“I am twenty-three years old and I have never had sex … I’m simply not interested.”

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.

I’m starting to value myself for something other than my looks, and I’m actually kinda proud

To me, my personality consists of geekiness; which involves a serious penchant for comics, superheroes, films, books and video games. It also consists of my love of language, my inquisitiveness, my thirst for knowledge, my appreciation of art, photography, comedy, and theatre. My love of clothes and style, and my love of people and all their weird, delightful complexities.
And a whole bunch else which I’ll probably remember after I’ve typed this out.

Very little of what I think about when I think about ‘me’ has to do with my physical appearance.
Although, I love to do my hair, my make up, and choose outfits that look good to me.

Something that I noticed recently is that although when I think of ‘me’, most of what I think of relates to my characteristics and interests as apposed to my looks, it’s primarily my appearance that I think of when I think negatively about myself.

And that pisses me off.

Because I’ve been trained to be that way.

And I’m not a fan.

Advertising, television, films; so much tells me as a woman only to care about what I look like, not *who* I really am.

And quite frankly, fuck that.

Most mass media focuses on women in relation to their looks, their clothes,
and their sexuality. If you are not beautiful in the very narrow definition perpetuated by them, then you are not valued. I reject this notion wholeheartedly.

I used to be so shy, and still am. But I’m getting better at being confident. A lot of my shyness came from the fact that I didn’t feel worthy of people’s attention because I wasn’t beautiful enough.

But I’m getting better at ignoring that, and now, even though I still get scared about doing stuff because I’m shy, I just do it anyway. I pretend I’m confident, and not bothered by it. I’m slowly fooling myself into being more confident, and it’s a really good feeling.

I’m starting to value myself for something other than my looks, and I’m actually kinda proud.

In closing, if I can offer you one piece of advise, it would be to stop watching adverts, and buying the like of ‘heat’ magazine.
They are designed to make you hate yourself. And to fool you into thinking beauty can be achieved with the latest foundation or shampoo, when really your beauty comes from within you, and isn’t something that can be bought or sold.

Kate – 25

“I try to love and respect my body no matter what I weigh.”

My body and I have had a love/hate relationship for as long as I can remember. I remember when I was younger hating my body because it was different than the other girls. I was short and stubby. My mother would tell me to stand up and suck in, so as not to seem so fat. Around third grade is when I realized, I could change the way I look. By third grade, I started off my first course of bad dieting. Eating carrots, soup, and crackers for months at a time. I equated losing weight to being happy. When I lost weight, I felt great. People would comment on how good I looked or how pretty I looked. Eventually, though, I would gain the weight again, starting the whole process over again.

The time that affected me the most, though, was just a couple of years ago. I was a sophomore and junior in college. I was already a vegan, but I decided that being vegan wasn’t enough to lose weight. At the point, I started eating less and less. I would eat a banana for breakfast, gum for lunch, and iceberg lettuce for dinner. I continued to work out. I quickly noticed my body starting to change, but I still wasn’t happy. No matter what the scale told me, I found myself hating my body and who I had become more and more. This sadness oozed out into my everyday life. I found that I couldn’t connect with people anymore. I couldn’t have fun partying or doing random things with friends.

I hit rock bottom when my doctor explained to me that I was ruining my chances of ever having a child. I had lost my period the beginning of sophomore year and had never gotten it back because I was lacking too many nutrients. At that point, I decided to see a counselor.

This was a changing point for me. While you always hear “love your body” and “you are beautiful”, you never really come to understand how reality is distorted by things such as music videos, magazines, the internet, etc. Everywhere around us, we are bombarded with pictures of women who seem so happy. They are thin, tan, and beautiful. Psychologists sometimes like to call it the halo effect. The halo effect is the assumption that persons who are beautiful are perfect. They have great friends, they’re nicer, smarter, etc. That is what I was attempting to do. I was attempting to become beautiful in my body, so that I could achieve this sense of perfection. If I had a beautiful body, then maybe I would have a happier life.

Nowadays, I realize that this mindset was not going to work out. The way my body looked didn’t have to affect my happiness. I could control that. Since that point I saw the counselor and on, I have still struggled with my body. Now, though, I try to love and respect my body no matter what I weigh. I cherish my friends, family, and experiences in life. I understand that I’m beautiful no matter what my body looks like. There is so much more to me. I’m not saying I have all the right answers, but I think I’m off to a good start with my body.

“The Perfect Woman.”

I know that, as a girl, I am judged every day for how I look and what I’m wearing. I am compared to my mother, my friends, models in magazines and people’s own ideas of how I should look. I am compared to this “Perfect Woman”, who is the patriarchal ideal of what a woman is meant to be.

