“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.

“There is joy in exploring bodies together.”

I’m twenty-six, and I’ve had sex with around thirty people, maybe more depending what you feel counts as sex. I was only in relationships with a handful of them, many of them one night stands, occasional things with friends, or short (often very short) flings. And I’ve never felt like a “slut”, or like I’m doing something wrong.

Just over a month after I turned sixteen, I lost my virginity to a boy I’d met that same night at a party. He was also sixteen, and a virgin too, and we got along, flirted, and had sex. (Funnily enough, I had sex again with this same boy once more, three years later.) It had never been important to me that sex be “special”, although if that’s your thing, great! I don’t remember feeling especially nervous or like something especially momentous was happening, although of course I texted my friends immediately afterwards.

In retrospect, I was lucky to have a group of quite sex-positive friends, although of course we were a mess of hormones and had our share of poor decisions and fights. We didn’t slut-shame each other, we swapped masturbation tips and passed around dirty books (how retro is that?) I also benefited from access to very comprehensive sex education, and we were generally, from the start, aware and diligent about contraception and STI prevention.

Sex for me has always been something I’ve entered into easily. Funnily enough, I find the whole process of flirting supremely awkward and have major anxiety about rejection, so I tend to never make the first move, but if things are going nicely and I’m open to kissing them, I’m probably open to having sex with them.

I find it’s a good ice breaker. The moments after you have sex, especially good sex, there’s no more awkwardness. You lie there all sweaty and just look at each other and laugh. Sudden your bodies feel like they live easily together, because they’ve worked together. Sex when you’re in love is different and wonderful, but that doesn’t make casual sex worthless. It can be life-affirming and joyful and, most importantly, pleasurable. I’ve had wonderful sex with people I barely knew, or casually and intermittently with a friend I feel a sexual connection to. There is joy in exploring bodies together.

I feel no shame of my body when I’m having sex, not that I normally do otherwise. I don’t feel exposed or afraid. They think I look beautiful, or they wouldn’t be there. Your partner doesn’t care, whether it’s for a night or a lifetime. All bodies are beautiful as you explore them and make them moan at your touch.

Of course I’ve had bad casual sex. Not everyone is good at sex, and even those who are can’t be good all the time. Maybe your bodies just aren’t a good fit, or it’s just boring or unsatisfying. But most of the time, the experience as a whole is still fun. There is still joy in kissing someone, in holding someone, in admiring and being admired. You relate on a different level when you’re naked together. Sex should be laughter and pleasure and joy. It doesn’t have rules, except to respect everyone’s consent. It’s revealing and intimate even with a stranger. It can be full of beauty.

Perhaps I am promiscuous by the standards of society, but I can honestly say I don’t regret a single one of the people I’ve slept with. I would probably have been with many more if I was capable of being more forward. Of course there are people I wouldn’t go with now, but they’ve all been a part of who I am. I wouldn’t change it, I wouldn’t take it back, and I will never, ever allow anyone to shame me for it. I had sex with those people because I wanted to in that moment. That’s what matters. Have sex how you want to, on your terms. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you need to be with more or fewer people, or enjoy a certain kind of sex. It’s not boring to have vanilla sex, any more than it’s wrong to consensually explore the dirtiest kinks you can imagine. Sex is a different experience with every new person, and that is wonderful.

There is no such thing as a slut. Have all the funny, sweaty, joyful sex you like. Use a condom, get tested, and be safe. Respect other people’s boundaries, and your own. Explore and enjoy.