The Forgotten Letter on the Spectrum: A(sexuality)
“I’m just not attracted to you” is a well-worn phrase on sitcoms, when dealing with a co-worker who comes on a little too strong, and in high-school homerooms. For many people, attraction functions as an extension of both their emotions and sexuality, and romantic feelings towards another person automatically imply sexual attraction.
But what if your entire sexual orientation excludes sexual attraction?
Sexuality has always played an incredibly large role in society. Think about it…almost every person on the planet is a result of sex! Movie plots, old epic poems, federal laws, and even poster ads reveal traces of sex and sexuality in our society.
The American LGBTQIA movement to increase awareness, acceptance, and legal rights of those with alternative sexualities and gender identities has gained tremendous momentum in recent years. However, efforts and victories in the queer community sometimes unintentionally forget “the letters at the end of the spectrum.” It is all too easy to overlook the fact that not all people experience sex and sexuality in the same way, even within the LGBTQIA community, which is often accused of being dominated by cisgender, homosexual men and women.
Sexual orientation is never as simple as “straight” or “gay.” One group of people who do not fit into this binary is the asexual community. People who identify as asexual (or ace for short) “do not experience sexual attraction.” Simple as that, right?
In fact, many misconceptions exist regarding the asexual community.
Asexuality is not the same thing as celibacy, which is a person’s choice to abstain from sex. Although some asexual people may choose not to have sex or masturbate, others may choose to participate in sexual activities for a large variety of reasons. Asexual people still feel aroused by sexual activities as a natural bodily function, but that arousal is a result of stimulation rather than sexual attraction to a person. Additionally an ace person may participate in sexual activities to please a romantic partner who identifies as sexual. In other words, asexuality is its own sexual orientation.
Just like being gay or straight, a person cannot simply stop being asexual, and an asexual person definitely will not stop being asexual by “meeting the right person” or “having the perfect sexual experience.”
Someone who identifies as asexual may not necessarily also identify as aromantic, or someone who does not experience romantic attraction. The spectrum of romantic and emotional orientation is just as wide as sexual orientation, and asexual people can be emotionally attracted to men, women, people of all gender identities, people who do not fit into a gender binary, no one, and so on. Just like anyone else.
A person who identifies as asexual faces many societal challenges. The asexual community is not widely recognized by mainstream society, and those who come out as asexual may be met with confusion or a lack of understanding. Many people who might identify as asexual or serve as an ace advocate could spend years having no idea that such a sexual orientation exists due to a lack of visibility. Asexuality can also intersect with other identities in ways that may intensify discrimination.
Men, a gender category that is often stereotyped as having a high sex drive, can be perceived as unmasculine when they identify as asexual whereas ace women may face oversimplified accusations of being “frigid” towards sex.
Identifying as ace even plays into race (and that’s no pun): society tends to perceive black women as inherently more sexual than their white counterparts, and an asexual black woman may face double discrimination because of how society automatically labels her sexuality.
In a world that often seems to revolve around sex, it can be hard both for an asexual person to explain their sexual orientation and for a sexual person to understand it. Inform yourself to become a better ace ally!
Wondering if you might be asexual? Want to better understand your ace friend, family member, or significant other? Just interested in learning more? Check out the Asexual Visibility and Education Network for more information!