‘Asexual? Isn’t that reproduction by mitosis?’
-Not exactly. Asexuality is a sexual orientation that is rather unknown. Instead of facts or correct definitions there are lots of stereotypes surrounding this orientation. According to estimations, only about 1 to 8 % of the populaton are asexual (Ekaryote Writes Blog 2017). As a result, there is not much representation of this sexuality in pop culture and overall, which contributes to the lack of awareness about this topic. Therefore, in this format I will evaluate how this topic is addressed in narrative media, such as TV shows.
In today’s post, I would like to provide the basis for this by explaining the topic and offering you a survey of it. The next post, in which I am going to analyse a series based on asexuality, will be the first official post under this category. However, before doing this, I would like to stress that my experiences are not representative, since asexuality is a spectrum of its own, hence not all asexuals (aces) are the same and they may experience asexuality in different ways. Accordingly, my examples only cover one of many possibilities.
At this point, I have to give a massive shout out to AVEN for making this possible. AVEN is for Asexuality Visibility and Education Network and it is the main source concerning asexuality. There you can find lots of information on the topic. In this post, I will combine information from AVEN and their own wiki with some memes, (bad) jokes and my experiences as an asexual in order to spice things up. Enjoy.
The following memes provide a small insight into what it may feel like to be asexual.
If someone is asexual, they do not experience sexual attraction. It is neither a decision, nor a disease that makes you unable to be sexually active. You just do not feel sexually attracted to others. However, that does not necessarily mean that you do not have a sex drive. Asexuals can still enjoy sex, they just do not experience sexual attraction. I will discuss this in more detail later on.
There are different forms of attractions. Sexuality and romanticism are not related to one another per se and in this context, it is necessary to look at them as separate units.
An asexual may feel romantically attracted to another person and they may fall in love or just find a person aesthetically pleasing. A good example that I came across once, describes this quite fittingly: Let’s say you look at a nice painting. It is visually pleasing but you are not sexually aroused by it. In my case, that also applies to good looking people. If I see a pretty woman, I do not think: ‘I wanna sleep with her’. I may think that she is good looking but I still would not feel any sexual or romantic attraction. For me personally, the gender does not matter, I just do not feel attraction in general. This can vary from person to person and despite being asexual, aces may feel romantically attracted to others.
Libido does not equal attraction!
One’s libido is basically one’s sex drive or however you want to call it. I can only speak for myself but I have a drive that does not direct itself at anything. I’m not into anyone and the drive is just there without any “aim”. I can masturbate but that is merely a means to satisfy the sex drive so it does not have a deeper meaning to it other than satisfying this “instinct” or how you want to call it.
How this is related to fantasies and such is a topic of its own. You can have fantasies but since there is no attraction, you do not have any need to act them out. I always find this part hard to explain but for me personally, fantasies are innately separate from attraction and just an expression of my libido, which as I’ve said, does not direct itself at anything. If there are fantasies, I know that I would not make them a reality and that they are just due to the libido. Fantasies do not change the fact that I do not experience attraction in my life overall, so I know that they are meaningless. I honestly don’t know how else to explain it. This is just my personal experience and it is not representative of others.
As explained earlier, this is not a medical condition or disorder. Asexuality is not concerned with suppressed cravings or a sexual aversion based on traumata or anything like that. If you are ace you do not suppress cravings or attraction, instead you just do not feel them.
The aspect of arousal, which I labelled as ‘craving’ again depends on the indiviual, as ‘some may occasionally masturbate, but feel no desire for partnered sex. Other asexual people may experience little or no arousal’ (AVEN). There is no general rule of thumb for asxuality and people’s experiences may differ.
I guess, I have a strong libido. This can vary from person to person. There are people with more or less libido. This can obviously impact a relationship and both partners should be content in a relationship. If you are in a relationship with an asexual person with a small or without any libido, you should not force them to do anything that they do not want to do. This also applies to relationships in general not only relationships with asexuals. Consent is always key, no matter the sexuality of the partners involved in a relationship. This leads us to the next topic, asexuality and relationships.
Relationships and Asexuality
If you’re asexual that does not mean that you do not want any kind of relationships. Asexuals can be interested in romantic relationships but they do not have to. I’m aromantic, too, so I am not interested in that. Aromanticism fall under the umbrella of the a-spec but it is a spectrum of its own, which I will consider separately later on.
