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The weekly sex advice column that started it all

Ace Case

Joe Newton

Young straight dude here. Recently I have come across a ton of articles online about why women shouldn’t shave their armpits. These articles argue that armpit shaving is based on deeply patriarchal anti-feminist notions of female beauty. This leaves me feeling conflicted. I find women’s shaved armpits extremely erotic, if I’m attracted to the person. I find shaved underarms irresistibly smooth and supple. I love the sensation. Plus, I love the warmth of the area, and how the underarms are right next to the shoulders, neck, and breasts—sort of a nexus point. Even visually, I find them off-the-rails sexually arousing. When women grow their armpit hair, it turns off what is for me one of the most sexually attractive parts of a woman’s body. Reading these articles has left me asking: Is it wrong to be so sexually attracted to something if it’s supposedly based...

Subscribe now to read the rest of the question and Dan’s answer! Dan invites an expert for insight into the realm of asexuality. Did the letter-writer cause this rupture, or was her partner overreacting and obscuring the real issue?

...ng if it’s supposedly based on patriarchal beauty standards? Almost all the info I find online—shaving product advertisements aside—seems to be about why women shouldn’t shave their armpits and how a woman shaving her armpits is gender oppression. It’s really left me wondering: Why is this such an issue for some feminists? Are Reflexive Male Psychosexual Interests That Stupid? If you were smart enough to come up with that signoff, ARMPITS, you’re smart enough to hold these two not-quite-conflicting ideas in your mind without stroking out from the cognitive dissonance: You like what you like and you’ve been conditioned to like what you like. Sometimes with a little thought and effort, we can learn to like more than we were conditioned to like (different kinds of people, different kinds of bodies, different kinds of sex), which is a favor we do ourselves, not others. But it’s not always possible for a person to learn to like more than they’ve been conditioned to like. So, what should a person do then? A person can and should… shut the fuck up. A person can remind himself that beauty standards evolve, as do gendered norms, and if those standards are evolving away from something he’s been conditioned to think is desirable—something like hairless armpits—he can do his level best not to interfere with that evolution. So, don’t think hairy armpits are hot? Or bigger bodies? Or trans people? Great, fine. You can seek out people you do find attractive—and luckily enough for you, ARMPITS, most women shave their armpits—without shitting all over people you don’t find attractive. Don’t post “no hairy pits” on dating apps, don’t shit-talk with your bros about hairy armpits being gross, don’t post puke emojis all over Instagram when a woman shares a photo that shows armpit hair, and politely pass on potential sex partners who have armpit hair without feeling the need to inform them why you’re passing on them. My ex-girlfriend and I had a good relationship, but the sex was bad. When we had sex, it would eventually become clear that nobody was going to climax, or that she was tired or bored, and we would stop. I decided to let her take the lead and stopped initiating. I began to feel like not even my emotional needs were being met and that’s when she revealed what felt to her like the mother of all secrets: she may be asexual. She said she felt a lot of shame and confusion about it and had been withdrawing for that reason. We agreed to explore her sexual identity together and try new things that could potentially work for both of us. The first time we tried it went horribly. I felt insecure and uncomfortable, and I ended things early, as she had so often done. She started initiating trying things when we went to bed and I kept it to cuddling, then went to the bathroom to “finish myself off” after she fell asleep. She heard me come back to bed, asked what I was doing, and I told her the truth. She got out of bed, sad and angry, and I tried to apologize but we never got past this. Several months later, I’m still confused. I feel guilty about rejecting her only to sneak away to the bathroom after she fell asleep. At the same time, I don’t understand how what I did became such a deal breaker. I was raised in a religious home and spent a decade freeing myself from sexual shame and I feel like some of that work was undone here. Through the course of the relationship—and particularly that fateful evening—I felt ashamed of my sexual desire for her, which was clearly much more intense than hers towards me. She’s an athlete with a perfect body, while I had been stress eating my way through the pandemic, which contributed to my feeling undesirable. I would like to move past my feelings of