The Amazing Chain of Human Reproduction

Human reproduction truly is the irresistable force meets the unmovable object. The ‘irrestistable force’ is ‘survival of the fittest’, and the ‘unmovable object’ is ‘reliably putting together something as complex as a human being’. There are so, so, so many things which can go wrong in human reproduction, that it’s astonishing that it is so frequently successful.

Here a partial list of the links in the chain of human reproduction:

– Sexual attraction
– Sex drive
– Sexual attractiveness
– Fertility
– Potency
– Supporting the growth of a fetus …
– … without killing the mother
– Childbirth
– Romantic attraction (to keep people together long enough to care for a child for a few years)
– Romance drive
– Breastfeeding (or altenatives)
– Intent to biologically reproduce (this is more cruial when effective birth control is available)

Many people who want biological children do run into problems in at least one of these links … because complex processes have high rates of failure.

At the same time, evolution pushes reproduction pretty fiercely, so that many people who don’t want biological children sometimes end up with a pregnancy. The only birth control method that comes with a 100% guarantee of no pregnancy is castration (though interuterine devices, vasectomies, and in some circumstances, abstinence, come pretty close to 100%). Most birth control methods try to weaken or interfere with the chain – only castration breaks it.

It is suspected that men in my father’s family tend to have low sperm counts, and my own father was declared infertile as a young man. The fact that men in my father’s family tended to have few or no children even without birth control is evidence. Yet some men in my father’s family obviously managed to have biological children, including my ‘infertile’ father – low sperm count does not mean zero sperm count. Even with that loose link in the chain, the other links in the chain kept biological reproduction happening – for example, according to the comments of various people, handsome looks (i.e. sexual attractiveness) also run in my father’s family.

Based on the history of the women in my family, I most likely have at least an average level of fertility, possibly higher, and right now, my level of sexual attractiveness is high. In my case, the loose links are my lack of sexual and romantic attraction, as well as low sex and romance drives. I can, if I want to, compensate for this link with willpower (i.e. use the ‘intent to biologically reproduce’ chain) … but most people don’t have to use so much willpower to get the biological reproduction process started.

Looking at the system in abstract, it is a marvel. The chain compensates for the links which will inevitably come loose in a complex system by pushing for as many strong links as possible.

Of course, this isn’t entirely abstract for living people. It shapes our society, our relationships, our bodies, and our feelings, in short, our existence.


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Can we reserve ‘sleep with’ for when we literally mean ‘sleep with’?

Open Letter to Users of the English Language,
CC: Users of Mandarin (every point in this letter applies to Mandarin, and I suspect it also applies to other Chinese languages)

Dear Users of the English Language,

I know that I can’t seriously ask over a billion people to change the way they use English just to please me, but I still wish to make a little request.

How about we say ‘sleep with’, ‘get in bed with’, etc. … when we LITERALLY mean it.

As it, let’s stop using it mainly as a pseudo-euphemism for sex.

I have never had sex with anybody. I have, however, slept with people. Those are two distinctly different actions.

I have to be careful about how I talk about sleeping with people so that people don’t assume that I mean that I did something sexual with them. By itself, that wouldn’t be a big deal, and if that was all that was going on, I wouldn’t bother writing this letter.

However, this idea that ‘sleep with’ almost always means ‘have sex with’ ties into sexual supremacy, and as an asexual, I am not on the priveleged end of this specific hierarchy. It erases and discounts non-sexual interation, such as sleeping next to somebody else.

In addition to being asexophobic, ‘sleep with’ as a pseudo-euphemism is also, ironically, sex-negative. It supports the idea that sex is so shameful that you can’t actually say ‘have sex with’. This cocktail of sexual supremacy AND sexual shame is precisely why ‘sleep with’ is assumed to mean ‘have sex with’ – if either the sexual supremacy OR the sexual shame were absent, most people would assume that ‘sleep with’ is meant literally unless otherwise indicated.

The fact that the default meaning of ‘sleep with’ is ‘have sex with’ also ties into rape culture. Part of rape culture is that, if men and women sleep together, there must be sex, and that by consenting to sleep with a man, a woman is automatically consenting to sex. As a woman who has slept with men, will probably sleep with men in the future for convenience, but has no intention of having sex with them, this particular wrinkle is very disturbing.

From now on, aside from potential poetic metaphors, I will only use ‘sleep with’, ‘get in bed with’ etc. in the literal sense. When I mean ‘have sex with’, I will say ‘have sex with’. I request that you do the same.

Thanks,
The Notes Which Do Not Fit

Ace-Spectrum Models for Interacting with Children

This is for the April Carnival of Aces, hosted by … me.

Some months ago, I asked my uncle ‘Do you have a personal relationship with anybody else in my generation?’ He said ‘of course not’. He is childless, does not have a job which involves children, and does not have any other close biological relatives who are my age or younger.

In mainstream society, there are only two models for developing personal relationships between adults and children:

1) (mostly biological) family – being a parent, and to a lesser extent being an aunt/uncle/cousin/etc.

2) having a profession related to children (childcare worker, teacher, pediatrician, etc.)

Between adults (i.e. a 50 year old and a 20 year old), there is a little more leeway for intergenerational relationships, but not much more.

In fact, adult/child relationships outside of family/work are treated with suspicion. If the adult is male or does not conform to gender norms, he may be suspected of being a predator, but even if the adult is cis-female, forming deep relationships with children outside of the mainstream channels is not easy.

Some people on the ace-spectrum are interested in the mainstream channels. However, one has no choice over whether or not one has nieces/nephews/cousins, not everyone wants to have a job working with children or be a parent, and being on the ace-specturm might make getting such a job or becoming a parent more … complicated.