Romantic relationships are not the only kind of relationships. There are also platonic and familiar relationships, which theoretically everyone knows. Just because you are ace, you are not an emotionless robot without any need for human interactions. We are just normal people with the same basic needs as everyone else just without sexual attraction and based on that maybe a different relation to sexuality than sexual people.
With this in mind, it is really degrading and disrespectful to tell asexuals that they just have to find the right person or similar things. Plus, in this example, there is no distinction between aromanticism and asexuality and both are just equated and seen in a narrow sense. If you say things like that, you do not acknowledge that there are life models besides sexual and romantic ones and in a way deny the existence of asexuals and aromantics. It is comparable to denials of bisexuality along the lines of: ‘Oh, cut it out. You just want to be interesting.’ or ‘Someone cannot figure out their sexuality’. I do not think that you can put identities and struggles in a relation to one another. Despite that, these examples and comparisons still illustrate some of the main problems that asexuals face a lot.
Aces’ Personal Attitudes towards Sex
People and their attitude towards topics can differ greatly. The same applies to ace attitudes towards sex. You can distinguish between societal and personal attitudes towards this topic but I will only address the latter.
As addressed in an earlier post, the majority of (western) societies is heteronormative, hence there is a certain pressure on non-heterosexuals and people whose gender identity does not match the binary division. I want to emphasise this strongly because this mindset can make it hard for these groups of people to understand and accept their sexual orientation and identity. If you are interested in heteronormativity, feel free to check out my post on that topic, where I address societal attitudes towards sexuality in greater detail: https://sovlpvnk.com/2020/04/20/listen-in-1-challenging-heteronormativity-and-toxic-masculinity-letlive-s-lemon-party/
Since I have already covered the societal relation to sex in the aformentioned post, I will only address personal attitudes of asexuals towards sex in today’s post. According to AVEN, you can distinguish between the following attitudes:
Sex-favorable: you are willing to compromise, for instance agreeing to sleep with a partner in a relationship
Sex-indifferent: indifference towards the idea of sex, you do not hate the idea of having sex but do not love it either
Sex-averse/repulsed: generally strong rejection of sex, not willing to compromise, can vary in its extent, the maker of the meme on the right side distinguished between averse and repulsed. Apparently, to them, repulsed means that someone is even more opposed to the idea of sex than an averse person. In that case averse may be rather indifferent but leaning towards a negative attitude towards sex. I do not know the person, so these are just my guesses.
I have to stress again that this is a spectrum. You do not necessarily match one of these categories but may realise that features of all of them apply to you. Additionally, this can change or vary throughout your life. I would say I’m sex-indifferent to averse. I am generally indifferent towards the idea of having sex but would not say that it is never going to happen, so I am not absolutely opposed to the idea. At the same time, I feel like I would not feel comfortable in that situation and that I might feel really uncomfortable actually. Accordingly, at times I lean towards sex-averse or repulsed. Sometimes the idea of sex just seems worse to me than other times.
In general, you do not have to fulfill all criteria to be asexual and the extent to which you identify with this label and individual elements of it may vary. This leads us to asexual identity and the Grey Area, which I would like to discuss separately although it is part of the asexual spectrum.
You are born asexual and realise it sooner or later. If someone identifies with this label for a short amount of time because they find it fitting for themselves, that is also valid. Asexuality is a label that you can use to describe your orientation fittingly. Who identifies as ace is valid and if you only do so for a short amount of time, that does not change the fact that you identified this way for a certain time. If you find out that you are not ace after all, at least one more person knows more about this topic so you should not feel guilty of ‘no longer being ace’.
I’m addressing this because there is a phenomenon, wherein ace people are scared of their sexuality changing because in that case they would have to go through a process of self-reflection again, which is a scary thing. Initially, I also felt like that but after some time, I was pretty much certain that I am asexual. Nonetheless, I understand why people feel that way. Figuring out your sexuality can be really confusing and frustrating if you have already gone through a process of reflection only to go through another process of reflection. Additionally, one might feel like they have let down the ace community if they figure out that they only thought they were ace, since that might give the orientation a bad representation. However, as stated earlier, I think people should not worry about that too much because labels can be helpful but rather restrictive at the same time if you let them take control of your life. It is easier said than done but I think you should not worry too much about your sexuality changing.
The Grey Area
You may identify more or less with the label ‘asexual’, to a greater or smaller extent. If not all attributes of asexuality fit you but you still relate to the a-spec (the asexual spectrum), this label may be useful to describe your own sexuality (AVEN). Grey can also be a great label if you do not see a clear tendency in your sexuality. Whether or not you identify as asexual then, depends on the individual. Demisexuals may identify as ace or grey and grey may also be connected to hetero- or homosexuality, depending on the person (AVEN). Again, labels can be helpful to describe your orientation and identity fittingly.
