It’s All Gray

Olivia, female, 23, United States.

When I was 14, I started dating. It was as much a surprise to me as anyone else. I liked the guy, sure, but I never expected anything to happen but flirting. He was two years older than I was, and he wanted sexuality in the worst way. When he tried to kiss me, I was terrified. I had no idea what to do, or why he was doing this. It made no sense. “My mom is texting me. I have to get home” I blurted out, desperate for a way to leave. Why was this all so scary? Wasn’t it supposed to be exciting?

Fast forward four years. I’m a senior in high school. I’ve been with my boyfriend for over a year, and I’m getting to the point where I start wondering: should we be having sex? That’s what you do at this point isn’t it? I find myself nervous when I think about it. Sure we fool around. He likes to get me off, and I certainly don’t mind that, but I’m afraid to try anything with him. I’m convinced it’s a lack of confidence: what if I do it wrong? But somewhere deeper down, I’m sort of terrified of penises and of what I’m supposed to do with it and of the whole business. I’d be perfectly happy if we just left the whole sex business alone, but I’m supposed to perform pleasure for him, aren’t I? I’m supposed to let him know he makes me feel good, right? Even when I don’t really want it that much? Things fall apart before I have to really answer the question.

I’m twenty years old, right in the midst of a vicious eating disorder but dating the sweetest guy I could ask for in such a situation. My body is not my friend. I think to myself that this must be why I’m so nervous about sex and sexual situations. It must be why I hide myself. I decide that I’m ready though, that I love him enough, that it’s time. It’s awkward, but it feels intimate. I tell him I love him, but a few months later any and all desire for sexual contact is gone. I’m convinced I’m cold, a prude, a bitch. We fight. We break up. It seems like it’s my fault for not wanting sex, for not caring enough, for being distant. Of course it’s my fault. I saw the look on his face when I said no.

Two months later and somehow there’s another guy in my life. I don’t know how it happened. I was lonely, I needed a friend, I needed a break from the intense depression I was feeling. And he gave me that. Until we had sex. He was scared, so I told him it was ok, sex was nothing to be ashamed of. Barely had the words come out of my mouth when my sex drive disappeared again. And then the abuse started. The manipulation, the cajoling, the guilting. I needed to have sex with him. I had led him on by telling him it was ok. What was wrong with me? After I had extricated myself from that situation, I vowed I would be single.

Of course, things never go as we vow, and by the end of the summer there was someone else. I took it slow, but eventually sexuality happened and then it stopped happening. I didn’t know what to think. I was certain that I wasn’t ace because I had felt sexual desire before. I’d had sex before and enjoyed it. I nearly constantly had a boyfriend. I was fairly certain of my identity and orientation. I was just super monogamous and had a low sex drive that’s all. It would come back eventually. If I really loved someone I’d want to have sex with them.

Except it’s never that clear. Last month I started reading. I read everything I could get my hands on about asexuality. I learned about gray-aces, I learned about demisexuality. And I looked back at each of these experiences and realized that what I assumed was sexual attraction may in fact have just been the acting out of scripts. I assumed I wanted sex because that’s what you do, right? I didn’t have sex out of a desire for sex, I had it because I thought I was ready. Perhaps gray ace was the right term for me after all.

It’s an odd experience to reinterpret all your experiences. You wonder if you’re rewriting your own history, if you’re lying to yourself, if you’re saying what feels right now but not what was true in the moment. But the more I relive the experiences I’ve had, the more I remember the feelings of confusion and terror when others initiated sex, the more I remember how few and far between were the moments when I initiated anything, the more I remember that what attracts me to people is their personality, their mind, their emotions. Maybe I am rewriting my history, but this history looks like the right one to me.

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