Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer

No More Sex

Filed By Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer | May 29, 2010 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media, The Movement
Tags: affectional orientation, Andrew Sullivan, marriage, romantic orientation, Waking Up Now

Now, apparently, homosexuality has nothing to do with sex. Andrew Sullivan has begun using "affectional orientation" instead of "sexual orientation," and this guy has suggested "romantic orientation."

So, Christian bigot, you hate us because we engage in sexual behavior you believe is immoral? But wait! Didn't we tell you? We don't have sex! Being gay is just sort of like being really good friends, with a little more cuddling, maybe. Sorry for the misunderstanding. I'm so glad we cleared that up and that you don't have to hate us any more!

This move to de-sexualize homosexuality may sound like a lot of nonsense (to some of us, anyway), but remember how wrong-headed we thought Sullivan's marriage idea was when he proposed it 15 or so years ago? Now it's at the center of our movement. I can totally see this "affectional orientation," or "romantic orientation" thing catching on in the way that we talk about "marriage equality" now instead of saying, "get the hell out of my bedroom."

And, depressingly, I suppose it makes perfect sense as a sort of endpoint in the "righting" of the GLBT movement.

I'm as romantic as the next guy. I love to hold hands with my boyfriend while we watch a movie, to cook dinner together and tell him I love him, kiss his neck in the morning when I wake up. All those cuddly, affectionate feelings I have for him are real and deep and meaningful and important. But at the core of all that stuff is the sexual response my body has to men, to masculinity, to people of the same gender as me.

We would not be bonded in the way that we are if we weren't spending some time grunting, sweating, fucking, licking, cumming. As I see it, the romantic stuff grows from the sexual attraction. I mean, good lord, I feel physical affection toward my mom, but she doesn't make my dick hard. (Well, there was a chocolate cake once that came close, but ... that's different.)

I don't want to extrapolate too widely from my own experience (nobody can compete with Sullivan in that contest), but I will tell you without a doubt that when I was in 8th grade gym class and got an erection when I looked at Marvin Johnson's butt in the locker room, what I was discovering at that moment was that I wanted to have sex with boys, not that I wanted a fairy tale wedding and a couple of beagles and a stroll down the Provincetown beach at sunset.

This effort to de-sex our sexuality makes me want to start identifying who I am in an equal and opposite way. I think from now on, instead of saying I'm homosexual or gay, I will start saying, "I fuck men" or "I suck dick." Just to make it clear.

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Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | May 29, 2010 12:24 PM

"I think from now on, instead of saying I'm homosexual or gay, I will start saying, "I fuck men" or "I suck dick." Just to make it clear."

Well, whatever pleases you, I guess, if you tend to want people to think of you in those terms as he principal classifier.

Some might counter that dividing the world between heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and the like, has as much utility as by race, gender, religion, age, ethnicity and a galaxy full of other differentiators.

"Hi There, I'm a human being just like you are" seems just right for bland old me. And it probably keeps the frogs from thinking I might be interested.

This is why asexuality IS a sexual orientation. I think maybe Mr. Sullivan is scraping the surface between sexuals and asexuals, perhaps? A person can still be gay AND asexual. (homo-romantic sex positive asexual etc.) I believe you and Mr. Sullivan are both right. You are a sexual gay man, that is how you define your sexual orientation. For an asexual gay man, it's more romantic instead of sexual. :0) There's no one right way to be gay/bi/straight/asexual. Homo-sexual vs Homo-romantic, vs Bi-sexual and Bi-romantic, Hetero-Sexual vs Hetero-Romantic? There's even more to it than that. Everyone seems to only have pieces of the big picture. Go with what YOU feel.

And romantic orientation doesn't have to be the same as sexual orientation for sexual people, either. It's possible to be a biromantic straight person, or biromantic gay person.

I would much rather see the two separated even if it's used against the community in the short term.

I know someone is going to ask/say something so I'll clarify. A person can still be gay/bi/straight AND asexual. You're either sexual or asexual. Then there's the "label" of how your sexual orientation works. I bloody well hate labels yet, labels seem to be the only way others understand things. The "labels" being homo=same, hetero=opposite, bi=both and asexual=neutral.

