Guest Blogger

Redefining Intimacy

Filed By Guest Blogger | September 23, 2010 8:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, The Movement
Tags: asexuality, intimate relationships, Redefining Intimacy, Sara Beth Brooks

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Sara Beth Brooks recently completed the Leadership, Organizing, and Action: Leading Change program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She is pursuing a degree in Peace and Conflict Studies and lives in Sacramento, CA. Sara Beth is publishing a weeklong series on asexuality this week.

sb-bilerico.jpgIt's inevitable: when I come out to someone as asexual they always ask, "So you don't have sex? Ever?"

I usually quip that asexuality is the secret to my success as an activist. People laugh, but there is some truth to it: part of the way I get the intimacy I need is through a community.

Woah, did I just say intimacy and community in the same sentence? Quick, someone alert NOM so that they can misquote me!

A lot of understanding asexuality is about redefining existing concepts. It's long past time to redefine intimacy. The word intimacy conjures up a candle-lit room and a steamy sex scene, but I believe this definition limits greatly our intimate capacity as humans. In fact, I reject entirely the idea that intimacy should be synonymous with sex. Intimacy is tied to a much deeper set of emotions that guide every part of our lives. Intimacy feeds our humanity by connecting us with the people around us. It is the foundation for empathy, compassion, and love. Sex is one way of expressing intimacy -- but intimacy should not be summed up as sex and sexual acts.

Nonsexual intimacy is already all around us in the LGBT community. Let's think about the relationship between gay men and the women of all orientations in their lives. A gay man and a woman can build a very strong bond. They have things they do together that define their relationship -- shopping, for instance. The more time they spend together, the stronger their relationship will become. They may confide in each other or lean on each other for support in times of crisis. Over time, they are building nonsexual intimacy.

This intimacy serves a purpose in the lives of both people. They get a chance to explore something with each other that maybe they don't explore with anyone else. They make more commitments to each other; maybe they start getting together for brunch every weekend. This goes on for years, brunch and shopping. By now, these two friends have an inseparable bond. They don't need sex to have their relationship be fulfilling; this relationship is based on something else. They feel happy spending time together and push each other to grow as people. Their relationship outlives sexual partners who come and go through each of their lives.

Perhaps the woman comes to brunch one morning and suggests that the man be her sperm donor. He agrees. Now they're making a big commitment to one another! That commitment furthers the intimacy of their relationship; few things are more intimate than parenting a child together. No one questions the closeness of their relationship, even though everyone understands that they aren't having sex. They are fulfilled in their close relationship with each other and embark on the journey to create a family together.

We build similar relationships across the LGBT community all the time, and not just between gay men and women. These relationships have clear boundaries and communication. They develop around common interests and shared experiences. Over time, these relationships push you outside of your comfort zone and you grow as a person. Intimate relationships are built on a lot of trust and commitment. For sexual people, sex is a natural step for these relationships to take. For asexual people, it's not.

Nonsexual intimacy can also exist between people and communities. An example? Activists. Over time, activists make commitments to their community. As they keep those commitments they inevitably build complex relationships with the people of that community. Activists find people within the community who have similar interests and make commitments with them to build projects together. The commitments continue to grow into a tangled web of complex relationships that contain varying levels of intimacy.

That's what I meant above when I said that community is one way I fulfil my need for intimacy. Over time, as I've been involved in the movement, I have felt inspired and passionate. I've made commitments to the community and kept them, and the movement has continued to inspire my passion for equality. It can be any community -- a church, a blog, a band. What does the community make you feel during the time you spend involved in it, and how can you commit to continuing those positive feelings?

Intimacy is the connection we all feel between one another. Many times sex is used as a way to express and create further intimacy, but intimacy can be expressed and created in many other ways. Asexual people are constantly examining these ways of redefining intimacy for ourselves. Heteronormative culture generally defines intimate relationships by one activity -- sex -- but asexual people realize that intimate relationships can be defined by so much more.


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Thanks for your work. I'm learning a lot from this series, and I look forward to tomorrow's piece. One thing I'm wondering about here is: what is sex? In other words, how are words like "sex" and "sexual acts" being defined in your writing?

no us and them; just humans | September 23, 2010 12:35 PM

"Heteronormative culture"! What an outdated and bigoted idea. Most people find great intimacy when they have children -- the infant/parent bonf IS intimacy! Most people find great intimacy in grandparents, friends, siblings, clubs and groups. This is not restricted to "queered" peoples. Your binary view of the world is sad and delusional. What a pity you are trapped in an us and them binary world view. It's very Christian and orthodox actually.

Sara Beth Brooks | September 23, 2010 12:41 PM

IMO, sex is defined by the user in any situation. When we talk about sex as an asexual community, we include everything from kissing to intercourse (and everything inbetween). That's the definition I'm using when I write these articles.

Some asexuals explore sexuality and decide they don't mind it, some explore it and decide they do mind, and some never explore it at all (and are perfectly fine with that too).

Does that help you understand better? :)

SB

Thanks for the clarification on your definition of sex. So am I right in hearing you say that, when someone says they are asexual, they are saying they don't kiss or touch others? (I'm guessing this also means no massages or hugs?)Sex can be defined so broadly; I'm just trying to understand how it's being defined here. Thanks.

I'm really enjoying reading your series on asexuality. You are truly opening my eyes to something I've never thought much about. Thank you for sharing your personal story with us on Bilerico.