Handling ace representation in a story that includes sex scenes

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jdhthegr8
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Handling ace representation in a story that includes sex scenes

#1 Post by jdhthegr8 » Thu Oct 03, 2019 3:13 pm

Hello all! I have what I think is an interesting scenario I want to ask about; responses would be particularly appreciated from those who fall within the Asexual spectrum but any serious input will be considered.

The story I'm writing has mature themes, including at least one scene of sex or sexually-explicit content for every romanceable character. That isn't the focus of the game, but it is in there. If on this basis this is not an appropriate topic on this board please let me know and I will delete it. This has been cross-posted on the Adult Games board but the intent of the topic is to explore writing about asexuality rather than going into detail about explicit content, which is why I posted it here as well.

One subplot involves a female character catching her boyfriend cheating on her at the time of their introductions. The mindset of both characters can be explored in the course of mostly optional conversations, in which the boyfriend rationalizes (or at least initially attempts to rationalize) what he did by their apparent physical incompatibility which he could not understand. Over time the girl comes to realize that she is asexual, feeling little to no sexual attraction to anybody.

She has the opportunity to be romanced by several other characters, but I am curious about how to handle her romance paths. I feel like it would be inappropriate or at least out-of-character to just shove in potential sex scenes just to make hers match those of other pairings (multiple different couples can be formed in this).
  • I am well aware that Asexuality is not a one size fits all affair, and that some can experience physical attraction to others under certain conditions. Would it seem fair to apply that to her but perhaps to just one or two specific theoretical partners, or would it be considered better representation to stick to the guns of her really not being that way for any of the options she has?
  • What are some effective ways to communicate in early romance or pre-romance scenes that "No really, you aren't going to see sex (or are very unlikely to see sex) in her subplot"?
  • What are some other ways and/or useful resources for handling the fictional depiction of asexual characters respectfully, as a writer who is not personally asexual?
Thanks in advance for any responses

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Re: Handling ace representation in a story that includes sex scenes

#2 Post by timepatches » Thu Oct 03, 2019 11:24 pm

Hi! I'm ace myself, and I've written a few ace-spectrum characters, so I'll do my best to help out ;w;
Just to preface, you've probably already seen this, but a lot of ace people (and allos, for that matter) like to frame their feelings by splitting the different kinds of attraction: link. It can be helpful to distinguish ^^

jdhthegr8 wrote:
Thu Oct 03, 2019 3:13 pm
  • I am well aware that Asexuality is not a one size fits all affair, and that some can experience physical attraction to others under certain conditions. Would it seem fair to apply that to her but perhaps to just one or two specific theoretical partners, or would it be considered better representation to stick to the guns of her really not being that way for any of the options she has?
Re: her being attracted to one or two people, it seems like you're talking about the Grey-Asexual or Demisexual orientations. I'd say you're fine to go ahead with that, as long as you're clear about it - it's fine representation of Demi/Grey-A folk, but if you just label her Ace and don't specify (or don't have her specify when she discovers the labels), then it might be confusing / 'bad representation' of an Asexual person. If people are expecting someone Ace, and not someone on the grey area of the spectrum, they may be upset or confused when she does experience attraction to others.
(Though this is something that can happen in real life; one label might not fit you forever, so people do sometimes go from one to the other - from ace to demi, for example. Trying to define things like attraction is confusing at best, and mind-boggling at worst, lol)
The alternative would be to make her asexual, but not sex-repulsed, and/or with some level of libido, so that you could include sex scenes involving her.
Contrary to popular belief, some asexual people are not repulsed by sex (though some are, myself among them), and some do experience libido, it's just the attraction that they're missing.
These threads might be helpful.
jdhthegr8 wrote:
Thu Oct 03, 2019 3:13 pm
  • What are some effective ways to communicate in early romance or pre-romance scenes that "No really, you aren't going to see sex (or are very unlikely to see sex) in her subplot"?
Not sure how much help I can be for this one, but if she's aware of her sexuality or that something is different about her, she should be talking about it with any potential partners - this is a flag for people who would like/prefer the sex scenes, but it's probably not early enough in the game to prevent some people getting mad. Maybe mention it in the promo stuff? (on the itch page, any time you're introducing/talking about characters, their bios, etc)
jdhthegr8 wrote:
Thu Oct 03, 2019 3:13 pm
  • She has the opportunity to be romanced by several other characters, but I am curious about how to handle her romance paths. I feel like it would be inappropriate or at least out-of-character to just shove in potential sex scenes just to make hers match those of other pairings (multiple different couples can be formed in this).
Personally I don't see anything wrong with a route without sex scenes, but I can see why others would be upset about it.
As long as she's not sex-repulsed and the sex scenes are written respecfully, and discussion occurs about her feelings (even if she hasn't found her label yet, imo it should still be discussed as part of talks about consent etc pre-scene - don't just flat-out ignore it), then I don't see why you couldn't write some sex scenes into her route, but definitely do your research first.
Some ace people who are sex-repulsed might not be able to read your work, but I suspect that's not really your audience considering the content of the rest of the game ^^
jdhthegr8 wrote:
Thu Oct 03, 2019 3:13 pm
  • What are some other ways and/or useful resources for handling the fictional depiction of asexual characters respectfully, as a writer who is not personally asexual?
My advice would be to visit the Asexuality forums, and the ace subreddit. People are often talking there about personal experiences, it might give you a better idea of what it's like to be an ace person (especially re: coming out, discovering you're ace, etc).

