Friday, December 02, 2016

Privacy, Sexuality And Shame

I've decided recently to make a concerted effort to participate in more blog carnivals. I used to regularly participate in the disability blog carnival, but then they stopped using the widget I used to track that carnival, and I don't really know if that carnival is even still going on.

However, I just recently came across A Carnival of Aces. I didn't post anything for November because the topic was relationship anarchy, a concept that really doesn't make any sense to me. The December topic is privacy, which I can certainly write about.

Do you think privacy or the right to privacy is more important to you than it would be for another sexuality or for someone who identifies as straight?

I don't think my unusual approach to privacy has much to do with my orientation. It has far more to do with my neurology and my trauma history, and the complex way they interact. With that said, I do think that my approach to privacy as an asexual CSA (child sexual abuse) survivor is different from how I'd react if I was an allosexual abuse survivor. But I'll get into that more in a bit.

I've heard privacy used to refer to three domains that I personally have very different reactions to. Firstly, many people talk about privacy in the context of whether people see you naked - a disabled child I knew who would run out of the change room naked was described as "having no sense of privacy", some people aren't comfortable changing in front of the same sex while others are, and families have different standards for whether family members see each other naked and where in the home you can be naked. Standards around nakedness differ across cultures, too - by our standards, the normal !Kung style of dress would be considered nakedness. (Full disclosure: most of what I know about !Kung people comes from The Gods Must Be Crazy.)

By that meaning of privacy, I'm probably fairly typical. I am OK with being naked with other women in very clearly demarcated settings, such as in changing rooms. I'm also OK with being naked in front of prepubertal boys, or boys or men with significant developmental disabilities who need assistance dressing themselves, in similar circumstances. I'm not OK with being naked in front of men who don't have significant developmental disabilities. (I've only once shared a change room with a trans person, and he wasn't comfortable changing in front of me, so I haven't figured out my own comfort level in that area.) I'm fine with going topless in areas not designated as naked areas when I'm alone, but not when others can see me. I've also done the laundry while naked, usually as a prelude to having a bath, but I'm not comfortable with people seeing me like that.

I've known people who are more comfortable with nakedness than me (such as people who go to nude beaches, or would be willing to) as well as people who are less comfortable (such as my brother, who I've been told hides behind a towel or goes into a bathroom stall instead of changing in front of other men in the change room). About the only situation where nakedness is normally accepted, but I wouldn't accept it, is with a sexual partner - and that's more because I never, ever want to have sex than because of the nakedness itself.

There's also online privacy. Things like whether you use your real name, how comfortable you are with having things about you being tracked electronically, etc. I'm more private in that area than most people I know, mainly because of the influence of my father. Before I turned 18, I was forbidden from revealing my real name or precise location online, and just because I've hit the 'magic number' doesn't mean I've changed how I feel about those rules. In fact, my experiences with flaming and google-stalking have made me even less inclined to reveal my true identity online. I'm also pretty strict about location services and apps accessing data they don't have a clear need to know, because I don't want targeted advertising and I don't want companies learning how to better advertise to me. None of this relates to my asexuality at all. Mostly it's because I have a parent trained in computer security, although fear of both sexual predators and curebie threats also feature as strong incentives not to reveal myself.

But the last kind of privacy is where I really stand out. I am willing to tell complete strangers, without hesitation, the following about me:

  • that I'm autistic (or, before my diagnosis, that I suspected I might be autistic)
  • that I'm a sexual abuse survivor, and the relationship of my abusers to me
  • that I'm asexual
  • that I'm a virgin with no plans to ever have sex
  • that I'm intellectually gifted
  • that I was homeschooled, and precisely why school was terrible for me
  • that I'm an atheist
  • that I tried to masturbate and it didn't work
  • lots of other random details
The only people I know of who are willing to disclose that much in casual conversation are people I've read about in clinical studies of patients with orbitofrontal brain injuries, as well as one guy my Dad met who told my Dad about his schizophrenia during a brief conversation. I'm not entirely sure how much of the above 'most' people would disclose to a complete stranger, but I know I'm atypical.

I gather that most people would feel uncomfortable disclosing highly personal details to a total stranger, even if they don't feel ashamed of any of those things. But for me, the only reason I would hesitate to disclose any of the above is because I've learnt that it can make other people uncomfortable to hear those things about me, or if I have reason to fear a strongly problematic reaction (for example I've learnt that most flirtatious guys take a disclosure of sexual abuse or asexuality as meaning I'll probably cave to sexually coercive behavior, which has landed me in some scary situations).

And if it's something I'm ashamed of, like my history of bedwetting, I'm a lot more reticent mainly because I don't like to talk about it or think about it even with loved ones. Even in my diary, I remember writing that I wet the bed in much smaller letters than the rest of the diary entry.

So why is it that I don't feel the same urge that most people feel to keep certain kinds of personal information private? Well, given that patients with orbitofrontal damage and at least one guy with schizophrenia (which causes frontal lobe atrophy) share this trait with me, I'd say it's probably a sign that my frontal lobes don't function normally - just like my forgetfulness, poor time sense, difficulty with external motivation and general disorganization. My frontal lobe issues are probably mostly due to my autism.

