Asexuality is not the same thing as celibacy. This is something we can agree upon. However, when people mock celibacy, it can be done in a way that is particularly unfriendly to asexuals. This is a particularly common occurrence in atheist spaces, where people often make fun of clerical celibacy.
Nearly ever time I’ve ever raised the issue, the defense is that asexuality is not the same as celibacy. While true, I want to show why it is uncompelling as a defense.
The bottom line: It is okay to not have sex. First corollary: it is okay for asexuals to not have sex. Second corollary: it is okay for literally anyone else to not have sex.
One common response to asexuality is that it is inherently disordered. Asexuals are thought to be missing out on sex, a crucial life function. The assumption is that if you’re not having sex, then you are in a lesser state of existence.
But sex is neither inherently positive, nor inherently negative. There are only cases where sex has a subjectively positive or negative meaning. People who consider asexuality to be disordered presumably find positive subjective meaning in sex. Many asexuals find a neutral or negative subjective meaning in sex. Neither positive nor negative views are disordered, because sex itself is inherently neutral, and we can view it however we like.
If you accept asexuality, but imply that celibates are lesser for being celibate, that tells me you missed the point. It’s like you took a fundamentally asexual-unfriendly worldview, and then carved out a special exception for asexuals without making any further modifications. What part of “it’s okay not to have sex” did you not understand?
Also see: every time people make fun of virgins, or people who can’t get laid. If you mock someone’s egregious character flaws by insulting their lack of a sex life, you are saying that not having sex on par with all the character flaws. You are suggesting that those character flaws are bad specifically because they lead to sexual undesirability.
There are some attacks on celibacy that are more acceptably nuanced. For instance, it’s okay to not have sex, but there are certainly some dubious reasons to not have sex.
For example, clerical celibacy involves an institutional requirement. That’s bad. Like that institutional requirement that married people must “consummate” their marriage. Where is the justification for this restriction on personal freedom?
Of course, even personal choices can be made for dubious reasons. Some people don’t have sex because they believe it brings them closer to God. This is dubious because gods don’t exist. Nonetheless, it must be observed that “God” often wants people to do things that they already wanted to do in the first place, but are unwilling to admit to. Could we question people’s religious motivations for celibacy, while reaffirming that celibacy can be secularly justified in any number of ways?
[cn for this paragraph: general reference to rape] If you are unable to think of any secular justification for not having sex, allow me to suggest a very basic one: just because. Gosh, maybe some people, regardless of orientation, just don’t want to have sex. Either for the time being, or forever, or maybe just not with the people present. You don’t need to watch many movies to see that some people have turbulent emotions regarding sex–anxiety, shame, pride, intimacy, distance. Maybe for some people those emotions are on balance negative. Maybe for some people, sex is dangerous, because they’re with someone who won’t respect a retraction of consent. Maybe some people just don’t know why they don’t want sex. Maybe some of those people later decide that it’s part of their orientation.
In summary, while there may be some “bad” reasons not to have sex, there are also so many legitimate reasons which could be operating unseen. It takes a nuanced approach to critique the motivations of personal choices while still affirming the potential value of those choices.