Out of all human drives, the desire to have sex may be considered the most deeply ingrained in us. We’ve been reproducing through sex since we were fish, and with so much prominence in all of our media, it’s easy to think everyone must feel sexually attracted to someone. Well, think again, because approximately one percent of the population identifies as asexual.
Asexuality is a sexual orientation characterized by an absence of sexual attraction towards anyone. Sexual attraction is the biological urge or desire to have sex with a particular person. Romantic attraction, the desire to have a romantic relationship, exists as a separate (but usually connected) force. Libido is simply a drive to have sex. Most asexuals (or “aces”) feel romantic attraction, and many have a libido (just not directed at anyone), but they don’t feel sexual attraction.
“Ace something or other, romantic orientation… eh, it’s weird,” says Reed Margolis, Franklin sophomore. “Sex just doesn’t really interest me. I don’t see any point in it, particularly for myself.” It’s as simple as that, really. There’s no hatred or fear of sex, it’s just that the intrinsic desire to have it is absent. Aces might enjoy sex, hate it, or be completely indifferent, as with any other activity. “It was never something I grew up particularly interested in … I personally just treat it like any other conversational topic,” says Finn Butvich Caudle, a 16-year-old ace from Drain, Oregon.
Living in the world as an asexual can be complicated, to say the least. In a society that sees sex as a healthy part of any adult life, and which alludes to it constantly in media, it’s easy to feel out of place. This isn’t helped by society’s general ignorance of asexuality, with many unaware or misinformed of the orientation. In fact, some aces feel like something is wrong with them for decades before even learning of the concept. When they finally start identifying as asexual, many people, even those typically accepting of or belonging to LGBTQ identities, reject them, calling asexuality “made up” or “just a phase.”
Of course, as with any group, there are plenty of stereotypes about aces. “People sometimes incorrectly assume that asexual and aromantic are the same thing, assuming that I can’t feel love. Joke’s on them, I have a loving relationship with an amazingly wonderful girlfriend,” says a user on Reddit’s “r/asexuality” subreddit. “Many people also assume that I’m just in the closet and saying ace instead of gay, and some people assume that my ‘choice’ to be asexual is the result of childhood trauma.” Another user comments, “[People assume] that I am broken and need to be fixed, that I can’t know because I ‘haven’t tried it yet,’ that I haven’t met the right person or that I can’t love, simply because I lack sexual attraction towards others.”
The experience varies a lot from ace to ace. It might be helpful to give a personal example. My name is Henry Boyer. I’m 16 years old, I go to Franklin High School, and I have identified as heteroromantic (romantically attracted to the opposite gender) and asexual for almost a year. For years, I identified as straight because of my romantic attractions. I had assumed that everyone felt the same as me, and that society’s obsession with sex was a result of overdramatization in media and a species-wide joke, inflating the importance of sex. This sounds crazy in retrospect, but recognizing that something is off is hard when the thing you were missing was never there to begin with. Eventually, I realized that this wasn’t normal. Luckily, I had already heard of asexuality, and after a night of research, I started identifying with the label. Nowadays, I’m out to all my friends and family. Everyone has been accepting, but whenever I tell someone new, I‘m always uneasy. I know there are people who will lecture me about how it’s a mental disorder, or that I’m too young to know, or that I’m just lying to get attention.
So what can be done? Well, pretty much every problem aces face is due to people being uninformed. Once people know what asexuality is, there will likely be less stigma, fewer ignorant comments, and fewer aces who think they’re broken. This may happen naturally as more people come out, but more can be done. Asexual representation in fiction is criminally low, with only a handful of characters identifying with the label, and even fewer of those providing positive representation. By far the most in-depth portrayal is Todd Chavez from the Netflix show BoJack Horseman. His asexuality and the struggles that come with it are a major ongoing part of his character, and it has led many viewers to discover that they are asexual themselves. Even just a mention in Sex Ed classes would go such a long way and help so many people discover and accept who they are. “…all the sex education materials said ‘desiring this is healthy, imagining these things is normal’ but never addressed the fact that not feeling that way is also ok,” says one commenter.
“When someone tells you their identity, do not question or belittle them.” says another commenter. “Instead, try to learn from them and accept that life can be experienced in so many different ways; there is no standard template for being a person.”