Occasionally I see the idea posited that the Church or Mormonism or some variation thereof wants people to be asexual. And I wince every time.
It’s tricky because there are definitely zones of crossover between a typical asexual experience (based on my own life and learning about the experiences of other aces from conversations and reading) and the “Ideal” Mormon experience (as I understand it). And yet, there’s something a little troubling implied in this assertion and in my experience it’s just not really true on the whole.
Asexuality is one of the lesser understood queer experiences (for a variety of factors: less representation, less systemic oppression, easier to blend into society, the label evokes bacteria, it describes an absence rather than a different presence, etc.). So, I think generally those that share this idea do so with good intentions. But to more accurately and compassionately describe what we mean, we can do better for each other and particularly for our ace comrades in Christ.
The main area of crossover between an ace experience and the “ideal” Mormon one occurs before 16. Dating is a taboo in Mormonism before turning 16, which for me was a piece of cake. I didn’t even like dating when I turned 16. Or ever really (but those reasons are more complicated than just my asexuality).
While kids in my ward were having boyfriends and girlfriends (which I think most would agree is against the intention of the “Dating” guidelines in For the Strength of the Youth, which is one of the standards for young adults, and some would argue everyone, but that’s a conversation for another day), I was still trying to figure out what these “crushes” were that everyone was talking about.
I’ve written a little about this elsewhere, but Law of Chastity lessons as a kid were easy. Not a problem at all. I was honestly baffled by what was wrong with all the other young men in my ward, who talked about making out with people all the time. But, I chalked it up to my own superior righteousness or something (I know, I know).
For those years, being ace was great. And definitely lined up with the ideal. I had zero interest in girls, boys, porn, masturbation, kissing, dating, and all of that. Golden.
Things broke down a bit when I was 16 because I wasn’t interested in dating, which was definitely expected and also encouraged. Lessons also started to shift a bit here to lay the groundwork for the differences in a typical ace experience and the ideal Mormon experience.
At BYU, dating was very encouraged, but also not (I was in a freshman ward, living in Helaman Halls, so casual dating was encouraged, but the serious “marriage is impending” dating was not so encouraged). Then I was on my mission, where the Church would LOVE it if everyone was ace for those 18 to 24 months. Missionaries are expected to focus entirely on missionary work and not to have any romantic relationships (and generally seem to struggle with that to varying degrees), so I’m sure if the Church could flip a switch that made all missionaries ace, but strictly for the duration of their missions, they’d be all over it.
Once I got home, everything began to fall apart.
You see, Mormonism has a complicated relationship with sex. There are fierce boundaries placed around it that determine when it is acceptable or not (rooted in heteronormative patriarchy), but sex, within marriage, is next to godhood.
Loads of Mormon discussions of sex are absolutely dangerously shame-y for sex outside of hetero-marriages, but they also elevate that married sex to celestial heights. People talk about God being present (setting aside how weird that is to me) and there’s quite a bit of stuff within Mormonism that praises the body and the importance of bodies that sometimes leads to the assertion that sex persists in heaven (according to some Church leaders only in the Celestial Kingdom, the only place where people will actually have genitalia).
All of this works to raise sex specifically to unbelievable heights.
I didn’t get it.
I had zero interest in sex, except from like a curiosity perspective.
I started to wonder if something was wrong with me, not just because the entire world was bombarding me with messages about sex being The Best, but because to be righteous and holy and good I felt like I needed to want and to eventually have sex. Which I was utterly ambivalent about.
I can only speak to my particular experience as a man within Mormonism, but there was absolutely an expectation and implication that I would be the driver and initiator of relationships, and likely, sexual experiences (all the way from kissing to sex). Now, some of this is imported from elsewhere and is by no means unique to Mormonism, but I had the impression that as a man, I needed to have some kind of sex drive, some like push for sex and that part of growing up was mastering it. That I was lacking because I never felt that. That I was not truly worthy or masculine because I had no desire for sex and that somehow I couldn’t ever really be godly without it? Like, that the desire needed to be present to be tamed and that without it being there I could never tame it and therefore, never prove my worthiness. Not to mention all the other stuff about true men being these sorta healthier expressions of a James Bond-esque charm and sex appeal (and sex drive).
