Asexuality is a term that has finally caught the attention of the media, but it is in fact nothing new. I remember stumbling across the word years ago on the internet when I was in my late teens. As I read through the description of what it meant to be asexual I remember feeling a powerful and complicated wave of emotions run through me. I’m not sure whether it was amazement, relief, elation, understanding, or a mix of all of them tangled together, but I knew in that moment that whatever asexual was, it was me. I had finally found the thing that explained how I felt about myself and relationships.
In case you have never heard of it before, let me explain a little of what I know. Asexuality is an orientation in exactly the same way that heterosexuality, bisexuality or homosexuality is. It exists on a spectrum and individuals who identify as being asexual will each take varying degrees of interest, comfort and pleasure when it comes to romantic and sexual attraction. However, the primary and most fundamental aspect of asexuality is having a general diminished, or lack of, sexual interest- ranging from a little to none at all.
I am afraid that there is no ‘correct’ example I can give you of asexuality, because sexual orientation is not an easy case of being categorical or clear-cut. I can only describe how it manifests for me personally, which is that I do not feel the need – ever – to be physically intimate with another human being. I find it extremely difficult to even want to feel this way. I have often questioned or challenged myself on these feelings and tried as hard as I possibly could to see potential partners in this light: in other words, to desire them. I can understand logically why they should be sexually attractive to me. All the boxes are ticked. But as much as I strive to locate this feeling or basic instinct within myself, it remains stubbornly elusive.
This should not be taken to mean that I have no interest in having a relationship. Many asexuals may still desire a romantic partner, as well as enjoy flirting and falling in love. There are other types of non-sexual intimacy (such as romantic or emotional intimacy) which I can still wish to experience, just like anyone else. In fact, to be asexual does not even imply celibacy. It is important to state that asexuality describes orientation, not behaviour. It is possible to be asexual and still have a partner with whom you feel comfortable enough to be physically intimate with, even though it is not necessarily something that you engage with for your own sake. On the other hand, there are asexuals who may simply never feel comfortable with this type of contact at all.
I have quietly identified as being asexual for about five years now. I say ‘quietly’ because on some small but very real level I have felt fearful that speaking out about my true feelings will solicit judgement, disbelief, concern- or perhaps even pity. My status as a young single woman seems to demand that I should be looking for a partner and have to hand a string of passionate tales about my love life- not to mention the assumption that children must be somewhere in my future sights. There never seems to be the right moment in a conversation to say ‘Oh, but you know I am asexual’.
I have, on the rare occasion, offered this piece of information to someone, only to be met with consternation or personal questions. I’ve even been asked whether I have checked with the doctor to make sure my hormone levels are right. I find this response odd, as it would not be acceptable to suggest to a bisexual or gay person that they are suffering from a mental or physical disorder and that they ought to seek advice from a medical professional on how to cure them. I can understand why initially some people may be perplexed, as this is one sexual preference which is defined by a lack thereof- but I can guarantee you my feelings are not unnatural or an indication of a mental or physical imbalance.
In the past, social pressure meant I often found myself trying to be a player in the dating game, only to wear out before things progressed or got more serious. I like the idea of having a ‘romantic other’, but in reality it left me feeling misplaced and anxious. A part of my personality simply remains aloof when it comes to relationships and therefore finding a partner is not something that has much significance my life. I have always felt at my most whole and complete as a human being when I am unattached, and conversely felt split or conflicted when I’ve tried to commit to someone else. I enjoy closeness, but that is about it. The simple fact of the matter is: I am happiest when I am alone.
So there you have it. This is what asexuality means to me. I am not ill, or broken, or suffering from a condition. Nor is it ‘a shame’ that I don’t want to share my life with someone else. I am who I am and I accept this fully. The fact that a young woman simply does not want to have a sexual relationship may seem strange in our modern world where sex is the number one commodity- but I shouldn’t have to apologise or justify myself for being different. I hope other people who feel the same way as me can be happy in their own skin, knowing that they don’t have to live up to cultural portrayals of sexuality. Everyone is an individual. Let’s respect that.