Homo-sexual/romantic, Hetero-sexual/romantic, Bi-sexual/romantic and simply Asexual. Everyone leaves out asexuals due to the same disbelief heteros have for gays. Everyone swears asexuals do not exist, the same way they swear bisexuals do not exist.

I'm hetero romantic and sex positive. I am attracted to the opposite sex yet I am not sexual; as in, I don't NEED another person to feel satisfied sexually. I don't have a problem having sex with a partner but I don't need it. Might be why I was dumped in the past since some partners kept waiting around for me to initiate sex and it never happened. Oops.

Most sexuals I know would go stark raving foaming at the mouth mad if they were left with only masturbation for a year or ten. Yet, it wouldn't bother me, or other asexuals in the least. A year without cuddling or kissing though and I'd commit myself. With the frustration and sexual battles that come with being partnered with a sexual person, there are times I do wish I were totally asexual but hey, love's worth fighting for. lol

Michael @ | May 29, 2010 1:53 PM


One of the main reasons that not just LGBTs but also progressives behind any number of other causes so rarely succeed is because the Repugs mastered the art of word choice and we never have.

The best examples are: "Pro life" and "Right to life."

In two words and three words, they've managed to not just condemn a woman's right to control her own body but indicted her by immediate implication as "pro death"...a nauseum.

For a while, the response was "Pro Choice" which was pretty good, but got swamped by [I believe] MSM's insistence on "Abortion Rights Advocate" which, like your declarations of your sex life, is factually correct but strategically stupid.

One might venture to say you have your priorities derriere backwards. You've wrote at length about how we should embrace various closeted gays who have voted/worked against us while launching this diatribe about strategic word choices to ADVANCE our equality for which you can demonstrate no actual harm at all.

Further, not only is your assertion that "muscle glutes" Sullivan is trying to "de-sexualize homosexuality" ludicrous on its face, or stomach as the case may be, you appear totally ignorant of the fact that "affectional orientation" was an expression created by others probably a good 30 years ago, and already exists in nondiscrimination policies, albeit usually in some way combination such as "sexual or affectional orientation," in countless cities, universities, even states, ad infinitum.

And I've not read a single story of any of the millions of people covered by such laws/policies feeling less sexual reminding me of the old expression, "don't holler before you're hurt."

Your final paragraph perfectly illustrates what's wrong with your entire perspective ... you're making it about YOU rather than the community, which understands that language that "doesn't scare the horses" is the best language to not just get language passed but to also build bridges with those who don't understand us, after which one can be more explicit when necessary.

As for your solipsism, good luck getting the "Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer Right to Suck & Fuck Act" passed, not to mention next Thanksgiving when, consistent with your integrity, you might say something like, "Grandma, everytime you say 'stuffing' or 'white meat' it reminds me of the time I stuffed MY 'white meat' up _________"

Strategically stupid, perhaps if I had the same goal as you. When I was young, I became politically involved because I saw the gay rights movement as part of a larger sexual liberation movement. The goal was to liberate sex, not to find a way to live our lives so that we might be acceptable.

The Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer Right to Suck & Fuck Act has already passed. It's called Bowers v. Harwick, the 2003 Supreme Court decision which struck down state laws against the kind of sex we homosexuals have. There has never been a systemic, society-wide oppression of people who have warm feelings, or who live with same-sex roommates, or who buy boxes of chocolates for them on Valentine's Day. If we don't talk about sex, we're avoiding the issue.

At the risk of sounding like a horrible pedant, I think that the decision you want to cite is Lawrence v. Texas. Bowers v. Hardwick was the 1986 Supreme Court decision that upheld Georgia's sodomy statute, and allowed states to continue criminalizing gay sexuality for 17 years, until the Lawrence decision was handed down in 2003.

Again, apologies for the pedantry, but it makes me squirm to see this kind of error here.

