[OOC note: Thanks to the glowfic chat for brainstorming help.]
Judging from my predecessors’ notes, a week or so after this post goes live I will disappear off into some other world. I am annoyed. This world is wonderful and I fear that all other worlds will be as unsuited to me as the world I was born in (I refuse to call it my home).
I grew up my entire life believing that I was sick and broken. I had desires that no one else had. I desperately searched on the Internet– keywords like “want sex with person not in love” and “sexually attracted to stranger” and “teenager wants sex with classmates”– and all I got were articles speculating about whether people like me existed and declaring, with great certainty, that if we did we were sociopaths, incapable of normal human relationships, likely to abuse and rape or at best treat all our sex partners as masturbatory toys.
There must have been people like me somewhere. I was not the only person like me in my world. (Was I? Now that I know that world-travel is possible, I wonder if perhaps perhaps I was transported there at an age so young that I don’t remember.) But if there were people like me, they knew better than to say anything. I studied, I was careful, and I managed to pretend.
People in my home world were not asexual. They had libidos starting at puberty, just as humans in this world do; they were capable of enjoying the sensations their genitals produced, and masturbation was encouraged as healthy and relaxing. But it was unthinkable to want to have sex with a person unless you were in love.
You who were born in this world misunderstand me when I say “unthinkable”. You round it to purity culture– a continual struggle against sexual thoughts triggered by lingerie catalog models and women in bikinis, culminating in a desperate marriage at nineteen to some inappropriate person so you’ll at least get to have an orgasm. But people in my home world do not struggle or repress; those thoughts simply don’t exist at all.
The only thing my homeworld uses scantily clad models to sell is underwear. Actors are likely to be graceful and to have very average and symmetrical faces, but otherwise vary wildly in appearance, including many you would consider ugly. There is a genre of media which caters to people who wish to masturbate; it usually devotes six hours to in-depth development of the love interest’s character before the clothes start to come off. There is no such thing as non-porn sex work. Bars are solely for drinking; nightclubs are solely for dancing. There are no sexually transmitted diseases.
We have a concept of human aesthetic beauty, in much the same way that one can have a concept of the aesthetic beauty of a landscape without wanting to fuck mountains. The aesthetically beautiful may be more likely to find employment as actors or models or spokespeople, but experienced no particular advantage in marrying; people were far likely to fall in love with the kind, the intelligent, the charismatic, and the witty than with the beautiful.
There are two ways marriages happen in my world. The more romantic one is termed “dating.” People hang out with their friends until they notice they are in love with someone, and then hope the other person is in love with them too. It works out that way more often than you would expect from chance– after all, similar people who spend a lot of time together and get along often fall in love– but often results in heartbreak, drama, and the shattering of friendships. Even once the couple has gotten together, they often turn out to have glaring incompatibilities which sink the relationship. Dating is pretty self-evidently a terrible idea, but parents find it illiberal to seclude their children from others of the opposite gender, and teenagers will never stop doing something just because it’s a bad idea. Love– not to mention one’s first experience of sexual attraction– tends to result in some pretty dubious decision-making.
The more traditional one is termed “courtship.” Conservative families tend not to allow their children to interact with people of the other sex until it comes time to look for a romantic partner. At about nineteen or twenty, one begins a focused search for a romantic partner. Traditionally, one consulted a matchmaker; today, one more often uses a dating site. (The photos, of course, exist mostly to allow you to recognize the person you’re messaging when you meet up.)
The first date with any prospective spouse is a detailed exploration of all possible dealbreakers and incompatibilities. To someone from this world, the conversation may seem blunt almost to the point of being mercenary. For example, the normal packet of information exchanged before the first date includes a list of favorite and least favorite chores and how often you expect them to be done; your income, expenditures, assets, and debts; whether you are open to polygamy; how often you masturbate and to what, if anything; whether you want kids and, if so, what opinions you have on raising them; a schedule of a typical week in your life; and a list of life goals, if any. The religious often include opinions on theology; the politically active, on politics; the fannish, on aesthetics. The first date involves clarifying these packets and asking any questions that were best asked in person.
The second conversation involves introducing your prospective partner to your parents, who had previously been given the information packets and your thoughts on the first date. Depending on the parents, this can be either a mere formality (“if my child likes you, I approve”) or a harrowing experience which leaves you single until age forty because No One Is Good Enough For My Child.
