DISCLAIMER: Everybody's experiences with sexuality is different. It is a spectrum - and my experiences, while may be relatable for some, are not to be taken as an account on behalf of everyone in the Asexual community.
IMAGE: The Asexual Flag
Asexuality: The umbrella
IMAGE: Example of one of the many identities under the Asexual Umbrella.
Asexuality can be tricky to understand, so the first thing to recognise is that Asexuality is a spectrum. On the surface, Asexuality means that a person does not feel sexual attraction, but may feel romantic attraction. This is not to be confused with demisexuality or aromatic sexuality. Demisexuality is when a person experiences romantic love first and then feels sexual attraction towards their romantic interest. A person who is aromantic is someone who feels sexual attraction, but not romantic attraction - essentially the opposite of an asexual person. Yet, all these sexualities fall under the Asexual Umbrella, as do many more.
In today's article, we will be focusing on Asexuality (the sexuality itself) rather than the umbrella, though it is likely that some experiences with asexuality align with some of the sexualities that fall within the spectrum. So, as I said before, Asexuality means you do not feel sexual attraction. This is a REAL sexuality, contrary to popular belief.
Asexuality: The stigma
Imagine it: You're finally out in the open about your sexuality, and confident in who you are. So much so that when a friend invites you to the University LGBT+ Society Social Event, you're eagerly onboard. Then, the moment you attend, before you've even taken off your jacket, grabbed a drink, or found a seat, the first person that comes to greet you is carrying leaflets about Safe Sex and a free packet of condoms. For most, this wouldn't be an issue - as Safe Sex in the LGBTQIA+ community is so important. But suddenly, you feel a little more excluded from your peers - the community you are supposed to connect with: you don't have sex, and you don't want these leaflets or gifts, but how would it look if you were to reject them? How do you explain?
Asexuality is not as common as other sexualities, such as heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual. Unfortunately, that means it's also not as recognised, and Acephobia is a lot more common than people think, even within the LGBTQIA+ community. It can be tough when you've opened up about your sexuality, and someone asks, "How can you know you don't like sex if you've never even tried it?"
Well, because it's my body, and I know what I don't like.
The asexual community has been the subject of discrimination for a long time. People say that Asexuality is just a term people who don't have sex used to feel special or oppressed. Some say they aren't even part of the LGBTQIA+ community because to have a sexual orientation or to be 'queer' means you should be attracted to sex or gender. Others say we do not need advocacy because we do not need rights. But, as the LGBTQIA+ slogan goes, 'Love is Love' - and love does not equate to sex.
Let's break a few things down. Asexuality IS REAL. A person does not choose to be asexual - a person who is asexual physically does not feel any attraction towards sex. An asexual person may enjoy some forms of intimacy and affection, though. This can take the form of showering together, cuddling, kissing, touching, or simply sharing quality time with the person they love. Love can take form in numerous ways. For asexuals, it may just not take the form sexually - but you'll know when you are loved if your partner is asexual, so long as you can recognise their love language.
Secondly, Asexual people do NOT use the term lightly. Before I knew anything about what asexuality was, I thought I was 'frigid', or just plain 'wrong'. Growing up, naturally I'd start seeing changes in my own body, and changes in how people - particularly men - would treat me. I'd get the unsolicited pictures, the out of pocket text messages, the boys who didn't get the hint. Sometimes, I'd wonder why I wasn't interested in sex. I thought maybe I was scared, but then I wasn't - I just didn't want it. There was something about it that rubbed me the wrong way. Yet, I was always told that I should try it first and that what I was feeling was normal.
So, I did. I tried it.
There was no 'epiphany' moment. No special feeling. Nothing about it that I was eager to do again. It didn't feel like love to me. So I told my friends, and they said this:
"Maybe it was just the wrong person."
No, it wasn't. I liked this person romantically, and yet it wasn't anything magical. Not his fault, because I could tell that this was supposed to be what sex is, but I just didn't like it. So, confused and disheartened, I did my own research, and asked myself, Why don't I like sex? Am I abnormal?
No, I wasn't. I'm just asexual.
No, asexuality is not celibacy. No, you can't change my mind or 'cure me' with a Tinder date or a drunken hook-up. No, it's not a side effect of my medication. No, it's not just my trauma. No, I won't try a hormonal remedy or some tea to help with my libido.
I'm just not sexually attracted to you, or anyone for that matter. That's all.
And finally, YES. Yes, Asexual people face difficult experiences because of their sexuality. Yes, we need advocacy and more awareness. Yes, we have our orientations, and we are part of the LGBTQIA+ community. And YES, we can still have successful, fulfilling and happy relationships. I am evidence of all of the above.
The reason we need advocacy is that the Asexual community still faces ignorance and discomfort when they are out in the open. Not only that, but many of us end up with broken hearts because of our orientation, because for some odd reason, whoever we pursue romantically seems to think that this will mean we will definitely have sex with them (in my experience - even when I've made it clear what my orientation entails) and get themselves hurt when they realise asexuality isn't actually a choice, or a challenge for you to take on.
I could not count the number of times I've had to reaffirm that I am Asexual. When I tell people that, people will challenge me. They'll ask if I've tried sex; respond with, Well, you've never had sex with me ;) ; or ask 'Why? I'm so sorry, what happened?' as if any trauma defines my orientation.
And even when someone seems accepting, still wants to get to know you, there will ALWAYS come the time where they try to move the relationship to the next level, and you, again, have to tell them who you are. Then they get hurt, or frustrated, or just downright angry with you for supposedly leading them on. Apparently, Asexuality is temporary, or simply doesn't exist at all.