Anja Flower | May 29, 2010 2:39 PM

For what it's worth, isn't homosexuality both a sexual orientation (I like sex more or less exclusively with other men!) -and- a romantic orientation (I fall in love more or less exclusively with other men!) as well?

Of course, people who only lay claim to one of those two elements can and do call themselves "homosexual," but both elements are implicitly present in the common definition; the word "gay" exists both in "gay sex" and in "gay marriage."

It's not necessary to be romance-negative in the process of being sex-positive.

A. J. Lopp | May 29, 2010 2:54 PM
Most sexuals I know would go stark raving foaming at the mouth mad if they were left with only masturbation for a year or ten.

I was.

I did.

P.S. All kidding aside, in addition to the phrase "affectional orientation" being around for decades, there is also in stock the phrases "sexual preference", "affectional preference" and every conceivable permutation and combination thereof. As Michael correctly points out, the actual code of non-discrimination ordinances across the US are full of such phrases, and the legal world has never standardized on one or another.

ellysabeth | May 29, 2010 3:56 PM

Er, count me in with the asexuals here.

It's regrettable if you don't believe that some of us aren't interested in sex. It's regrettable if you think that we're in denial, confused, broken, or straight-up lying. It's especially regrettable if you're actually offended by our existence.

It's okay, we're used to that.

But we do exist. And when we find ourselves attracted, for whatever unimaginable reason that we do, to people of the same sex, sometimes we describe ourselves as being gay/lesbian/bisexual. Perhaps it's an inappropriate terminology, when sex is removed from the picture, but for plenty of us, it works, so let's not divide ourselves unnecessarily, ok?

I think it's a very poor idea to attempt to erase any portion of this particular spectrum, or to further divide ourselves, cordoning people off as "not one of us" because of how they express their love.

I expected the standard assimilationist let's-not-offend-anyone objection to my argument, but I didn't anticipate offending people who identify themselves as asexual. I didn't mean to denigrate anyone. Thanks for commenting -- you've broadened my thinking about this issue, and I appreciate that.

I have to admit to being somewhat confused (and willing to be educated). Even if someone has no interest in sex, per se, wouldn't you say there's at least some amount of sexual response involved in a desire to be near someone, to express affection? Doesn't that kind of attraction exist somewhere on a spectrum of sexual response? Isn't there something that sets those feelings apart from the kind of warm but non-sexual feelings you might have for your sibling or a child, for instance?

At any rate, if you'll read my post again, you'll see that I am not saying we should exclude affection and romance when we describe our relationships. I am saying that affection and romance should be assumed and included in the phenomenon we call "sexual orientation." And that's my objection to changing the terminology: sexual orientation includes affectional orientation, but affectional orientation does not necessarily include sexual orientation.

ellysabeth | May 29, 2010 5:20 PM

To be perfectly fair, I think it's as bad an idea to erase the sexual end of the spectrum, too, via a tricky revision of terminology. =)

I can sort of see the point that Sullivan and friends were getting at - there's much more to a relationship than sex, and anti-gay types tend to focus not just upon the sexual aspect of same-sex relationships, but especially upon one specific type of sex: male-male anal sex. It's a really bizarre fascination that the homophobic world has with anal sex between men, and it tends to dominate conversations to the point that it's sometimes impossible to discuss anything else so long as the topic is continually forced back to hot man-on-man butt action.

So maybe Sullivan and crew would like to push the conversation back towards the many other things that gay people do. Like shared meals, dates, providing emotional support for each other... you know, the many things that heterosexual couples do, too, when they're not busy banging each other silly.

I can understand and appreciate this goal, but like you, I think it's perhaps a bit excessive to go as far as switching up terminology to completely remove sex from the picture. Sex is an important part of relationships for many people, after all!

Jo Legall | May 29, 2010 6:21 PM

I'm describing feelings here not terms. Terminology is never accurate because it's trying to put a specific description on an abstract range of emotions.

What you are talking about are sex positive (physical sex for sexual partner's sake) asexuals. There is a reason why asexuality is a sexual orientation. Sex is not just physical but mental also. Some of us need the mental side of the connection more than the physical, if that makes any sense to you.

