Asexual | A Spectrum of Disinterest to Disgust
Have you ever heard the term “asexual?” Many of us have, but it seems that very few of us fully understand the concept. Put simply, Asexuals do not experience sexual attraction the same way the majority of the population does.
First things first, we must recognize that sexual preference should be measured and thought of as scale rather than a strict dichotomy. In terms of asexuality, there are three common range points which are as follows: sex-favorable, sex-indifferent, and sex-averse/repulsed. What it means to be asexual is certainly not to be understood as only the textbook definition of “complete lack of sexual attraction.” Identifying as asexual is much more nuanced than this and encompasses a wide spectrum of sexualities.
There are some sex-repulsed individuals who do not wish to participate in sexual activities or see graphic depictions of sexual acts, but this level of repulsion, disinterest, or interest can change over time. The term “repulsion” is a strong one and can be interpreted/experienced in countless different ways. To elaborate, some are repulsed by having sex with another person but are okay with having sex with themselves. Some are repulsed by their own body and can not masturbate but are fine with having sex with someone else. For some, just hearing a word associated with sex is enough to make them feel uneasy. However, most people who do identify with being asexual do not want to engage in sexual activities.
To me, the thought of having sex is scary. it makes me anxious and I want to throw up. It makes my stomach turn. I used to think that I needed to lose my virginity, and I would only be able to do it by getting blackout drunk and let someone fuck me. The thought of having sex scares the shit out of me. it really does. I will never just try it to try it because I would have a full on anxiety attack. It isn’t just disgusting, It’s repulsive.
While normally I am someone with almost no personal space bubble, I love being touched, don’t mind being in tight spaces with people, etc. but have a rather strong boundary around my privates. It feels invasive and distressing to be touched there. The only person who can touch me there and I can (sometimes) feel relaxed is my husband but that doesn’t mean I want him to touch me there, it’s just that the strong sense of boundary violation usually doesn’t fire when he does, it’s indifferent. There is so much about sex that just feels dirty and gross, bodily fluids are the main thing, also the fact that you excrete waste from those areas, and I have zero desire to touch that with any part of myself. The visceral gross reaction is similar to having to clean up vomit.
Beyond repulsion, there are some who consider themselves gray asexuals, or “Gray A’s.” As the name implies, their relationship to sex is more gray than strictly black or white. At times, they may enjoy it or even seek it out, and at other times, may be completely disinterested. Gray asexuality is an umbrella term within the spectrum that covers demisexuality, “sexualish” and any other orientation that shares a tenuous relationship with sex. It’s been reported that 1% of asexuals, 4% of grey-As, and 11% of demisexuals enjoy having sex. Though on the other side of the token, out of those who identify as an asexual, 65% of asexuals, 51% of grey-As, and 37% of demisexuals report being “somewhat repulsed” or “completely repulsed” by sex.
Asexuality is something that is very real, yet it is widely untalked about, unrecognized, and under-taught. Think about it, did you learn anything about asexuality in sex ed?
Lack of Education & Recognition
Although the lack of sexual attraction was first quantified by Kinsey, large-scale, and systematic research on the prevalence and correlates of asexuality has only emerged over the past decade. Through research done in 2016, researchers concluded that “asexuality is a heterogeneous entity that likely meets conditions for a sexual orientation.” Meaning, we just recently (a year ago recently) have decided as a scientific community that asexual is its own orientation, but this study and many others all end in the same conclusion: more research needs to be done.
Just as researchers would like to pursue more research, the general public also holds a lack of common knowledge about asexuality hinders acceptance and reliable identifying information for those who might consider themselves asexual. “People generally seem to know enough about Greek prefixes to deductively derive the fact than an asexual is a person with little to no sex drive, but outside of this on the spot conclusion, very few people have personal experiences with the asexual community or a self-identified asexual family member, or consciously consider asexuality as an orientational option akin to homosexuality or heterosexuality,” says Stephen Cranney from his work in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.
Aside from research, we wanted to get some IRL stories and experiences about identifying as asexual.
Charlotte, who is in her second year in college, was relieved upon discovering the ace community. In high school, she realized she experienced sexual attraction differently from her peers, but did not have a word to describe it.
“In high school when I had crushes on people, I thought it was kind of weird that when I thought about having sex with them, it made me deeply uncomfortable. That I could be so attracted to someone but so turned off by sex just seemed so out of character for most high schoolers.”
After beginning college, Charlotte learned about asexuality and found that she was not alone in her complicated relationship with sex. Another interviewee named Em asserted that the best alterations to current sex ed would be to make it “less heteronormative as a whole.” After all, most education only covers cis, straight sex.
While Em and Charlotte aren’t particularly shy about discussing this part of their identity, it often takes a backseat to other aspects of their sexuality. While “coming out” as gay is often thought of as a milestone event, there is less ceremony involved with “coming out” as an ace.
Em said that her asexuality is on more of a “need to know” basis, and would likely not be something she would bring up around family or coworkers. However, both said that any future partners, whether it be casual dating or serious romance, would be quickly informed that sex would not be a big part of the relationship.
On the note of romance, Em and Charlotte both pointed out that asexuality is often mistakenly conflated with aromanticism. While aromanticism is a topic for a whole new article, it’s important to distinguish between the two. Aromanticism is defined as a lack of romantic attraction. While there is often a lot of overlap between sex and romance, many people experience the two independently. Many aces still feel romantic urges, and enter into relationships. Sex may or may not be a part of that relationship, but that depends on each individual dynamic. Regardless, Charlotte and Em both assured us that they are just as prone to developing crushes, as the rest of us.
While there is still a lot more to learn about asexuality, it is important to remember that everyone experiences it differently. While some aces may be completely sex repulsed, others may be willing to have sex, or even enjoy it. Because there is a lack of ace representation in media, as well as general public knowledge, it really does come down to an open and curious mind.