Some of these expectations are different for women within Mormonism, so their experience will likewise differ.
Obviously, I did get married and I have a kid, and in that way do still fit the Mormon Ideal. But sex as this divine experience wasn’t a driver for either of those.
Mormonism doesn’t want aces. There is little space within Mormonism for the adult ace experience. Not all aces want to get married and some may want to but only within a relationship where they can truly be themselves (not necessarily with another ace person, though that’s definitely one option. But mixed-orientation marriages are complicated and from my reading have very low success rates, though no idea on the particulars for mixed-orientation marriages involving an ace partner).
The ace experience challenges the family-centric nature of the Church in a way that even same-sex marriages don’t (not to say that the ace experience is more oppressed within Mormonism because it’s absolutely not, just that it seems potentially easier to maintain Mormonism’s emphasis on family and marriage while including queer marriages than ace individuals that can’t or don’t want to be married).
I mentioned up top that I see troubling implications in the assertion that Mormonism or the Church wants people to be asexual. Some of what I meant by that is present in how I walk through “The Differences”, but other bits aren’t. So, here we go.
A quick clarification that responds to some of the implications I see in that assertion is that asexuality does NOT equal celibacy. Celibacy describes a condition of sexual activity and asexuality refers to a sexual orientation and the accompanying attraction, or lack thereof as may be more accurate. Some aces are celibate and happily so, others are unhappily celibate, and still others are not celibate. Often discussions of asexuality outside the ace community blur the distinctions between the two. Certainly, Mormonism would love for all unmarried Mormons to be celibate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Mormonism wants people to be asexual.
The next troubling idea is tied up in how this discussion of Mormonism wanting people to be ace is wrapped up in conversations about Mormonism being sexually repressive. The implication then is that asexuality is the same as sexual repression and that Mormonism is responsible for my asexuality. Frankly, I think that’s erasive of my identity and bullshit.
Mormonism absolutely has sexually repressive elements, but as I’ve laid out, to claim that it is completely sexually repressive is misguided and, I think, untrue.
This line of argumentation also implies that Mormonism caused my asexuality AND that if we could rid the world of such sexually repressive rhetoric all people could live more fully and authentically. Essentially, this implicitly argues that I would not be ace without Mormonism AND that I (and other aces) could live a better life without my asexuality, that I’m actually *something else*, but that the sexually repressive ideas within Mormonism forced me into asexuality.
This is offensive and, I believe, untrue.
I’m not going to argue that Mormonism has no influence on my sexuality because that’s a fool’s errand. But to make it solely responsible?
That erases my own lived experience and strips me of any sense of autonomy, not to mention seems totally removed from empiric evidence. There’d be a hell of a lot more aces around if that were the case.
Even if Mormonism were fully responsible for my asexuality, if I choose to identify that way, that decision should be supported. Regardless of how it happened, my lived experience is that of being ace and is valid and good and brings value to the world. My Queerness, including asexuality, isn’t good because it’s “natural” or because I was “born this way”, but because it is Good, in and of itself.
Let’s be a bit more careful as we talk about each other. And remember that my Asexuality, my Queerness, goes unacknowledged by Institutional Mormonism, that my sexuality doesn’t even exist for the Institutional Church (for better and for worse), that my identity like many other queer identities is erased in the silence. (In many ways this is far preferrable to the rhetoric and teachings that surround more mainstream queer identities, but is a different sort of challenge.)
Remember that my Asexuality—my Queerness—is of God, Divine, and Eternal. Sure, it is undeniably shaped by my experiences in Mormonism and the world broadly, but it is so much more than that.