I’ve added something new to my list of kinks I want to explore with at least one life partner: nonsexual body worship.
Body worship is a kink frequently intertwined with BDSM, as something that a Sub will perform on their Dom; it involves prolonged, deliberate attention to certain body parts—usually the genitals but sometimes other parts—with an air of awe, appreciation, adoration, etc. The person doing the worship will kiss, lick, or stroke their partner’s body part(s), while their partner passively enjoys.
Obviously, this kink is a highly erotic one and most likely happens in a sexual relationship, as opposed to a nonsexual kinky relationship. (Several kinks can be performed without sex/genital contact, but usually, sex does follow or go hand in hand with kink.) The most commonly worshipped body parts are the genitals—penis, vagina, ass—and while achieving orgasm may not be the goal of body worship, genital arousal is bound to be unavoidable if said genitals are the focus of your partner’s touching, kissing, licking, etc. The sexual encounter will continue beyond the body worship.
I’m interested in exploring body worship as a celibate asexual: a kind of highly sensual touching that focuses on the whole body, while avoiding stimulation of the genitals altogether. Body worship not as a phase of a sexual encounter or a kind of foreplay leading up to genital orgasm but as its own bottom line, as the intimate experience.
What I have in mind for myself and my fellow asexual partner(s) is to spend time in bed together, clothed only in our underwear or maybe in our underwear and t-shirts, and caress each other, stroke, massage, kiss each other’s body wherever we like for however long we want, focusing our attention on the other’s body in its fullness—the way it looks, the way it feels, the way it smells, and the desire/love/adoration each of us feels for the other’s. I could spend twenty minutes on my partner’s back, for example: just looking at it, touching it, smelling the skin, kissing it lightly, admiring its every beautiful feature, etc. Maybe I do this while cuddling them from behind; maybe I do this while they lie on their front for me and just relax into the sensations of my touch. We don’t have to cover the whole body in every session, but I’d like it if we did sometimes.
The energy of this kind of encounter is sensual, deeply intimate, loving, even passionate. But it’s not sexual. It doesn’t involve our genitals or seek to arouse us genitally or produce an orgasm. This kind of body worship does qualify as erotic in my book.
I define eros as “a state of desire; having the potential for sexuality.” To me, the erotic can extend into sex, but it doesn’t have to. Eroticism and sex aren’t the same, they aren’t synonymous, but they are closely related. Sexual people generally can’t conceive of separating eroticism from sex completely, of experiencing eros with someone that they don’t want to have sex with eventually. I bet I’d be hard-pressed to find a sexual person willing to believe that eroticism can happen between two people who aren’t sexually attracted to each other (or romantically attracted to each other, for that matter)—that erotic energy can exist in a nonsexual relationship between two asexuals and that erotic energy can feel deeply satisfying without being released into a sexual encounter ending in orgasm.
Erotic energy, divorced from sex, is the energy of desire. It’s creative energy. I might even say it’s intimacy energy, although I never want to suggest or support the idea that all intimacy is erotic or sexual because nonsexual intimacy is tremendously important and amazing. This kind of energy, this kind of eros, can unfold between two asexuals loving each other in a celibate relationship, and it doesn’t even have to be a “romantic” relationship in the traditional sense. For a pair of asexuals, intense sensuality, coupled with desire for each other’s touch and for each other’s body, becomes erotic without pushing the eroticism to the sexual conclusion that sexual people and their culture always pursue as if eroticism is only a means to sex.
I’ve mentioned desire before as something I want asexuals to explore, within themselves and in celibate relationships with each other, and I want to reiterate how important and fascinating I think this exploration can be for us. Sexual culture frames “desire,” even at a linguistic level, as something exclusively sexual, and that denies so much of what desire between two people can be. Celibate asexuals have this incredible opportunity to find out what nonsexual desire feels like, what can it mean, how it can manifest in nonsexual and even nonromantic relationships. What does desire feel like to us? What does it feel like to be desired in a nonsexual way, by our asexual and/or aromantic partners? What does aromantic desire feel like? What’s it like to desire your nonromantic/nonsexual partner’s body and touch? These are questions I want us, particularly those of us who are celibate and who are involved or want to be involved emotionally with other aces and aros, to meditate on.
So nonsexual body worship (between two asexuals) is erotic, sensual, and includes desire energy. It does not have to come from a place of romantic love or attraction. The idea that such intimacy can happen in a nonromantic relationship for nonromantic reasons is extremely radical, I know, but I’m a relationship anarchist unwilling to be close-minded about what’s possible for asexual and aromantic people.
Asexual body worship and nonsexual eroticism brings me to another concept I’ve had in mind for a while now: the desexualization of nudity.
Sexual culture conditions us to see the naked body as exclusively erotic, as something to arouse other people genitally and inspire sexual desire. Unless you’re at the doctor’s office, exposing your genitals or even your breasts (if you’re female) to someone else is perceived as unavoidably sexual in nature, whether you intend it to be or not.
Why should we, asexuals, buy into this? Why should we allow ourselves to sexualize our own nudity by default, just because the rest of society does? Why should we carry this over into our personal relationships, even the ones we have with each other? I don’t think it makes any sense.
