I’m a lot of things. A librarian. A scribbler of words. A maker of the best peanut butter-and-jelly-and-potato-chip sandwiches this side of the Mississippi.
I’m also asexual.
Granted, I don’t admit that last one to very many people, and for good reason.
When I was 23, I finally stumbled onto a word to explain why I had never felt sexual attraction to anyone, and why I had never found sex appealing. After accidentally finding AVEN (Asexual Visibility and Education Network) and finding thousands of like-minded individuals of all genders and from all walks of life, it was like finding the last piece of a complicated puzzle I hadn’t even realized I was struggling to put together. In our hyper-sexualized world and amidst the sexual awakenings of friends and peers, I had come to the conclusion that I was simply a freak of nature, and no one – save a few fictional characters with a seeming lack of sexual interest in others – shared this part of me.
I need to get this out of the way right here and now: I was never molested. Never raped. Never sexually abused in any way. I come from a loving home with great parents who have been married for almost thirty years. Sex was discussed openly and without shame in my home. Religion was never tied to sex. My hormone levels are prototypical. My “plumbing,” if you will, is prototypical. Let me make this clear: there is no discernible biological or environmental reason for my asexuality. I feel that I have to preface this piece with that disclaimer, if only because asexuality is often tied – incorrectly – to past abuse or biological issues, when in many cases, it simply is not true. I also believe that such a erroneous causality does an injustice to any person who has suffered sexual abuse or certain medical problems, and has overcome those issues to enjoy loving and fulfilling sexual relationships in their own lives.
Quite simply, I was born this way; in my mind, this is nature, not nurture. It is also not abstinence or celibacy – my asexuality is not self-imposed.
The first person in whom I confided was my friend Rian. He was someone I’d met on a now defunct message board about Taoism and Zen, and we’d kept in touch over the years through email, phone calls, MySpace, and later Facebook. Rian was, and is, a very open-minded individual; in each other, we found another person with whom we could share all of our deepest thoughts and darkest emotions about the world. We made sense of the world together, and explored all manner of philosophies and religions through mutual independent study, simply because it was an interest we had in common. He’d vaguely hinted a few times that he was interested in dating me, but never pushed it – he seemed to value our friendship over a potential romantic relationship, and gracefully let the matter slide when I did not reciprocate. During one late night phone call in my dorm room, the topic of sex arose and I found myself admitting openly, for the very first time, that I neither cared for sex nor sought to pursue it. “I just don’t experience sexual attraction,” I admitted, somewhat sheepishly, perhaps naively feeling that he, out of all of my friends, would be the most open to this proclamation.
If an observer had tapped into our conversation right at that moment, they could not be blamed for thinking I had just admitted that I spent my free time slaughtering infants and consuming them.
I was both awe-struck and terribly hurt by the conversation that followed. First, he accused me of being a virgin – which I am not (more on that in a minute), and even if I was, it wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference – and therefore I had no right to say whether I liked sex or not. When he’d ascertained that this was not the case, he then launched into a stilted and totally inaccurate speech about biology and how it was simply not possible for a human being to never experience sexual longing, and how unnatural it was. I felt about as tall as a blade of grass that had been crushed underfoot. I’d just had all of my darkest fears realized – that most people, even a close friend of several years, viewed asexuals as deviant, malfunctioning human beings, unworthy of an opinion on matters of sexualities.
For weeks afterward, I carried around the deep hurt of that conversation. My feelings reeled from being openly furious one moment, to crying quietly in a corner somewhere the next, to wondering if what he said was correct: that I was irrevocably defective in some way. I didn’t dare tell another soul about my asexuality for four years afterward, guarding the secret close to my heart, terrified that someone would find me out.
I have had three sexual partners in my time. All of them were men, and all of them were wonderful men. None of them pushed me for sex in any way. All of them were gentle and caring individuals. I did care for them deeply in my own way, but sex was always something that I felt like I should do, that if only I kept forcing myself into it, then eventually something had to click, some switch in my brain would be activated, and I would suddenly be just like everyone else, normal and horny. Everything around me – movies, commercials, books, my peers – made it very clear that pining for sex was normal, and that the absence of that longing was cause for therapy, pills, and endless shame.
Remember that “eww boys” phase of childhood? And then suddenly, around sixth grade or so, things start changing. Suddenly, your friends are interested in romantic relationships. Boys begin to hold hands with girls in the hallways. Maybe you see one girl steal a quick kiss with another girl in the bathroom. Your classmates start tittering at any phrase that could be construed as an innuendo. Your friends pin posters of teen idols in their bedrooms, and spend sleepovers gigglingly fantasizing about that cute boy or girl in your algebra class.