The Perfect Woman is something everyone feels differently about. The media’s best efforts to brainwash us into worshipping a white, slim, able-bodied image of perfection have been mostly successful but we still have slightly different opinions about who and what is beautiful.
These ideas of perfection are so often very different, if not opposite, to how we really look and feel about ourselves, yet we feel obliged to try and make ourselves more like the Perfect Woman. This is a problem because in our patriarchal society, a women’s appearance and beauty are some of her most valued traits. Whether we want it to be or not it is ingrained in our society, in our minds and the people around us.

My picture of the perfect woman is different from the way I look. Not opposite but far enough away that I know I will never look that way. I will always be subpar, inadequate, not quite good enough. But I know I am not alone. I have never met and I do not think there exists a single person on this earth that is even nearly happy with the way they look. In fact, in my experience, the people who are perceived as most beautiful have the most negative views about themselves. The most beautiful girl I know doesn’t even think she is pretty, let alone beautiful.

The perfect woman is a shadow in the front of our minds. A niggling voice saying we will never measure up. Telling us we aren’t beautiful, we aren’t desirable, we aren’t wanted.

BUT

I don’t like that voice and I don’t think you do either. Why should we measure and compare ourselves to this ideal, this figment of imagination when we are real. We all have flaws and we are all different so why try and change that? Why not celebrate our differences? I ask you to see your differences and embrace them. Embrace yourselves and embrace the differences of others around you because perfection is not real.

Guest post by @lilinaz_evans whose blog can be found here.

“I suffer from high self-esteem.”

Hi, I’m 23, female and I suffer from high self-esteem. I love my body, I just cant help it.

I’m really very lucky – I have 20/20 vision, all my natural teeth, a fairly strong constitution, ten fingers and ten toes.

When women ask me, What do you hate most about your body? or If you could change anything, what would it be? I really have to think about it. After a lengthy pause I usually shrug and say, My feet are pretty big? Truth be told, if I could change anything it would probably be my body clock, so I could survive on 6 hours sleep and not be a moody bitch. Either that or change my digestion so I would take a dump at 7 every morning and not have to go when I’m on a bus or at a party.

But back to the body stuff: There are several things wrong with these kinds of situations. For starters, they happen waaaay too frequently for my liking (that they happen at all is truly horrifying). Secondly, that most women I know are locked and loaded with their answer. As soon as the question is asked its like a bomb goes off and body parts are suddenly flying across the room. I hate my thighs. My boobs are too small. My arse is so flat. When did hating your body become a hobby? And third, why does loving your body now equate to narcissism? This may be a cultural thing, I’m not sure – in Australia we have a national case of Tall Poppy Syndrome and if you value any of your natural assets, you are swiftly deemed “up yourself”.

In any case, when will women start giving themselves and each other a break? The girl who loves how she looks is not an egocentric maniac and the girl who hates how she looks is not digging for compliments. We are not a threat to each other! We live in a hostile, media-saturated environment and are constantly told we’re not good enough. We are so good at being down on ourselves and consuming (make up, clothes, anything to attain an unrealistic ideal) that we perpetuate the cycle and convince others to do the same. The system is rigged. We’re actually doing advertisers’ jobs for them!
Let’s not make it so easy for them. Let’s reframe the question… What do you love most about your body?

“You could be a model!”

Thanks to kirstyskears for this post.

My Nan came round this morning. She was reminiscing about last weekend’s family party and suggested that I wear make-up more often as I ‘look quite pretty with make-up’. I sarcastically replied, ‘thanks Nan’ to which she suggested that my mum ‘could do with some lipstick too’. She then went on to tell me that I could be a model if I wore make-up more often. I generally only wear make-up when I am going somewhere nice, like to a party. Whereas, I rarely even brush my hair before leaving the house for everyday adventures. I told my Nan that even if I was pretty enough I am far too shy to model. In which she argued that ‘to make it with my photos I have to get over all of that silly nonsense anyway’. To be fair, I realise that there is truth in this matter, I am going to find selling my work very difficult while I find talking to strangers excruciating. But what intrigued me was that my Nan was hinting that it would be better to get over my shyness to be a model, rather than getting over my shyness to be an artist/photographer. Does anyone know a Model who is a positive female role model? What’s so great about being a model? Why does she think it’s a better idea than my chosen career? Why, oh why does she want me to be a model? Does she think that the stereotypical narcissistic, anorexic models that she has seen in the media are really something for a young woman to aspire to? Does she think that I could make better use out of my ‘looks’ than my brains? I am really not sure where she was going with this! The comment about my mum intrigued me too. Why does my mum NEED to wear some lipstick? Why will this benefit her? Will it get her promoted? Are there health benefits that I didn’t know about? Is she secretly planning on meeting someone new and ‘needs’ to attract them with shiny colourful lips? No, I don’t think that any of these Ideas apply. My Nan’s opinions of her family’s appearance come from the expectations that our current culture enforces. Women must be beautiful at all times. Beauty is all we have. It is our only power. The only way to become rich is to look perfect at all times. Using our brains to gain power and wealth is out of the question, the best thing we can do is stay pretty and passive so that a ‘Prince’ can whisk us away off into the sunset.

