Asexuals: The Sexual Orientation No One Talks About
Asexuals: The Sexual Orientation No One Talks About
“When I was younger, I thought I was just immature or a bit behind the rest of my friends, because I had no interest in boys. In my late teens, I started to wonder if I was a lesbian, but I had no sexual interest in girls either. In college, I took part in a few make-out sessions to test the waters, but they were about as exciting as brushing my teeth.
In a world in which we’re bombarded with sexual images, you can imagine how anxious I felt about my entire lack of interest in sex. When I stumbled upon the term “asexual”, I finally felt human.”
Cynthia is forty-two years old and identifies as asexual. She describes asexuality as her sexual orientation and admits her relationship with her partner required extra work in the beginning as they both explored their boundaries and desires:
“I like cuddling and being hugged. And I enjoy the closeness of kissing a little, but that’s where it ends for me. So dating can be very complicated. It takes a whole lot of work and communication. I dated guys who were sexual at first, but it was overwhelming. Given the smaller dating pool of asexuals, I guess I was lucky to meet my husband who is my perfect match.”
Cynthia’s partner is also asexual, but some asexuals date individuals who identify as sexual. Navigating the variance in sexual expectations can be a challenge, but compatibility can be cultivated through communication and compromise.
The Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) explains that relationships between those who identify as sexual and Aces (a nickname for asexuals) can take many forms. Some agree not to have sex at all, others negotiate open relationships and others find common ground in a range of sexual activities. Being asexual does not necessarily mean that you’re adverse to sex, so some asexuals opt to engage in sexual activities despite the absence of desire. These behaviours, however, do not detract from one’s natural sexual orientation, as identity (orientation) and behaviour can be distinct from one another.
Dallas Bryson, an asexual sexologist explains her personal experience:
“For me, identifying as asexual is a shorthand way of indicating that I generally don't experience sexual attraction to anyone. I've known my current partner for 15 years and love him very much. The way I feel about him is probably the closest thing I've ever experienced to sexual attraction but sex is still way down on the list of things I'm interested in doing with him. I have never been with him and thought ‘Hey, you know what we should do? Have sex.’ I don't have any particularly negative feelings towards intercourse. It just never occurs to me that it's something we could or should be doing.”
While navigating the dating world can be one of the most challenging components of being asexual, educating friends, family and potential partners to dispel common myths related to asexuality is also a struggle.
For instance, some people suggest that being asexual is just a “phase” and believe that asexuals can be converted by the right partner. Sound familiar? Pop culture often reinforces the myth that asexuality is pathological and can therefore be cured. Last season, Fox’s popular medical-mystery, House, erroneously suggested that asexuality can be explained away by science and dishonesty: an asexual character’s lack of sex drive was “solved” when the doctors discovered a pituitary gland tumor and his wife later admitted that she was faking her lack of interest in sex to suit her husband’s needs. In real life, asexuality is not part of a phase and it doesn’t result from a lack of experience.
Others don’t understand how one can have an intimate relationship without sexual contact. Bryson explains that she experiences romantic attraction and feelings, but sees romance and sex as two distinct experiences. Just as some people experience sexual attraction to partners with whom they have no romantic involvement, she experiences romantic attraction without the sexual element. While not all asexuals seek romantic relationships, intimacy, closeness and love can be cultivated in a range of ways with or without sexual expression.
We often tout sexual desire and natural and universal, but part of this universal experience of sexuality includes asexuality. To be an asexual ally or support a friend who identifies as asexual, Bryson suggests that you can help to dispel misinformation and work to understand that Aces’ experience, desires and behaviours vary significantly:
“Aces are just as diverse as any other sexual-orientation-based group. There is a lot of diversity in the asexual community: some people masturbate a lot and others don’t masturbate at all; some people have sex a lot and others don’t do it at all; some have sex-positive attitudes and some have sex-negative attitudes; some Aces are out of the closet and happy to talk about their orientation and others feel it's a private matter that they don't want to discuss with everyone.”
Whether you approach sex with hedonistic pleasure, sacred reverence or complete indifference, it is a core component of one’s identity that shapes our daily interactions and intimate relationships. Just as there is no test to determine whether you are straight, gay or bisexual, there exists no universal set of criteria to define asexuality. Ultimately, labels related to sexual orientation are used as descriptions as opposed to perfect definitions, so it is up to you to describe yourself with whatever words suit you and allow others to do the same.
For more information on asexuality, please visit The Asexuality Visibility and Education Network’s website.
Jessica O'Reilly is a sought-after sexologist with a PhD in human sexuality. She maintains a private practice in Toronto and travels the world to teach workshops that promote healthy and deliciously pleasurable sex. From regular appearances on Cosmopolitan TV to hosting retreats in the sunny Caribbean, she relishes in every moment! Check out her work at jessicaoreilly.com