I am posting this because I was an asexual for 24 years. I am not anymore but this is still very important to me. A lot of people still don’t understand or know what asexuality is, and this is wrong. Schools fail to teach about it in sex ed. This is also very wrong. I was led to believe I was weird when it’s totally normal! There are sadly no support helplines in my country the UK to help young people or indeed anyone with this. Doctors called me mentally ill! This has got to stop. Asexuality is NOT a mental illness or a sign of a hormone abnormality!
13 Myths and Misconceptions about Asexual People
1. Oh, so you’re celibate?
Celibacy and asexuality are two different, albeit superficially similar things. Celibacy is where a person abstains from sex either voluntarily (such as a religious vow) or involuntarily. The important thing is that they have a desire to have sex that is suppressed somehow. Asexual people have no such desire; not experiencing sexual attraction is an intrinsic part of them. Celibacy is about behaviour, while asexuality is about underlying feelings. Asexual people do not make a choice to be asexual any more than gay people make a choice to be gay and so on, and it isn’t a case of them being unable to have sex. Some people give asexual people credit for “saving themselves” or “exercising self-control”, but there’s nothing to save or control.
2. The purpose of life is to procreate – you must be ill or damaged in some way.
This is always lovely to hear. Some people take evolutionary theory – or their religious book of choice – to extremes! Life has so many facets beyond going forth and multiplying/passing down our genes, I can’t even begin to do them justice. It’s bizarre how they’re all suddenly forgotten by those trying to make asexual people feel inadequate. (On a side note, don’t you think we have enough procreation going on already without trying to force asexual people into doing it too?)
Regarding the second point, it’s a sign of how sex is held in such high regard in our society that anyone who expresses no interest in it is seen as having a problem that needs to be fixed. (Because denoting orientations as disorders has gone so well before, amirite?) No sensible person will deny that loss of sexual desire can be a symptom of underlying problems, but being asexual is an orientation, not an illness. Think of it this way: some people are naturally more sexual than others. Why can’t that extend to having no sexual attraction at all without it becoming an illness, or a symptom of childhood abuse, or any sort of cause for concern?
3. How do you know if you’ve never tried it?
The same way straight people know they’re straight without having gay sex, or gay people know they’re gay without having straight sex, or any person knows they don’t want sex with a certain person without actually doing it. As I mentioned before, the key thing is attraction.
This sort of question also ignores the fact that some asexual people have in fact had sex, or masturbated, or (if they’re demisexual) can experience sexual attraction once an emotional connection is formed, and they haven’t magically turned sexual – just like someone who identifies as, for example, a lesbian wouldn’t be turned straight just by having sex with a man. (Though, word to the wise, don’t randomly ask an asexual person intimate questions about their sex life – it’s not that they’re a prude, it’s just incredibly rude.) There’s a chance an asexual person might shift their identity, but generally people come to asexuality having examined themselves quite a lot, since it’s a relatively invisible orientation. Even so, doubting anyone’s orientation is kind of a douchey thing to do.
Conversely, if terrible movies have taught me nothing else, they’ve taught me that sexual people don’t have to have sex to want it.
Another symbol used by the asexual community. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
4. I met an asexual person who was in a relationship. They must have been lying about being asexual.
Relationships are more complex than simply sexual attraction. There’s romantic attraction for starters – asexual people can identify as having a romantic attraction to other people (homoromantic, heteroromantic, biromantic, etc.), or not (aromantic). More importantly, there’s the fact that relationships don’t have to be sexual or romantic to be meaningful – friendships or familial relationships can be even more fulfilling.
Another myth is that asexual people can only form relationships amongst themselves – many asexual people enter relationships with sexual people, though the trick (as with any relationship, especially one where sex drives don’t match) is communication. Some asexual people will do sexual things for their partner, or even be sexually attracted to them if they’re demisexual. You have no right to know the details just because you’re curious.
