Growing up, I was convinced that sexual attraction was some kind of societal in-joke. Sure, some people were pretty, but wanting people in the way that society described was surely just… hyperbole.
I must give my younger self kudos for the confidence it must have taken to assume that my asexuality was a universal experience, and the rest of society was just being overly dramatic.
When I realised that it wasn’t hyperbole, it was a mix of disbelief and an empty feeling of brokenness. How had I missed this huge and integral part of society and human interaction? Why was I missing out on this? Sex was a part of human connection; did that mean that I would never be able to connect like everyone else?
So, I did what any teenager going through puberty who’s just discovered something about themselves that might be ‘abnormal’ would do - I consulted Doctor Google.
Hormone balances. Trauma. Immaturity. These results wracked my brain with anxiety, but they didn’t seem right.
After a long few weeks of panicked google searches and wiping my browser history, I stumbled across AVEN: the Asexual Visibility & Education Network.
The word felt right. It felt comfy. The online community was helpful and inviting. I wasn’t alone in my experiences, and I wasn’t broken. The relief in discovering my identity and discovering a label that fits is hard to overstate.
Asexuality these days, as with most queer identities, is a lot more visible than when I was a teenager. However, whilst there are a lot more people who have heard of asexuality, there are still a lot of misconceptions about what the orientation actually is, as well as what it is not.
So… what is asexuality, then?
Asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction. It can also be used as an umbrella term that covers a variety of different sexual identities and experiences.
I’ve found that this can often be a difficult thing for people to grasp. So much of society places an incredible amount of importance on sex and sexuality, the very idea of someone not experiencing sexual attraction can feel strange.
It’s easier to explain asexuality if you think of sexual attraction in terms of a spectrum. The high end of the spectrum is people who experience sexual attraction frequently and easily, the middle is people who experience sexual attraction infrequently, whilst the lower end are those who experience little to no sexual attraction at all. Those at the lower end fall under the asexual umbrella!
Some orientations that are within this lower end of the spectrum can include:
- Asexual: The umbrella term, but also an orientation itself. The complete lack of sexual attraction.
- Demisexual: Sexual attraction is only experienced after a strong emotional bond is formed.
- Graysexual: Sexual attraction is experienced very rarely or infrequently.
- Cupiosexual: Sexual attraction is not experienced, but a sexual relationship is desired.
Alright, so what isn’t asexuality?
There are a lot of assumptions that are frequently made about asexuals. The most common two are that conflating asexuality with low libido/not liking sex, and being aromantic.
Libido, or sex drive, is something completely separate to sexual orientation. Just as there are sexual people with low sex drive, there are aces with high sex drives!
Asexuality is not ‘not liking sex’ – there are plenty of sex-repulsed aces in our community, but there are also plenty of sex-neutral and sex-favourable aces.
‘Aromantic’ is a term for people who do not experience romantic attraction. The asexual community shares the ‘A’ in LGBTQIA+ with the aromantic community, but they are not interchangeable. Someone who is aromantic does not experience romantic attraction, but they might still experience sexual attraction. The reverse is true for asexuals - they do not experience sexual attraction, but they may experience romantic attraction.
Examples of this ‘split attraction’ could be an aromantic homosexual, or a biromantic asexual.
Along with the above assumptions, we are also often thought of as immature, or unfeeling, or suffering from some sort of hormone imbalance or other illness. With some notable exceptions, asexual characters in media have often been represented as alien, robotic, or juvenile; further perpetrating the idea that without sexuality, we are lacking something that makes us human.
Thankfully, however, my experiences with the ace community in real life have been the complete opposite to this depiction. The asexual community is filled with love, affection, laughter, and deep and complex human connections.
Visibility and representation is so much better now than when I was a scared teenager googling on the family computer. The response to “I’m asexual” has gone from a long 101 discussion and answering prickly questions, to just an understanding nod and “oh, like that guy from BoJack Horseman?”.
I’m so thankful for how far we have come, but that is no excuse to slow down the momentum. We need to be loud, and advocate to have our voices heard. We need to be proud and visible, and help other to understand our identities.
And most importantly, we need to be unashamedly asexual as heck.
Happy Asexual Awareness Week, everyone! Go eat some cake.
Written by Soap
Soap is a game designer and LGBTQIA+ advocate fuelled by tea and pure spite. They can be found on twitter at @soap_pejovic discussing queer representation in media and cool bird facts.
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