I’m not holding out for the right person to fix me and make me realize what I’m missing. I simply do not want sex. And I’m not alone in that.
I want to tell a story.
It is a coming-of-age story, but not the sort you usually hear. It is a story of sexuality, but without the sex.
Like many in the gender and sexual minority (GSM) community, I realized early on that I was different. As classmates in high school started to talk about crushes and boys and dating, I spent hours reading in the library. I had no concept of “liking” a boy, and there wasn’t anything further from my mind than dating or being attractive.
Midway through high school, I took my lack of interest in the opposite sex as a sign that I was a lesbian. It was the most obvious solution, and one I didn’t have a problem with. Neither did anyone else I knew, really, so it wasn’t a big deal. I paid lip service to being a lesbian with the occasional comment about how a girl was attractive, but really, calling myself a lesbian changed very little. I figured I’d fall in love with someone sooner or later and left it at that.
It wasn’t until my first year in college that I seriously began to question myself. I’d discovered feminism and embraced sex-positivity, and was ready to get on with it and experience all that dating and love and sex had to offer. In high school it had been easy for me to explain not experiencing the things my peers were experiencing as being focused on my studies and being a late bloomer. But I was 19 and in college now. This was when things were meant to be happening.
But they weren’t.
I still had never been attracted to someone, never felt butterflies, never felt the urge to kiss someone or date someone. I started wondering if there was something wrong with me. I thought that maybe I wasn’t a lesbian after all. I thought that maybe if I started wearing shorter skirts and talking to the guys who started conversations with me on the bus something might just happen. That if I started going out more, I might magically start being attracted to people.
So I tried. I even went out to dinner with a family friend my age, which ended in disaster when he started getting flirty and handsy even though I’d told him I wasn’t interested in it being a date. (He was an asshole. End of story.) But after that terrible night I figured out two things: I really, really didn’t want to date or have sex with anyone unless I was attracted to them; and I didn’t seem to be attracted to people, full stop.
Shortly after, I came across the word “asexuality.” It was late at night, and I was searching online for “can you want to be emotionally close to someone without wanting to date them.” Yahoo answers, believe it or not, held the answer. There were other people out there who didn’t feel sexual attraction. And they had a name: Asexual.
I felt exhilaration and relief at finding a word that described me perfectly, and a shattering realization that everything I thought I knew about love and relationships was no longer true.
Here’s the thing. Everything I’d seen and heard about love and sex had followed a particular script. That narrative was my only reference point for how love and sex were meant to work. It’s a narrative made up of ideas like these:
- Falling in love is inevitable, and an intrinsic part of growing up
- Sex is natural and healthy, and a universal human desire
- Everyone finds the right person sooner or later
- If you don’t want sex, you must be a prude or just repressed
- Sexual and romantic attraction can’t be disentangled from each other
Discovering asexuality meant that I had to throw all of these ideas out the window.
One of the central ideas that asexual people like myself question is the conflation of sex with love and romance, and the way that sexual relationships are celebrated and privileged above all others. I like to think about it this way: Most people are taught that sexual attraction is just one part of a whole package that also includes aesthetic, romantic, and emotional attraction, like a big ball of string where everything is tangled up in each other. But the threads that make up that ball of string can also be disentangled. So someone can be romantically attracted to someone else without desiring a sexual relationship with them. People can form deep and meaningful relationships that include romance but not sex. And people can form committed platonic relationships that aren’t based on romance at all, but on deep emotional connection.
These sorts of relationships aren’t the ones valued by society’s traditional narratives of love and sex. But being a part of the asexual community has taught me that sex isn’t what makes a relationship lasting or meaningful or valuable. Only the people in a relationship can define how important it is, how serious it is, how valuable it is. Whatever form that relationship takes.
I no longer see sex as a marker of adulthood or the seriousness of a relationship. Even now, at 22, I still have no desire to make sex a part of my experience. I no longer see myself as broken or abnormal because I’m not attracted to people. I’m not holding out for the right person to fix me and make me realize what I’m missing. I love my life: my studies, my career path, my friends, my family. But sexual attraction and romance are not part of it. And I’m not alone in that.
Want to find out more about asexuality? Here are some resources to get you going:
Jo is an undergrad in Australia studying ancient history and archaeology, and hoping to one day become a full-blown academic. In her free time she devours books, Doctor Who, but not cake, and proudly identifies as asexual, a feminist and an activist. She maintains her own blog, A Life Unexamined, and is a contributor at The Asexual Agenda.