What does the “A” in LGBTQIA+ stand for? Some people say it stands for “ally.” But that’s not the case: the A stands for asexual.
Asexuality is largely misunderstood, even within the queer community. In a culture as heavily sexualized as ours is—everything from perfume, to hamburgers, to luxury cars, to cake mix, can be sold using sex—it can be hard to understand that not everyone in the world experiences sexual attraction. But asexual people experience just that, a lifelong lack of sexual attraction, and when they proudly express their identity, they can be met with confusion, downright anger, scorn, and violence.
Less than one percent of people report not experiencing sexual attraction, and not all those who do may identify as asexual. This means that there isn’t an overwhelming number of asexual people in the world, and the stories and experiences of asexual people, like the rest of the LGBTQ community, are even less likely to be portrayed in movies, books, and TV shows. (In fact, Riverdale star Cole Sprouse fought for his character, Jughead, to come out as asexual on the show, but was turned down by producers. He has since stated that he would keep fighting to make that visibility possible in the future.) Asexuality, however, is as valid a sexual orientation as any other, and in honor of the recent Asexuality Awareness week, we’re debunking some common myths about asexuality.
Being asexual doesn’t mean being “scared of sex”
Asexual folks are not “scared of sex.” They simply don’t experience sexual desire or attraction. The idea that asexual people are scared of sex positions asexuality as a problem that needs to be fixed—a phobia, rather than an authentic way of being. This mirrors the way homosexuality was historically seen (and is sometimes still taught in certain states) as a mental illness, something that needed to be corrected.
Asexuality does not necessarily mean celibacy
Being asexual looks different for different people. Not all asexual people practice celibacy (or deciding not to have sex). Some asexual people get into relationships where sex is a component of their relationship. Being asexual means people have a low or absent interest in or desire for sexual activity—that doesn’t mean that can’t or don’t experience sexual pleasure. That feeling non-asexual people get when they feel turned on and get all tingly and want to have sex? Asexual people don’t experience those desires, or very rarely feel those desires. However, some asexual people still have sex or masturbate for other reasons. Maybe they’re with a non-asexual partner, so sex is an aspect of their relationship, and when they do have sex, they feel pleasure. Maybe masturbation helps them fall asleep or decrease stress. Sex and masturbation can have other purposes or feelings behind them for all of us.
Just like there is no “pure” way to be a lesbian (and it’s insulting to insist there is), there is no “pure” way to be asexual. Sexuality is fluid, multi-faceted, and above all, it’s personal. How you experience your sexuality is entirely up to you.
Asexual people aren’t “broken,” and they don’t need to be fixed
One of the most dangerous misconceptions about asexuality is that by not experiencing sexual attraction, asexual people must be “broken,” and therefore need to be “fixed.” Women and non-binary people are expected to “play hard to get” and to be convinced out of their “no”—dynamics that often, unfortunately, may set the stage for sexual assault. Since women and non-binary people aren’t expected to experience sexual desire in the first place, and are seen as having to be convinced out of their reluctance and “swept away” into sexual bliss, when asexual women and femmes assert that they are asexual or disinterested in sex, they may find themselves subjected to that narrative. As Bitch magazine notes, “Convincing or shaming an asexual person into having sex even though they say they don’t want to isn’t a fun game—that’s corrective rape, with the goal of “fixing” asexuals.”
Asexual people aren’t cold, emotionless, or evil
While there aren’t many depictions of asexual people in mainstream media, the vague depictions that do exist out there—the cold ambiguity of Sherlock “I’m married to my work” Holmes; the evil and selfish depravity of Voldemort; the single-minded chaotic nature of the Joker—tend toward cold and aloof, if not outright villainous. Asexual characters are often represented in some pretty negative ways: robotic, undead, inhuman. The dehumanization of asexual characters can be painful or confusing for asexual readers and viewers—although some, through the incredible vehicle of fan fiction, reclaim these stereotypes and write these characters in hundreds of more interesting and more authentic directions.
There are lots of different ways to be on the ace spectrum
Sexuality is fluid, and asexuality is no different. The Asexual Archive lists several different identities under the “asexual umbrella” or the “gray area between asexuality and non-asexuality” (also known as allosexuality). Asexual, aromantic, gray-ace, and demisexual are some identities that can be found under the umbrella. Someone who is asexual, for example, may still experience romantic feelings for others (which can occur along different orientation lines, such as hetero-romantic, homo-romantic, or bi-romantic). Others may be aromantic and asexual, and thus would probably not identify with experiencing sexual attraction or romantic attraction. Gray-asexuality is defined as experiencing sexual attraction very infrequently, or perhaps not being sure that what you’re experiencing is sexual attraction. Demisexuality is known as a subtype within gray asexuality and is when someone experiences sexual attraction only after an emotional bond is formed.
As members of the queer community, we all share a similar history rooted in the erasure of our identities. We’ve been seen as sick, “broken,” or wrong in some way. We’ve made some strides in recent decades—though recent news makes it clear that we’ll have to stick together to protect ourselves and our communities. Part of that is honoring the identities and stories of folks whose experiences may be very different from our own. Read asexual authors, and follow asexual activists. We’re all trying to love honestly and live our lives with authenticity.