That never really happened to me.
I played along, of course. Middle school society being what it is, I had to play along if I didn’t want to be a total pariah. But there was a growing panic inside of me when I began to realize that this wasn’t a silly game my friends were playing; they really did want boyfriends (or girlfriends) and kisses and stolen romantic moments by the water fountain. This is when I began to obsess over the possibility that there was something wrong with me – why didn’t I want any of those things? Why did my romantic fantasies stop at hugging? Why didn’t I fantasize about falling in love and raising children with my soulmate? Why did the very thought of sex make me want to sigh impatiently and ask if we could talk about something more interesting? Nevertheless, I forced myself to have boyfriends. I kissed. I made out. I had sex. Why did those things feel empty, meaningless and more or less unwanted? Why didn’t I have any inclination to seek those things out, instead waiting until my friends starting badgering me to just go on a date with him, just one date, he’s soooo cute?
For a while, I considered that perhaps I was gay, but I decided pretty quickly it wasn’t that, either. In those days, there were only three things you could be: straight, gay or bi. That was it. If you didn’t fall into one of those categories, well, it was just unnatural.
At that time, I truly did not believe that real, live asexuals existed and so instead I began to unconsciously search for asexual characters in fiction, not even realizing that that was what I was doing. I understood Sherlock Holmes’ distaste for romance and love, without hating either of those things in other people. I identified with The Doctor. Peter Pan and I got along splendidly.
I didn’t want to be alone, even if it meant that the only people who understood me were fictional.
That changed when I found the AVEN forums. Late at night alone in my first post-college apartment, I read story after story from people who felt like I did, who were as confused at the anger and hate spewed at them over their asexuality as I was, who had searched for answers as long and as fruitlessly as I had. I learned that there were famous people – insanely talented artists, comedians, writers, actors – who openly identified as asexual. Though it is relatively rare, asexuality regularly occurs in animal populations, thus rendering the argument it’s totally unnatural a moot point. It was the deepest sense of community I’d ever felt, even if I wasn’t a frequent poster. Just knowing there was a sizable population of others similar to me was like balm on a wound that had festered since my early adolescence. At last, someone was telling me that I was not broken, not defective, not a freak, and best of all, that I was not alone.
It was long road towards acceptance and I’ve mostly arrived at it now. I have told several close friends of my asexuality, and praise be to the heavens, they have understood and accepted me wholeheartedly. Even Rian eventually came around to the idea, and apologized profusely for his outburst. I don’t begrudge anyone their sexuality, whatever it may be, because I no longer begrudge my lack of one. I know myself. I know – know in the same way that others know they are gay, straight, bi, or anything else along the endless spectrum of human sexuality – I know that I am asexual. I am not defective. I am not broken. There isn’t anything wrong with me. This is who I am, and I refuse to apologize for it anymore.
There are a lot of clueless and truly hurtful assumptions made about asexuals, assuming a person knows what asexuality is. Many people believe they know you better than you know yourself, or try to make clever jokes like, “So does that mean you reproduce by yourself? Hurr!” I guarantee that all asexuals have had phrases like, “It’s just a phase!” “You just haven’t met the right person yet!” “You’re just a prude!” thrown at them over and over and over again. And it isn’t true. It just isn’t fucking true. Asexuals are as varied as any other sexuality: some of them want to marry, some of them don’t. Some of them masturbate, some of them don’t. Some enjoy romance, and some of them don’t. Some want families of their own – adopted or biological – and some of them don’t. Some asexuals even have sex once in a while, for a myriad of reasons, and some of them, like myself, are simply uninterested and don’t. And it’s ok. All of that is ok. No one has the right to deny your sexuality – or the lack thereof.
I dream someday of a world when I can politely turn down a date by gently saying, “I’m flattered, but I’m asexual,” and not have that be the start of an incredulous and ultimately pointless argument. Someday, I’d like for single asexuals to be able to adopt children without putting on a ridiculous faÃ§ade for adoption agencies who feel asexuality is deviant and therefore an unhealthy influence on a child. I’d like to continue to live my life, happily single and sex-free, without invasive questions about it. I’d like to be able to look my future son or daughter in the face and tell them that Mommy doesn’t want a romantic partner, but if they’d like one someday, that’s perfectly fine and we’re all just the way nature made us.
One day, I’d like the world to stop believing I’m defective.