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On Being Asexual and Kinky

On Being Asexual and Kinky

In 2016, at the age of 35, I came to an important realization about myself; something that answered many latent questions I’d had for years, explained a lot of feelings I’d had with regard to sex and attractiveness, and that helped me feel more comfortable about myself. I realized that I’m asexual. Long before that, though, before I even knew what sex was, I realized that I was not “normal” in an altogether different sort of way.

When I was a kid, I was a big fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’d watch it whenever it came on, happily taking in reruns whenever they were shown, because that meant more Turtles. One episode, though, captured my attention like none of the others. 

“The Case of the Hot Kimono” featured a recurring villain by the name of Don Turtelli.  He was your basic gangster archetype, dressed in a nice suit and fedora, employing a couple of hapless goons. But there was one thing that Turtelli did that set him apart in my mind and captured my imagination for years to come. Whenever the Don captured someone and needed to extract information from them, he would pull out a long feather and tickle their bare feet.

It makes sense, right? This is a kid’s show, so he can’t do anything violent. However, most people harbor at least some small fear at the idea of being tickled, let alone tortured by tickling. It was just supposed to be a way to move the show along, I’m sure, but the second the feather stroked April O’Neil’s bare sole, causing it to wiggle frantically, and her laughter emanated from the TV and entered my ears, I was captivated.

From then on, I wanted to tickle girls as often as I could, especially if I thought they were cute. It became part of my flirting technique, insofar as I had a flirting technique, and was the first thing I searched for when we got the Internet in my sophomore year of high school.  I hadn’t started masturbating yet, so I didn’t know that tickling was a turn on for me, but I did know that I liked seeing girls tickled, particularly on their bare feet, and I wanted to talk about tickling with as many girls as I could.

While my classmates were concerned with who they could talk into seeing naked or getting their hands on any sort of porn they could, I’d read tickling stories, look at tickling pictures, and impatiently wait for tickling videos to buffer on our 56K modem. I didn’t care about who the newest Playboy Centerfold was, and I didn’t realize that wasn’t “normal.” The one time I actually got to see a Playboy, I didn’t get what the big deal was. Pictures of naked women didn’t interest me at all. Someone that I played soccer with got red-faced angry with confusion when I told him I didn’t masturbate. He wanted to know why, and all I could tell him was that I didn’t want to; that it didn’t interest me at all.

I decided somewhere in this time that I wasn’t going to have sex until marriage, since it seemed like the smart and right thing to do. Besides, I wasn’t interested in having sex anyway, so it just made sense. But I would absolutely continue to check out tickling sites, join tickling forums, and start buying tickling videos. This is no small feat in the late ‘90s, because downloading and streaming videos hadn’t even been considered yet. Plain brown envelopes would arrive in the mail for me, and I’d hoard the VHS tapes like a greedy dragon, despite the fact no one else was asking about them at all.

By college I’d managed to get into a relationship with someone who was also celibate until marriage, which was a perfect fit in my mind. Of course, we learned ways around that, as folks in their late teens/early 20s will do, but I still didn’t feel a motivation to do anything more. Even French kissing was highly uncomfortable to me; it felt sloppy and kind of gross, but I did it because my girlfriend liked it. Tickling, however, that was different. That made me feel good down there, and eventually I figured out that I could do something about it.

College gave way to graduation, a distance relationship to sharing an apartment, and clumsy dry humping to attempts at “actual sex.” With those attempts, of course, came complications. I’d be ready to go, but she wasn’t, and because foreplay felt like it took forever, I’d lose interest. Or the condom was too difficult/complicated to put on, so my erection would disappear due to lack of attention. Or I couldn’t feel anything through the condom, so I wouldn’t orgasm, and she’d start to hurt from all the activity on her most sensitive areas. I started to worry that there was something physically wrong with me, that maybe I was impotent, because she would orgasm in no time, but I couldn’t even hold an erection. Because asexuality had only been coined as a term a few years prior to us sharing an apartment, I had no inkling that could be the case.

What made things especially complicated was my prevailing interest in tickling, often looking at sites when my girlfriend was asleep, or after she left for work; really anytime I could be and was alone. By now I was getting better at masturbating, learning what worked and what didn’t, and I could orgasm with no problem that way. So now the question became: am I masturbating too much and leaving nothing to enjoy from sex?

