By Hera Protopapas

Happy Pride Month! Let’s take this opportunity to shed some light on an orientation that doesn’t usually get much attention. Chances are you know someone who identifies as asexual or on the asexuality spectrum – there are more of us than you might think. Even so, there are many misconceptions about this orientation floating around, something I’ve experienced in many contexts, including at RAM. So if you’re unsure what asexuality is all about, here is a little crash course:

What it is (and what it isn’t)

Asexuality is defined as ‘not experiencing sexual attraction’, but what does this actually mean? Perhaps the two most crucial things to understand about asexuality is that it is

  1. A sexual orientation, just like any other. This means that it is not an illness, a disability, or a dysfunction. It also means that – unlike celibacy – asexuality is not a choice, any more than it’s a choice to be straight, gay, bi, etc.
  2. An umbrella term. Because the definition is based on not experiencing something, it includes a very wide variety of experiences. Some asexual people have a sex drive or libido, while others don’t. Some fall in love and have romantic relationships, while some experience neither sexual nor romantic attraction. Asexuality is also often described as a spectrum, including people who experience little or limited sexual attraction.

Sexual vs. romantic attraction

A lot of people don’t feel the need to differentiate between sexual and romantic attraction, because they often go hand in hand (though having said that, some people who are not asexual still experience these two as separate things). For asexual people the distinction is important, because while most of us don’t experience sexual attraction, some are still romantically attracted to other people, and might also identify as gay, straight, etc.  Conversely, some experience neither form of attraction, and also identify as aromantic.

Sexuality and sex drive

One of the most common misconceptions about asexual people is that we’re all completely uninterested in sex of any kind. Despite the name, asexuality doesn’t necessarily mean a complete lack of sexuality – only that it isn’t directed towards other people. Many asexual people masturbate, and some even have sex with other people, whether for the sake of a romantic partner or to please themselves. That said, there are also those who don’t experience any kind of sex drive.

Why is knowledge about asexuality important?

By its very nature, asexuality is not a very visible orientation, and the fact that the definition is so wide means that it’s very often misunderstood. In a society where sexual attraction is a fundamental part of most people’s lives and relationships, not experiencing that attraction can feel very alienating. Growing up, most asexual people are faced with a firm conviction from people around them that what they’re experiencing is not real, or at best a problem that needs to be fixed. Even the most progressive and inclusive sexual education material often skips asexuality completely, or brushes past it with a mistaken definition. As adults, asexual people are still often met with disbelief, confusion, or misplaced pity when we talk about our orientation, whether with friends, family, romantic partners, or professionals such as healthcare staff. By increasing general awareness about asexuality, we also increase openness and acceptance, allowing people to feel comfortable in their own skin and live their lives as they want. 

So what can you do?

Having sexual or romantic relationships isn’t a condition for happiness, and asexual and aromantic people are just as able to live full lives and have meaningful relationships as anyone else. Recognising this, and having a basic understanding of asexuality (as with any other identity) is already a great way to be supportive of asexual people around you. In my own experience, my orientation often becomes an anticlimactic bomb I have to drop in response to a leading question about my love life, leading to an awkward silence as the other person tries to decide how to react. I’m not telling anyone not to ask these questions of your friends, but please be open to the answer, because just as you can’t usually presume what gender someone is interested in, you can’t always presume that they are interested in anyone at all. Awareness of asexuality is growing – for example, asexual activist Yasmin Benoit is one of the recipients of this year’s Attitude Pride Awards, the first time an LGBTQ+ award in the UK has gone to an asexual activist. This is great news, and hopefully we can continue to increase general awareness and acceptance through curiosity, information, and open-mindedness.

Posted by:RAMpage Website

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