What is Asexuality?
Asexuality is lack of interest in sex; asexuals do not experience sexual attraction. Beyond that commonality, things vary widely. Some asexuals have a physical sex drive, others do not, some desire romantic relationships (minus sex), others do not. All asexuals need friends; being asexual is not the same thing as being a hermit.
Unlike celibacy, asexuality is not a choice. I'm not denying myself anything by not having sex. I scoff at True Love Revolution right along with everyone else.
Most asexuals have been so their entire lives, and report no traumatic sexual experiences. That's the most common reaction to asexuality, "You must have been abused as a child." You don't recall any such abuse? "You've repressed it."
Thing about that is, if I'm repressing something, then it's really, really, repressed. And since I don't have any other mental difficulties, and consider myself relatively well-adjusted all-round, I don't reckon that I'm trying to bury a bad memory.
The next reaction is, "You're a gay man/woman, and you're in denial." Maybe some people declare themselves asexual for that reason, but most of the people on asexuality.org (which is the nexus of the group at this point) are not victim to the kind of sexual repression that results in Larry Craig-style self-loathing. In fact, many asexuals are romantically attracted to or involved with members of the same sex, and may identify as a gay, bi, or lesbian asexuals.
And then, "You just haven't found the right person yet." To this I would just reiterate: most asexuals have never experienced any sexual attraction or arousal. There are sexually idealized images all over the place. It seems to me that if I were going to find the 'right person' to awaken some latent sexuality, I would've had ample chance within the roughly 8 years since puberty.
"You can't know if you've never tried."
Harking back to middle school, I recall that all of my peers were going absolutely mad about the prospect of sex. I was not. I didn't see what the big deal was. Of course I understood sex in clinical terms, but I had no idea why it would be a particularly interesting or enjoyable activity. If I understand correctly, for most people sex is something that there is a powerful urge to do, not something that can be taken or left.
The other answer to this objection is, "Did you have to sleep with a partner of the same sex to know that that wasn't for you?"--or the inverse for gay people. Gay people don't -have- to sleep with the opposite sex to know that they prefer the same sex.
That aside, many asexuals (not me) have engaged in sex, usually to satisfy the needs of a romantic partner, but sometimes to see if they really do like it after all. And they report that the experience wasn't mind-blowing. Most are somewhat bored.
"You're just a late bloomer."
Hmm. Really late, then. I say early 20s is late enough. I mean, it's not as though I haven't had puberty (I am a male). And our members are as old as 50 or 60. Of course, a few asexuals do later discover that they simply have very low libido (rather than no libido).
My Personal Experience
As I said, I first noticed a difference when I was in middle school, and everyone else went girl or guy crazy. At that point, I figured that I really was just a late bloomer. My voice broke and nothing changed, but I didn't think much of it. When I was a freshman in high school, I began to wonder about it a bit more, but high school was a busy time for me. I didn't really think about sex (or lack of sex), because it didn't (and doesn't) really seem much more interesting than say, bridge, to me.
So my friends dated, I didn't date. They joke about sex, I laughed. Because I was the class nerd, no one thought it all that surprising that I didn't go on dates.
I won't say I didn't start to think along the lines of, "I'm the only one in the world" and, "Maybe I should go see a doctor."
It was around junior year that I stumbled across a Salon article titled 'Asexual and Proud.' That was kind of an ah-hah moment. It was nice to get reassurance that I wasn't the only one, and that I probably didn't need to go to a shrink. I also found out about a disorder called Hypoactive Sexual Desire, but the disorder is only diagnosed if it causes the patient to feel badly. I didn't want sex, I didn't want to want sex. So I decided that I didn't have that.
I haven't come out, except to a sibling and a few very close friends. Asexuals don't need to come out, in the same way that gay people do, because we don't need to seek out sex partners. But there are certainly benefits to being out as an asexual. People don't try and hit on you (usually), and it's more possible to engage in deep friendships where both parties will have an equal expectation that the relationship will not become sexual.
The reason that I'm not out is, number one, I'm not as brave as the people who go on television to talk about it, and number two:
I'm afraid that the reaction I'll get will be, "That doesn't exist." My parents are fairly socially conservative, but if I'd been gay, I would've just told them. They know that gay people exist, that gayness is a real phenomenon, and there would've been an initial flip-out, but they aren't the sort that would disown me (And my heart goes out to the queer people whose parents are not so understanding).
Actually my parents -did- find out, by snooping through my computer, and they -did- flip out (no grandchildren, woe is me!--they do have two other kids...), but I would say that I'm really out to them, because they said that they didn't believe me, and I was happy enough to just nod in acquiescence and let the subject drop.
The same applies to college campuses: I imagine I could get people to believe me, but I don't want to spend all my time explaining my sexual identity to people. There are other things that are more important to me. Gay people can just say, "I'm gay." They don't have to give a lecture (and of course gay people have problems that are different and probably more serious than the asexual ones).
So what asexuals need more than anything is knowledge and visibility. The primary organization has it right in the title: Asexual Visibility and Education Network.
The AVEN group has been active in getting media and academic coverage of the orientation, and as a result, the size of AVEN has ballooned. I understand that a feature length documentary on the subject is in the works.
Campus queer groups need to know about the orientation as well. I contacted one of the leaders of Harvard's BGLTSA, and initially he hadn't heard of asexuality (he got with the program quickly, of course). Other asexuals at colleges have tried to become involved in queer groups and have been met with hostility, and, somewhat unbelievably, with queer students who disbelieved the asexuals and recommended that they seek psychiatric treatment.
Those queer students have forgotten, I guess, that it was only 33 years ago that homosexuals were also referred to psychiatric treatment.
Ideally campus queer groups would explicitly include asexuals in their titles or mandates (even if they currently have no openly asexual members), and help to increase awareness instead of acting as another awareness hurdle for asexuals to overcome.
Thank you to all of you who've made it this far. If you'd like further information, or think that you yourself might be an asexual (current studies have us at about 1% of the population), you can visit asexuality.org, which has all the goods.
September 19, 2007
What is Asexuality?