It’s Asexuality Awareness Week, which is an “annual campaign to raise awareness, build community, and create change around the world.” As someone who’s asexual, I was keen to write something this year. But I didn’t want it to just be my own personal experience, because when I first started to wonder if I might be ace (the name asexual people use for themselves), I wasn’t sure if what I was reading about in the guides really reflected my experience. Talking to other ace friends and finding out what it meant to them really helped me to understand the diversity of experiences within asexuality. And thus, this post was born.
What is Asexuality?
Of course, it helps to know the very basics of what asexuality is, right? So many of us have never even heard of this term before (I know I hadn’t), and so you can go years without even realising that you might be ace. I genuinely spent over 30 years without ever once hearing this term, but when I did it changed everything. So I’m going to start this post with just a brief overview of what asexuality is.
At its most very basic, asexuality means a lack of sexual attraction. But what does that even mean? Most of us go through life assuming that what we experience is the same as what everyone else is talking about. So when friends talk about being attracted to people, we assume that our attraction (if we experience any) is the same. But here’s the thing – there is more than one way to be attracted to someone.
For instance, you might find someone aesthetically very pleasing, but it’s not a sexual thing at all. It’s like looking at a beautiful landscape, or an expressive piece of art – you appreciate its depth and beauty, and it can move you in a profound way, but it doesn’t make you hot under the collar.
However, understanding that distinction can take time. This is something that Ryan experienced:
“I first realised I might be asexual when I was 15 years old, around the same time as I realised I was bi. I confided about both these aspects of myself to someone close to me. They told me they believed I was bi but I was probably just confused about the asexual bit. They told me I was too young to know. After that I refused to acknowledge my feelings about asexuality for the longest time.
When I started to think again that I might be ace, those feelings scared me. I didn’t want to accept that I was something I’d spent years telling myself I was not. My original confidant’s words continued to blare in my mind whenever I thought about it.
I began reading more about asexuality as I began to recognise my feelings more. I had convinced myself that I wasn’t ace because I felt sexual attraction but, as I thought more on it, I realised I’d been mistaking aesthetic attraction for sexual attraction, and I could count on one hand the number of times I’d experienced actual sexual attraction.
As I was trying to come to terms with the possibility that I was ace, I read a blog post written by my friend, Amanda, about how she realised she was asexual. I related strongly to the feelings she described and it helped ease my doubts. After that I began to fully embrace my identity and came out as grey-asexual.”Ryan. He/him.
Another hint that you might be asexual is if you realise that the people you are attracted to look very different from each other physically, because your “type” is not based on physical looks but rather who they are as a person. It’s their personality that attracts you, not sexual desire.
You might even find that you’re only ever attracted to people once you get to know them well, and you’ve never, ever experienced attraction to a stranger. This is what we call demisexuality, and is just one of the many ways that asexual people experience attraction differently.
Which is why it can be so confusing at first to figure out whether what you’re experiencing is really part of the asexual umbrella. Many of us spend quite some time doubting ourselves as we begin to explore whether we might be asexual, as Matt so beautifully puts:
“Having recently come out as demi, I still don’t know if I fully fit within the ace community. I had to pause and ask myself whether I would even qualify for this blog article. Everyone has been so welcoming, but my internal doubts about where I fit remain.”Matt Mason. He/him.
If, like Matt, you’re feeling like you might be ace but are still doubting whether you truly fit, then I hope this post will help you.
Before we go any further, it would be helpful to have a quick look at some of the different asexual identities.
As already mentioned, someone who is asexual experiences little to no sexual attraction.
Where asexual refers to someone who experiences little to no sexual attraction to others, aromantic refers to those who experience little to no romantic attraction.
as mentioned above somebody who identifies as being demisexual will experience sexual attraction to others, but only after a significant bond has already been formed.
Someone who is demiromantic will experience romantic attraction to others, but just like with demisexuality this only occurs after a strong, emotional bond has already been established.
People who are grey asexual fall someone between asexual and sexual. It might be that they rarely experience sexual attraction, but only under certain circumstances.
Like with grey asexual, someone who is grey romantic might find themselves somewhere between romantic and aromantic.
Aceflux describes someone whose sexual attraction varies. They might always remain somewhere within the asexual spectrum, or they might sometimes find that they fluctuate between experiencing sexual attraction and not.
As with aceflux, those who are aroflux will find that their romantic attraction varies, sometimes staying within the aromantic spectrum, and sometimes not.
