By Dkeama Alexis
(Disclaimer: I am no all-knowing expert on asexuality because it can look different for each and every asexual-identifying person. I am merely lending my perspective that has been informed by lived experiences and existing knowledge as a way to shed light on this oft-ignored sexual orientation.)
Salutations, beloved readers! I have gathered you all here today so that we can all learn a little bit more about asexuality. The word ‘asexual’ is often used in conversations about reproduction by budding or forming spores, but I want to discuss the word’s meaning as it relates to human experience and identity instead of biological processes.
When dialogues about sexual orientations arise, the binary of ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ are most acknowledged and talked about, which contributes to the erasure of multiple other sexualities like bisexuality, pansexuality, and of course asexuality.
Kind of like the name would suggest, asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction to other individuals! Plain and simple: asexual folks aren’t interested in sleeping with anyone. Asexuality isn’t to be confused with celibacy since celibacy is the conscious choice to abstain from sex whereas asexuality is the personal and innate absence of sexual attraction.
Being asexual, or ‘ace’ for short, looks different for different people, and here’s a non-exhaustive list of ways that it can be expressed:
Some asexual people are sex-repulsed or sex-averse, meaning that they find sexual activity disgusting or revolting.
Some asexual people are sex-indifferent and feel neither aversion toward nor desire for sexual activity.
Some asexual people don’t have a sex drive.
Some asexual people have a sex drive and masturbate.
Some asexual people have a sex drive but don’t feel particularly compelled to act upon it with themselves or other people.
Some asexual people identify as aromantic and also experience a lack of romantic attraction to other people.
Some asexual people still feel romantic attraction to folks and pursue fulfilling relationships in that regard.
Believe it or not, some asexual people even have sex! That might sound contradictory, but there is a myriad of reasons why asexual people might still engage in sexual activity. They might do it to please a partner, or they might do it out of a desire to reproduce. Their choice to have sex in no way negates their identity as asexual because those acts might be done out for reasons other than the presence of sexual attraction. Like the authors over at Asexuality Archive said, “Asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction, not a lack of sexual ability.”
I would be remiss if I neglected to bring up that sexual attraction exists in spectrum form because there is substantial room between “asexual” and “non-asexual” for people to fall. For instance, demisexual people experience sexual attraction only after forming a strong emotional connection to someone, and “gray-asexual” is a term meant to describe anyone who exists at any point in the gray area between “asexual” and “sexual” without fitting exclusively into either category.
I mentioned romantic orientation earlier on, and I’d like to revisit that concept. Usually when we talk about sexual orientation, romantic attraction is treated synonymously with it. For instance, gay people—or “homosexual” people in antiquated terms—are sexually attracted to people of the same gender, and it is also expected that they will be romantically attracted to people of the same gender. Sexuality and romance rarely get extracted from each other because we usually conceive of sex and romance as two things that always coexist.
But lo and behold, that assumption gets complicated when we factor in asexual people! Because while we don’t feel sexually attracted to people, many of us can still develop romantic feelings! For example, I identify as a panromantic asexual person, meaning that I would want to experience companionship, intimacy and affection with someone regardless of their gender identity. I thought I was straight for the longest time, and then I realized that I was horribly mistaken. After having a few sexual experiences to see what all the fuss was about, I discovered that doing my taxes or watching paint dry would have been way more entertaining and pleasurable. As such, I came to the conclusion that the word “heterosexual” no longer applied to me since I found that I wasn’t sexually attracted to dudes—or anyone for that matter—so I sought to understand the attraction that I did still feel.
There’s a huge stigma attached to being asexual and/or aromantic because our society heavily normalizes and encourages engaging in sexual behavior and romantic relationships, which can leave ace and aro people in a challenging position. For the longest time, I felt as though I was broken or abnormal for not enjoying sex and being sex-averse because I was living under the impression that everyone was supposed to want to regularly have sex.
The stigma on asexuality can also infiltrate the dating world for those of us who experience romantic attraction because of those overarching expectations that romantic relationships will also include sexual activity. I know that I have dealt with several apprehensions when considering getting romantically involved with someone because there’s always that fear that successfully negotiating boundaries will be nearly impossible, especially with a non-asexual partner. There can be the worry of depriving one’s partner of sex, which can develop into feeling pressured to perform sexual acts despite lack of sexual attraction. Even deciding to start up a romantic relationship can be fraught with tension because the non-asexual partner might not be willing to adapt their sexual preferences to fit their asexual partner’s.
I wanted to present all of these different expressions of asexuality (including my own) as a way of illustrating the diversity of the asexual community because we are in no way a monolith! In 2013, The Huffington Post wrote a series of articles on Asexual Awareness Week to “recognize and celebrate individuals who identify as asexual,” and they used the video below to share the personal narratives of some asexual people.
Identifying as asexual is a point of pride for those of us belonging to the community! Our identities are an amazing tool that helps us navigate through our daily lives, and we deserve visibility and support just like everyone else. At first, I had to overcome a lot of discomfort and uncertainty about who I was as a person, but once I discovered asexuality, I found freedom, validation, and empowerment as I set forth to redefine myself.