Well, let me tell you. Asexuality isn't a game. It's not something anyone can change. Suggesting otherwise is Acephobic. Imagine switching up the phrases as if you were talking to someone who said they were gay?
How can you know you're Asexual if you haven't tried sex?
How can you know you're gay if you haven't tried being with someone of the opposite sex?
Maybe you just haven't met the right person. You're too young to know.
You can't be Asexual, you've had sex before.
You can't be gay, you've had sex with guys/girls before.
I can change you.
Are you starting to see it?
Asexuality: What can it look like?
Asexuality is not a 'one size fits all'. Everyone on the spectrum can like and dislike different things. For me, while I'm not attracted to sex in anyway, I can still have it when sharing an intimate moment with someone I love. I just don't need it, chase it, or desire it. What I do desire, is intimacy with someone I love, and that can come in many forms than just sex.
While some asexuals choose not to have a sex life, some do.
It's completely down to the person what their sexuality means, and what it entails. Yet, despite the fact that relationships should be born out of love, many asexuals have experienced heartbreak because people fail to understand what Asexuality actually means. So here's a brief guide for partners of Asexual people.
Being asexual doesn't strictly mean sex is out of the equation - it's completely dependent on where that person lies on the spectrum. They could be sex-positive: where they actively have sex and enjoy it, but just don't feel the physical attraction. They could be sex repulsed: where they don't experience attraction nor do they experience enjoyment in sex. They could be somewhere in between: they don't mind having sex; prefer not to have it; or simply do not care for it. It's all about asking questions and understanding the boundary of that person within a relationship. Needless to say, this is only relevant to the person who is involving themselves exclusively. Family and friends don't really need to know this part, but if you're curious to know more about asexuality, be sure that your questions are respectful.
If your partner has told you they are asexual, they probably expect you to accept it. Now, first of all, accepting that they are asexual, and accepting the relationship are two different things. There is no reason for you to not accept they are asexual. It's how they identify and that's that. What this means for your relationship though, is something you have to talk about.
Ask your partner what their boundaries are. Do they enjoy sex? In what circumstances? Will sex be part of your relationship? How often would they be comfortable with? Is there anything you can do to help them enjoy it more, IF they enjoy it at all?
Then, have a think about your own boundaries. Do you NEED sex in a relationship? Is sex something you need from your partner? If so, how often? Do you want to pursue a relationship with this person? What is more important - love or sex? How else can you express intimacy which would make you both happy?
For those that are asexual, sex-life tends not to be a big deal. However, it's understandable if sex can be a big deal for others seeking a relationship: it is one of the most profound forms of expressing love intimately. But it's good to recognise that it is NOT the only form of intimacy and love. Sex-Repulsed Asexuals can share intimacy in other ways. Sex-Neutral Asexuals may have a balance between sex and other forms of intimacy. Sex-Positive Asexuals may not 'need' other forms of intimacy, as they enjoy sex, but just don't feel sexual attraction.
Remember, just because someone does not feel sexually attracted to you does not mean you are unattractive, or that they don't love and care for you. Their sexuality is NOT their choice, it's the best way they can describe who they are.
Asexual people are often isolated, or abandoned because of who they are. Some people find it weird or call it woke, but just like the more common LGBT orientations, it is a spectrum. One of the main reasons Asexuality is not as widely accepted, or recognised, is because of lack of awareness.
Shoving condoms in our hands at an LGBTQIA+ Event, or not including the flag in parades, only goes to show the lack of support. People who are asexual should not have to repeat themselves or prove their sexuality. They do not need to have a traumatic reason or a condition. Every Asexual is valid and real, and every Asexual feels love, even if it's in a different way than you think.
Asexuality: How can I be an ally?
IMAGE: Asexual Flag waved with Transgender Flag
Congratulations, by reading this far, and getting the rundown on what asexuality is, the umbrella and spectrum included, and what acephobia can look like, you've taken the first step. Now, how can you help raise awareness and acceptance?
Well, first of all, if you know anyone who is asexual, ask them what their asexuality means. Like I said, it's not a 'one size fits all', so understanding your partner or your friend's boundaries is essential to support them.
Secondly, be careful with your words. Sometimes well-intention can lead to indirect acephobia. Remember to be respectful, and understand that Asexuality is just as valid as any other sexuality. An asexual person can feel discriminated against, can have bad experiences because of their sexuality, and they can also often feel confused about it. Asexuals are brought up in a sex-positive environment, and can therefore often struggle with gaslighting themselves when it comes to understanding their own orientation. What you definitely shouldn't do in this situation, is tell them who they are. If one day an Asexual person would enjoy sex, and the next day they don't, it does not make them any less valid. Asexuality can also be fluid. It is the person's identity, and they can choose how to best describe it.
Thirdly, use your platform. There are many helpful sites and online accounts or communities for Asexuality. Simply sharing a post online, or liking a post, can make all the difference in spreading awareness. A quick google or Instagram search can get you to the right places. Other useful resources can be found at Asexuality.org.
Finally, you can help reduce the stigma. If you think someone is being acephobic, speak up. A lot of Asexuals experience indirect acephobia - so much so that Asexuality has been called the 'invisible orientation'. You can educate yourself on what it is to be supportive, or not, and you can educate others also. Share this article, share the Asexuality.org website, share Instagram posts. The world is your oyster, and with your help, we can make more people aware of Asexuality, and give Asexuality a voice.
After all, Love is Love, and Love does not co-exist with Sex!