5. Come off it! You’re just gay and in denial/straight but can’t get any/too young to make that sort of statement.
I’m going to need a list-within-a-list to deal with all this fail!
a) Many asexual people grow up being misread as gay or even believing they are gay – learning about asexuality and finding you fit into it can be a real turning point. It does seem that if you’re not aggressively heterosexual, you’re automatically gay – and if you deny you’re gay, you’re repressed. Don’t you think it would be easier for a closeted gay person to come out than go through constant scrutiny by identifying as asexual?
b) Asexual people are no more or less desirable than sexual people. Our orientation is not a defence mechanism. (I theorise that part of this misconception is down to the fact we engage in behaviours that traditionally attract people somewhat less since we have less desire to attract them, but that’s just common sense.)
c) I won’t deny that members of the asexual community seem younger on average than others. However, I think this is down at least in part to how invisible asexuality is, and how it’s prominently an internet community. The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) was only founded in 2001, after all! Many gay people know they’re gay from a young age and we don’t try to force them back into the closet until they’re “old enough” (how old is “old enough” anyway?), so don’t do the same to asexual people. I would go so far as saying the younger a person can know themselves fully, the happier they’ll be – they won’t have to go through years of believing there’s something wrong with them.
d) Remember what I said about doubting someone’s orientation being a douchey thing to do?
6. You hate people having sex – you must be scared or think you’re above them.
The vast majority of asexual people do not hate sex. In fact, a lot of us are very sex-positive – just as long as sex-positivity doesn’t mean negativity directed at us. Frankly, some asexual people do personally find sex a bit disgusting. This is understandable, when you think about it, but even these people don’t believe no one should have any (unless they’re especially misanthropic, in which case they don’t represent the rest of us!). Perhaps asexual people get a bit bored of how sex saturates our culture so completely (and how certain famous TV writers equate asexuality with being boring), but this is not the same as hating sex. On a similar note, only the most arrogant or misguided asexual people believe that sex is an indicator of a person being any lesser. Most of us acknowledge it can be a wonderful experience – it’s just not for us.
Asexual people are beginning to appear in pride parades around the world. (Image courtesy of The One-Percent Club)
7. You’re not queer. You’re just trying to pretend you’re oppressed.
Ah, the purists. I’ve heard people say that asexual people identifying as queer will distract attention and resources from “real” causes, or that there are too many letters in the acronym already. Some even claim we’re trying to co-opt the past suffering of other queer people or are minimising the problems others face. These are all offensive and inaccurate statements – I will be examining these sorts of attitude in an upcoming post.
I understand whole degrees exist to debate definitions of “queer”, and I’m only a science student, but here is my definition: queer people are all the people who aren’t simultaneously cisgendered and heterosexual, and who want to identify as queer. I do not believe that anyone is obligated to identify as queer, but I also do not believe that anyone should be excluded because they make others feel uncomfortable or they’re not “queer” enough. I will not deny that asexual people’s experiences are quite different in many ways to those of other queer people, but that is not a disqualifier. The subset of asexuality where queerness is most an issue is heteroromantic and aromantic asexuality – people of these orientations are afforded a bit more straight privilege, but so are other members of the queer community. That doesn’t change the fact that they can identify as queer if they wish – a hierarchy is the last thing the queer community needs.
Besides, you don’t think it’s oppressive to grow up in a culture that constantly tells you that you need to get fixed? That tells you you’re repressed, or heartless, or must have been abused? Or denotes you as gay against your wishes? (And, while hopefully avoiding veering into Oppression Olympics, I ought to point out that corrective rape of asexual people is a thing that exists, and reactions so far indicate that maybe there would be more active asexual discrimination if a few more people were aware of it as an orientation.)
8. You’ve just not met the right person yet.
While this may be true of a small minority of asexual people, I’m given to believe that sexual people are aware of being attracted to people even if they aren’t in a relationship with them. This attraction simply does not arise in asexual people – or, if it does, only does so after a sufficient emotional connection has formed. I suppose asexuality and bisexuality are similar in this regard – they are both disproportionately seen as transitory phases, which erases and devalues them.
