In a world where sex is everywhere, it’s easy to feel like an outsider. Whether it’s images in advertising, hook up culture or just the assumption that everyone who isn’t getting any secretly wants to be, not being interested in sex makes me feel like I don’t belong. It doesn’t matter whether people are having as much sex as they say they are – or the media agonizes about – what matters is its assumed importance. Society posits that everyone should be having, or want to be having sex on a regular basis, and any other option requires justification.
For me that justification is hard to find. It’s not that I have anything against sex – I’m just not really interested. Or rather, I’m very interested – it fascinates me why this part of life is considered so important and special to so many people, because to me it’s just like any other activity.
I know I’m not the only one. Plenty of people choose not to have sex for a variety of reasons, all of which are valid. But my experience is more about not having a reason to want sex, rather than finding any reasons not to have it. Since this violates the default assumption about sexuality, it can feel like something’s wrong with me or like I don’t fit in.
Finding the term asexual helped a lot with this. Having a way to describe my experiences and meeting others who felt the same created a sense of belonging. Joining the asexual community gave me an anchor to stand outside society’s norms and declare my truth without needing to justify myself. It hasn’t come without its challenges – plenty of people still view asexuality as non-existent or worse, class it as a psychological disorder – but knowing I belong makes it easier.
Some argue that the label isn’t important. That if you don’t want to have sex, just don’t. Which is fine, if that’s what you want. I’m not going to tell anyone they need a label to explain their own choices. But if finding and using a label like asexuality helps someone feel less alone, I think that’s something worthwhile.
In a society that is aggressively hypersexualised, being asexual can feel a lot like being invisible. Our societal norms have been built on a series of double standards, and the feminist movement has long been pushing to eliminate these discrepancies – particularly around gender and sexuality. Sexual freedom for people of all genders, but especially for women, has become a major focus of contemporary feminism.
Feminism is all about equality and liberation – but, as an asexual person, it’s sometimes difficult to feel included in a movement that is so inherently linked to sex and sexuality. In both sex-positive feminism and mainstream society, asexuality is barely addressed. This oversight can make asexual people feel disengaged and as though their sexuality is being dismissed as irrelevant or not ‘real’, or being conflated with sex-shaming ideals and perceived as an obstacle to the sex-positive agenda. The asexual community lacks the support from the feminist movement required for the two communities to interact to their full potential, and for asexual women to feel safe within the movement.
For me, accepting the fact that I am asexual was thankfully relatively easy, but it has been far harder to reconcile my asexuality with my engagement in a feminist discourse that often overlooks my sexual identity. Not being involved with a part of feminism because it does not feel personally relevant obstructs me from fully participating in feminist activism, and prevents me from feeling totally accepted by the movement. This lack of acknowledgement of asexual individuals leaves me, and many others, unsure of where we stand in both the feminist movement and the society it operates within.
Trying to find a balance between asexual identity and feminist activism is difficult. The limitations of the feminist movement’s acknowledgement and acceptance of the asexual community highlight the movement’s replication of societal inequalities. We need to expand the scope and intersectionality of feminism to avoid isolating the asexual community and to more fully support and legitimise asexual individuals.
I was an avid reader as a child so it was through books that I discovered the concept of ‘romance’ and the initial scripts of how to develop a relationship. If you are a young, fair maiden, then a prince will sweep you off your feet. A romantic relationship was built on the experience of some shared adventure. If there was sexual subtext, I missed it.
Entering high school, I realised that my perceptions of relationships were wrong. My peers either began relationships or talked about sex – two things I wasn’t interested in. At the same time, the entertainment I was being exposed to increasingly mentioned sex as an important component of a relationship. The mark of a successful romantic endeavour wasn’t the confirmation of a deep emotional bond, but achieving ‘hot’ sex.
A few years ago I discovered I was asexual – someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction or doesn’t desire sex. While this confirmation that I wasn’t alone was liberating, it was also terrifying. The childhood fantasy of princesses and knights had long been shattered and it was impossible to conceive a relationship without sex. Sex is the highest level of intimacy and if you don’t participate, you don’t love your partner, and your relationship is false.
I also identify as heteroromantic, or romantically attracted to the opposite gender. Like many asexuals with a romantic orientation, I believed that my asexuality would preclude me from a ‘normal’, mutually fulfilling relationship. In my attempts at dating I was always open about my asexuality and though these stories all unfolded differently – I was called a nun at one point – they had the same conclusion: ‘Goodbye.’
That is, until last year, when I fell into a relationship for the first time. My partner is open-minded and accepts me for who I am, but neither romanticised storybooks or hypersexualised mainstream culture prepared me for being in a relationship as an asexual. Together we had to write a new script on boundaries and courtship in a process that resulted in a lot of anxiety for both of us. Maybe if the media showed alternate expressions of love, sexual and nonsexual, and didn’t confine society to an outdated dichotomy, then we could start off a little easier.