Even as an adolescent, even in the throes of an infatuation, I’ve never been strongly tempted by sex – at most, the act represented, when I was a virgin, something undignified that I was curious about in a distant, skeptical way. Once, the object of my affection pointed out to me that I was in love with the idea of being in love. He was right; I liked him, and found in him a pretext for writing love poetry. I didn’t want anything else out of him, except perhaps his conversation.
I can’t fully explain the skepticism and indifference I’ve always felt towards sex. Interest in sexuality constantly surprises me in other people; my reaction is to feel bemused that they can take such a keen interest in each other at all. In part, I suppose this is related to my attitude toward family life – I’ve never wanted marriage or children. I tend to see children as a public nuisance rather than a blessing. But in a world with birth control, you wouldn’t expect that consideration to be decisive.
I was never told to associate sex with shame or disgust as a child, and reading a moral philosopher expounding on asceticism only makes me smile, e.g., “It is not for nothing that the immediate feeling of shame is connected precisely with this act. To stifle or pervert its testimony; after many thousands of years of inward and outward development, and from the heights of a refined intelligence to pronounce good that which even the simple feeling of the savage acknowledges to be wrong – this is, indeed, a disgrace to humanity and a clear proof of our demoralisation”!
I would love to have witnessed an exchange between this philosopher and his contemporary, one of my current favorite poets, Algernon Charles Swinburne. In Swinburne’s verses lust is at once cherubic and luxuriant, drawn in a heavenly chariot by a coterie of doves, the dominion of Aphrodite and the Muses, in mortal forms pitifully transient, but still a transcendental mystery and an end unto itself.
But to get around to my point, it turns out that decisions about children are to be decisive for me after all when it comes to the world of sexuality. My doctor, when she learned that I was using birth control, told me in no uncertain terms that if I want to be sexually active, I should go off my meds. They both cause serious birth defects, and she considers birth control an inadequate prevention method – if I am to stay on my meds, I am supposed to be celibate.
That no other doctor had ever warned me about this was my first thought when she told me this. I had been on these meds for more than five years and no one had said anything about birth defects. I had looked up their side effects on-line; still nothing. Lesson learned. If you want to know about a drug’s teratogenic side effects, you have to dig deeper to find out about them.
But as far as relationships go, this news didn’t come as a major blow to me. It just clarified a solitary habit to which I had already grown accustomed. When I was waiting for puberty to strike, I told my friends I didn’t know whether I was gay or not, but these days I feel confident I can rule those alternatives out, from my own experience of my disposition around members of the same sex. This means that in fact I will never marry.
Ironically, it was a student counselor who prompted me to give internet dating a fair shake when I was in my twenties, touting dating as the only sure-fire way I could gain experience of conversation and build up my social skills. I had been asking for advice on developing soft skills for professional networking, and in hindsight I have to question her judgment. But most of the first dates I’ve been on (and they were almost all first dates) were on her account.
Because what I wanted out of the experience and what they were looking for obviously had nothing in common, these dates didn’t amount to much. Maybe, in the long run, they did bolster my confidence when it came to making small talk at conferences. But what I really learned from this experience was that small talk couldn’t hold my attention. By the end of each date, I was bored to tears and impatient to go home.
And that’s essentially why I never wanted family and kids. Because the little miracles of the everyday hold no real fascination for me, because the companionship of “unburdening at the end of the day” feels oppressive to me, and because I would rather nurse an abstract ambition to leave some concrete idea or body of work behind at the end of my life than take on the organic tasks of child rearing.
But if that counselor was drawing on unspoken social norms that are pervasive in our society, in seeing something abnormal and unhealthy in my lack of interest in sexual sociability, what broader set of challenges does celibacy pose for me going forward, in terms of access to conversation and companionship?
I could socialize with asexuals, a broad category that includes both romantics and aromantics, and one that has its own internet dating sites for those looking for platonic relationships. But socializing with asexuals presupposes wanting to talk about asexuality and finding personal meaning in such an identity. I can relate, but I don’t feel strongly about the fact that while I find some people very visually attractive, I never feel physically attracted to someone.
The question of whether platonic companionship is right for me, and if so, how difficult it would be to come by, just doesn’t feel pressing right now. But I do feel removed somehow from the social life that goes on around me at work, and it may be partly because I can’t relate to the priorities of young people who dream of starting families of their own. It’s as if we don’t entirely speak the same language.