On the one hand, I strongly believe that asexuals should only do what is comfortable and natural to them, when it comes to their bodies. If being naked around anybody, even another ace, is super uncomfortable for you, than don’t do it. Period. Fuck giving someone else access to your body just to please them when it hurts you, then calling it “compromise.” On the other hand, I think we should ask ourselves why it’s uncomfortable for us, if it is. Personally, the only answer I can come up with for myself—a celibate ace would never even remotely consider getting anywhere near that intimate with someone, unless they were asexual too—is that I’ve grown up assimilating sexual culture’s messages about nudity and about my nudity to the point that I automatically connect “being naked in front of someone” with “sex”—with that other person viewing my body sexually, wanting sex from me, expecting it from me, etc. And if that person was someone sexually attracted to my kind of body, I’d have a right to heed all of that conditioning and therefore hide my nudity from them.
But if I’m with another ace, why should I worry? If I’m with another asexual, someone who loves me and cares about me and supports me completely in my celibacy and who respects my asexuality and my body and me, then why should I feel guarded about nudity in their presence?
I’m not saying I have an actual desire to spend time naked around my ace partners or passionate friends, but what I am saying is that I want to be liberated from the sexualization of nudity and of my own naked body because I never consented to that and because that’s an attitude out of sexual culture, not my culture as a celibate asexual. I don’t want sexual culture having any influence whatsoever over the relationships I have with other asexuals. I want my ace passionate friends and I to love each other and interact with each other from a starting point of total mental, emotional, and physical freedom that wipes out all preconceived notions of what certain behaviors mean, of what we can and can’t do in nonsexual relationships and/or nonromantic relationships, to be the only ones in our home or in our bedrooms when we’re sharing intimacy in any way.
If my asexual passionate friends and I are going to specifically leave nudity out of our relationships, I want it to be because we genuinely don’t feel a need or desire to include it, not because of the false belief that all nudity in an intimate relationship is sexual. If I’m going to hide my breasts from partners who I live with for decades and who I still allow to caress and cuddle and kiss the rest of my body, the reason better be “I, who I really am, do not feel comfortable showing my breasts to anyone,” and not “Showing my breasts to other people is sexual, so I don’t want to do that in relationships that are specifically and permanently nonsexual.” I don’t even think the default sexualization of breasts makes any sense! For anyone! So I can’t allow that kind of assumption dictate what I do in my intimate relationships.
Finally, I want to briefly mention that during these kinds of intensely sensual and intimate encounters, whether they’re body worship or just high-impact cuddling, whether they include nudity or not, involuntary genital arousal should be handled and accepted be both ace partners as a bodily reaction that can happen without sexual attraction but as a result of lots of sensual touching with someone you love. Every ace body is different: some of us experience genital arousal, some don’t, some of us have a libido and some don’t. All of it’s fine. I do think that for a celibate ace, especially one who’s sex-repulsed or sex-averse, the knee jerk reaction to one’s own genital arousal (that doesn’t happen because you deliberately tried but because you’ve been touched a certain way) is panic, worry, fear, embarrassment, etc. because we’re taught that genital arousal necessitates sex. (And many aces who are new on the scene and don’t have a comprehensive understanding of sexual attraction vs. libido vs. arousal can come under the erroneous impression that a true asexual doesn’t have a libido, can’t experience genital arousal, can’t have an orgasm, etc. None of which is true!)
I just want you to know, fellow aces, that getting genitally aroused in the middle of a very sensual, physically intimate encounter with someone you love doesn’t make you less asexual, doesn’t mean you’re experiencing sexual attraction or desire for your partner, and is nothing to be ashamed of or sorry for. The body reacts to stimuli without waiting for cognitive permission from you. That’s why it’s possible for an ace to become aroused when exposed to porn, even though that ace doesn’t experience sexual attraction to anyone. Some bodies will get aroused as a result of heavy touching, no matter the context. What you need to remember is unless your mind is on board with your body, meaning unless YOU—the thinking and feeling you—want to have sex with a person that physically arouses you, your arousal isn’t indicative of sexual attraction.
If you’re with another ace and you get aroused during super sensual contact, talk to your partner honestly about it and let them know how you feel. Accept your body and its reactions with love and compassion. If you’re an ace partner to another ace who sometimes gets aroused by sensual touch, be sensitive to them when they talk to you about it. If either of you is uncomfortable with these arousal reactions, be willing to explore why and to do what you both need to feel comfortable while being physical with each other.
And most of all, don’t think that involuntary genital arousal needs to prevent you from the sensual encounters you desire, that you’re somehow “failing” if you get aroused and then don’t have sex to make the arousal go away. Arousal doesn’t obligate you to have sex. It doesn’t even obligate you to masturbate. Purge those compulsory sexuality messages from your brain ASAP.
Sensuality, body worship, eroticism, nudity, and even genital arousal can be totally nonsexual for those of us who are ace and aromantic. Allow yourself to discover what level of physical intimacy and touch makes you feel loved, wanted, pleased, and nurtured, from a place of freedom that allows any and all behaviors not involving genitals to be nonsexual—even if they feel erotic.