In a cosy, city-bound one bedroom apartment, I was sitting with some friends scrolling though the horror list on Netflix, strong with midnight rambles. The topic: sex – is it ever anything different or are you normal? I talk about how marriage only kills sex if you let it. Mismatched libidos are something, though tangible, are most likely fixable. One friend mentions, unbothered, how it has been 15 years since they had sex, but they have had romantic feelings towards others since then. I nod slowly and realise it has been, I was around for the better part of that time, it’s just we hadn’t spoke about it so candidly before. Why isn’t this a thing? Why can’t we have more conservations about romantic attraction? I get it, sex sells, spikes our interest, talking about it debunks myths and uncertainties and is a damn good icebreaker. In this social world, the form of flattery we crave are the empty promises of the triple fire emoji comment and the 100 symbol reaction. But romance is not dead in the asexual world.
Asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction to others or a low interest in sexual activity. Some people have adopted this as a sexuality and prefer to the term ‘ace’, whereas others may identify as hetero-, homo-, bi-, or pan-romantic but are only romantically attracted to respected people. Asexuality does not mean celibacy and some ace people do have sex for the purpose of reproducing or simply because they choose to at a given time.
I have written about bisexual erasure and advocate for its validity. I now understand that asexuality faces the same problems. If you saw a man and a woman walking down the street holding hands, you would assume they were both cis-gender, straight and were going to do the no pants dance later, when you could be wrong on all counts. Some ace people don’t want sexual or romantic relationships, only platonic friendships, this is an aromantic orientation. Anyone under the asexual umbrella may masturbate but have no interest in sex with another person.
Back to asexual erasure – what better way to educate a mainstream audience and promote ace awareness than via a trending TV show? Riverdale’s Jughead Jones is a flaming asexual – but only in the comics. Cult followers hoped his asexuality would carry over into the series, but he was moulded into one of the most talked about hetero relationships on TV dubbed Bughead. I can’t say I’m a Riverdale follower but in my small town opinion I believe the TV adaptation may have missed a powerful opportunity to explore Jughead’s sexuality. To perhaps tee off from the main storyline into an asexual side quest. Just because he wouldn’t want sex, does not mean he and Betty wouldn’t survive the ship. It would mean viewers would see more of their mutual respect, affection and friendship. Even Cole Sprouse, who plays Jughead agrees that exploring the character’s asexuality as canon is an important part of his character and modern society.
There is little authentic asexual and/or aromantic representation in the media, and if it is, it done with comic relief. Think Superbad. The 2007 film will tell you you’re asexual because you’re a socially awkward nerd. Or Game of Thrones. Lord Varys’ asexuality predates his castration, but its representation is short and shallow. His character is rather upright and serious. No wonder ace viewers feel like outliers.
While asexuality on TV hangs in the balance, activists are preparing the theme for Ace Week in the last week in October: Beyond Awareness. This week pays tribute to the progress the community has made and campaigns for a greater understanding of asexual-spectrum identities. Some regions will be holding online events on Zoom, Discord and YouTube. These events cover everything from mental health to relationships to representation (and lack thereof) in the media.
Asexuality, like other sexualities, may be misunderstood at times. It’s time for the media to step up to the plate, accept the challenge and create an authentic asexual character in mainstream media. Perhaps it would be a lesson it romantics for all of us.
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