Ask Kai: Advice for the Apocalypse
12 min

I think I’m asexual but I’m into kinky porn, which my friends say is problematic. Am I a bad person?

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Dear Kai, 

I’m a 21-year-old queer person, and I’ve never been in a relationship nor had sex. I actually think I might be asexual, because hooking up and dating really don’t interest me much. Except I get really turned on by porn, specifically kinky fandom porn (like, erotic fan art from TV shows and stuff) where there are power dynamics—like with people being tied up. All my queer friends say that this kind of porn is really violent and that liking it is either wrong or a sign of sexual trauma, but, to be honest, nothing sexually traumatic or even bad has ever happened to me (probably because I’ve never had sex!!!). I don’t know what to think. Am I a bad person? And am I really asexual? Is it problematic to call myself asexual when I’m not really sure? 

One Confused Kid

Dear Confused,

Thank you for these tender and vulnerable questions—it can be so very difficult to talk about sex-related questions and confusion about sexuality, largely because the dominant culture around us invisibilizes and shames both erotic desire and asexuality. Sex and gender theorist Gayle S. Rubin refers to this as the “charmed circle” of sexuality, in which heterosexual, married, reproductive sex is both normalized and compulsory, while every other manifestation of sexuality or asexuality is shamed and demonized to varying degrees.

So I want to congratulate you, Confused, for having the courage to engage with your own sexual questions and erotic curiosity. This is how we begin to free ourselves from the confines of the “charmed circle”—and in so doing, we make room for others to free themselves as well.

When it comes to asexuality, my first instinct is to encourage you to identify—or dis-identify—with whatever terms you feel you need to. We live in an era obsessed with identities and categorizations, and I think it’s important to remember that words like sexual, asexual, queer, straight and so on are just words. They’re flexible and imperfect; they mean different things to different people and their meanings change according to the context.

When it comes to sexuality, it is perfectly okay to experiment with identity labels until you find the ones that work best for you. To be honest, that’s what all of us do to some extent. It’s also completely acceptable to reject sexual labels entirely, or to change yours over the course of your lifetime—indeed, many people’s experience of sexuality itself changes as they get older.

That said, it may also be helpful to note that the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), one of the oldest and largest support networks for asexual-identified people in the world, states that “a significant portion of asexual people experience some level of arousal and libido, which can include fantasies and masturbation.”

AVEN also recognizes that some individuals may “feel mostly asexual, but not entirely […] This is what we call the gray area—not quite asexual, but experiencing many of the same things that asexuals do and most sexual people don’t.” AVEN uses the term “greysexual” to refer to people in the grey area they describe.

In other words, Confused, it seems to me that there is indeed room for you within the asexual community if that’s something you’re seeking. What’s most important, though, is that you’re allowed to define your sexuality in your own time and in your own terms—and this is something that we all deserve.

This brings us to your question about kink, Confused. I think this is an important and somewhat complex issue, particularly because, in my own experience, even the supposedly “sexually progressive” queer community is very divided on the notion of kink and—somewhat ironically—non-normative sexual practices in general.

Here, it may be useful to come back to the “charmed circle” theory of sexuality, in which Rubin suggests that even those of us who are considered outside of the sexual norm in dominant society (like queer people) may compete with one another about where to draw the line between “acceptable” and “unacceptable” forms of sexuality.

Let’s be clear: Some forms of sexuality are indeed unacceptable. However, in my opinion, these are for the most part composed of non-consensual, violent or exploitative sexual behaviours. I think it’s important to distinguish these from sexual fantasies and consensual sexual play, which can encompass a wide variety of themes, images and dynamics without harming anyone.

Imbalanced power dynamics (that is, BDSM and similar forms of kind) as a part of sexual fantasy and sexual play are extremely common. In fact, an article in Smithsonian magazine cites several scientific studies showing that 20 percent of adults worldwide use BDSM gear during sex—and the number jumps to 36 percent in the U.S.

Kink has also been scientifically demonstrated to not be positively correlated with violence or mental illness, as is commonly thought in some social circles. A study of nearly 20,000 adults in Australia found that practitioners of BDSM are no more likely than the general population to experience sexual assault or symptoms of mental illness. Interestingly, however, that same study did find that queer people were more likely to engage in BDSM than straight people.

So all of this to say, Confused, that it doesn’t seem to me like your interest in kinky fandom porn means that you’re a bad person, or that you’ve had some mysterious sexual trauma in your past. On the contrary, it may well be that you’re simply enjoying a very common form of erotic fantasy.

We are living in a moment where the line between fantasy and reality, fiction and real-life, is being increasingly blurred by conversations happening in the media and on social media—perhaps partly because we are constantly inundated with “fake news” narratives that we cannot fully trust. However, it’s important to remember that fantasy serves a wide range of purposes in the human mind—and most of them are not necessarily literal.

For example, a huge number of people enjoy movies, TV shows and video games that include violence; whole genres are dedicated to this. Yet the overwhelming majority of consumers of such media don’t actually have any desire to engage in real violence, and only the tiniest fraction ever do so. Fans of action movies don’t (for the most part) watch action movies because they want to get into fights all the time. They do so because it is fun, and because it helps us to work out tension and stress within our collective psyche in a controlled environment.

I would argue that the same is true for most people who enjoy kink: The fantasy of power play and other taboo themes can be appealing simply because it is dramatic, and also because they help us get to know parts of ourselves that are normally repressed. Indeed, I know many people who consider consensual kink healthy precisely because it allows them to engage with powerful feelings and sensations within a container that is negotiated, contained and relatively safe. Some practitioners of kink have also written that they actually use kink to heal their past trauma.

Of course, in order for kink to be healthy and fun, it has to be practiced within a strong awareness of safety, communication and consent—but then again, this is true of all forms of sex that involve more than one person. And since your main interest at the moment seems to be erotic fan art that you consume solo, you can be assured that you aren’t harming anyone.

You aren’t a bad person, Confused, and you don’t need to fit yourself into any kind of identity category; your sexuality is about you and not what anyone else thinks you should be. This includes your queer friends. Remember: Your erotic life is not something that you need to explain or justify to anyone you’re not erotically intimate with.

Your fantasies and your pleasure belong to you, and only you. As long as you’re not hurting anyone (and once again, you aren’t), no one can tell you what to feel or how to get off. This is the meaning of queer and sexual liberation. This is what it means to be free.

Need advice in a hurry? In our video series “Ask Kai: Quick Tips for the Apocalypse,” Kai Cheng Thom offers concrete suggestions to help keep your relationship happy and healthy in these harrowing times. In our latest installment, Kai explores sexual desire amidst a pandemic. Watch the episode below.

Kai Cheng Thom is no longer a registered or practicing mental health professional. The opinions expressed in this column are not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content in this column, including, but not limited to, all text, graphics, videos and images, is for general information purposes only. This column, its author, Xtra (including its parent and affiliated companies, as well as their directors, officers, employees, successors and assigns) and any guest authors are not responsible for the accuracy of the information contained in this column or the outcome of following any information provided directly or indirectly from it.

 

This story is filed under Sex, Relationships, Pornography, Friendship, Sexuality, Asexuality, Advice, Ask Kai: Advice for the Apocalypse
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