How to Ally: Advising for Sex-Negative Language

Handdrawn illustration of a yellow pasture against a background of hills and sparodic trees. Scene is overlaid with the dark green/light green/white/yellow/gold stripes of the allo-aro pride flag. The text Aro Worlds Discussion Post sits across the image in a black, antique handdrawn type, separated by two ornate Victorian-style black dividers.

Note: I consider this site’s content advisory page sufficient for non-fiction posts, but as I need asexuals to read this essay, I’ll begin by saying that I reference sexual attraction, sex acts, sex repulsion and sexualisation. And romance! I also cite common examples of sex negativity/sex-negative language, misogyny, ableism, cissexism, heterosexism, amatonormativity and allo-aro antagonism.

I now seldom participate in–and even actively avoid–online general aromantic and a-spec spaces.

This isn’t because I don’t wish to meet other aros. This isn’t because I’m uninterested in what other aros have to say. This also isn’t entirely because chronic pain limits my online interaction and I can’t afford the supports/technology needed for full access (although this is the reason why I fail in replying to comments and asks).

This is because any space predominantly occupied by asexuals results in my being exposed to posts that hurt like a punch to the gut.

Like other marginalised people, I don’t live free from harmful beliefs and attitudes. My family can’t or won’t remember my chosen name. Opening the news app on my tablet is a roll of the dice, even after having blocked The Australian and other publications that peddle in trans hatred. And I learnt long ago to never, never read the comment sections if I’d rather not know about the violence the hateful wish to wreck upon me for the crime of … well, existing.

These days, I can’t even scroll through unrelated tags on Tumblr without discovering screeds conflating my pansexuality with expressions of bisexual and trans antagonism. Never mind the slew of ableist, amatonormative microaggressions delivered by the well-meaning in progressive spaces!

I don’t think it an expression of fragility to say that chronic pain dominates the allotted space in my psyche for that nebulous concept society likes to call “resilience” (never mind other accessibility challenges caused by ableism). I also don’t think it an expression of fragility to look at the ignorance, condemnation and erasure delivered onto me by others and wish to minimise my exposure. Surviving the weight society shoves onto my shoulders becomes a bit easier when I am not constantly staggering beneath new additions.

It’s difficult to run my reblog-heavy aromantic Tumblr accounts, however, when Tumblr’s aromantic and a-spec tags, and many general aromantic and a-spec accounts, become alienating, distressing places to visit.

I can’t avoid posts containing unwarned-for, untagged uses of sex-negative language.

By “sex-negative language”, I mean comments referring to sex as “gross”, “ew” or “disgusting”. I mean comments referring to sex in disdainful, dismissive or disgust-laden terms. I mean, unfortunately, some comments expressing asexuals’ feelings of sex repulsion in an allonormative world that demands adults have or desire sexual experiences. I mean, unfortunately, some comments that sex-repulsed asexuals make as a necessary part of self-expression, for “sex is gross” sentiment becomes no less painful when modified to “sex is gross to me”.

You see, Western society deems the sex I want “gross”.

Western society also deems me “gross” for wanting it.

I have never seen a non-romantic, non-fetishistic, non-antagonistic depiction of sexual attraction by or for my multisexual, trans, disabled, aro body. People who move, talk and think like me are excluded from social narratives of attractiveness, sexual agency and even adulthood. Ableism means some think it unfathomable that I should ever have sex, while others consider sex involving me a grotesque proposition because they can’t conceive of desire for disabled bodies. Sex outside cisheterocentric, penis-in-vagina norms, meanwhile, bears such an agonising history of vilification that my mother’s religion condemns it as “disordered” and too many deem it “disgusting”, “immoral” or “criminal“. Cissexism renders me monstrous, an unlovely perversion of sex and gender, and its intersection with misogyny makes me the subject of public harassment. Western beauty standards depict my intimate body parts as embarrassments needing surgical correction … and demand that I conceal my skin’s many “flaws” before leaving the house.

In our allonormative world, it’s hard to avoid sexual (and sexualised) imagery. While depictions of sex, sex-adjacent experiences and sexual attraction exist in abundance, said abundance less often encompasses marginalised bodies. The marginalised bodies that are granted depiction often conform to other norms of beauty, appearance, gender and ability. I am, in my ordinary, human complexity, not yet recognised as sexually desirable or possessing sexual desire and agency.

Shall I mention, too, that I’m an allosexual aromantic who desires sex outside of intimate or long-term partnerships? Shall I describe, again, how progressive communities celebrate romance as the mechanism by which queer sexuality becomes acceptable? Shall I explain that “promiscuous”, even in 2021, stains the character of people who aren’t cis men? Shall I remind you of the disdain we endure, even in queer spaces, because society assumes allo-aros only seek sex of the too-frequent, too-many-partners, too-predatory kind? Shall I wave my hands in the air and scream that to be allo-aro is to be condemned by Western society’s pernicious mingling of aro antagonism, amatonormativity, sex negativity and purity culture?

(The idea that one can have too much sex or too many sexual partners is, itself, rampant sex negativity!)

My sexual attraction, sans simultaneous alloromantic attraction and/or romantic relationships (or, in the a-spec community, not expressed within the confines of a non-casual partnership) is too dangerous for inclusion, depiction and acknowledgement. I am not safe, desirable or acceptable in ways brought back to a social preoccupation with non-normative sexuality. By being aromantic alone, my sexuality provokes fear, disdain and disgust … but I’m not, and never will be, aromantic alone.

Altogether, I’m an abomination. A freak. Gross.

