I’ve never been a big fruit eater…well I was until my grandmother told me I wasn’t as I didn’t like oranges. I still don’t eat much fruit but I have had a tendency to want to more in recent years.
Why mention this? Well this is a simple example of social conditioning and how easy it is to create and how difficult it can be to overcome it even when you are aware of it.
Discovering and coming to terms with asexuality is very much connected with working out and overcoming multiple levels of social conditioning that has been taught to us for years, usually using subtle techniques that make it hard to even realise these assumptions have been worked into your thinking at a subconscious level.
There are probably very few asexuals who aren’t familiar with the idea that “Everybody is Sexual.” For many this is the first assumption to be overcome. I had no reason to believe it was wrong though until I discovered asexuality. It wasn’t hard to overcome this assumption once I did start to consider that I was asexual, but until I had a reason to even consider that I was wrong I wouldn’t have even thought of questioning it despite the fact that this false assumption, due to years of social conditioning telling me that this was the way things were, was beginning to make me feel broken. This broken feeling was due to not feeling that I was obeying the expected rules and the way I “should be”, at the time however I didn’t even know that this was why I was feeling this way so deeply subconscious was this belief. Once I was aware of it it was easy to dispose of though as I could directly relate to the opposite through my asexuality, though for most of the population (including a number of asexuals) this an be a very difficult thing to accept and change.
To broaden this concept further I’m going to also look at relationships and how we have been conditioned to look at them. A traditional way to look at relationships is as two people in love, having sex, sharing a bed, a house, a life, filled with romantic evenings and acts. It also expected that at some point they’ll get married and have kids. Of course this is very short and a poor snapshot and I’m sure anybody reading this should easily be able to add more. Of course many asexuals (and many allosexuals) are forced to question these assumptions about relationships and some aspects are easier than others. For an asexual much is focused on the assumption of sex, though for an aromatic this may focus more on the romantic assumptions. (Note: The fact that I’m writing this on the 14th February aka Valentines Day is not lost on me and brings a little bit of amusement)
So why mention these assumptions. Well it’s simple really, much of social conditioning is to do with how we relate to the rest of society and the rules that we follow. When we break these rules we are meant to feel guilt (which in some cases is good such as murder and theft) and when we don’t follow these rules we feel broken. I’ve already covered how I felt broken at not feeling sexual when “Everybody Is Sexual” however the second part about relationships is probably even better to consider when looking at social conditioning. Many people believe that you can’t be happy if you’re not in a relationship (again another assumption), however for many they don’t feel that they can get into a relationship as they can’t provide part of that assumption of what a relationship is (ie. many asexuals don’t feel they can live up to or provide the sexual expectations of a relationships), thus feel that they will be alone and thus make themselves unhappy and lonely.
So how do you overcome conditioning? This depends on the person but generally time and visibility are the important elements. For me to overcome my assumption that “Everybody is Sexual” was very easy as I already didn’t follow that assumption but it did take time to accept, for some this can take longer as it is harder to comprehend if you don’t have a way to relate to and challenge the assumptions, a key reasons why visibility on issues is important if you wish to change people’s assumptions as regardless it will start someone thinking about it. It also requires a degree of open mindedness, the ability to acknowledge that your beliefs are wrong and a willingness to change them. Overcoming social conditioning is not something to do quickly or lightly and when trying to change someone else’s takes time and patience and also accepting that sometimes people will wish to hold onto their assumptions, after all this forms part of how they relate to society.
As for myself and my own social conditioning, I obviously no longer believe that everybody is sexual. I’m keeping an open mind about relationships and trying to work out what I want from a relationship, working from the ground up but using the old assumptions to help, but at the same consider what other people are likely to want, need and expect from a relationship and how that may effect my wants, needs and expectations. In general I’m keeping an open mind and questioning and adjusting my assumptions as I feel is necessary. I’m also likely to eat fruit when I feel like I want to eat fruit, not often but it does happen.