Hope I could help! <3
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Re: Handling ace representation in a story that includes sex scenes

#3 Post by jdhthegr8 » Fri Oct 04, 2019 2:38 am

Thanks a lot for your input and resources! These will definitely help me make sure she is a more convincing character and someone that, if an ace reader did come across, will hopefully be relatable in some way.
Re: her being attracted to one or two people, it seems like you're talking about the Grey-Asexual or Demisexual orientations. I'd say you're fine to go ahead with that, as long as you're clear about it - it's fine representation of Demi/Grey-A folk, but if you just label her Ace and don't specify (or don't have her specify when she discovers the labels), then it might be confusing / 'bad representation' of an Asexual person. If people are expecting someone Ace, and not someone on the grey area of the spectrum, they may be upset or confused when she does experience attraction to others.
Basically, define it and be consistent. That makes sense and seems to be the best way for me to write a good message without having personal experience to draw from.
if she's aware of her sexuality or that something is different about her, she should be talking about it with any potential partners - this is a flag for people who would like/prefer the sex scenes, but it's probably not early enough in the game to prevent some people getting mad. Maybe mention it in the promo stuff?
Discovery of her sexuality was planned to somewhat be a bit of a "reveal" to herself as well as the player in the sense that the player will spend some time in her head as she starts to connect the dots, but at the same time it wouldn't bother me to make some mention of it ahead of time publicly if it helped the perception of her and/or the overall story. If the portrayal is convincing then that probably matters more than whether or not somebody knows it ahead of time.
Some ace people who are sex-repulsed might not be able to read your work, but I suspect that's not really your audience considering the content of the rest of the game ^^
To be honest, though there will be multiple possible scenes of sex they will really only be a stark minority of playtime in a story that is otherwise centered around a plot and the relationships that develop around it. I plan on always having a non-intrusive but visible indicator ahead of any sexual scene, with skip points allowed to pass them; presently there are no such scenes planned which would contain plot-relevant details that could not be skipped. I'm also considering to implement an "18+" toggle that would simply re-frame those scenes in PG-13 terms. The game is centered primarily around story and I'd rather ace people of all orientations be able to enjoy it if possible.

Regardless however, your input is appreciated and I'll be reviewing all of this as I write her portions of the script and outline her relationships

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Re: Handling ace representation in a story that includes sex scenes

#4 Post by Katy133 » Fri Oct 04, 2019 7:00 pm

First, I'll list some resources you can check out.

There's a great video essay series by YouTuber Innuendo Studios on male gaze in the film Mad Max Fury Road. The essay series is titled, Bringing Back What Was Stolen, and the whole thing can be viewed as a playlist here. The essay that focuses specifically on how the female characters are filmed and framed within shots is titled "Sexuality," which you can view on its own below:



Note that it touches upon Max not showing sexual attraction at any point in the film ("Max only lusts for one thing--water").