Can you imagine why I avoid posts containing sex-negative language? Why expressions and feelings of revulsion that have nothing to do with me as a person still feel like another punch landed on an unhealing bruise?

The a-spec and aromantic communities already possess the social infrastructure needed to protect allo-aros like me from triggering content.

We employ it when a-spec-authored posts mention, reference or depict sex.

We need to discuss sex and sexual attraction in a-spec communities, spaces or venues. We can’t explore the asexual spectrum and allonormativity’s impact without context-appropriate discussions, for one. The needs of sexually-active a-spec adults are rarely encompassed by general guides to safe and consensual sex, for another. “Sex” and “romance” mentions appear with astounding frequency in ace and aro conversations because only in reference to these concepts can we understand ourselves (and counter an onslaught of erasure and antagonism).

Sex-repulsed community members may find such references distressing or triggering, so we minimise unchosen exposure. We place text under “read more” cuts. We attach content advisories to essays and stories. We tag posts with “sex mention” or similar on sites like Tumblr, where one can blacklist all posts so tagged. No good-faith, decentralised system is flawless, but a-specs understand that when posting content in a shared space, like a-spec message boards or Tumblr’s #aromantic tag, we should ensure that other a-specs in those spaces can avoid sex references and depictions.

The aromantic community understands that sex-repulsed aromantics’ access to shared and general aromantic spaces online relies upon all aromantics advising for sex mentions, references and depictions.

The a-spec community often forgets, however, that allosexuals and asexuals share general a-spec and aromantic spaces: “allosexual” and “a-spec” aren’t contradictions. Nor does it recognise that allosexual a-specs also have access needs in shared a-spec spaces concerning conversations about sexual attraction, experiences and repulsion.

Sex mention warnings, often attached to posts containing sex-negative language, don’t protect allo-aros like me. As an aro who already feels that even non-explicit, warned-for expression of my allosexual aromanticism is frowned upon in general aro spaces, blacklisting #sex mention tags further reduces my access to content. Skipping posts and essays with sex reference advisories attached, in case they also contain sex-negative language, means I can’t participate in conversations I need as an allo-aro! While doing so may let me find posts for @aroworlds with decreased risk of exposure, the end result is more erasure in a community already inclined to brush aside my allosexuality.

I don’t want to avoid a-spec discussions referencing sex.

I want to avoid sex-negative language.

I don’t mean statements of dislike for or lack of interest in sex; I mean the disgust for sex voiced in some expressions of repulsion. I don’t mean stating that one experiences sex repulsion; I mean sex, in general and in relation to specific and associated behaviours, described as “gross” or “yuck”. I mean dismissive expressions of incredulity that anyone should want to have sex. I mean language that describes sex as repulsive even when the speaker uses “I feel” or “for me” statements … and when stressing that, in doing so, they don’t judge or refer to other people’s sexuality.

Just as the mildest mention of consensual sex may trigger sex repulsion, careful “I find sex disgusting, personally” comments distress me because they occur against a background chorus of disgust for my sexuality.

I am asking, therefore, for the accessibility we commonly extend to sex-repulsed a-specs.

Please warn in shared or general a-spec and aromantic online spaces when referencing sex repulsion via use of sex-negative language. Add a tag like #sex negative language. Place your content behind a read more/keep reading cut. Add a warning at the top of your post so I can quickly scroll past. If unwarned-for sex mentions or descriptions shouldn’t be made in shared spaces, neither should unwarned-for uses of negative language in mentioning or describing sex.

(I draw a distinction between shared/public or general spaces, where content serves a variety of aros and/or a-specs, and private/closed or identity-specific spaces, where content serves a specific sub-group. Requisite obliging of allo-aro accessibility needs in Tumblr’s #aroace tag is as unfair as requisite obliging of aro-ace accessibility needs on an allo-aro blog. But when we participate in shared spaces accessed by all aros or a-specs, we must consider all needs.)

When you warn for sex-negative language, you let sex-favourable, otherwise-marginalised a-specs avoid language unfortunately reminiscent of the hatred targeting us. You’re still expressing your feelings and experiences with regards sexual repulsion, as you should be able to; you’re just minimising unintended harm.

It’s no different to the expectation that allo-aros referencing even our sexual attraction include warning tags and content advisories should we post in shared aromantic and a-spec spaces.

Additionally, you’re destigmatising the burden allo-aros bear by offering warnings in shared aro and/or a-spec spaces: many references to sex require warnings to enable folks of other a-spec identities’ participation. Asexuals, just like allo-aros, recognise that their needed self-expression may harm other a-specs. Asexuals, just like allo-aros, warn for certain experiences even if they form a fundamental part of their a-spec identity. Asexuals, just like allo-aros, protect other a-specs in online discussions by attaching warnings and cutting posts.

Allo-aros, just like asexuals, deserve safe access to shared community spaces.

The #aromantic and #aspec tags on Tumblr create places where diverse aros and a-specs come together to express, share, promote, celebrate and commiserate. Likewise, community message boards, blogs and websites–like my own @aroworlds Tumblr–create and collate content intended for a general aro and/or a-spec audience. Currently, however, there is too great a risk of my happening across distressing content by some a-specs (rightly! necessarily!) discussing sex repulsion as part of their experiences in being aromantic or a-spec.

I want to be welcome as an allo-aro in desperate need of affirming discussions about aromantic sex.

I need you to remember, when you create content for the broader community, that sex-repulsed a-specs aren’t the only a-specs in need of protecting in conversations concerning sex.

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