Over time and in meddling with my feed reader I sometimes lose feeds and later accidentally rediscover them. So it is with Art Kavanagh, whose writings on aphantasia and severely deficient autobiographical memory were most of what I read after originally running into the former neurodivergence on MetaFilter.
This week for the first time I encountered Art’s post on SDAM and sex, and there are some things here I’d like to unpack in public, or really even in private, for the first time. Your only note of warning: for most of you, this post likely will qualify as too much information. Feel free to turn back now.
I’d thought I’d blogged it more than in unrelated passing, but I’ve long since realized that I’m aromantic while not necessarily considering myself also asexual. I hold to that evaluation, given my heterosexual sexual history, but as my title here suggests I do think I’m also pretty solidly agnostic on sex itself. This came to me while reading Art’s post about how aphantasia and/or SDAM might play into it.
Let’s get this out of the way here at the front of all this: I’ve not had sex since sometime in, I think, 2001. Just to be clear, I am not an incel. My celibacy is both chosen and in a sense circumstantial (although in way that nonetheless also implicates agency), which I’ll come back to as we go along here. Once the sleeping with an ex-girlfriend around that time came to an end, sex simply never really came up again, and I certainly wasn’t spending any time whatsoever pursuing it.
Some of that is body image stuff, which is both subjective and objective, as well as both internalized and actual. I’m missing at least a third of my teeth, and despite the reassuring claims you encounter online to the contrary, I don’t actually believe that size doesn’t matter, per se, or at least that it’s a statement that holds writ large. My brain’s take always was: unless I know what someone making that claim has seen and experienced, how can I know it applies to me? At the very least, I’ve always felt it more likely that at best the true answer is size sometimes matters.
Some of it also is both medical and psychological, in that—even setting aside all the above previous—between the social anxiety and the rejection sensitive dysphoria, the very first sexual experience I ever had left me with an incurable STI and it’s simply so much easier not ever having to approach that issue, period.
At any rate, over the decades since the early days of the new millennium, I’ve mostly realized that my natural state tends toward just not caring one way or the other whether or not I had access to sex, and that what access I’d had tended to be because it was quite evidently there before me, and (cue that background radiation of conformity I’ve discussed so often in other contexts) so at such times I simply did what and as other people did.
(To be clear, there generally wasn’t ever anything “casual” in my history, as such, which in fact can be accounted for in full using less than the fingers on two hands.)
As I read Art’s post, however, I began to grasp some of the potential underlying mental dynamics at play in at least part of why I’m a sexual agnostic.
Given that my memories do not get laid down as sensory experiences that can be reimagined or relived, but rather as conceptual incidents that can be thought about but not felt (for those memories that even stick in any real way at all, at least), my lived reality is that while I remember having sex, either in the aggregate or some specific episodes of such, it neither has nor holds any actual sensory meaning for me.
At this point I only can assume that for most people, the sex drive isn’t somehow just a series of discrete longings but intimately tied together with their sensual memories of the sex they’ve had in the past. Inextricably so, perhaps. Absent a normative memory of experience, I simply do not have that connective tissue of sense memory.
I’ve said before in the context of my autism diagnosis that one of its immediate and substantive benefits was that I had mental boxes into which I could place and thereby categorize and understand parts of who I am. Since that diagnosis, I’ve found more such boxes, and surely the importance of sensory memory to how someone experiences the idea and the actuality of sex must be one of them.
It’s been long since true that I didn’t view what I now term my sexual agnosticism as some sort of defect. I’ve spent essentially and effectively zero time since the early aughts even thinking about the fact that I wasn’t having sex, let alone in any way fretting about it. Still, it’s always nice to find new framings and new language to apply to how one’s bodymind works, and I’m grateful to Art for broaching the subject.