The most universal option for forming relationships with children which is acceptable with mainstream society is volunteering … but even this, I understand, is not always an option for people who are considered socially ‘deviant’ (people may try to keep ‘deviant’ people away from the children). To the extent that ace-spectrum people are percieved as being deviant, this may be an issue.

Could ace communities facillitate adult/child relationships internally? Yes. Some ace-spectrum people do have children, and they could conceivably bring these children into ace-spectrum spaces where they could form personal relationships with ace-spectrum adults from outside their family. In fact, as ace-spectrum communities develop and more ace-parents get involved, some form of child-care will probably be necessary.

Right now, all of my contact with children is through casual encounters, usually on the street. But these are fleeting relationships which usually last mere minutes. If I wanted to form deeper relationships with children ex parenting/work, I would have to spend more time where children are. But often these places are patrolled paticularly strictly by the social police, so doing this would expose me to even more pressure to conform to various norms – i.e. get into a couple, get married, etc.

I would like to see a return to a more tribal approach to caring for children – everybody helps everybody’s children. This is an issue which extends way beyond ace communities. But I think such a social model would be more accepting of people on the ace-spectrum – we would be judged less based on what we are (married/unmarried, parent/childfree, coupled/single, sexually-active/celibate, etc.), and more based on what we do for others.


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Being Ace and Leaning on Family

Part of the ace-spectrum experience is fearing losing peer relationships to their romantic-sexual relationships. Sometimes these fears come true.

I love the idea of having intense, deep, intimate friendships. However, most of the time, when I’ve tried to take friendship beyond a certain level, I have been disappointed, or worse, hurt. There have been exceptions, but I’ve been hurt enough times that I don’t trust friendship to deliver the level of connection to others that I yearn for. At this point, I have only one friendship which I would call ‘deep’ (and I am so, so, so grateful to have at least one), but due to circumstances in both of our lives, it’s really hard to find time together. If I get a set of beautiful, deep friendships, that would be wonderful, but at this point I am considering the possibility that I may very well live without that.

Not that I want all of my friendships to be deep – in fact, I am grateful for shallow friendships too, and friendships in-between.

However, in my life, friendship has usually not been something I can count on. What I have been able to count on are relationships with biological family (or biological-once-removed, including but not limited to in-law relationships).

My relationships with my family are secure enough that, regardless of whatever new relationships my relatives form (romantic, sexual, etc), I don’t feel the slightest fear that it will weaken our relationship, in fact, it never has weakened our relationship. However, I have found out so many times that a friend had not valued the friendship as much as I had *just* when I actually needed a friend. Therefore, I do not feel the same security in my friendships. This insecurity is why I have gotten jealous over friends making new friends, even if no romantic or sexual bond is in the picture.

That’s not to say that I haven’t been hurt by my relationships with relatives – in fact, I have been hurt a great deal in relationships with relatives. However, when the relationship breaks down, the relationship usually gets repaired.

When a friendship breaks down, that is it. I have never repaired a broken friendship. Perhaps that is a reflection of how both of us – them, me – feel that friendships are not worth repairing.

What would you trust – a bridge which has people ready to repair it if necessary, or a bridge which nobody would bother repairing?

As an asexual-aromantic who prefers celibacy, I have written off relying on romantic-sexual relationships for close, intimate companionship. And I don’t feel secure in friendship. That leaves me with the set of relationships which have, time and time again, proven most reliable in my lifetime – my biological and biological-once-removed family.

This is why the very low rate of new people entering my family scares me.


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April 2013 Carnival of Aces: Call for Submissions!

It’s April already? Time sure does fly. Before we know it, the kids will be grown up, and we’ll be old or dead (well, all of us will be dead in the long run…)

That brings me to April 2013’s theme for the Carnival of Aces:

THE NEXT GENERATION

How can/should people on the ace-spectrum connect to younger generations?

This theme is broad on purpose, so I hope everybody has something to say about it. Here are some suggestions:

– How might things be different for the next generation of people on the ace-spectrum? How *should* they be different?
– What might the ‘next generation’ of ace-activism be like?
– Are you the mentor/friend/aunt/uncle/guardian/parent/teacher/etc. of somebody on the ace-spectrum who is much younger than yourself? If yes, you may share your experience, whether or not you yourself are on the ace-spectrum.
– Do you have anything to say to the mentors/older friends/aunts/uncles/guardians/parents/teachers of people on the ace spectrum?
– How does being on the ace-spectrum or ace-spectrum discourse affect how you think/feel about parenting (for example, if you’ve decided to never be a parent, did being on the ace-spectrum and/or ace-spectrum discourse influence that decision)?
– Do mainstream social roles for interacting with younger generations/children (child care work, teaching, parenting, etc.) allow for being on the ace-spectrum? Are there specific challenges to taking on one of these roles while being on the ace-spectrum?
– What can/should people active in ace-spectrum communities do for people in the next generation?
– What aromantic and/or asexual themes/ideas can be found in Star Trek: Next Generation? (okay, I added this one for fun, and yes, submissions answering this question will be accepted)

These questions are just suggestions. Your submission doesn’t need to answer any of them. All your submission has to do is a) be about the ace-spectrum and b) be about the next generation or connecting with the next generation.

THE FORMAT

Your submission may be a blog post, short fiction, music, a video, cartoons, a podcast, a poem, etc. However, if your submission is not text-based, please include a transcript and/or text based description.

HOW TO SUBMIT

There are two ways to submit:

1) Leave a comment on this post.
2) Send an e-mail to AprilCarnivalOfAces@thenotes.e4ward.com – this is a temporary e-mail address, but I will keep it open until May 30 in case I make any mistakes and people need to ask me to fix them.

If you do not have your own place to host your submission, I will be happy to host guest posts.

I’m looking forward to what you all say!