HAHAHA how ridiculous! Get lost celebrity culture. I couldn’t care less if my hair is not perfect every minute of every single bloody day. I am happy. Not because my Nan thinks I’m ‘pretty’, but because I am alive, and know what it feels like to be alive, and it’s so damn good! Be a model? Pull grumpy faces and be rude all of the time? I’d rather be covered in mud, growing vegetables in my allotment or playing tag with my little sister, thanks all the same. A smile is all I need to have on my face.

“I still have bad days body-wise, but realising that I am, for the most part, normal, and doing my best in a society governed by warped ideas of female fitness and beauty always helps.”

I’m 23. It’s taken me this long to have some semblance of acceptance of my body. For a period of about 18 months I really liked it, because I lost a lot of weight and was the lightest I’d been since I was 13. Still podgy, you understand, but from 13 stone to 10st 7 in a year and a half pretty much by accident felt pretty good. For a variety of reasons (moving back to Glasgow, Stodgeland; illness, new relationship, etc.) it’s crept back up to the high 11st-ish. So I don’t like it as much any more, because I know I used to look “better”.

BUT. Given that I had absolutely despised myself and my body since I was in nursery school, I reckon that’s pretty good going.

So what changed? Basically, I came to the realisation that there were different body shapes. This sounds incredibly stupid, I know. Bear with me.

I’d spent my entire life wanting to wear the same clothes and look the same as tall, willowy teenage models, as seen in Topshop, New Look etc. Indeed when I was a teenager I hated myself because I wasn’t delicate and skinny. If only I could get rid of my belly, if only I could make my arse smaller, if only I didn’t have such a round fat face…you get the idea. Then two things happened: the “ 1950s vintage style” thing- i.e., dresses that suited people with hips. And I got told I had PCOS. So I found a style that I felt good in, and got an explanation for why I looked the way I did.

PCOS – Polycystic Ovary Syndrome – has two effects which affect me in a concrete sense. Having children will probably be a bit problematic, and it makes me carry weight round my middle, which is also harder to lose. I’d like to think I’ve reconciled myself to the “probs no kidz lol” thing. The only time it’s caused any problem to anyone is when I went for a GP check-up and a demented duty doctor phoned me 2 hours later saying, “Your hormone levels are insane, get to hospital now!“ It was a Friday night; I wasn’t even ill. I told him that, and poured myself more wine.

But the weight thing – hallelujah! I can now accept that I will always have a big stomach, always have a big arse, always have hips. They may fluctuate in size, but they’ll always be there. And when I try to lose weight, I don’t weigh myself any more. I’ve done that for too long, I know that to lose any great amount of weight, personally, I need to cut out carbs and drink only water. I did it when I worked abroad out of necessity, because I was poor. But now, frankly, I have a life to lead. Fuck me if you think I’m gonna subsist on pulses when I have a boyfriend who makes good quality, mostly healthy, food for us.
I do get a bit down about myself still- especially my face. It’s round, and I hate that I always look fatter in photos than I really am, because of my face. But I’m working on that. And yeah, I’d like to lose some weight. So I joined a gym, for the first time ever. And finally, the fear and anxiety engendered by years of bullying in communal changing at school has disappeared. I might not be lighter, but I will tone up. I don’t care how much I weigh. I care how I look.

So to sum up: 5’ 3”. Big arse, big hips, big stomach, round face, small breasts. But I have a great waist, I’m not a blob like I always thought. I love my long, thin fingers. My shoulders are nice. Small breasts are useful – I can run for buses! Yay! And I’m fit – I had always thought, “Oh I’m podgy, I must be hideously unhealthy”. This is BOLLOCKS. I’ve been walking uphill for about 45 minutes most days since 1998, when I moved into a house on top of a fuckton of hills then didn’t bother learning to drive. I might not be fast, but I have stamina and I’m strong. So I needn’t have worried about being shit at the gym, the crosstrainer and rowing machine hold no fear. I might not be skinny and delicate. I might be clumsy and flabby. I’m overweight, but I’m not ugly. I wish more people realised that being skinny isn’t the only option. There are so many issues bound up in the “must be size eight to have self worth and be attractive to men” thing. If I started I’d never get off my feminist soapbox. Since I left school, I’ve never had any problems finding boyfriends when I’ve chosen to look for them, nor any complaints from them about the size of my arse/chest/face/stomach/occasional PCOS beard/insert other cause of neurosis here. I still have bad days body-wise, but realising that I am, for the most part, normal, and doing my best in a society governed by warped ideas of female fitness and beauty always helps.