To illustrate I have what is considered a book fetish. I'm hetero romantic. My partner just told me that I'm only partially sex positive. Gah. Not true. The romance stopped so....

I also have a massive erotica book collection. Even though the collection is erotica, I actually skip over the sex. Don't laugh. The romance is usually phenomenal and it is something I do not have consistently in my life. Some sexuals suck at romance.

You should visit AVEN sometime:

Whoo hoo! This is a landmark -- I'm being critiqued on another gay blog. But not really. You've taken two words from my post ("romantic orientation), ignored everything else, and replaced it with things I absolutely did not say, intend, or imply.

There's certainly nothing in my blog to desexualize homosexuality. My point with that post, rather, is that being gay is not ONLY having same-sex sex. The right wing is now pushing this idea that there are no homosexuals, just homosexual conduct, and that you can become straight if you simply stop having sex with your own gender. They're pushing this to undercut legal protections for people who don't fit their heterosexual norms. And they're doing to convince people that reparative therapy is useful rather than dangerous and harmful. You can see evidence of that in this post:

My point in going with "romantic orientation" is to show the lie behind the no-homosexuals-just-homosexual-conduct fraud.

I understand you think I've chosen a bad term. I don't understand, though, why you say "sexual orientation includes affectional orientation, but affectional orientation does not necessarily include sexual orientation." You pretty much contradict this in your original post by saying that a romantic bond requires sexual attraction. In other words, based on your own statement, romantic attraction necessarily includes sexual attraction (at some point, at least), but sexual attraction does not necessarily include romantic attraction.

Most people would agree with us on this. I mean, we've all been sexually attracted to people we don't have romantic feelings for, but -- as you point out -- it's tough for romance to grow without that sexual spark. It makes no sense, then, to say that my move toward "romantic orientation" is an attempt to take sex out of the picture.

I get that you're trying to take a sex-positive stand here -- truly I do. But your characterization of what I said has nothing to do with what I said or why I said it.


we've all been sexually attracted to people we don't have romantic feelings for

But for me those people have all been male, and that's the point of sexual orientation.

The right's been saying that you can ignore/overcome same-sex attractions for decades now. It's their only line and it's nothing new. The response, though, isn't "OK, yeah, sex is really unimportant and only a small part of my life that I can ignore, but romance is something that's integral to who I am." I'd say: "Sex isn't something unimportant that can just be ignored - it's a basic part of being alive and everyone should be allowed to express their sexuality as they want."

Like when you mention that you called Will to say you were OK, that could just as easily have been a woman on the other end of the line, is the right's argument. And, really, I've called women (like my mom) to say I arrived somewhere and there's nothing really sexual about that. I've also offered women cake and closet space (the latter is just "woman," I suppose), and that doesn't make me any less gay.

Being gay is about sex and romance (and politics and social positioning and economics and gender expression), and thanks for showing up here to clarify because that wasn't really clear in the post on your site.

Rob, I'm happy to be your first! They say you never forget. :-)

I appreciate your point and I don't disagree with you. I wasn't trying to characterize what you've written, but to use your choice of the expression "romantic orientation" as an example of what I think may be a recent trend to leave out the sex when we're talking about GLBT rights.

To me, the larger, more important, struggle is to normalize same-sex SEX. I don't want just the ability to freely marry or live with or cuddle with or kiss another man. I want the ability to do those things freely AND give a blowjob to a stranger if I feel like it.

You're right that a certain type of straight person is more comfortable with same-sex affection than with anal sex, and if we stop dwelling on the sex maybe we'll win over some people. I respect the argument. But for me, sex is what the movement is about. It's about chipping away at that attitude that sex between two people of the same gender is repulsive and unnatural. So, to avoid talking about sex makes the whole thing moot. For me.

I don't think there's anything "normal" or rather "standard" about sex. I dislike the word "normal" as there's nothing abnormal about a healthy sex life, physical or not.

