queer,” because they took little or no sexual interest in women. That attribution can do harm in at least two ways: Exclusion from “straight” company, and harassment from homosexuals. Deeming a man to be “asexual” forestalls both such harms, not utterly but “for the most part”—and in the case of harassment, makes the harassment obviously-that, and makes it easier for the man being harassed to demand that it end.

Asexual men are generally accepted in heterosexual men’s groups, and vice-versa7. Deeming a man asexual may group him categorically with the old to some extent—but that’s little or no harm; old men are pretty good company and in some cases, like my late grandfather, excellent company. So if there be a social-policy message here, it’s treat other men as asexual until they demonstrate otherwise by word or deed.

That men’s and women’s heterosexuality are significantly different is also important and also has implications for how we should treat one another. Short of proposing social policy, but pointing to issues where current social policy may err, i would suggest that recognizing two different heterosexual orientations implies:

  • Explicating our sexuality to women and demanding that it be acknowledged and respected. In particular, women whose appearance, in dress, posture, and “body language”, is such as to “ask for it” in terms of male heterosexuality, should be treated differently in law than women whose dress, posture and body language are modest.8

  • Recognizing that women’s heterosexuality is quite different from ours, and in particular that it includes pregnancy and lactation. To name just one aspect: Folklore has long acknowledged that mothers can “become so wrapped-up with” new babies as to neglect their husbands and older children, and indeed this is one reason fathers are valuable to the older children.

  • Examining further and reflecting-upon, variation within heterosexuality (and whether there be similar variations in homosexuality, i will not speculate one way or another.) My own experience, and observation of other men and of women, indicates plainly enough that not all heterosexuals are “equally highly sexed”.

This list may not be complete.

It could be argued that each human being’s sexual orientation is unique to him or her; it is also evident that both the two sexes and the categories asexual, heterosexual, and homosexual are useful “category sets” such that most people can be represented in one category of each. It is evident enough that any person belongs to one sex and one of the three “orientations”; it is less obvious but true-on-reflection, and important, that the “orientations” are not the same for men and women, except possibly asexuality.

Is he gay or straight?” is a false question. (“Is she Lesbian or straight?” is a different question, and also false, but of much less interest to a men’s website.) Women who impose “gynocentric” notions of sexuality on their perceptions of men are in effect, psychologically abusive. And the most prudently comfortable orientation to assume another man has, until he shows otherwise, is asexual.

Reference:

Morgan, Elaine 1973 The Descent of Woman. NY: Bantam.

Notes:

1. Francophone readers are invited to provide the original. (I am curious whether it has variations, and in any case, i’d like to be able to add it to notes and memory “in the original.”)

2. Latin for “having only two categories”.

3. There are “sexually active women” who experience neither (due to infertility or contraception: The infertility can be that of a monogamous woman’s mate, or of herself. If a woman has multiple sexual partners it soon becomes vanishingly unlikely that all will be infertile.) Their female human-nature is still evolved based on pregnancy and lactation.

4. Anecdotal evidence indicates that uterine contractions can result from vaginal and clitoral stimulation as well as breast stimulation [and of particular relevance to the homosexual cases, are not limited to occasions of vaginal-intromission intercourse].

5. Due to lack of experience—and lack of interest, which doubtless caused the lack of experience—i can’t recall examples of homosexual differences such as i can recall of heterosexual ones. Homosexuals don’t tell their sex stories to “straights”, it seems, and i believe most other “straights” and asexuals share my lack of interest in hearing them—or reading about them.

6. I have met a few live examples among monks, for instance.

7. .. apart from eros-seeking and titillation—the old stereotypical examples were going to pubs and such to pick up women or get picked up by them, and going to view strippers [if those still exist] and erotic movies—to which the genuinely asexual simply “don’t go along”.

8. “Slut walks”, if the women are erotic rather than showing off their unattractiveness, could be fairly called “sexual harassment”. Women who dress immodestly in public, could be deemed to have invited interested men to kiss any part of their bodies exposed to the open air (while women dressed modestly in shorts and T-shirts that are not tight, during warm weather, have not made any such invitation.)

 

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