What It Means To Be “Gray-Sexual”

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Belinda’s OkCupid account opens with this message: “If you are looking for casual sex, please move on … If you are looking for formal sex, please move on as well. Actually, if you’re looking for sex in general, I’ll probably disappoint you.”

If you are acquainted with the orientation known as asexuality, Belinda’s profile makes more sense. Asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction or interest in sex, and has become a formal orientation — or unorientation. This year asexuality even got attention in a documentary on the topic called “(A)sexual.” But Belinda isn’t asexual exactly … she is gray-sexual.

Asexuality is often thought of as a spectrum, and gray-sexuality is the in-between— something more fluid between sexuality and asexuaity. So Belinda might feel 15 percent sexual, other times that might go down to two percent. “Gray-A’s” — who lean toward the more asexual side — have found a home in the asexual community.

A “Gray-A” named Elizabeth says she says she identifies as gray rather than asexual because she has a “strong drive to be physically close”. Both Elizabeth and Belinda describe cuddling and making out as a part of their relationships, and Elizabeth has been open to exploring sex, even though it doesn’t interest her much.

Elizabeth shared the journey of two relationships on her blog. The first one was with M, who didn’t understand why she didn’t “want to be sexual” and thought he could change her– it didn’t work. Later she found a woman named C, who not only accepted her asexuality, but helped Elizabeth find ways to explore sexuality as a couple.

But where do gray-sexual people really differ from sexual people? “Personally when I am in a  sexual relationship, I notice that I never initiate, my partner can physically arouse me and then I’ll go with it but before that happens it just doesn’t really occur to me” says Elizabeth. Some people who identify as gray are more open to sexual compromises like Elizabeth, and others are not. Either way, in exploring sex with those who are more asexual, consent is key.

David Jay, the founder of the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network, says it seems because of this idea of consent, the  asexual community has more mechanisms to communicate consent or lack thereof. The asexual community is vocal about the idea that intimacy doesn’t have to be sexual and sexual intimacy isn’t somehow better than non sexual intimacy.

Belinda and I talked about how it’s a failure of sex-positive feminist girl-culture that sex has become so over-celebrated that if you don’t want it, there is something wrong with you. “They say own your desire, and I think we also gotta own our lack of desire. There’s no reason why I should bend over backwards sexually to do something I don’t want just because I should want it or because ‘everyone else’ wants it. Elizabeth, who does identify as sex-positive agrees, “The idea that sex is natural and beautiful and everyone should want it is limited. Sex is not always beautiful–it can be, but it can also be earth shatteringly horrible.”

Elizabeth also says that in order to feel more comfortable with calling herself a sexual person, the definition of what is considered “sex” should change–to beyond penis in vagina intercourse– what most people consider the loss of virginity act. Her idea is that there should be both a broadening of what sex is, but also not every intimate act should be considered sexual.

Even as a sexual person, I find this idea exciting, sometimes I have sex with my partner to feel close, and to have a myriad of ways to experience intimacy would certainly be nice. If there’s a flexibility between sexuality and asexuality, the same could apply in the sex lives of those who consider themselves sexual. That would certainly take the pressure off. There are times when I realize it has been over a week since the hubby and I have done it. If both of us are okay with that–who cares? It’s all about honoring your own sexual (or asexual) schedule.

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