Like beauty, sexual acts, are a personal thing. What's good for one person is not for another. Spanking, water works, bondage, caning, positions, oral, hot wax, sight deprivation, oxygen deprivation, missionary....the list goes on and on.

No matter what our orientation there's going to be some sexual act that is "standard" for one person that someone else will find deviant. I always felt bad about those who're into consensual S&M (not to be confused with D/s). They're still being medicated by psychiatrists for their "disorder".

Wolfgang E. B. Wolfgang E. B. | May 29, 2010 6:29 PM

I get the impression that the move to desexualize sexual orientation may have as much to do with countering our opponents' views as it does with sanitizing our public discourse. The religious wingnuts, and especially the "reparative therapy" camp, believe that sexual orientation is defined solely by sexual activity. Thus, in their view, a man is only gay if he has sex with other men. If he stops having sex with men, he is no longer gay. This incorrect definition of sexual orientation is what enables them to continue peddling their "reparative therapy" snake oil.

So the desexualization of our terminology may, at least in part, stem from a desire to assert the correct definition of sexual orientation: sexual/romantic attraction--with or without any actual sex involved.

"So the desexualization of our terminology may, at least in part, stem from a desire to assert the correct definition of sexual orientation: sexual/romantic attraction--with or without any actual sex involved."

I agree with this definition!

How is it that "affectional orientation" or "romantic orientation" leaves out sex? By the same logic, "sexual orientation" leaves out affection and romance. I think the new terms are a great idea. Some gay and bisexual people are more sexual than others, and some - more than we realize - are asexual.

I met a man once who confided to me that he wasn't sexually attracted to anyone, although he desired relationships with other men. His behavior and conversation seemed somehow unadorned, and it was a welcome rest from the affectation and performance that's all around me - and I hadn't even realized it. I was able to relax with this person in a way that I usually can't. Not that asexuals should have to be different and refreshing to be included - we should all be included and including, simply because it's right and fair.

I think Rob Tisani makes an excellent point. The right's big lie about gay people is that homosexuality is nothing but sex, especially male-male anal sex. The right wing is using that lie to harm all of us and deny us our rights, partly by playing on some folks' visceral distaste for same-gender sex. Denying the right wing a tool to make that dishonest, manipulative argument is, to me, a good enough reason to make a change in our lexicon.

And the reason to keep it the same is what, that our movement is mostly about sex? That our most important goal is to normalize sex acts? Some of us see it that way and others don't. Are we really going help the right wing harm us just so we can use a word that reflects the views of some of us better than others?

To me, our movement is about fairness and equality. For all of us.

I am not a leftist, so I definitely support the movement to desexualize bisexual and gay identity. I like the term "affectionate orientation." It sounds so much better than "sexual orientation," "sexual identity," or "sexuality." Anything that focuses so much on sexuality will turn most people off, including many bisexual and gay people. That is reality.

Michael @ | May 30, 2010 2:01 AM

In my experience, people who like to throw around the word "assimilationists" tend to be asses.

In my experience people who foreclose discussion because of essentialized notions of people using words they don't understand tend to be asses.

Yeah I feel your reaction to "affection orientation." The same thing happened in the trans community when we stopped using the word transsexual and started using transgender to take the "sex" out of it so it sounded nicer for sensitive ears. Its pretty much pushed me to the point of calling myself a shemale just to give a big fuck you to the trans culture that has sanitized itself.

I was thinking the same thing myself, A, about the move away from the term "transsexual." I think it's interesting that, in English, the term "sex" means both "membership in the group of males or females" and "sexual activity." To my mind, "transsexual" originally meant someone who crosses over to the opposite sex, but it does leave an aftertaste of "sexual activity." In a sex-negative culture, that's not a good branding campaign. And that's also why, to my mind, the term "homosexual" is used by the right wing in preference to the term "gay." They're communicating to a sex-negative culture that it is primarily a sexual activity. They do the same thing with "sexual orientation," painting all kinds of sexual activities, like pedophilic sex, as a kind of "sexual orientation."

