What’s so bad about being sexually repressed?

One of the most common ace-hate comments is:

“You’re not asexual, you’re just sexually repressed.”

And the typical reply of vocal asexuals is:

“No, we’re not sexually repressed, we’re asexual.”

It is true that many asexual people are not sexually repressed, and that asexuality exists in humans regardless of the presence of sexual repression.

But why insist so much that asexuals aren’t sexually repressed? Is sexual repression such a bad thing that we need to distance ourselves so much from it.

I think that when sexual repression is not causing distress, it’s fine to be sexually repressed. In some situations, it might be a good thing. Let me give you an example:

[Content note: reference to child sexual abuse]

Let’s say someone is sexuallty attracted to children. They understand that sexually abusing children is wrong, so they never want to interact sexually with a child, but the very fact that they know it’s wrong makes them very uncomfortable with the sexual attraction they are experiencing. So they decide to repress their sexual attraction – and succeed! They can now go on about their life without being constantly bothered by their sexual attraction to children, and even better, no children are hurt. Even though there are other ways to handle this problem (such as ‘ageplay’ – having a consenting adult pretend to be a child during sexual activity) I fail to see anything wrong with this type of sexual repression.

That particular example is extreme, but I think sexual repression might be helpful in many situations where someone is experiencing unwanted sexual attraction.

When most people talk about how bad sexual repression is, it’s implied the sexual repression is applied externally by society, not a tool being willfully used by an individual. However, even when sexual repression is being imposed by social pressure, it is bad … because of what?

Here’s the answer: sexual repression is bad when it causes distress/unhappiness. Then the distressed/unhappy person is entitled to addressing the problem. However, when sexual repression is not causing distress/unhappiness – even if the sexual repression is caused by external social forces – there is no need to “stop” the sexual repression.

Hey, I sound just like the people who say that sexual repulsion/aversion is okay as long as it does not cause distress. That’s probably because my mind absorbed their rhetoric and substituted ‘sexual repulsion/aversion’ with ‘sexual repression’. In my opinion, the arguments for accepting sexual repulsion/aversion work just as well as for accepting sexual repression.

Saying that all sexual repression is bad and need to be released is an expression of compulsory sexuality. If someone didn’t think that all people ARE REQUIRED engage in sexual behavior (i.e. compulsory sexuality), I can’t imagine why they would insist that all sexual repression is bad.

And it is because of the compulsory sexuality behind “sexual repression is bad” arguments that I think maybe, instead of saying ‘asexuals are not sexually repressed’ we should say ‘sexual repression is irrelevant to the validity of asexuality’.


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11 thoughts on “What’s so bad about being sexually repressed?

  1. You’re not really engaging with the philosophies that gives “sexual repression is bad” force. I suspect that most who see it as an accusation would either have a very hard time explaining what is being said or would explain it in ways that would seem not at all implied to most readers. People are tapping into a storehouse of assumptions (embedded in our language by our culture) whenever they use the phrase.

    For women, there’s the oppression approach – sexual repression is a tool to control women; if you don’t fight it by having lots of sex and making it widely known, you aid in oppression.

    For men, there’s the No True Scotsman approach – a real man is always wanting sex from any woman he encounters who is not related to him, trans, old or ugly.

    (The rest of us mostly get weird, contradictory spillover of the two, as far as I know.)

    Then, there’s the Freudian approach – virtually everything in your mind is an expression of your sexual desires, distorted by the force of your repression. Here, sexual repression is bad, because it makes you even crazier and less capable of dealing with life than the average person.

    The theory is pretty much entirely discarded by psychologists and people who give it five minutes thought, but is still thoroughly embedded in popular culture.

    • I think all of the things you mention are covered by ‘compulsory sexuality’ (it’s great shorthand, albeit only among people who know what it means). Women must have lots of sex to fight oppression = compulsory sexuality. Real men must want sex with all non-biologically-related pretty young cis women = compulsory sexuality. Freud is too debunked for me to bother with him.

  2. You make a good point about repression not automatically being a bad thing, and sexually repressed people possibly finding value in the ace community. I don’t agree, however, that ‘I’m not repressed; I’m ace’ necessarily carries a value judgment. The acephobic comment does, but I think what the ace community is refuting – what I’d be refuting if someone hit me with that comment – is the flawed logic: ‘ace’ is commonly defined as ‘never experiencing sexual attraction’, and you must be experiencing sexual attraction and repressing it, and therefore you can’t possibly be ace. I don’t have to agree with the value judgment to directly counter that; it’s a separate issue. And I do think that while the existence of sexual repression is irrelevant to the validity of asexuality in general, given the accepted definition of ‘asexuality’ and the fact that one must first experience attraction before repressing it, the question of whether I’m sexually repressed (answer: no) actually is relevant to the question of whether I’m asexual (and, of course, it’s ultimately still up to me to make that call).

    • Certainly, an asexual cannot repress sexual attraction they do not feel, but I don’t think repressing sexual attraction is the only kind of sexual repression. For example, I would also consider repressed libido/sex drive to be a form of sexual repression, and asexuals are capable of that.

      Also, if someone who had no libido/sex drive experienced sexual attraction, decided to repress it, and then decided to label themselves asexual, I would accept that. I think trying to exclude such people would do more harm than good.

      If the value judgements against sexual repression came from a place other than compulsory sexuality, I might be less interested in challenging it. However, given that most acephobia comes from the the same place that the value judgement against sexual repression comes from, I think it’s worth challenging when the ‘you’re not asexual, you’re repressed’ comments come.

  3. Pingback: Please stop saying “aces aren’t repressed” | The Ace Theist

  4. THANK YOU, I totally see what you’re getting at and you have actually helped to put my mind at rest because I couldn’t find anything else that explained my personal situation at all. I wasn’t sure what I identified as exactly, or whether there was truly something wrong with it or not. Everyone gets so crazy about the mention of asexuality/repression/orientation that I fear to go near the subject. They all think they know better than you because they’re older or wiser, and okay I may not be totally sure of any of it myself, but to tell me what I think/am/will do in the future – WHEN THEY ARE NOT ME – is just daft. These same people say fortune telling is crap and then get caught reading their horoscope. The world is chock full of hypocrites.

  5. anyone who doesn’t desire sex, there either really old, REPRESSED (having it limited to very few strict guidelines), or there’s something plain wrong with them…..

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