By columnist Diana Pearson
October 23-29 is Asexual Awareness Week! This annual campaign seeks to educate about asexual, aromantic, demisexual, and grey-asexual experiences and to create materials that are accessible to our community and our allies around the world.
In my first issue of “Dirtyin’ The Nav”, I asked the question: “Can it get any better than a sweaty romp in the sack?” While some might say no, for others, the answer is an emphatic yes, yes it can. For still others, this scenario is downright unappealing. In class last week, a peer asked which is better, bungee jumping or sex? Another responded by firmly stating that “bungee jumping wins every time.” We all chuckled at her candid statement. These questions had me wondering, how can sex-positivity and asexuality go hand-in-hand?
I first learned about asexuality in 2014 while hiking the El Yunque Rainforest in Puerto Rico with two ladies I’d met at a Women’s Studies Conference. In conversation, they told me they both identified as asexual. I was so curious. They were very patient while I asked ignorant questions like, “Do you feel like you’re missing out?” and “Have you ever had an orgasm?!” It took me time to understand that not all humans are driven by sex, as many of Freud’s theories, and my own wild hormones, might suggest. The conversation was enlightening, and I soon learned that asexuality was much more complicated than I first imagined.
An asexual person (ace) is defined by the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) as someone who does not experience sexual attraction; “this differs from celibacy because it’s not a choice but an orientation just like being gay, lesbian, [heterosexual,] or bisexual.” Under the asexuality umbrella, you are sure to find a diversity of wonderful individuals all with varying desires, delights, and disgusts. According to the AVEN 2014 census, “21.6 percent of ace respondents indicated that they felt their sex drive was nonexistent.” Some aces are sex-repulsed, which means they are disgusted by sexual activity. Some are sex-neutral, meaning that although they feel no desire to have sex, they may be willing to have sex with a partner. One ace who identifies as gray-asexual and panromantic, said with a laugh, “some things are fine, as long as it’s not too long or too sticky.” Another ace explained that when she discovered that sex for her was “uninteresting,” it was a bit like hearing she had won the lottery, only to claim her prize and find out the prize had already been given away. A third said they enjoy masturbation, but simply have no desire to have sex with a partner.
Although aces may not face as much discrimination as individuals in a visible minority (such as trans individuals), social challenges do come up. I interviewed Bauer, a co-ordinator of Aces NYC (a community group in New York for asexual people and allies), who has experienced social stigma. She says, “There are definitely people who pathologize [asexuality], say you’re broken, or that your hormones need to be corrected, or that you’ll grow out of it, that you haven’t met the right person, or you may be gay and just haven’t admitted it yet. We have people coming from the other direction, saying, ‘I knew I was gay, I didn’t know that I was also asexual!’” Asexuality is a sexual orientation. By no means should asexuality be seen as a pathology or as being a result of negative sexual experiences.
That being said, Bauer says that survivors of sexual trauma have also found support in the Aces NYC community. “There are some people who are survivors of sexual trauma who identify as asexual because of that trauma, and we welcome them.” She says it’s important to make space for all those who identify as asexual, regardless of their path to that decision.
It is reported that about one percent of the human population is asexual; however, this percentage might be higher as asexuality education and awareness grows. As I learn more about the ace-spectrum, I find myself thinking more critically about my own sexuality. I’d never considered that only being sexually attracted to someone after developing an intimate bond had its own label (it’s called demisexual); and while labels aren’t necessary to make our sexual preferences valid, these identities are a reminder that sexuality is much more diverse than the hetero-rom-com narrative we continue to see in films.
The more we understand about our sexual impulses (or lack thereof), our romantic desires, and our needs for belonging, friendship, and companionship, the more capable we are of asking for what we want and saying no to what we don’t want. Desires can include the desire not to have sex. Sexual orientation is not as simple as the “nature vs. nurture debate” would lead us to believe. Sexuality is a playful mixture of our hormones, past experiences, cultural beliefs, and wonderfully mysterious urges. Questioning your own desires is a great way to better understand your needs and expectations for love, sex, and companionship.
As always, I love to hear your sex-related questions, concerns, and curiosities via firstname.lastname@example.org. Not to worry–your questions stay anonymous and confidential.
One of Diana’s passions is to encourage sex-positivity and open, shameless conversations about sex and sexuality through her column, “Dirtyin’ The Nav.” Her future path includes completing a Masters in Gender Studies and Social Justice, and teaching pleasure-based sex education. She is a non-fiction writer and a musician. As a copy editor, she revels in making The Nav look pretty.