I recently attended the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality’s annual conference in San Francisco. Some of the presentations I think are or can be very relevant to the ways people think about or study asexuality (and relevant to the models and analogies asexuals may want to use when trying to explain things to sexologists) and others were not. Below are the presentations I attended on Thursday and brief (and not-so-brief) comments on them. Some of the presentations I will write separate posts on as well, but tomorrow I leave for a conference hosted by the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists and I wanted to make sure I published at least some details of the SSSS conference before I went to another conference.
1. The first presentation I went to was a 3 hour workshop called “Understanding and Healing Love/Lust Splits” by Jack Morin.
The presentation itself: I had seen Dr. Morin give a presentation similar to this at my school but seeing this longer presentation was even more illuminating. The concept of love/lust splits is relatively new and seeing the presentation the first time in a room of students was interesting because most of the Q&A time was spent comparing the concept of love/lust splits to other concepts we’d been learning and asking for clarifications and lots of hypothetical questions. After having had a few months to think about the concept and the chance to read the relevant chapters in Dr. Morin’s book The Erotic Mind (which I highly recommend) I had a better grasp of the concept going in to the presentation. One difference that was very helpful was that the audience of this presentation mostly consisted of practicing sex and relationship counselors/therapists/coaches of one type or another who had many years of cases to use as examples when asking questions, which proved to be much more interesting than the hypothetical cases the students had used to question how this concept could be applied.
The Concepts presented in the presentation: The concept of Love/Lust splits is really interesting and this is one of the topics that I’m going to write an entirely different post once I’ve had the chance to make about a dozen different little variations of the standard Love/Lust models (including adding another variable- relative importance of love and lust to the individual being described by the model). The basic model that Dr. Morin uses assumes that the person being described is not asexual (but I think the model can be modified slightly to help illustrate concepts of asexuality, gray-asexuality, and demisexuality very nicely).
You can find the basic love/lust model here (so it will be easier to follow what I’m describing). In the basic love/lust split model the circle labeled love consists of all of the triggers and situations that make person A fall and stay in love, described as “strong affection based on personal ties, admiration, common interests, *or* sexual attraction” (emphasis mine). The circle labeled lust contains all of the triggers and situations in which the person feels lust, described as “a singular focus on producing and intensifying arousal and orgasm” (I think asexuals who may be reading this will probably share some of my appreciation for the way both love and lust are defined).
The idea is that as long as these two circles overlap at least a little then maintaining a happy and healthy sexual relationship is possible, provided you work on any other issues you may have. However, if the two circles do not overlap then that makes it nearly impossible to maintain a relationship unless that problem is addressed (at least a relationship where sex is important to one, both or all of the people involved).
An example of a love/lust split (where there’s no overlap) is a person who only gets off on engaging in sex that they see as dirty and taboo- whether that’s orgies or casual encounters with people they just met, etc and the idea of sex within a committed relationship just doesn’t do it for them. Maybe this hadn’t been a problem in the past because they never met anyone who met the criteria in their “love” circle but now they’ve met someone (perhaps someone they met at an orgy or via casual sex) and fallen in love and the *want* to have sex within their relationship and they find that they just can’t get into it and of course their partner thinks there’s something wrong with themselves or that the other person must not love them (This is clearly not a case of an asexual in a relationship but I think the idea that you can be very much in love with a person without being turned on by the idea of having sex with them will not be foreign to most ace readers).
One example of the development of a love/lust split is when a person develops a fetish (for example) that they feel very guilty about and it becomes something they only do alone and masturbate to in secret because they feel like if other people know then they won’t love them. The guilt about masturbating to this fetish creates two problems- firstly they fixate on the fetish even more because of the guilt, and secondly it may stunt their confidence regarding seeking out other people as partners so they never discover other things that might also get them off (in this case the person’s lust circle might be very small and specific and so not only does it not overlap with their love circle but their chance of finding someone else who has a lust or love circle that overlaps with their lust circle is very small. The way to work on both of these cases, generally speaking, is to help that person find new and more things that they can add to their lust circle until it overlaps with their love circle at least a little- ideally by adding activities that already exist in their partner’s love/lust circles, too.
It is almost impossible to make someone no longer get turned on by something that is already a lust trigger for them (though sometimes turn-ons and turn-offs to naturally shift over time) but adding new turn-ons can be done if adding new turn ons is something the person is interested in doing and willing to work on (please note: adding to a person’s turn-ons is not the same thing as changing their orientation… this could be tricky ground but I hope to make it more clear once I have time to write about how the model can be modified to give visual interpretations of asexuality, too).
2. Also on Thursday I went to a 3 hour presentation called “BDSM and Empowerment – Guidelines for Clinicians, Educators and Health Care Providers Working with Kinky People” . Mostly I went because I’m always curious about how other presenters cover this topic and because I usually work with people who know at least a little about BDSM and/or the BDSM community and sometimes I forget about the basic things that need to be addressed when discussing the topic with people who really have no clue (for instance the presenter mentioned that she still gets asked if BDSM is related to Satanism…. wow). All in all the presentation was okay but the handouts were great!
3. The final presentation on Thursday was “San Francisco: Creating an Erotic City” which was about the presenter’s book, Erotic City: Sexual Revolutions and the Making of Modern San Francisco. There were a lot of great concepts and the book sounded very interesting so I may pick it up and review it one of these days but it had been such a long day and my notes from the talk are so scattered that I don’t think I should try to express the concepts of the talk because I’m pretty sure I’ll miss the mark.