I am twenty-three years old and I have never had sex. I don’t know if this is unusual or if most people wait until they’re older as I’m not in the habit of asking people about their sex lives, but anyway. I was never abused, I haven’t had any bad experiences that could have put me off, and I don’t have any of the mental illnesses or conditions with which a low sex drive is often associated. I’m simply not interested. It’s fairly straightforward, and yet many people seem to find it a difficult idea to get their heads around.
Let me employ an extended metaphor. I view sex in much the same way I view football (soccer to any American readers). I have a reasonable understanding of the mechanics, I sometimes kick a ball around by myself for a while, I can enjoy depictions of it in fiction so long as the entire work doesn’t revolve around it and I can kind of see why so many people like it, but at the same time I have no interest in trying it myself and don’t really get why so much of our culture revolves around it or how people think they can make serious judgements about a person based on which team they support. Or play for, as the case may be.
I can’t remember where I first came across the term ‘asexuality’. Some time near the end of high school, I believe. I’d sailed through my secondary education with nothing in the romance stakes beyond one crush (on a young man in my year; we were friends, but romantically incompatible, since he was gay) or any particular desire for physical intimacy other than a hug, if that. From my lurkings in online asexuality communities, I’ve gathered that many aces go through periods of thinking they’re in some way ‘broken’, doubtless not helped by well-meaning sex-positive rhetoric that, in its eagerness to assure people that sex is a good and normal thing to want and enjoy (which I’m sure it is), often forgets to mention that it’s also fine not to want it. I am not one of those people, as I have never been less than comfortable with my lack of sexual desire, nor have I ever felt persecuted for it. This is probably the biggest reason why I’ve never really engaged with any of the aforementioned online communities; another is that compared to other aspects of myself such as my creative writing, love of video games and interest in many branches of science, I consider my asexuality to be a fairly small part of my identity and don’t really see much point in speaking to someone if asexuality is the only thing we have in common. I imagine the conversation would quickly turn to other topics. “You’re ace? Cool, me too. Have you ever seen Pacific Rim? No? Seriously, you should watch it.” (This is a little beside the point, but you should watch Pacific Rim.) One of my closest friends is also asexual, but with the exception of one discussion about whether or not an ace could Impress a dragon (it’s an Anne McCaffrey thing), our conversations are seldom related to our shared orientation and tend to be more about things like Harry Potter, cute reptiles, and the cultural differences between the UK and the US.
There are a couple of things that do sometimes annoy. One is a general lack of recognition; whenever I’ve had to fill out an equal opportunities form, the Sexual Orientation section has always given the traditional options of Straight, Gay and Bisexual, leaving me to choose the ‘prefer not to say’ option if it’s offered. If the forms offer One, the Other and Both, why can’t they also add a Neither? Another is the lack of representation of asexual people in mainstream media. Not to say that there aren’t any aces in media; Sherlock Holmes (at least in his literary incarnation, and his Benedict Cumberbatch one as well depending on how you look at it), Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory and Lord Varys from A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones are three that spring immediately to mind, but the keen observer may notice a couple of things they have in common. A, they’re all men. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a female asexual character. B, none of them are exactly ‘everyday’ people in other respects. Both Holmes and Sheldon are eccentric geniuses (genii?), with the implication that their asexuality is due to a devotion to intellectual pursuits or possibly because they both fall somewhere on the autistic spectrum (though I don’t believe there’s a correlation between autism and asexuality, as I’ve spoken to a few sexual autistic people online, it seems to be a common belief that there is), while Varys is a eunuch. I don’t recall ever seeing a character in a book, on TV or in a film whose asexuality was unrelated to some kind of physical or mental medical condition, which is disheartening as it sends a bit of a message that people can only be asexual if they fall into the above categories, which is certainly not the case, and probably makes things worse for the aforementioned ‘broken’ people.
The most common definition of asexuality I see is ‘lack of sexual attraction’. I don’t think this is always particularly helpful. For one, the fuck does sexual attraction feel like? I don’t know. I have a strong appreciation for Jason Momoa’s pectoral muscles, but that doesn’t mean I have any interest in climbing into bed with the man. For another, it leaves the label so ill-defined that people who don’t really fit it start calling themselves by it. Some asexual people are actively repulsed by sex; others are merely indifferent, so yes, asexual people can have sex, and yes, asexual people may enjoy sex; doubtless everyone has their own reasons. Maybe they want to have biological children, maybe they’re in a romantic relationship with a sexual person and do it for their partner’s sake, maybe they like it enough to go ‘eh, OK’ if someone offers, but I still think that if you’re sufficiently interested in sex to actively seek it out, you’re probably not asexual and should consider using another label.
Sometimes I do wonder if I’m actually asexual, or just uncomfortable with physical intimacy to the point that I can’t imagine myself getting that involved with another person. Then I shrug, think ‘fuck it, I’m awesome either way’ and go play World of Warcraft for a while.