I tried to avoid masturbating entirely, but sex didn’t get any better for me. She would try helping me with her hand after she was finished, but still nothing, save for complaints of a tired wrist from her. It became more notable when I did orgasm than when I didn’t. But I would just shrug it off and keep doing it to please her. Now the idea entered my mind that the fact I was circumcised was the issue. After all, with no foreskin to protect the most sensitive part of me, I had just become desensitized over the years. It sounded perfectly reasonable, except that I could almost always orgasm from watching tickling videos.

My girlfriend became my wife, and we tried new ways to solve this apparent sensitivity issue. Thinner condoms, new positions, foreplay more focused on me, adding tickling to foreplay, since by this time she knew of my fetish. None of it worked consistently. I started to get more annoyed when she would come looking for sex, partly because I knew how it would end up, but mostly because I felt like it was a waste of time, and that I’d rather be doing something else. By this point AVEN had been in existence for about five years, but I’d never heard of it, and thus had no reason to search it out.

Concerns led to discussions, which sometimes led to fights. Turns out she didn’t like to be tickled and was just putting up with it for my sake, much like how I was putting up with sex for hers. We tried watching a porn video together, and the whole concept, including watching the video itself, made me highly uncomfortable. Low libido/sex drive entered my mind as a reason for this disinterest in sex, but what was I supposed to do about that? I had heard that some people who experienced a fetish became so fixated on it that they weren’t able to orgasm without it. Was that happening to me? 

I eventually stopped thinking about it altogether, just accepting that I was unable to orgasm from regular sex and continued masturbating to tickling things when I could. I figured there was just something wrong with me, and that was that. 

Late in 2016 I reconnected with someone I used to work with who was bi and polyamorous; much more hooked on queer culture and nuanced than I ever was. She listened to my stories and suggested that maybe I was asexual. I was slightly confused, because the only asexuality I knew about was the reproductive kind we’re taught about in science classes. A Google search corrected that assumption very quickly.

Finally, I knew why I wasn’t interested in sex, why I was “different” from all the other teenage boys in school, why I couldn’t achieve orgasm without doing it myself. I’m asexual! 

But… how could I be asexual and a fetishist? Aren’t those two things completely in conflict with one another?

After more reading, more thinking, and more self-analysis, I came to the same realization aces before me had come to, and aces long after me will find out: Not at all.

Asexuality is not celibacy, voluntary or involuntary, though it can take that form. It doesn’t mean that you “never get horny.” It doesn’t mean that you never masturbate. It means, at least to me, that you don’t “want” sex. It’s much like a dessert at the end of a good meal; you might take it if offered to you, but you’re not specifically looking for it either. 

Once I finally realized this fact, seemingly so basic, I felt whole at last. All the guilt I’d felt for masturbating “too much,” or losing the “mood” before anything ever got started, all melted away. I had finally come to realize the full truth about my sexuality. I am a fetishist, I am asexual, and I am wholly okay, as I always had been. 

I joined Tumblr recently, and I was astonished by not only how many people were also into tickling, but also how many of them were somewhere on the ace/aro spectrum. With each new person I talked to, and each new profile I read, it seemed like this Venn Diagram was slowly converging to become a perfectly round circle. Not only were people like me plentiful, but these folks are almost always about the same age that I was when I realized tickling was potentially something more than just a fun flirting technique.

Talking with them and reading various blogs and reblogs clued me in to something else about myself that I always knew but hadn’t really dwelled on before; it’s not sex that I crave, it’s physical affection. While tickling can be, and generally is, arousing to me, my desire is more for touch than being turned on. 

As an asexual person, the sensation of feeling another person’s skin against my own, the weight of their body, and the gentleness of their touch conveys all the sensations of love and feelings of desire that I imagine sex does for allo folks. As a fetishist, participating in an activity that is considered to be kinky and unusual excites me, like I’m part of an exclusive club, and partaking in a pleasure that only my play partner and I truly understand. The intimacy and trust involved in a good tickle play session, in person or online, fills me with a contentment and joy that I’ve never felt from any sexual experience.

It took a long time for me to come to these realizations, and quite a lot of fumbling around on the edges of what was considered “normal sexual exploration.” I had to keep both feet on one side of the line for the sake of fitting in, while occasionally sneaking a toe across to see how it felt on the other side. For quite a while the words did not exist to describe what I was feeling, who I am. There was either no community for me to turn to, or a very small one, keeping themselves hidden out of necessity. But now that I know there are so many others who are just like me in both desire and deviance, I feel free and accepted, and most of all, valid.

Omophagia

Omophagia

On Shedding Shame: Embracing My Asexuality

On Shedding Shame: Embracing My Asexuality