Oh, no! You were reading this next to your middle-aged aunt from Wichita and now she thinks you’re gonna get the gay!
To tell the truth, I’m what psychology calls “demisexual”, but even I am not fond of that word because it makes society think I’m just looking for labels for myself, by which I mean that MS Word recognizes asexual, but not demisexual.
So, to start, what does “asexual” mean?
Here’s what it means: doesn’t feel secondary sexual attraction.
That’s it. “Asexual” is not a complex word.
Demisexual essentially means that most of the time I feel none of this secondary sexual attraction, but after I’ve gotten to know someone for a very long time, I can occasionally feel a desire for sex. But that’s extremely rare. This means that most of the time, I am asexual, so for a society confused by “labels”, asexual is the simplest one I can conjure up. Ta-da!
I’ve found that the term “asexual” scares people and I can’t figure out why that is. Even very progressive folks can hear that word and get the wrong impression. “Maybe you’re just afraid of sex—how can you know until you try it?” Right now, someone’s reading this and thinking, “Oh, GOD, he hates people! He’s one of those weird introverts who gets together with his introverted friends in a bubble of depressed acceptance!” I’ve found that the word asexual gets associated with hating people and wanting nothing to do with them.
Some folks forget (or aren’t aware) that sexual orientation and personality are separate entities. I love people! I lean back and forth between introversion and extroversion. If there are implied social “tendencies” of asexual people, I apparently exhibit none of them—that is to say, no one’s ever asked me about how I identify sexually or asked me if I’m “ace”, as it’s called.
Compared to homosexuality and bisexuality, being attracted to no one is a relatively new phenomenon in our culture. As such, many people are quick to try and attribute it to other things so as not to recognize a new orientation, including low sex drive, being “picky” about choosing sexual partners, or being afraid of having sex.
However, none of these are accurate. Having a low sex drive would imply I really want to have sex but somehow can’t (and it’s a problem not usually found in 19-year-olds like me). I want nothing to do with sex with another person (most of the time—this is where the demi- comes into play). As far as being choosy goes, there’s a difference between choosing not to engage in intercourse and feeling no desire to do so. No part of me, at more than one or two times in my life, has ever even considered having sex. Usually, people who choose not to engage in sexual practices do so because for external reasons. If I did want sex, I’d have it, but I don’t, so I don’t. It’s extremely simple. And being afraid to have sex? Bitch, I’m sensual as shit. I would rock sex. But I just genuinely don’t want to.
I don’t know from where these sorts of stereotypes emerged, but I’m fascinated by them. It’s led me into an internal discussion in which I attempt to answer the following question: how and why did sex and friendships get so intertwined? Once, a few years ago, I attempted to hold a door for a woman, and she actually told me to stop “undressing [her] with [my] mind.” She went on, “I don’t need a man to help me. Take your penis and shove it somewhere else.” Word-for-word—that’s what she said. You can’t make this stuff up.
I remember how I felt at that moment—I wished I could have worn a t-shirt that said:
MY NAME IS COLIN, I AM ASEXUAL, AND I AM NOT CURRENTLY OR EVER THINKING ABOUT ALL THE THINGS I WOULD “DO” TO YOU
The sexual wanting of man and how the world perceives that has made it nearly impossible to be an “openly” asexual man among random people. Having good, healthy relationships with members of the opposite gender—or, as it’s often called, the “Friend Zone”—is seen as a negative and, ultimately, an impossible. In truth, I tend to get along much better with women than I do with men, but that seems weird to people.
If I told my extended family that I had, say, a best friend named Jordan, they’d assume I was talking about a boy. If I said, “My best friend’s name is Jordan. She’s really fun to be around,” their first response would be to ask if she’s single, if anything was “happening there,” etc. Even if I told them, “Oh, Jordan’s just a friend,” that phrase has developed the stigma of implying, “We’d better remember her—he’s gonna be dating her in a few weeks.” The only difference between the two explanations was the concept of “she”, yet there’s so much perceived meaning that word holds. The concept of very strong inter-gender friendships is arguably more foreign to most than a homosexual romantic pairing.
