Day 9: Fandom Shipping & Sex

Subtitle: Why Does Everything Have to be About the Sex?

Before I get started, I think there needs to be some definitions given for those of you who don’t follow the common lingo of pop culture relationships:

  1. Shipping: Essentially, shipping is the act of emotionally or mentally supporting two characters being in a relationship. It’s nothing new. People reading Jane Austen were probably thinking, “Those two would make a good couple.” That’s shipping. Shipping can be pushing for any kind of relationship, but 99% of the time, it’s a romantic/sexual one.
  2. OTP: One True Pairing (most common acronym). The ship that you want to become canon (part of the main, published story line) more than any others.
  3. Fandom: The mass group of fans and all of its ships, theories, ideas, etc… that follow a certain fiction (book, drama, anime, etc…)

My rant/musing for today will be focused mainly on fictional pairings, but I think the concept I’m concerned about reflects greatly on the common beliefs about relationships IRL (in real life ← more definitions!!!).

In most fandoms, there is an overabundance of ships. Fans will ship pretty much any character with any other character, regardless of how much or how little they interact. Not every fandom or individual fan is like this, but it is very common to find, especially on social media like Tumblr. I have no problem with peoples’ interest in creating connections among characters. Most of the time, I think it shows creativity and peoples’ backgrounds through the different characters they ship. Sometimes the weird, random ships are more fun or logical than the ones that make it to canon. Sometimes.

My question is this: Why is it that for 99.99% of the ships fandoms create, they are always based on the sexual/sensual relationship the characters will have?

I have nothing against sexual relationships or people wanting their favorite characters to be in them. But why is that the end-all for the relationships that fans hope for? I know that this reflects real life and how we’re taught that relationships should and always will lead to sex. Sex is the gold medal, and romance or love or understanding are silver or bronze at best.

I know that sex is easier for us to comprehend than emotionally and mentally connecting and opening up to another person…than being vulnerable and forgiving. Relationships that go beyond the physical are hard. They require both pride in yourself as a unique person in this pair and a sacrifice of pride to be open, forgiving, and loving to someone as complex and unique as you. It’s harder…but it’s also more beautiful and fulfilling.

So why don’t we encourage this more? Education/awareness is the key to changing social consciousness. If more people wanted a romantic/platonic relationship before a physical one (or even just wanting those relationships instead of the physical), how would that reflect in our fictional creations?

I know one benefit that could come from this change in opinion: more people that don’t connect with physical relationships could feel normal. I’m not just talking about asexual people (although, they should definitely be included in this!). There are so many types of people who really would rather have platonic/romantic/emotionally or mentally connecting relationships than sexual. Yes, they exist. No, they’re not broken. It’s hard to admit that you’re like that in a world that humiliates you for not having sex as soon as you hit puberty.

But back to my original topic… In fandoms, there are a lot of ships. They get their own pairing names (ex. In Harry Potter, people who wanted Draco and Hermione to get together called the ship “Dramione.”). People argue over which ship is best, even after series end. It can be a lot of fun…but it can also be frustrating. Anytime someone develops their favorite “ship,” the connotation is sexual. Even if they intended it to be just a romantic relationship, the implication is that all romantic relationships should also be sexual. But does it have to be that way?

There are so many types of relationships and people and orientations in the world, and not all of them have “types” or “labels.” I think that if we, as readers or writers of any fiction, made an effort to create a more inclusive “shipping” environment…where relationships don’t have to always be sexual…people IRL might feel more included too. I know that sexual relationships will always be the preference and that’s ok, but it doesn’t have to be the default or the only option. Soulmates can be platonic. Romance can still be valid and real without sex. Love can be between strangers or friends or spouses.

Well, that’s all I really have to say for this post. Please consider how you frame relationships in the future, not just for yourself but for others too! Don’t treat a relationship as real only if there’s sex in it. Be aware and feel free to explore the many ways love can culminate in peoples’ lives.

— River