“Do asexuals have sex fantasies?” – my answer. Input welcome.

@AceSexologist I’m reading a book that states everyone has sexual fantasies unless they r filled w shame. Do asexuals have sex fantasies?

@acesexologist I’m going to guess YES! but wanted to hear your thoughts.

So this is what I was tweeted this morning and yes, I know, I’ve been promising everyone five articles this month so I’ll keep this short and get back to work on them today!

***Actually, now that I’m done writing this it turned out not to be so short, but here’s my short answer:  Some asexuals fantasize and some don’t. Of those who do some of them have fantasies that involve “sex” and others fantasize about different things. Of the asexuals who do not fantasize (or even the ones who do) some may have “shame issues” but I wouldn’t assume that number is any higher among asexuals than any other orientation and I’m not sure that whether or not a person fantasizes is really a good indicator.

***Longer response below:

Note about hormones: In the following post I mention hormone levels as something that can influence frequency of fantasies, I want to be clear that I am not saying there is anything wrong with having “relatively low” (or high) levels of any particular hormone. The same presentation I reference below said that the hormone Vasopressin is related to monogamy- American culture puts a lot of value on monogamy but I don’t see campaigns to “treat” people for being non-monogamous (nor do I think we should). I think there’s room for a lot of variations in people.

First impression:

I think the statement “everyone has sexual fantasies unless they are filled with shame” is kind of extreme. It makes sense to me that people who are “filled with shame” would either try to avoid fantasizing or that they really are fantasizing and their shame stems from anxiety over what they fantasize about when they fantasize. But I’m not sold on the idea that not fantasizing is a definite indicator of shame.

Fantasies and Biochemistry:

At the AASECT conference I went to a presentation called ” How Hormones and Neurotransmitters Impact Sexual Function” and they gave a run down of all the different chemicals that seem to effect sexuality. Apparently testosterone is related to fantasizing. According to the presentation the  more testosterone a person has the more frequently they fantasize. Asexuals are often acused of having low levels of testosterone and some do and some don’t (I don’t know how the variations in asexuals compare to the variations in other orientation categories but that could be a very interesting study. It seems logical to me that really “fem” and really “butch” lesbians would have slightly different hormone levels as a group, and likewise with “bears” and “fem” gay men, so I expect a variation in asexuals, too.) so for some people, asexuals included, not fantasizing could be related to relatively low levels of testosterone. In the context of the presentation they seemed to mean that testosterone was related to sexual fantasies but it seems to me that the fantasizing could take many forms- it might just be a matter of having a vivid imagination and some people use it to fantasize sexually and others don’t.

Who would asexuals have sexual fantasies about?

If we take asexuals as a group of people who, generally speaking, aren’t sexually attracted to others then the question is, who are they supposed to be having sexual fantasies about? My impression is that many asexuals do have fantasies but not all involve intercourse- so are they still sexual fantasies? I feel like I should qualify that by saying some lesbians have fantasies about having sex with men but are not at all turned on by the thought of actually having sex with a man, and I’m sure there are straight men who have fantasized about sex with another man who find it hot theoretically but wouldn’t find it appealing as a reality. I’m frustrated that I have to qualify those statements but otherwise people end up saying “if you fantasize about it you must just be really repressed to not want to actually do it” but that isn’t really how fantasies work (and I think you know that, asker, but since I’m posting this on my site there may be many readers who are not aware. I think one of the best examples of this is people who fantasize about being raped or raping someone else- the fantasy is hot for them but the reality of people actually being raped is entirely repugnant to them). Some asexuals may have sexual fantasies that involve intercourse, but I don’t know what the numbers are. We don’t generally tell people that there must be something wrong with them if they don’t have sexual fantasies about people they aren’t sexually attracted to (of course there is nothing wrong with having those fantasies either) so then who are asexuals supposed to have sexual fantasies about?

Do fantasies have to involve intercourse to be sexual?

Previously I had assumed that asexuals who masturbate (one study by Lorri Brotto suggested that asexual women masturbate at about the same frequency as women of other orientations, an informal survey I did last summer suggested that masturbation was slightly less frequent for asexual women, I summarized the results here, both studies suffer from self-selection bias, small sample sizes and other methodological problems, so that should be taken into account) were fantasizing when they did so (I can’t get off without fantasizing and so it made sense to me that others were the same way). Since I try to let people write in their own answers as often as possible (which is good because in one study I asked people about masturbating and in another I asked about “sexuality” and in both cases some responders talked about fantasy otherwise I’d have no details on the topic)  some survey takers clarified that they do fantasize but that they aren’t fantasizing about intercourse (some specified that they had BDSM-themed fantasies) and others specified that they did not fantasize at all and that it was just something they did to avoid wet dreams or to help them sleep or to relax and they considered masturbating to be completely non-sexual. Since I don’t think something has to involve two or more people, or intercourse, to be “sexual”  I conceptualize masturbation as being sexual but I can see the perspective that for them it’s more like scratching an itch or getting a massage (of course I also consider behavior and orientation to be two separate concepts so I don’t see engaging in a “sexual” behavior -even intercourse- to be contradictory to my identity as someone whose orientation is “asexual”).

