To most people, sex is seen as a basic human need. Most adults need and enjoy it, which is perfectly normal. However, there are people who don’t, which is okay too. As someone who enjoys the act and the thought of sex, it is somewhat hard to believe that there are people out there who don’t. But I also understand that some people are different and have their own normal.
This week is Asexual Awareness Week, which means it’s time to raise some awareness on a topic that is rarely talked about. Asexuality is used to describe people that don’t feel sexual attraction towards others, and many of them don’t even enjoy sex.
Opal and Kate kindly let me interview them about asexuality. Kate is a 30-year-old woman who identifies as asexual. Opal is a nickname of a 23-year-old woman who also identifies as asexual. They both realized they were asexual after reading what other people were saying about it online.
Do asexual people ever have sex? Do they enjoy it at all? What’s it like for you as an asexual person?
Kate: Some aces have sex, and I believe based on discussions I’ve had that most do it to be closer to a partner who is not asexual, so they do enjoy the intimacy with their partner. I have had sex, before I knew what asexuality was, and my experience was that sex was something my partner actively wanted and would bring up and pursue, and it was never something that I thought of. It was like they had a hobby they were passionate about and I would engage in it just to make them happy, like watching a ball game when you’re not into sports. I never enjoyed sex for its own sake and was always glad to be done with it.
Opal: That very much depends on the person. Some asexuals have sex and really enjoy it. Others have sex even though they don’t like it because they might have a partner who isn’t asexual. I personally have had sex but don’t enjoy it and I won’t have it again.
I don’t think it’s weird or anything, but do other people think that? What are people’s reactions?
Kate: I think it definitely surprises people! I’m not super social and I don’t mention it at work (I just say that I don’t date/prefer to be single) but when I’ve explained it to acquaintances at parties, people are usually surprised that anyone wouldn’t want sex. Most people I’ve talked to have been cool about it, though there was one guy who wouldn’t stop asking if I was sure I wasn’t just gay and closeted. My parents don’t like the ace label because anything but straightness is too foreign to them, so they prefer to tell people I’m a “young” old maid.
Opal: A lot of people think it’s weird. They don’t get how you can not like having sex, they say it’s unnatural or that you must be sick and go to a doctor or that you just haven found “the right person yet”. It made me feel pretty bad for a long time. Its sad if you don’t get understood by people around you but it also can get to your head and you start believing what they say. Fortunately nowadays I don’t really care anymore.
Does it make it hard to be in a relationship with people who like to have sex?
Kate: I think it probably would make it hard to be in a relationship with someone who isn’t ace, which is one of the reasons I don’t really date anymore. It was definitely a factor in past relationships, though I didn’t know it at the time. Sex has always been a blank to me, so having partners enjoy and expect sex took me by surprise, and that has to have felt sort of strange and alienating from their side.
Opal: For me personally, yes. I went through my teens feeling awful and started to avoid any kind of physical contact with my partners because I feared it could lead to sex. It was not healthy. An ace who isn’t sex repulsed probably has a lot less problems with that though.
How is an asexual person not sex repulsed? Isn’t that what asexual means?
Opal: It’s not. Asexual just means you don’t feel sexual attraction, that doesn’t mean you don’t feel pleasure.
Kate: I’m pretty sure some aces do enjoy sex for the pleasure. Think of it this way: a gay man could have sex with a woman and physically enjoy the act if both parties are, ehem, skilled at the act; bodies respond pretty predictably to stimulus. That wouldn’t change the man’s gayness though; he would still walk down the street and see a hunk and feel attracted to him and see a hot woman and not be attracted. Closeted gays and lesbians who have had sex with the opposite gender before they knew or understood their own orientation aren’t any less gay.
Are there any other misconceptions around asexuality? Can you discuss them?
Kate: In LGBT+ circles, people sometimes deride aces as being baby gays who are afraid to be open about their sexuality, which is also really infantilizing and invalidating. Also, people sometimes assume aces are incapable of understanding/appreciating jokes or art related to sexiness, and that’s definitely not always the case.
Opal: Just because someone is abstinence doesn’t mean they are asexual and just because someone is asexual doesn’t mean they are abstinence. Asexuals aren’t immature. Most importantly, just because someone is asexual doesn’t mean that they have experienced sexual trauma in their past. And even if they did, they don’t owe you an explanation.
Do you feel like asexuals fit in the LGBTQ+ community? Have you had any issues with feeling like you don’t belong there?
Kate: I’ve struggled with feeling like aces fit into the LGBT community, mostly because of reading a lot of online discourse in the LGBT community where lots of LGBT folks will say things like: Aces don’t make belong in this community because they’re not discriminated against specifically for just not having sex, or aces just want attention, or because aces haven’t suffered the same bullying in their youth that LGBT kids have. Going through adult life experiencing no sexual attraction does eventually force many people to have to openly come out as ace to someone. Also, I think one of the main goals of the ace community is better sex education/education in general so that people know that being ace is a normal, acceptable thing.
So you don’t think the LGBTQ+ community is too focused around sex to the point where you can’t be a part of that? I think if I was asexual I would feel like that sometimes, especially at 18+ events.
No, I don’t think the core of the LGBT community is about sex so much as acceptance. I’ve been to Pride before and seen some pretty risque displays, and I didn’t feel repulsed or discouraged by the sex focus at those times, I just felt happy for them that they were able to celebrate being out in their own skin. That’s what the community feels like at its best, to me, and what I hope aces can be welcomed into.
Do you have any advice for someone that is just realizing that they’re asexual?
Kate: Practice enforcing your boundaries and find some throwaway “Oh, I just enjoy the single” life phrases that you’re comfortable using with nosy people. So many people will question where you know yourself and your own feelings that you have to be able to say “Yes I am sure about who I am and how I feel, but thanks for your…concern.” Also, if you’re someone that’s very social, find ways to interact with people where dating/sex life talk might not come up as much, like a book club, volunteering, Big Brother/Big Sister programs, etc.
Opal: You are not broken! You don’t need to be fixed! You can have a loving relationship even if you don’t want to have sex and most importantly, you are not alone! We are everywhere.
Thank you Kate and Opal for letting me interview you!
A great online resource for asexuals and their loved ones is The Asexual Visibility and Education Network. It hosts the world’s largest online asexual community and archive of resources on asexuality.