But does my asexuality connect with any of this? (Apart from being one of the things I disclose?)

Well, for one thing, it's probably caused by the same underlying process. Autism and asexuality co-occur more often than by chance (one study found that 17% of autistic women are asexual, and another study found that autistics tended on average to have a lower libido). In addition, frontal lobe seizures can trigger compulsive sexual behavior and sexual arousal, and the frontal lobe shows increased activity during orgasm. As a nonlibidinist asexual, I personally feel that my asexuality was caused by the same neurological traits that made me autistic and made me have significant executive dysfunction. Which means my lack of privacy and my asexuality are both parts of the same thing, probably something that alters the function of my frontal lobes.

But there's a more direct influence of asexuality, combined with sexual abuse trauma, on my willingness to talk about sex. I suspect that if I were allosexual, sexual feelings would trigger intense shame and flashbacks. And I have research data to back this up - the only study I know of to look at asexual CSA survivors found that asexuals had lower rates of intrusive trauma-related thoughts, I'm guessing because asexuals are less likely to spontaneously think about sex. And I've heard from many allosexual CSA survivors that sex or sexual feelings can be very triggering.

As I described above, one of the only reasons I'll avoid discussing personal details that isn't due to thoughts of how the other person might react is shame. If I'm ashamed of something about myself, it's hard for me to say it aloud, even to my parents. So if I was allosexual, I'd probably struggle to discuss sex or sexual feelings, instead of happily discussing it with anyone who seems comfortable talking about it with me. Although I could see myself getting more comfortable after a lot of counseling and emotional growth, it would be a very difficult process. I'm glad I get to skip that part of healing from CSA.


  1. "allosexual csa survivors" has it ever occurred to you that calling csa survivors, especially lgbt csa survivors, a word that reduces them to their sexual attraction (especially when hypersexuality, a literal fucking mental illness that forces the brain to fixate on sex, is often caused by rape) might be just a BIT fucked up?

  2. How is allosexual any worse than straight or gay or bisexual? Those terms also describe a person by their sexual attraction.

    Using a term to describe someone doesn't mean you're reducing them to nothing but that.

    I suspect you'd just rather we not talk about differences in intensity of sexual attraction at all. But that's not an option for me.

  3. Having looked at your blog, I think you're a hypocrite. You seem to have no issues with calling people cis or cishet. How are those terms OK and allosexual isn't? As far as I can tell, it's just because they happen not to apply to you.

  4. straight and gay and bisexual ARE NOT INHERENTLY SEXUAL TERMS. There are gay aces and straight aces and bi aces, and there are gay and bi and straight people who are celibate and gay and straight and bi people who are sex repulsed because of trauma or mental illness, and gay and straight and bi people who just don't like sex.

    allosexual is an inherently sexual term, it groups gay and bi people with our oppressors on the same axis that they oppress us (our attraction), and calling people by a term that refers specifically to their sexual attraction, without their consent and after they've asked you not to do so, is fucking creepy and predatory as hell. that's literally sexual harassment.

    as for why cis and cishet are okay?

    cis people and straight people are inherently privileged for being straight and cis (though cis intersex people, gnc cis people, and straight trans and nonbinary people don't benefit fully from this). that's why it's ok to call people cis and cishet, it refers to their privilege and you cannot opt out of privilege.

    but people who experience sexual attraction are not inherently privileged for that, even if they're cishet. i'm sure as hell not, as a wlw (and especially once you add transphobia and ableism on top of that). white women and people of color, especially woc, aren't. lgbt people literally never are. disabled people aren't. intersex people aren't. sex workers aren't. survivors aren't. poor people aren't.

    those are MULTIPLE marginalized people, billions of people all over the world, who are punished for wanting sex. and calling them by a word that reduces them to sexual attraction, almost always without their consent, and implies that they're PRIVILEGED for it especially is disgusting.

  5. Right. I'm getting hate from someone because I'm asexual, who would be fine with me if I was LGB. Sure, LGB allosexuals have *no* privilege, right. The fact that it's so much easier to find a same-sex partner than a queerplatonic partner, that doesn't count, does it?

    And don't bother with the "who gets it worse" argument. That's irrelevant to the question of what kind of privilege you have. And if you think any one identity makes you immune to privilege, you're very wrong. Privilege isn't a binary thing. I'm a white autistic asexual cisgender woman who needs income support. I've got white privilege and cisgender privilege. The fact that I'm marginalized in other ways doesn't mean I get to ignore the areas I am privileged in. Otherwise, I'd be a hypocrite like you.

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  6. I've thought this over and decided I've had enough. Calling me creepy, swearing at me, accusing me of sexual harassment - ad hominem attacks like those are not acceptable. If you wish to comment any further, please use a more respectful tone. Otherwise I will delete your comments. I'll leave the ones you've made so far so people can see what led me to this point, but this is my blog and I'm not willing to tolerate abusive behavior here.

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