What does shame look like?

If roughly 38% of women from the general population never masturbate (from Kinsey’s numbers), and presumably those women aren’t constantly having sex, then are they fantasizing and not masturbating or are they only fantasizing while having sex with a partner or not fantasizing at all (I mean, I personally don’t understand why someone would fantasize and not get off?)? That seems like a large percent of the population to accuse of being “filled with shame” when really, they just might have other things on their mind or might have low levels of fantasy-inducing chemicals.

Final thoughts:

If I look at only the people I know personally (where I know anything about their sex-related life) and take into consideration whether or not I perceive them as having shame issues it does, admittedly, seem like there might be a correlation… but I don’t think it’s as 100% as the book suggests that it is. Not fantasizing could suggest that a person has shame issues that should be addressed, but I think there are a lot of other factors and assuming the person *must* be “filled with shame” is a bit much.

Like I mentioned, I don’t have much in the way of numbers on fantasies so I’d be interested in hearing other perspectives. Feel free to comment or e-mail me.

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6 Responses to “Do asexuals have sex fantasies?” – my answer. Input welcome.

  1. Andrew says:

    The “filled with shame” comment is just an example of someone who thinks, “All people are X” (where X probably means, “like me” in some way or other), and then in the face of evidence against this, they come up with an auxiliary hypothesis to account for this data. In this case, there’s really weak/no evidence for the claim (how would you even test it empirically?), but evidence against it would seem plausible to give.

    Now, my own personal take on it: I doubt that shame really prevents all that many people from having sexual fantasies, and suspect that it’s a lot more common for them to go on having the fantasies anyway, and then feeling guilty about it. (As another example, lots of people are ashamed about being fat, but shaming them isn’t getting them thin.)

    • I agree about it seeming like there could only be weak/no evidence for proving causation as far as shame and fantasies are concerned, I’m not sure which book the asker was getting the statement from, or if it was meant to be literal/”scientific” or if it was merely the authors impression. If I give the idea the benefit of the doubt and try to think of examples I can come up with some but that’s true for almost anything that a person says thanks to our “confirmation bias” – I can think of an example of almost anything, but it doesn’t prove anything one way or the other.

      I probably should have broken down the question into two parts: “do asexuals have sexual fantasies” which I covered as well as I could with the little bit of information that I have and then, separately, “Is it a valid claim that not having sexual fantasies is an indicator or result of shame” but I have absolutely no information on the validity of that claim. I agree with you though that it seems very much like someone trying to explain what is “wrong” with someone who, really, is just different.

  2. I’m slightly confused here on what you mean by sex fantasies. Are they fantasies which involve sex? Fantasies which cause sexual arousal? Fantasies which tend to be indulged while engaged in sexual activity?

    The middle definition feels like the most intuitive, the most like that the question-asker was probably envisioning, to me. The first one includes completely non-arousing mental images of sex, which can range from ‘Would I like sex? Hang on, running mental simulation… HELL NO!’ to ‘These two anime characters are so good together. If they ended up having gay sex, that one would totally be dominant. It’s just so like him!’
    The second one would include those asexuals who report having very vivid fantasies while masturbating, of blue skies, or abstract patterns, or whatever.

    • You might be confused about what was meant by “sex fantasies” because, well, I wasn’t sure what the asker meant by the phrase either. I tried to address it from a few different possible meanings but my time would probably have been better used just asking the asker for clarification…

  3. romanticme says:

    My take on this is that sexual fantasies and the want and need for them is natural. Come on!, we are human but first and foremost we are animals. From the minute we are able to feel desires within a body at the adolescent ages, we already have a desire to be in situations. In society obviously this is wrong and this is where being ashamed comes in. Society and religions make us feel or believe that we are doing something wrong when in fact, in the whole sense of the word, it may just be natural. How about that for deep thought on reality of what we are and what we feel and why we would or not act on because of shame based on beliefs.

    • First, let me appologize for not approving this for 2 months. Turning my moderation settings to require that each comment is “approved” was meant as a way for me to make sure I was aware of comments and had a chance to respond to them if necessary – not as a means of censoring. I remember reading the comment when it came to my in box and making a mental note to approve and respond and I guess that just somehow didn’t happen.

      I’m not really sure how to respond to this other than to say that it doesn’t really seem to be “deep thought on reality of what we are and what we feel and why we would or not act…” This may be your experience, it may be that you have had a desire to be in “situations” since you were very young, but from what I can tell by reading your post, you’re not really considering that other people might have different experiences.

      You have to be pretty careful when you’re talking about what’s “natural” because it isn’t just a matter of “if it’s natural to have X then it’s unnatural not to” which seems to be what you’re getting at. “It’s natural to have 10 fingers and 10 toes” is a reasonably true statement, but if you’re born with more or less fingers or toes that doesn’t make you “unnatural.” “It’s natural to have sexual fantasies” is true, but that does not mean “it is unnatural to not have sexual fantasies” is also true.

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