There's a post here on Tumblr about Good Omen's lack of sexualisation in its series adaptation, with the demon character, Crowley, being seen as asexual by fans due to his lack of (or nonexistent) sexual scenes in the entire series, despite the large amount of opportunity to do so. The effort on the screenwriter's and editors' part to not include sexualised scenes (despite having a literal sex scene between two characters) is notable.

There is also this video essay that takes a look at several fictional works that have asexual representation, exploring which did it well and which didn't.



Now, after going through these resources, here are my thoughts on this. The two biggest challenges of writing ace representation is that:

1) There is currently so little representation of it in mainstream media that some audiences might not recognise an ace character when they see one. They may misinterpret the character as prudish, or mistake the character as choosing to be celibate but ultimately have a different sexuality.

And 2) It is very difficult, in a visual medium, to show a lack of something (as TV Tropes org mentions in their article on asexuality--another resource to check out). To show an abundance of something, you simply show it in abundance. To show a lack of something, it is not enough to simply not include the thing that is lacking. It must be juxtaposed with another character having an abundance of that thing.

For example, in the 80s series, MacGyver, the titular main character hates guns. In order to show this, the plot continually puts MacGyver in situations where he has to deal with guns (people offer him guns, people threaten him with guns, people try to help him using guns, etc). Because of the continual inclusion of guns (and thus, the continual refusal of guns on MacGyver's part), the series is very anti-firearms in its themes more so than any series that doesn't include guns at all.

Here is the advice I would give: Make the ace character the protagonist (or a main character), so enough focus can be placed on them. At some point in the story, use the word "asexual" explicitly in the text (dialogue or narration). Have another character who is celibate but not ace, so the audience can compare and contrast the two concepts. Have the ace character in situations where their lack of attraction can be juxtaposed by an abundance of it (for example: A character flirts with them, but they reject that person's advances. Another example: A character is revealed to have been cheating on another character, and the ace character thinks it's a dumb thing to have done).

Hope this helps!
Last edited by Katy133 on Tue Oct 22, 2019 8:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Handling ace representation in a story that includes sex scenes

#5 Post by Applegate » Sat Oct 05, 2019 12:31 pm

My personal recommendation is to avoid using any label. Someone mentioned earlier that labels raise specific expectations which can be disappointed, so if you avoid a label, you don't raise expectations.

World of difference between introducing a character as

"One day, Jack tells his girlfriend of four years that he's discovered he's asexual."

and

"One day, Jack tells his girlfriend he just isn't into sex with her. Or with anyone, for that matter. Sex has always been that thing other people want to have, not him."

It's not like asexual people don't have sexual needs, nor does it mean they don't want to have sex at all. Differs between people, of course, but it's fine to show her as being open to having sex if her partner really wants it (different from having it against her will, that's rape) even if she's not herself going to be all into it.

If you don't know much about the subject but still want to explore the story of someone who's just not that into sex, it's best to avoid the "asexual" label. Labelling doesn't even add that much to a story, in my humble opinion.

The people who can identify with it, will identify, even if you don't whip out the labelling.

Happy writing.

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Re: Handling ace representation in a story that includes sex scenes

#6 Post by Draziya » Sat Oct 05, 2019 11:03 pm

I disagree with Applegate. If Virginia was explicitly stated to be asexual in Magical Diary: Horse Hall, younger me wouldn't have been confused as to why her ending ended in a cuddle, and not a kiss. I might have been able to find out that asexuality was a thing many years before I did. If Alvin was explicitly stated to be asexual in Backstage Pass, we wouldn't have needed Word of God to confirm it outside of the game. Labels aren't neccesarily important to people, but representation matters in media.

A lot of what I'd say has already been said by Timepatches. Personally, I would have her be sex-indifferent or sex-favourable and still include a sex scene or two on her route, adding in discussions of negotiation where the other sex scenes would be on other routes. Would she like to cuddle perhaps?

As an example of how one might hint at asexuality, C14 Dating handled it by having a character call Hendrik, who's asexual, an "ace geologist" as a pun much earlier than the reveal. Melissa, the protagonist, also realises that he's asexual before he actually comes out to her. So you could also have the some of characters romancing her be aware of what asexuality is.

It Will Be Hard isn't a visual novel, but it might be worth checking out. It's an interactive comic that explores the relationship between two men, one of them being asexual. The sex scenes will give insight into why an asexual person may still want to have sex.
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