But don't think that if we switched to "affectational orientation" that it would get any better. They'd just paint that term as some kind of mouth-breathing deviant sex-mad activity.

The other thing is that the term "sexual orientation" was specifically designed to communicate that there is an inborn predisposition toward one sex or another. That was intended to "normalize" by analogizing sexuality to race, ethnicity and gender (when gender meant male or female). Since it's inborn, the argument goes, it's unchangeable and involuntary, and it deserves legal protection. Changing it to "romantic orientation" would, to my mind, destroy that connotation, since "romantic" strongly implies an psychological attitude rather than a physiological or neurological condition.

I don't have a linguistic orientation one way or the other on that. That makes me bilingual.

Personally, I identify as a transsexual, but usually use the word when I'm talking to insiders who understand what it means. To the rest of the world I use "transgender" when and if it comes up. I understand the desire to give a big "eff you" to the culture of sanitization, but I'm a little too much of a cultural coward.

Jillian, I agree that "romantic" and "affectional" imply an attitude and so revive the choice debate. If the idea behind using these terms is to avoid giving fuel to the right-wing Christian bigots, I suspect it could backfire. Instead of playing cat and mouse with those people, second-guessing what's going to make them more or less comfortable with homosexuality, I think it's better to just be straightforward.

Jillian, I agree that "romantic" and "affectional" imply an attitude and so revive the choice debate. If the idea behind using these terms is to avoid giving fuel to the right-wing Christian bigots, I suspect it could backfire. Instead of playing cat and mouse with those people, second-guessing what's going to make them more or less comfortable with homosexuality, I think it's better to just be straightforward.

Andrew Sullivan is being facetious and flippant to make a point. He is not suggesting we adopt these new terms to placate Christian bigots: he's inplying that that's what they would like us to do. Jeez, dontcha recognize sarcasm when you read it?!

I read Sullivan's one line blog, entitled "Scrapping 'Sexual Orientation'": "Rob Tisinai proposes replacing it with "romantic orientation." I prefer "affectional orientation" myself.

Usually when there is sarcasm, the writer gives some clue. I don't read this as intended sarcasm. I could be wrong.

So if your credo boils down to "I fuck men" and "I suck dick", what distinguishes you from a straight woman?

I can't imagine anything more horrifying! What if people can no longer succinctly and discretely distinguish me from a woman?? My life would be in ruins!

Garrison, it's a perfectly legitimate question.

Seems in the coments some of ya'll bring up male male anal intercourse as much as the bigots do. S I will play too.
I am bisexual and male bodied. I have found over the years that is easier to get females into anal sex than most gay men. (I swear I never seen any one with as many sexual hang ups as some of my gay male lovers.)

I am guessing more than 1 of the religious nut jobes that persecute us have anal sex with their wives.

Point being they are more than likely doing with their wives what we do to with our boyfriends.

Well yeah, that's why we call ourselves "gay" instead of homosexual.

But lesbians have done a fairly decent job of desexualizing female homosexuality...firstly by ditching the word "lesbian" in favor of "gay". Lesbian just ends up being a description of anything involving more than one that "lesbian themed bondage club" the GOP went to.

Everyone loves Ellen and Portia, but they can't imagine what they do. And some people would actually rather not be someone's sexual fantasy. There's really nothing creepier than realizing someone is fantasizing about you having sex with your partner...while you are talking to them.

Being desexualized isn't the worst thing that could happen.

A. J. Lopp | May 31, 2010 11:09 PM

Yup! Conan O'Brien makes a joke about his trumpet player LaBamba having a crush on Dennis Haysbert ... and it's a big joke with the audience while Haysbert sits in the guest chair with a cat-that-ate-the-canary grin and has absolutely nothing he can say.

Well, I may have once had a crush on Dennis Haysbert ... but if they're going to sit around and make a joke out of it, then fuck'em all!

I was really excited by the discussion of asexual politics. I think that's something that could stand to happen more on bilerico.

I also think bilerico wouldn't be worse for the wear if we talked about Marvin Johnson's butt just a touch more.