9. You’re just socially inept and incapable of love.
The vast majority of asexual people are perfectly capable of love, but remember that love comes in all sorts of forms. Just because we don’t experience sexual attraction, doesn’t mean we’re cold unfeeling monsters – nor do we just need a bit of a confidence boost. Perhaps I’m not the best person to address this, because I am socially inept, but I can assure you that my orientation and personality are not linked in that way. There are plenty of socially inept sexual people and plenty of socially fluent asexual people. Though perhaps you’d be socially inept too if you’d grown up experiencing homophobic bullying while also knowing you weren’t gay, and felt like an incomplete person for not experiencing an allegedly vital part of life…
Some people go so far as to insist that all asexual people are autistic, which wins them bonus points for also being offensive to neuro-atypical people by erasing their sexualities. Some asexual people are autistic, some autistic people are asexual. Sexual orientation and social behaviour are separate things. [Thanks to commenter sidneyia for pointing out ambiguities in an earlier version of this section.]
10. I admire you. You must not have any problems.
Our “decision” to abstain is not a decision to be admired – it is just what comes naturally. While we’re at it, can we please stop seeing a person’s sexuality as having any intrinsic link to their morality? To an extent, asexual people do have fewer problems – when I hear about the relationship woes of some of my friends I feel lucky in some ways to not be caught up in that world. However, this discounts the fact that many asexual people do engage in relationships, not to mention being asexual can itself cause problems (see the rest of this article).
11. You’re missing out.
Just as I’m sure straight men are missing out on a lot of awesome gay sex, and so on. You can’t “miss out” on something if you intrinsically don’t desire it, no matter how much anyone else insists.
Here’s the thing: asexual people are no more defined by their lack of attraction than sexual people are defined by their attraction. Just because you see us talking about a lot on the internet, doesn’t mean that is all there is to us. At the moment we’re in the awareness-raising stage of the asexual movement, so naturally we’re going to be vocal about that aspect of ourselves. There is more to a person that who they let into their bed and this is no less true of asexual people. To some people though, “I don’t experience sexual attraction” means the same as “I don’t ever do anything except stare at walls and think about all the sex I’m not having”.
12. You’re just trying to be different.
Lots of people feel that asexuality is a trend that people only engage in to go against the grain – I wonder if they’re the same people who think that of bisexuality too. There are easier (and better!) ways to be different, believe me. Our differences are natural – dismissing them as childish phases only serves to make things more difficult for us.
Dan Savage has a hard time comprehending asexuality.
13. I don’t care about you not having sex, therefore there is no point in you blabbing about it. There are bigger problems in the world.
Um, well… tough? I wish asexual people didn’t have to be so vocal about our private lives, just as I wish we lived in a society where no one needed to come out, but that’s not the way things work, particularly in a society that is all about doing it. There are plenty of things that I don’t care about, but they don’t encroach on me so I either ignore them or give them a chance. If you’re still not convinced, look at it this way – the more we “blab” now, the less we have to “blab” in the future!
Finally, while there certainly are bigger problems in the world than lack of asexual awareness, the same could be said of virtually everything. Asexual awareness aims to make life easier for the estimated one percent of people who are asexual and change some attitudes regarding the importance of sex in living a fulfilling life. We do not claim it is the biggest problem in the world, but it affects us and we are the ones most qualified to talk about it and hopefully change things. As someone who has experienced the pain of feeling less than a person because I didn’t have adequate information, I can’t see how that isn’t a worthy cause.
If you have any questions or myths that you feel I haven’t covered, or any points you require clarifying, feel free to leave them in the comments. I will also be adding some good resources to our resource page shortly – in the meantime, a great starting point is AVEN, the hub for all things asexual.
PLEASE REBLOG this to raise awareness and to show fellow asexuals YOU ARE NOT ALONE and there is nothing wrong with you.