Heterosexual, homosexual, transsexual – increasingly, these identities have been dominating headlines as they work their way into the mainstream consciousness, prompting a welcome wave of discussion and debate. But what about asexuality?
At least 1% of people are believed to be asexual, according to some measures. And according to the Asexual Archive, that's defined as "a sexual orientation characterized by a persistent lack of sexual attraction toward any gender." However, there is a distinct lack of awareness and knowledge regarding the asexual community. Compounding the issue, too often what we think we know about the identity isn't based in fact, but rather outdated notions or assumptions.
As the community continues to grow, there are plenty of myths about asexuals that should be debunked. Here are just a few that help us all understand asexuality, and therefore sexuality in general, much better.
Asexuality doesn't mean the total lack of sexuality.
If you Google the term asexual, the first definition you'll get is "without sexual feelings or associations." But asexuality by definition is a sexual orientation, meaning there is some aspect of sexuality at play. While some asexual people don't identify with sexuality in any way, there are those who are quite in touch with their sexual impulses — just not with other people.
Emily, an asexual woman who's in her 30s and lives in Australia, told Mic, "We're acculturated to have this understanding that sexuality is about who you have sex with, as opposed to what you think about, what you feel, how you masturbate, what you think about when you masturbate – all that kind of stuff. It's a lot to wrap your head around when all you think about is who else you have sex with being the entirety of sexuality."
Disinterest in sex doesn't mean a disinterest in romance.
In pop culture, sex is almost always equated with romance. But asexuality is a lack of sexual attraction, not a lack of romantic interest (that would be an aromantic). That's because relationships are far more intricate than simply who you are sexually attracted to. Some asexual people have a romantic attraction to other people (homoromantic, heteroromantic, biromantic), and some do not.
"Being asexual allows you to see how sex and romance can be decoupled — it allows you to see that when we automatically couple up romance and sex, as if they're naturally together, that's not true," Anthony Bogaert, a professor at Canada's Brock University, told the Huffington Post.
Asexual people also can have emotional and intimacy needs similar to individuals of other orientations.
Emily said she desires "to be able to be physically close to someone and entirely trusting of them, knowing that there's no kind of obligation that has to lead to sex — that's a hugely emotional and intimate situation for me."
Yes, some asexual people do have sex.
Asexual people are not incapable of having sex. In fact, some who identify as asexual not only choose to engage in sexual acts, they do so on a regular basis with partners who may not be asexual themselves.
There is an entire sub-spectrum of asexuality that encompasses those who may experience sexual attraction but, say, have a low sex drive or are only sexually attracted under specific circumstances. Gray-A is a broad term describing those who fall somewhere between asexuality and sexuality. Demisexuality is more specific, referring to someone who only develops sexual attraction after forming a deep emotional connection.
Gwendolyn M. is an allosexual 25-year-old designer who identifies as a panromantic demisexual. She has a sexual boyfriend, and explained to the Huffington Post, "I do feel some sexual desire under special circumstances. ... But I enjoy a lot of the sex with him only very partially from my own sexual desire, which is minimal. It's really from this secondary sexual desire, this desire to make him happy, that makes it enjoyable. That desire is a powerful force that stems from the head, rather than my libido. I don't hunger for sex the way other people might."
Asexual people are not just "waiting for the right person to come along."
There is the tendency as a society to look at people who don't fall into certain sexual categories as not having found the right man or woman yet. It's particularly common for asexual people to hear, "Oh, you just haven't found someone."
But it's not that asexuals are waiting for something they want — it's that they don't want it. "There were times when I would have an orgasm, but it was more just physical stimulation rather than anything mental involved in it. And when it came to pleasuring my partner, I was like, 'Oh, God, do I have to do this? This is kind of gross,'" as Emily so aptly puts it.
Just because someone orgasms from another person doesn't mean they would want to do it again. And just because you don't want sex doesn't mean you can't have (or aren't already in) a fulfilling relationship.
Asexual is not code for gay.
According to Queereeka, many asexuals grow up identifying as queer because that seems to be the only category available to them: If you're not a raging heterosexual, society tells us, the only other acceptable option is to identify as gay.
Asexuality and queer identity aren't strangers, of course; as David Jay pointed out to the Huffington Post, "There's always been a really strong overlap with [the queer] movement because that's where the conversation about human sexual diversity is happening." And there are plenty of asexuals who also identify as queer. "[It] was in my teens that I realized that I probably identify as queer, and I think ... I still identify as queer," Emily said.
But while some asexuals identify as homosexual, there are many who desire and participate in heterosexual relationships. Whether this is merely romantic or includes a sexual component is entirely dependent on the individuals. There is no reason why a person can't identify with more than one option on the sexual spectrum.
It's not a choice.
Asexuality, unlike celibacy, is not a choice. It is a sexual orientation in the same way that heterosexuality or homosexuality are. A person doesn't wake up one morning and decide to be asexual.
Adri Tibbs, a 29-year old cartoonist based in Indiana, best describes the difference between celibacy, abstinence and asexuality in her mythbusting asexual cartoon. Where celibacy is a vow and abstinence is the choice to wait for the right time/person, asexuality is an orientation one is born with. It's also not the result of some childhood trauma.
"One of the prevailing myths is that [asexuality] is a choice, that this is celibacy, that this is some kind of manifestation of early childhood trauma or psychiatric illness or something else," said Lori Brotto, director of the University of British Columbia's Sexual Health Laboratory. "Asexuals really don't differ all that much in terms of mental well-being, past histories of abuse, trauma, etc. There's really no indicator in their early life that something has caused them to be asexual."