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What is Compulsory Sexuality?

You may have heard of compulsory heterosexuality or 'comphet', but even fewer have heard of the concept of compulsory sexuality. A concept championed by Sherronda J. Brown in their book, Refusing Compulsory Sexuality: A Black Asexual Lens on Our Sex-Obsessed Culture, it is the expectation and assumption that everyone is a sexual being or has a sexuality.

The concept of sexuality as we know it is an evolving beast. It’s no longer something we just do for procreation, but it’s a part of our identity, a symbol of our attractiveness, a measure of our relationships, it’s a message we send out to the world, it’s who we interact with and how, it’s how we structure our relationships, it’s a way of life. We should be liberated, free and having all the hot sex. It's a requirement and we're made to feel like there's something wrong with us if we don't desire or have the 'right' amount of sex.

We’re also taught that we all have a wild sexual identity and if we don’t, it’s just repressed and waiting to be released! This can create immense shame and guilt and the feeling that “everyone else has it all figured out, everyone else is having hot sex but me. Why am I broken?” It’s a whole damn lot and with all of this weight and all these messages we receive about who we should be, we forget to ask if this is even what we want. We forget that this is a system we can opt in and out of. We forget that we have agency.

There are many reasons why people may not want or enjoy sex or feel sexual desire, but it's not always something we need to pathologise, label or diagnose. Capitalism and consumer culture also tells us we're just a purchase away from uncovering our hot, steamy sex life. If you purchase this toy or online course, you'll be just like everyone else. The reality is not wanting or enjoying sex is only a problem insofar as you decide it is a problem for you.

It's invalidating for folks on the ace spectrum and it pushes people to tolerate bad sex because bad sex is better than no sex. We wouldn't shame or force ourselves to enjoy drawing or cooking if we didn't. We wouldn't shame others if they didn't either. Sex should be no exception. This is just the start of a more nuanced conversation but it’s beginning to ask the question who are we to assume a person’s relationship with their sexuality? Who are we to assume sex is a given part of all ‘healthy’ relationships? Who are we to assume that the partner with no/lower desire is the broken one? Who are we to place pressure on ourselves or our partners if we’ve never had a clear conversation about expectations and wants? It is not and never has been that simple.

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