Touch Aversion and Asexuality

Something I’ve wanted to talk about for a little while is “touch aversion”. Touch aversion is being averse to touch—it is not limited to just one kind of touch—whether the intent is platonic, comforting, sensual, or sexual, some people do not enjoy being touched and do not want to be touched. Some people can tolerate or enjoy certain types of touch but not others.Touch aversion is not exclusively an ace thing, although if you research it, it is discussed in ace spaces with relative frequency. When asexuals are not talking about it, you can often find it discussed from the perspective of those who are on the autism-spectrum or those who have sensory processing disorders. Others who talk about it are people with borderline personality disorder, and people with trauma. Still others do not fall into a group that is sometimes associated with touch aversion.

If it’s not specifically an ace-issue, then why am I talking about it? Well some people have been led to my blog in their search for it, and it seems to be a trait that pops up with greater than normal frequency in the ace population.

It can be an uncomfortable trait for an ace to have—so many asexuals are quick to assure others that “even if we don’t enjoy sex, we still like to cuddle!” “We still like hugs and things”. Sometimes aces even use the enjoyment of platonic touch as proof of asexuals’ humanity and normalcy.

Meanwhile, those aces who are touch-averse may deeply dislike hugs, and the possibility of cuddling may be as much a dreaded, compromise-made chore as sex ever could be.

There are a variety of reasons why people may not like being touched—whether it’s due to sensory issues, disorders, trauma, or some other reason. It is often not in a phobia or fear-centered way, although for some people, the prospect of being touched makes them physically ill.

For what it feels like for myself, for instance, I do not enjoy being hugged, but I am not afraid of being hugged. It doesn’t hurt. It just doesn’t do anything for me. It’s perhaps mildly unpleasant but easily endurable as a social obligation. When I’m upset, however, and people attempt to “comfort” me by hugging me, it becomes very unpleasant.

For an apt metaphor, think of a society where for some reason, a light, painless kick in the shins is the normal and socially acceptable way of greeting loved ones, and giving comfort to the upset. Everyone else likes the kicks, but for you, they’re not quite painful but still unpleasant and unnecessary. You can easily endure being kicked and kicking whenever a relative or faraway friend visits, they don’t last long after all. When someone else is crying and would be comforted by a kick, it’s not a great sacrifice to give them a gentle kick.

But have a time come along when you’re stressed out, and crying, and someone starts giving you painless, annoying, distracting kicks. Take kicks out of the metaphor stage and let’s go back into reality, where hugs are the norm. How would a person react to being gently kicked when they’re crying? Not very well, I would imagine. That’s really how hugs are with me when I’m upset. It’s like “GET AWAY FROM ME AND STOP KICKING ME CAN’T YOU SEE I’M CRYING?”

Not that I have ever yelled that but I have told people, time and time again, not to hug me when I’m upset. Some listen. Some don’t.

Although others have covered general touch aversion more in depth than I have here, and more eloquently, I feel it’s important to talk about in an ace-perspective. An asexual who is touch-averse may experience certain repercussions that one who is non-asexual and touch-averse will not (and vice versa).

Asexuals already deal with the stereotype that they are not asexual, but rather are simply too traumatized to enjoy sex. Inability to enjoy or endure being touched is a trait that many people associate with trauma from sexual or physical abuse. Being asexual and unable to enjoy being platonically touched at all may work as a double strike against dissuading someone that that particular theory is incorrect in their case.

Likewise the touch-averse aces do not have the enjoyment of platonic touching to humanize them, and may be alienated by such humanizing-attempts. Those asexuals who are romantic and touch-averse, cannot always rely on the enjoyment of kissing, cuddling, hugging, or hand-holding to explain why their romantic relationships are “romantic” and differ from platonic relationships.

Touch-aversion is not exclusively an ace issue, but being touch-averse does impact how one experiences being asexual.

Further Links:
A good short coverage on Touch Aversion in general.
An very eloquent description of what being touch-averse feels like.
A woman with sensory processing disorder talks about her experiences.
An AVEN thread where asexuals talk about their experiences being touch-averse.

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July 2014 Carnival of Aces: A bit on sex-aversion and sex-repulsion

From the July 2014 Aces: Call for Submissions:

What do you think the best definitions are for the terms “sex-aversion” or “sex-averse”, and the best definitions for the terms “sex-repulsion” or “sex-repulsed”? Do you agree with any of the ones I provided above or not, and why? Where did you first learn about the terms and how did you come to your definitions? Are the terms “averse” and “repulsed” synonyms, or do they mean different things?

I am of the opinion that the two terms are synonyms, with the qualifier thrown in that synonyms do not mean words that are exactly the same. Though I do think they have the same meaning, “sex-averse” just has a weaker/less intense feel than “sex-repulsed”. Both mean to have a strong dislike or distaste, of sex, with “repulsion” carrying stronger connotations of actual disgust. Repulsion carries with it a physical feeling, whereas aversion can be almost purely intellectual.

These are maybe not how other asexuals see it but it’s the meaning those words convey to me.

I probably first came across the term when I first discovered asexuality, but they’re pretty self-explanatory. Sex-repulsed = repulsed by sex, sexual things, obviously. Likewise with its twin, sex-averse. It’s likely I saw them being used in conversations on AVEN or blogs and could ascertain the meaning through context immediately.

As far as the best term to use, both have their upsides and downsides. “Sex averse” comes across as less potentially judging (there are some non-asexuals that are very sensitive to anything that seems to be criticizing sex, sexual things, and non-asexuals) which makes it maybe the better term if one is looking to not offend.

Sex repulsion though, has its benefits as well. As the stronger term, with its implications of disgust and feelings of physical illness in relation to sexual things, it’s harder to challenge, harder for people to see as something that can be overcome.

Being repulsed by the idea of someone trying to kiss you conjures up images of nausea and horror. Being averse to the idea of someone trying to kiss you conjures up images of mild dislike.

I mention this only because there is the unfortunate tendency for some non-asexuals to see any repulsion or aversion to sex and sexual things as something that should be overcome, and that overcoming that aversion/repulsion will inevitably result in a better, superior, more pleasant life.

I do not think such a stance has any validity. If a person’s repulsion is causing them so much trouble in their daily life (as it does some) that they wish to overcome it, then that’s fine. However, an aversion/repulsion/personal dislike of sexual things and sexual matters should not be seen as an inherently negative thing for a person, a detractor from their quality of life. After all, many of us asexuals are sex averse or sex repulsed, and do not suffer significantly from it.

People, asexual or not, are averse/repulsed by many things according to their personal preferences, psychology, and experiences. Some people cannot stand dogs, others children, some loathe the scent of the ocean, hate train rides, can barely be coaxed to eat a vegetable, etc. Most of these personal aversions are respected, seen as minor quirks, not things to be overcome or changed.

So it should be with sex-averse or sex-repulsed people.