If you break it down, the Grey Area is a space you may fall into if you show features of asexuality but cannot fully identify with that label. It is up to you to decide, which label describes you fittingly and which you use.
A-spec: The Asexual Spectrum
As explained earlier, asexuality is far from homogenous. People may have different experiences and this spectrum can help them to make sense of their feelings and identities. This may not be the entirety of the a-spec but nonetheless, it gives you a broader overview of the multitude of ace identities. Later on, I will also discuss the aromantic spectrum separately to avoid confusion.
As you could see earlier, people can identify as asexual, grey-asexual or their -romantic counterparts. However, there are even more identities. For instance demisexual or demiromantic. Demisexual describes ‘a person who does not experience attraction to an individual until a significant emotional bond has formed’ (Pasquier 2018). According to Pasquier, this is based on primary and secondary attraction, the former being a first impression based on more ‘superficial’ things like aesthetic or smell and the latter being one’s relationship and emotional connection with a person (Pasquier 2018). This applies to sexual and romantic attraction (Pasquier 2018).
Another set of identities under this spectrum are aceflux and aroflux. According to Pasquier, ‘Someone who is aceflux or aroflux has a sexual/romantic orientation that fluctuates along the spectrum between asexual and sexual, and aromantic and romantic’ (Pasquier 2018). Ace or aroflux people may remain inside the spectrum or fall out for a time, which again emphasises that sexuality is not necessarily a stagnant, clearly established thing but something that may change or develop depending on the person and their orientation. It also illustrates that asexuality and aromanticism can be intertwined. However, they do not have to be.
These labels may be confusing but they can be helpful for people to describe themselves. That being said, how you identify is up to you and no one should tell you otherwise. You are valid.
What does it mean to be ‘Aromantic’?
According to AVEN’s wiki, aromanticism is defined as the following: ‘An aromantic is a person who experiences little or no romantic attraction to others. People identifying as aromantic can also experience romance in a way otherwise disconnected from normative societal expectations (for example due to feeling repulsed by romance, or being uninterested in romantic relationships.)” (AVENwiki).
Additionally, there are subcategories depending on your gender and on which gender you are attracted to. Among those are heteroromantic, homoromantic, biromantic, panromantic and aromantic, the first of which speak for themselves. Therefore, I will only address the latter two. Panromantic means that you are romantically attracted to people regardless of their gender, while aromantics do not feel romantic attraction. I am aromantic and asexual and therefore basically the incarnation of straight edge. – I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t fuck. 😀
As hinted on earlier, depending on your identity, the prefixes can vary from person to person. For example, someone may identify as greyromantic or demiromantic (AVEN).
Especially in the context of asexuality, aromanticism is frequently addressed because this distinction can be helpful to explain your identity to others. However, also people who are not asexual can be aromantic, since the sexual attraction is not necessarily concerned with the romantic attraction. These terms can be particularly helpful for asexuals to explain their orientation to others (AVEN).
The Aromantic Spectrum
The aromantic spectrum can cover the following areas among others. I am not that familiar with this spectrum to be honest, because it was quite clear to me that I am just aromantic. These labels are still interesting examples showcasing how complicated the topic and the process of finding out about it can be and how people can deal with this in humourous ways.
WTF-romantic: ‘WTF/quoiromanticism may include feeling neither romantic nor aromantic, finding the concept of romantic attraction to be confusing, finding the romantic/nonromantic distinction to be inaccessible in some way, or not seeing the lines between romance and friendship’ (AVENwiki) If you cannot identify with romanticism, aromanticism, nor tell the difference between a platonic and a romantic relationship, this may serve as an identification.
Lith-romantic/akoiromantic/apromantic: a person who may feel romantic attraction, which may weaken if the feelings are mutual, this can also apply to their sexual attraction
reciproromanticism/reciprosexuality: the opposite of the aforementioned lith- or akoiromantic/ akoisexual identity, someone does not experience attraction unless they know that someone is attracted to them (Pasquier 2018).
I think these examples illustrate how confusing it can be to make sense of your feelings. I love the concept of WTF-romantic because it depicts my problems with distinguishing between love and friendship nicely. I have a concept of friendship and to some extent of romance but I cannot really tell what the difference is supposed to be. Of course, in a romantic relationship you may sleep with one another and I always imagined romance as more inning than a friendship since the latter lacks the sexual aspect. However, this is most likely due to the heteronormative mindset of society. Therefore I have grown more critical of this idea and the entire concept makes even less sense to me. I can definitely see why someone might just think: ‘What the Fuck?’
