The Sexpress has looked at all sorts of things that go on in the bedroom and surround our sexual lives, but this one’s about something a bit different – the sexual identities defined by a lack of interest in any such activities. Often a strange concept for many in our over-sexualised society, asexuality and this community tucked away in the plus of LGBT+ is refining and redefining the way we look at sex, intimacy, and relationships.
But first, what is asexuality? What does it mean to identify as ‘ace’? Asexuality is generally defined as a lack of sexual attraction, but like many other queer identities, it exists on a spectrum, from a total absence of such feelings to allosexuality – a term coined for the majority of people who do experience sexual attraction. This has led to the term ‘ace’ being used for anyone who falls on the more ‘asexy’ side of this spectrum. Many of these people simply do not feel a sexual pull or desire towards other people, or only feel it rarely or weakly.
To understand asexuality, it is important to understand what it is not. Sexual attraction is distinct to libido, or your sex drive, so while many asexual people may not have much of a sex drive to speak of, this isn’t always the case; a lack of one doesn’t mean a lack of the other. Nor is it a choice to be celibate, or a medical/hormonal issue. As with all LGBT+ identities, these feelings or lack thereof are normal and valid in their own right, and can’t be changed by outside forces or a decision to alter your own sexual behaviour.
However, this doesn’t mean sex is off the cards for all asexuals. For example, a common ace identity is demisexuality, wherein the person feels no sexual attraction until they have established a strong emotional bond with someone, after which they may feel any degree of attraction to that person. Many asexuals may engage in sex for second-order reasons, such as to feel a sense of intimacy and closeness with their partner, or to bring their partner pleasure. They may also enjoy other physical non-sexual acts that develop intimacy, like hand-holding, cuddling, or kissing, or enjoy acts on a sensual level, such as their partner’s smell or caressing skin.
This diversity of feeling towards doing the do is often expressed in the ace community through descriptors such as sex neutral, repulsed, or positive, to specify how you and a potential partner may navigate sex and to what degree you feel comfortable with sleeping with someone. However, these are entirely different to believing sex is immoral or demonstrates some kind of weak character. While sex-repulsed or sex-neutral people may fast forward through sex scenes on TV or feel uncomfortable in rounds of Never Have I Ever, asexuality isn’t about slut-shaming or wishing for everyone to live sexless, celibate lives. Growing up and living in an over-sexualised world, most ace people are all too familiar with feeling like your sexuality is wrong or something to be ashamed of, and most sex-repulsed people have no qualms about others having safe, consensual sex, so long as it doesn’t involve them!
Of course, asexual people with romantic partners challenges how society typically understands how sexuality and romance coincide. For many people, these two modes of attraction go hand in hand, but they are not inherently one and the same. People can experience sexual and romantic attraction differently and as separate ways to be drawn to another person. An asexual person may experience romantic attraction, and this can also vary based on gender as sexual orientation does. Romantic orientations such as hetero-, homo-, or bi-romantic allow people to specify both who they’re attracted to, and how they’re attracted to them. Many asexual people wish for a loving relationship just as much as their allosexual counterparts, they just want that affection to be expressed in a non-sexual way!
However, just as sexual orientation has a ‘Not Applicable’ option, so does romantic orientation. The asexual community also includes many aromantic (or aro) people, who do not experience romantic attraction. This too exists on a spectrum mirroring asexuality, but with the suffix -romantic instead.
Using the demisexual example, someone could be both demisexual and romantic, feeling either attraction to someone only after building an emotional bond, but after that the feelings coincide nicely as they do for many allosexual/romantic people. However, people may only have sexual or romantic feelings, or experience both but to varying degrees, or even find that the degree of sexual or romantic feelings they experience towards someone depends on their partner’s gender.
A desire for love and affection is quite universal though, and many aromantic people look for someone to share their lives with in what is known as a Queer Platonic Relationship, or a QPR. An interesting middle ground between close friends and a romantic partner, QPR’s involve people who are deeply emotionally invested and close to one another but have only platonic feelings for each other. The boundaries are felt out and defined by each couple, but many QPR’s include physical intimacy such as cuddling or hand-holding and would be more deeply involved in each other’s lives and futures than most friendships, often living together, or even raising a child together. [A good way to understand QPR’s is to imagine your best friend moving away; while you probably would miss them dearly and try to find ways to still see them or stay in contact, this doesn’t have a major impact on your own future or current lifestyle. However, in a QPR each person would consider the other in such life choices, and they would discuss them like in a committed romantic relationship, because there is a similar level of emotional investment in each other.]
Asexuality is a diverse identity with a welcoming community, making space for many different experiences of love, sex, and romance, demonstrating that there are many different ways to navigate our desire for love and emotional connection to other people, all of which put communication at the heart of each relationship. If you are curious about asexuality, want to hear from different ace perspectives, or have questions or queries, AVEN, the Asexual Visibility and Education Network is a wonderful resource and the long-established hub of all things asexual.