All of these come under the asexual umbrella, and some people are happy to simply say they are asexual. But understanding these nuances often provides a greater sense of identity for others. Many people, like Katherine, find that understanding these differences actually helps them to finally realise that they are in fact asexual:
I had absolutely no idea I was ace until I saw something posted on Twitter about demisexuality. I’ve always had a low sex drive, and my husband and I have found a way to make that work for us, but I also had an unexplained feeling of being weird and broken that I could never verbalise or even properly understand for myself.
It was more than just not wanting sex very often, there was something different about my entire experience of sexuality and attraction than what I saw around me. When I read the thread on demisexuality, something clicked in my head, and suddenly a lifetime of thoughts and behaviours made sense. And, more importantly, I realised I wasn’t alone.
Since then, I’ve adopted grey ace as a better fit for me, and I can’t overstate how much it has changed things, for the better. I don’t feel broken anymore. I have words to describe how I’ve lived my life, I have a reason for why I’ve experienced media differently to the majority of people, and the shame and guilt I didn’t even realise I was feeling has evaporated away.
Knowing there’s a whole community out there who understand my experiences has made me feel less isolated and confused, and I feel whole and proud of who I am. My husband has always been patient and understanding of my low libido, but now we have added context and language to discuss it with each other, and it has helped him realise that my asexuality is an inherent part of me, and not a sign there is anything wrong between us.
You hear some people asking why we need all these new labels for things, but I’m a real example of why we do. Until I discovered demi- and grey asexuality, I didn’t know there was a whole spectrum out there that I was on. I’d spent my life feeling off, without understanding why. These labels helped me find and accept myself, and I’ve been a lot happier since.Katherine. She/her.
Attraction does not equal action
One of the most helpful things anyone ever said to me when I was first exploring asexuality is that attraction does not equal action. Like Katherine, I have a pretty low libido. But I also enjoy sex when I’m in the mood. So I felt like I couldn’t be ace. But it’s a common misconception that being asexual means that you don’t enjoy or have sex, although for some sex repulsed aces that may be the case.
Many asexuals enjoy sex, either as a standard or under certain circumstances. Others may be indifferent to it and can take it or leave it. Asexuality is not about having a low libido or abstaining from sex, even though that can be a part of it for some of us. The defining factor when it comes to asexuality is whether you experience sexual (or romantic, in the case of aromanticism) attraction in the same way as the norm.
This can be a difficult thing to wrap your head around, and often leaves many of us confused about our identity for a long time. Felix explains this so well:
It took me a long time to figure out that I was asexual mostly because for the longest time I assumed (like many people) that aces don’t have sex and/or don’t like sex. I love sex. I am at times incredibly hypersexual. And I didn’t know that my sexual wants and activities didn’t negate me being asexual, until I read an article on different types of asexualities.Felix. He/him.
At first I thought I might be demisexual because, for the most part, I didn’t want to have sex with someone until after I felt comfortable around them. I thought this meant that I eventually became sexually attracted to people. It wasn’t until I realized that my hesitancy with sexual intimacy came from prior sexual related trauma that I also realized that I still don’t actually experience any kind of sex-based attraction to anyone. I just wanted to feel safe.
Whether or not I have sex with a particular person has nothing to do with any kind of attraction and everything to do with whether I want to experience sexual pleasure. I don’t care what the person looks like, what kind of genitals they have, what kind of relationship I have with them, if any. None of it matters. If I’m in the mood to have sex, then I will have sex. If I am not in the mood, I won’t.
This definitely made relationships confusing in the past, as a lot of people assume that if you have sex then you are now in an exclusive relationship. I hurt a lot of people because of those assumptions. And now as a polyamorous person who is also married, relationships are so much easier and more fulfilling. Some are only for sex. Some are only for emotional reasons. Others have multiple aspects. I feel very lucky to have finally figured out I am ace and also to be surrounded by people who accept me for who I am rather than judging, shaming, or rejecting me.
The joy and freedom that comes with understanding asexuality
You may have noticed a recurring theme through the different experiences people have shared in this post. Many people feel this sense of relief at finally understanding not only who they are, but also that they are not alone in feeling this way. We live in a society that places a lot of emphasis on sexual and romantic attraction, and it is easy to feel like there is “something wrong” with you, if your experience is outside the norm.
Some of us, like Wendy, feel a pressure to try and fit into the norm, and so when we finally realise that this isn’t necessary there can be a great sense of freedom.