For the next six months, you hang out fairly regularly. It is generally recommended that one stress-test the relationship by creating circumstances that will inevitably lead to arguments, such as assembling a piece of furniture or navigating somewhere without GPS when you’re already late. Compatible conflict resolution strategies are very important for a marriage and difficult to screen for by exchanging a packet.
Six to twelve months into the relationship, the partners may realize that they are in love and want to have sex. Generally, at this point, they get engaged. Of course, six to twelve months is a rather long time, so it is usual to date three or four people concurrently and break it off when you fall in love with someone.
While traditional people tend to begin courting young, it’s not that uncommon for more liberal people to give up on dating after the third or fourth drama explosion and start courting instead, particularly once they start working and have less time.
About five percent of the population identifies as aromantic, which means they are not romantically (and therefore not sexually) attracted to anyone. (About half a percent of the population identifies as asexual but not aromantic.) It is difficult to know whether one is aromantic, of course, because of how long it takes to fall in love with someone; however, if you’ve dated or courted for a few years without falling in love with anyone, you are likely to identify as aromantic. It is not uncommon for aromantic people to suddenly fall in love with someone at age forty.
We did not seem to have other sexual minorities. I myself, of course, am what you call bisexual, and I was painfully aware that I was sexually attracted to people whom I could not possibly have children with. This merely compounded my sickness. Whether you asked priests or evolutionary biologists, they agreed sex was created for the purpose of having children, which is why we didn’t want to have sex unless we could have kids. (Of course, some couples didn’t want children and that was fine, but that was different than the perversion of wanting sex when it was biologically impossible to have children at all.) My thoughts about people of the same sex were inchoate, unformed. I wanted, but it was impossible for me to know what I wanted. I wanted to kiss them, to touch them, and then…? Who knew.
Now that I have traveled to this world, I wonder about the people termed “aromantics.” I have been introduced to the concept of closeted lesbian opinions; it is, apparently, surprisingly easy to not notice that you want to have sex with someone. On Earth, lesbians and gay men are often attracted to dozens if not hundreds of people and thus eventually manage to notice. On my home world, where one might only have to deny one or two attractions, many people probably just thought they were close friends. On Earth, many gay people first met other gay people through bars and cruising, casual sex that allowed them to return to their heterosexual lives afterward. Without that opportunity to create solidarity, perhaps gay people lived isolated, never organizing politically to create the awareness and acceptance that exists on Earth.
(I wonder if there was some secret place where people like me went to have sex with each other. If there was, I didn’t know it.)
We did, however, have an unusually high level of polygamy; it was considered a normal if fairly alternative lifestyle. Generally, a marriage started out monogamous, and many people preferred that their relationship stay monogamous. However, many people agreed that in the event that either partner fell in reciprocated love with someone else, they could marry that person. Polygamous marriages were legally recognized, although you did occasionally read about people being arrested for fraudulent polygamous immigrant marriages.
It was, in fact, possible to cheat; it was just not possible to cheat casually. Infidelity inevitably meant that your partner had fallen in love with someone else and chosen to pursue that relationship. For this reason, cheating was usually high-stakes and heartbreaking. Your partner could never tell you that all those other girls meant nothing to him.
From my perspective, this world I have entered is a utopia. There are websites that facilitate people like me having casual sex! There’s pornography! Millions of websites devoted to pictures of complete strangers naked and having sex! Hookups are normal, a subject of jokes and thinkpieces, even a way people meet their spouses.
Even more, over the past year, this world has shown me that I was wrong about people like me. We can be kind and compassionate; we can be loving; we can have committed long-term relationships– sometimes even committed long-term relationships where we hook up at the same time. I tend to have a pretty low opinion of myself, but I can’t have a low opinion of every person who’s had casual sex that I’ve encountered over the past year.
There are four things I think are good about my world. First, there’s no double standard; I find it quite odd and repulsive when men, sometimes men who have casual sex themselves, go on about how women who have casual sex are disgusting cum dumpsters. Second, approaching marriage in a deliberate way is a much better way to get married than not doing so; I’m baffled by the number of people who want to get married and have no plan for doing so. Unromantic as courtship is, it also makes sure you don’t wind up dating someone who’s wildly incompatible with you; if you court, you won’t end up accidentally marrying someone who disagrees with you about kids or budgeting. Third, no STDs. Fourth, it is an accepting environment for those of low or no libido, and I fear that the sexual freedom your world has created has stigmatized people like the ones from my former world.
Otherwise, my former world can go hang.
Feel free to ask questions in the comments, although no promises about me answering them with anything other than complaints.