Apart from these concepts, there are also aro slang words like ‘sqishes’ or ‘no romo’. A squish is an aromantic equicalent to a crush. If you would like to befriend someone, that might be a squish: ‘A squish is a strong desire for some kind of platonic (nonsexual, nonromantic) connection to another person” (AVEN wiki). I’ve had my fair share of squishes and they were often the start of some great bromances.
No romo is obviously based on the homophobic no homo. It is more of a joke and just a parody to the latter, which you can use in the same context but it does not bother anyone. It is just a funny thing to say.
Why should I care about this Topic? And what should I take away from this?
- asexual = no sexual attraction, aromantic = no romantic attraction. Both are spectra on their own with various subcategories but they can overlap
- you do not have to know all subcategories of the a-spec but if someone identifies along those lines, just accept them. It does not hurt, or even concern you
- Aphobia is a thing but as an ace person, you can also fall victim to homophobia and heteronormative suggestive and explicit abuse. Especially if someone is in the process of figuring out their sexual orientation, homophobic slurs won’t help them in that process.
- It may lead them to question their sexuality even more, which sucks and it is difficult enough to figure out that you are asexual or aromantic. My stations on that way were something like: straight? nah, gay? nah, bi? nah what the hell? Ace: Oh now it makes sense (that came after 22 years of wondering what was wrong with me)
- Especially since asexuality and aromanticism are widely unknown, there are lots of clichés that you hear all the time, be it your family telling you you just need to find the right person, or others questioning the existence of asexuality and aromanticism
- the depiction of asexuality in media as ‘non-human’ or ‘sick’ and the general lack of proper representation in media contribute to the aforementioned problems because people stay unaware of the existence of asexuality and aromanticsm
- Just be open and try to get rid of heteronormative standards. It would make everything easier
One last thing: I am not fond of labels myself but they can be helpful to categorise and address these complicated subjects and to inform people who are not aware of them of what it means to be asexual or aromantic.
At the same time while learning more about this topic, I have learned that you do not have to define and label everything. If you feel content with a label, use it but do not define yourself through that and do not reduce your existence to just that one trait. Humanity and relationships are far too diverse and complicated to be labelled fittingly. Just because a relationship cannot be labelled or it deviates from the norm, that does not take away from its value. Again, you are valid.
The most important thing is that you are happy with yourself. Mainly be yourself and do not let others define you. In consequence, treat others in a way that enables them to be themselves and to feel well and accepted. It is not even like it concerns you if someone is asexual or identifies outside of the gender binary.
If you have any questions or remarks, feel free to tell me in the comments. I tried to break this down and I was a bit anxious because I am by no means an expert. Therefore, I am open to constructive criticism if there are topics that I addressed sparingly.
As always thanks for reading. I am looking forward to the next post, in which I will talk about one of my favourite series of the past years and tell you how asexuality is addressed in it: Bojack Horseman. Also, you can expect an album review some time the upcoming week. Until then and take care.
Small Disclaimer: I did not create any of the memes in this post and just used them because they fit my text perfectly and helped me to convey some aspects of asexuality and aromanticism. I hope, no one is upset about me using their memes.
AVENwiki. ‘Aromantic.’ AVENwiki, http://wiki.asexuality.org/Aromantic. Accessed 12 May 2020.
AVENwiki. ‘Romantic Attraction.’ AVENwiki, http://wiki.asexuality.org/Romantic_attraction#Crushes_and_Squishes. Accessed 12 May 2020.
Eukaryote Writes Blog. ‘How many asexuals are there?’ eukaryotewritesblog, 4 March 2017, https://eukaryotewritesblog.com/2017/02/24/how-many-asexuals-are-there/. Accessed 12 May 2020.
Minor Threat ‘Straight Edge.’ First 2 7’’s, Dischord Records, 1984.
Pasquier, Morgan. ‘Explore the spectrum. Guide to finding your ace community.’ glaad, 27 October 2018, https://www.glaad.org/amp/ace-guide-finding-your-community. Accessed 12 May 2020.
THE ASEXUAL VISIBILITY & EDUCATION NETWORK. asexuality.org, https://www.asexuality.org/. Accessed 12 May 2020.
Next time on sovlpvnk: Ace-Rep #1: Asexuality in Bojack Horseman