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Sexuality: Do We All Have It?

I’ve just started working for a nonprofit that provides mental health services to kids, particularly kids with autism and developmental disabilities. One of the perks of my job is that sometimes I get to sit in on the lectures and continuing education classes that the therapists and other clinicians go to, which are pretty damn interesting. The most recent one was about sexuality and disability. Overall, I thought that it was a strong presentation, but there was one aspect of it that did bother me slightly. One of the main points that the presenter focused on is that all people are sexual people, that it’s simply part of our makeup, and that everyone from the time they’re a little baby to the time when they die is a sexual being.

I’m not sure if I agree with this. She prefaced it by saying that when she said sexual she meant “intimate, connected, sensual, romantic” and a whole bunch of other things. She suggested that the need or desire for touch or closeness to another human being was “sexuality” and that this makes us all sexual beings.

I have a problem with that definition of sexuality. I could understand saying that we are all sexual, because we are all made by sexual reproduction and built for sexual reproduction. But the essential aspect of “sexuality” is sex. This doesn’t necessarily equate to penis in vagina sex, as sex can encompass a whole lot of things, but there is an element of arousal that plays into sexuality that is NOT in play in many other intimate settings.

I think the appropriate word for what we all are as human beings is SENSUAL, or intimate, or societal, or communal. We are all of those things. We all need other human beings. We all need closeness, we all need touch. But that does not mean we are all sexual, because when you stretch sexual to encompass all of those other things it begins to lose any real meaning, and we no longer have a word for what is particularly linked to arousal or sex. The way we all use the word sexual or sexuality is connected to sex, and it’s straight up confusing to use it for anything else, as well as misleading.

I think that having a category of humanity that is related to sex is fine. But that doesn’t mean everyone has to be included in it. Babies are probably not included in it, because they do not experience arousal or attraction. They are sensual and intimate though. People who actively identify as asexual certainly do not have to consider themselves sexual beings simply because they might want a close relationship or two. It’s offensive to tell them that their identity isn’t true or right because we’re all sexual.

I think that this presentation did point out some important things: every human being has the right to be sexual if they want to. Every human being has the potential to be sexual. Every human being is sensual and needs intimacy, companionship, care, and community. But we should be very careful about when we address sexuality, because it is a very particular realm of human functioning.

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Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at www.taikonenfea.wordpress.com


  1. March 7, 2013 at 3:01 pm —

    Yes, I agree. Her caveat left room for romantic asexuals, I suppose, but left out the aromantic ones. Plus, not everybody who’s sexual is romantic! YAY COMPLICATED SEXUALITIES.

    • March 7, 2013 at 3:02 pm —

      Also, explicitly acknowledging that asexuality exists (she may have actually only put that caveat in because very young children aren’t necessarily intentionally sexual) does a lot of good.

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