An Analogy about Abstinence

This is for the April 2014 Carnival of Aces.

Note: rape culture is mentioned, but not described graphically or in detail

I find that, in some ways, the social pressure to have sex is much like the social pressure to drink alcohol.

I have talked a little bit about my experiments with alcohol, and the fact that I sometimes use people’s reactions to my lack of drinking to gauge how they might react to my sexual inactivity and my asexuality (people who are not aware of asexuality generally are not good at distinguishing the orientation and the behavior). I want to expand on that in this post.

Before I was 21, my alcohol consumption was

– chocolates with small quantities of vodka
– sipping a tiny amount of wine at a family event – and I did this with parental permission

And I never tried to drink more before I was of age.

People find it weird that I was essentially following the laws about underage drinking, and making no effort to break them. In many of my social circles, you are expected to say that you snuck in alcohol before you were of age, through measures such as a fake ID if necessary, and it is a major coming-of-age rite when you can finally drink legally.

This is not unlike how ‘losing one’s virginity’ is considering a defining coming-of-age rite. I expressed my thoughts on this in “Virgins Don’t Exist”.

Some of the comments I have heard about groups which commit to never drink alcohol (such as Muslims) include things like “people are not going to stay away from alcohol for their whole lives”, “they do so many drugs because they don’t drink alcohol” “it is so horrible/extreme that they never drink alcohol”. To me, this resembles the things that people say about those who commit to indefinite or permanent sexual abstinence.

Both alcohol consumption and sex are considered ‘sinful’ in our culture. We are supposed to drink, but drinking too much is stigmatized. Women are supposed to have sex (with men), but if they have too much they are ‘sluts’. Swankivy has talked about how some people want asexuality to be fake because of their insecurities about desiring sex, and I think there may be insecurities around wanting alcohol too. Even aside from cultural attitudes about ‘sinful’ behavior, alcohol makes us vulnerable. So does sex.

However, I think the pressure to drink alcohol is not nearly as strong as the pressure to have sex. This is why it is a useful gauge – people’s reactions to the (lack of) alcohol consumption will most likely be milder than their reactions to the lack of sexual attraction and activity.

And, of course, alcohol and compulsory sexuality / rape culture are even more closely linked that that, but that is a digression which is best saved for another post.

When I finally did try to drink alcohol for real, I did it in an environment when I did not feel any social pressure to drink. I did it in Taiwan, where abstaining from alcohol is not as big deal as it is in some other cultures, and I did it when nobody was suggesting I drink alcohol. I did it because I had gotten curious about what it is like to drink more than a sip. I think I would not have willingly tried it under any other circumstances. I have found that sometimes I like alcohol, and sometimes I don’t.

Compulsory sexuality is even more built into our culture than alcohol consumption. If I lived in a society where everybody felt that sex was always 100% optional, I might be more inclined to experiment with sex out of curiosity. However, with sex-positivity/compulsory sexuality/rape culture (the three are closely linked – read “Sex Positivity Is Rape Culture in Disguise“) I do not expect to be in an environment with sufficiently low social pressure.

Maybe, if I actually tried sex, I would like it. Or maybe I would hate it. Or maybe it would bore me. I don’t know. But, ironically, all of these ‘sex-positivity’ people are making me even less inclined to even try. I will only feel safe if I am confident that my wishes and my sexuality as it actually is will always be respected, and many ‘sex-positivity’ types fail to respect asexual-spectrum orientations.

Now, if abstaining from sex were no bigger a deal than abstaining from alcohol in Taiwan…


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7 thoughts on “An Analogy about Abstinence

  1. Pingback: There’s a Reason It’s Called a “Virgin” Cocktail | From Fandom to Family: Sharing my many thoughts

  2. Pingback: Carnival of Aces: April 2014 Round-Up of Everything Submitted!! | From Fandom to Family: Sharing my many thoughts

  3. I have a lot of feelings about this as an ace who doesn’t drink (partially because I don’t want to, partially because there’s alcoholism on both sides of my family, and partially because I’m on meds that can’t be mixed with alcohol). I’ve actually gotten a lot more pressure to drink than pressure to have sex–or really, strangers are much more comfortable pressuring me to drink, whereas the people most likely to pressure me to have sex are people I’m close to. And while having your boyfriend pressure you to try sex because that’s The Thing to Do is unpleasant (and scary, when he doesn’t listen to your “no”), being swarmed by a dozen people who want to know, Why aren’t you drinking? Do you not like alcohol? What, you don’t? That’s so weird! But have you tried this kind? Surely you can make an exception this once! is not the most pleasant experience.
    That said, the most friction I’ve run into with regards to not drinking has been in Japan (which has a huuuuge drinking culture) and grad school (which has a surprisingly intense drinking culture, at least in my department). I’ve found that “I literally cannot consume alcohol” (or, in Japan, “I am allergic to alcohol”) is much better respected than “I don’t drink alcohol and don’t want to drink alcohol.” Too bad I can’t say the same for sex–“I’m allergic to sex” doesn’t really go over that well.

    • Ah yes … though I have not been to grad school, I have been to Japan by now. I was a bit sheltered because my lack of Japanese language skills limited how much I could interact with the local people (I swear, I spent more time talking to Taiwanese people than to Japanese people IN JAPAN) but it turns out that many tourists traveling in Japan are also big on drinking, so most of the pressure on me to drink in Japan came from Australians/Europeans (I am not saying North Americans since I am not sure if any North Americans tried to get me to drink alcohol in Japan).

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  5. Pingback: Further Thoughts on Drinking and (A)Sexuality (Part 1) | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

  6. Pingback: Linkspam: Discussion of asexuality with non-attraction lenses in past carnivals – sildarmillion

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