I think I’ve always been ace. I never had any interest in boys, but eventually married when I was 23, because that’s what people did back in the 1970s.
Sex was always something I put up with, so when my marriage ended eighteen years later I realised I didn’t have to do it any more, and made a decision not to.
It’s now 25 years later, and I’ve never been happier than as a sex-free single woman.
I grew up in the 1970s, with the aftermath of the “free love” era, where women first got reliable contraception and came under great pressure to say yes to sex.
Finding the ace designation has given form to the identity I’d already discovered for myself. I’m now 68, and couldn’t imagine ever agreeing to sex again.Wendy Metcalfe. She/her.
Being ace can be as big a part of your identity as you want it to be
Figuring out that you’re ace can be an overwhelming and exciting time. It can explain a lot about who you are and the way you have always felt. And it may become a defining part of your identity.
Equally, you may find that whilst it gives you some extra context for things, the identity itself is just a very small part of who you are. This is something that Purple L Chickens has found:
I’ve never been one, until recently, to worry much about my identity. I just never saw it as that important to me. I guess it comes down to until I learned what asexual and aromantic was I thought there was something extremely wrong with me. Why don’t I go head over heels for others? Why don’t I look at people and think “I wonder if they’d be good in bed”? I grew up picking random people and celebrities to have “crushes” on.
At 23 I decided to have sex, for the first time. I wanted to see what the big deal was. Still don’t understand. I’ve slept with people a few times after and have had excellent sex. Despite enjoying the act I just never have a desire to sleep with others.
I don’t think me being aro ace defines very much of me, it’s a small section. Say maybe at most 10%. I remember before I turned 30 someone told me you may get interested in sex when you turn 30. His rationale was females reach peak sexuality around 30. I’m going to be 36 next month. I still don’t want to bang anyone. I will say it’s nice to know that there are others who feel the same way as me.Purple L Chickens. She/her.
You might have noticed that Purple L Chickens is not the first to mention that other people seem to find it hard to grasp the idea that asexuality is a part of who you are and not a just phase people go through. Which is why it is important to remember that you never have to explain yourself to anybody – nobody deserves the right to comment on your identity other than you.
You never owe anyone an explanation of your identity. It is yours, and yours alone. You may find that it defines a large part of who you are. But you still don’t have to share that with others if you don’t want to.
The support of the ace community
That being said, many people find comfort in knowing that they aren’t alone and speaking openly about who they are and how they feel. It allows them to find others who feel the same, and also helps to tackle the lack of information and misinformation about asexuality in society as a whole. As you’ll have seen in a couple of the experiences shared, often people discover they are ace because someone they know decides to talk about it.
The ace community, like all communities, has its challenges. But overall it is a great place to find support, as Grace explains:
Being ace is both the most freeing and the most terrifying thing in the world, to me. Putting a name to all of the stuff that has happened in my life, being able to say “ah, yeah, I did that not because I’m broken, or wrong, but because I’m asexual” has been such an eye opening exercise; something that’s changed my perspective on myself and helped me to grow as a person.
At the same time, coming to accept that I, as a sex/romance repulsed aroace individual, will never experience romantic or sexual feelings for someone else (and knowing how “important” those kinds of relationships are made out to be in modern society) is terrifying and isolating. That’s why I feel like I have to talk about my asexuality, at least online; the amount of people that have messaged me about being ace, to learn more about asexuality, to talk about their fears around their identity has made it totally worthwhile.
Maybe, together, we can change people’s perspectives of relationships; maybe, together, we can show that love doesn’t just come in two forms. For me, that’s the most important part of asexuality. Community. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination; there’s issues with racism, with in-fighting, with bad takes excluding all manner of ace folk, but understanding yourself in context with others is something that I think is one of the best things about being asexual.
Learning about other people’s experiences helps us to understand our own and the same can definitely be said when it comes to learning about other ace folk. We should always be learning, always be understanding and always be open to other ways of existing; ’cause asexuality, as an identity, is as broad as it is wide, and that’s my favourite part about being ace.Grace. She/her.
I’m going to end this post with a list of resources for you to explore asexuality further. Some of these I have used myself, others have been recommended by ace friends of mine. This is far from an exhaustive list, so if you have any recommendations you’d like to see added here, please let me know.
You should also check out The AroAce Database to help you find books with aromantic or asexual characters.
If you have enjoyed this post and found it useful, here are some ways you can support A Spiral Dance.