guilt but I’m not sure how. I’m afraid that being in a relationship with someone who identifies as asexual has had a lasting effect on me. The situation is too personal to be able to discuss it with anyone. Healing Eludes Lesbian Pondering Messy End “I don’t think HELPME should blame herself for this relationship ending,” said Dr. Ela Przybylo, “and she definitely shouldn’t think the breakup was the result of going to finish off in the bathroom that one night.” Dr. Przybylo, who is an Assistant Professor of English and Core Faculty in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Illinois State University, has identified at various points along the asexual spectrum over the last 15 years. The label that best fits her now, she says, is gray asexual. (Gray asexuality is both a point along the asexuality spectrum and a spectrum unto itself—our spectrums contain spectrumtudes—but to put it simply, a gray asexual person is someone who rarely experiences sexual attraction.) So, if you’re not to blame, HELPME, and slipping away to rub one out after your ex-girlfriend fell asleep isn’t to blame, that would seem to leave us with just one other blamable option: your ex-girlfriend. Or—hear Dr. Przybylo out—maybe forces larger than you and/or your girlfriend are to blame. “Being asexual, or ‘ace,’ can be very confusing because we live in a culture where sex is presented as compulsory, necessary to intimacy, and central to romantic relationships,” said Dr. Przybylo. “And while it’s hard to hear, it’s possible HELPME’s partner never wanted to have sex but did it because she either thought she had to in order to maintain a relationship, or because of societal pressure, or both.” It’s also possible your ex-girlfriend believed she wanted to have sex, HELPME, and believed she wanted to have sex with you. Being taught from an early age that sex isn’t just normal, but universal, and that all human beings have sex, no exceptions, can put a huge zap on someone’s head. Just as it used to be relatively common for homosexuals to enter into heterosexual relationships before realizing they were gay, asexuals sometimes enter into relationships with allosexuals (non-asexuals) before realizing they’re ace. And just as some gay men go through the heterosexual motions in a desperate attempt to make their straight marriages work (which can be confusing and hurtful for their wives), some asexuals go through the sexual motions to make their relationships with allosexuals work (which can be confusing and hurtful for their allo girlfriends). At the same time, ace people can and do have sex, even if they don’t experience sexual attraction, making it even more complicated. “While a person’s sexuality is about them and their journey, it can and does affect others,” said Dr. Przybylo. “In this sense, HELPME’s ex probably didn’t intend to make her feel any which way. She was doing her best in a situation that was probably confusing and overwhelming and anxiety-producing for her too.” If there was more awareness of the existence and legitimacy of asexuality, HELPME, your ex-girlfriend may have realized who she was sooner. And if she’d known she was ace before you met, she might have chosen to be your friend instead of your romantic partner. Or if she wanted a romantic relationship but not a sexual one—or wanted a minimally sexual one, which some asexual people do—you could’ve decided together whether that was something you both wanted. As for that awful night, HELPME, it sounds like your ex-girlfriend may have felt bad about being asexual, which was why this relationship ultimately couldn’t work, but instead of owning up to the reason this relationship wasn’t going to work—she’s ace, you’re allo—she seized an opportunity to pin the blame on you. If you manage to circle back and salvage a friendship from the wreckage, your ex-girlfriend may come to see that, admit to it, and apologize for making you feel ashamed about having that wank. In the meantime, HELPME, Dr. Przybylo thinks you should concentrate a little less on what didn’t work—what couldn’t work—and more on what did. “HELPME should hold on to the joyous elements of the relationship and forgive her ex and herself for the sex not being what she wanted or imagined she wanted,” said Dr. Przybylo. And it will be easier for you to make that pivot, HELPME, if you “recognize asexuality is a sexual orientation and that her ex’s asexuality has nothing to do with HELPME or whether she’s desirable.” And finally, HELPME, telling yourself you’re not desirable because your asexual ex-girlfriend didn’t wanna fuck you… is just as crazy as it sounds. I mean, of course your asexual ex-girlfriend didn’t wanna fuck you. She doesn’t wanna fuck anybody. (Or doesn’t wanna fuck much—spectrum and all.) And while you shouldn’t have to get out there and fuck a few allos to feel desirable again (you are!), HELPME, it might do you some good. Send your question to mail@savagelove.net