It’s interesting to note that female asexuality coincides more accurately with the gender perceptions society holds than does being the same for males. (I’m NOT saying that “men have it tougher” or whatever—I’m just calling attention to a cultural phenomenon.) To that effect, it’s also very difficult for females to freely engage in sexual acts without feeling or experiencing societal pressure—the “norm” for a man is to want sex whenever possible, and the “norm” for a woman is to avoid it.
In a world dominated by the media, sex rules. Most of the time, sex makes the decisions about what becomes popular and what doesn’t. The same gender stereotypes apply as well—remember that episode of The Big Bang Theory in which Sheldon and Amy try to use statistics to determine the yearly average number of sexual partners Penny had brought home? I can’t think of one time this ever happened to Howard, and he spends his basically his entire existence getting horny.
It almost makes sense, then, that there are never asexual characters on television, or at least ones who are open about it—we know that sex gets views. Even Sheldon Cooper fell into the pit of sexual attraction, and I was holding out hope that he’d be resistant to it during the series. Bazinga!
Why else would so many of YouTube’s video thumbnails be of the suggestive female variety? Accordingly, there’s an assumption that the absence of that would turn away watchers. As a result, the concept of a man not feeling sexual attraction to anything that moves is regarded as completely foreign. Consequently, no one knows what the word describing that phenomenon even means.
One of the weirdest experiences I’ve had with asexuality was telling my mom about it. I didn’t mention it until after I’d begun studying at college. She’s a strict Catholic, and the basic principle of being asexual is not wanting to engage in sexual acts with anyone. It follows that this would presumably mean “I don’t want sex before marriage.” Sounds like they’d go together nicely, right?
I expected complete approval, but I didn’t get it—she was afraid of the word. I described demisexuality in exactly the way I did above—feeling sexual attraction only to those with whom one has developed an incredibly deep emotional connection and often not even then—but my mom, later that day, Googled the term and saw that it was closely associated with asexuality. Instead of recognizing it for what it was, she got scared and dismissed it. While she’s reached some level of half-assed acceptance (she seems to think it’s a “phase”—she holds the same opinion for bisexuals), it’s still met with frustration and a little fear whenever it’s somehow brought up.
Also, asexuality doesn’t preclude someone from being romantically or aesthetically attracted to someone. I’ve fallen victim to both of those types of attraction. I didn’t figure that one out for a long time, though. I’d get extremely confused by the fact that my brother and I had different definitions of what constituted as “attractive”—I’d say I thought someone was cute, perhaps someone we both knew in school, and he’d disagree because her breasts weren’t to his liking, or her “ass was flat”, etc. I found myself distracted by the eyes, hair, facial structures, etc. of men and women alike—while it was rare for me to find myself attracted to men, it did happen (but not on a sexual level). I think there’s a term for that too, but I’ve triggered everyone reading this enough today and I don’t feel like looking it up. For years, I assumed something was wrong with my sense of being attracted to people. A lot of aces have had similar experiences. My dad would make lewd comments about women on television and try to engage my brother and me in the same. I just never could, certainly from a feministic standpoint, but also from one that genuinely didn’t understand what he was talking about. Why is this so important to you?
Over time, I sincerely hope asexuality becomes recognized as a full-fledged orientation. If you can be attracted to men, to women, or to both, why can’t you feel a sexual pull to neither? I love the phrase, “If you can have sex without love, then I can have love without sex.” I see not why this is such an unattainable concept, and it’s all I want people to see about me. I want people to stop being afraid of aces, treating them in their minds like depressed, socially-stunted failures at life. I’m a premed student studying neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University. I already have an $800/year Roth IRA and it’s stocked annually with money I’ve made myself. I’m pretty successful in my life so far–I simply want to be recognized as someone who loves people, truly, but just doesn’t want to pork them.
For all of the aces out there, the world’s accepting and understanding that is all we’ve ever wanted.▪