Asexuality: The Forgotten Orientation

We talk a lot about issues surrounding the LGBTQ community, and these are groups that we’re aware of fall under the umbrella of minorities in terms of sexual orientation (though the “T” is about gender, but I digress for the sake of simplicity here). Typically, people think of three major sexual orientations: heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual. We know there are many others that fall on the spectrum: queer, pansexual, heteroflexible… but what about asexual? It’s something that’s being talked about more and more, as more asexuals come out. I think that it *should* be seen as a legitimate orientation, because it *is* a legitimate orientation. And it’s a lot more common than many people think. The Star and Psychology Today both recently ran pieces about it, which is fantastic for awareness and exposure.

When I saw it discussed in a couple different places, I went out of my way to learn more about it, since I know very little. I came across the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network, and it’s a fantastic resource. From their website (emphasis mine):

An asexual is someone who does not experience sexual attraction. Unlike celibacy, which people choose, asexuality is an intrinsic part of who we are. Asexuality does not make our lives any worse or any better, we just face a different set of challenges than most sexual people. There is considerable diversity among the asexual community; each asexual person experiences things like relationships, attraction, and arousal somewhat differently…

I think this is an important point and distinction to make. Asexuality and celibacy are not the same thing. Celibacy is a personal choice, whereas asexuals feel like this is their biological sexual orientation; they don’t see it as a choice. It’s also important to note that asexuals (generally speaking) do not see sex as a dirty or sinful thing. Some celibacy (not all, obviously) is linked to feelings of guilt and shame about sex and sexuality. Asexuality does not stem from that place. It’s not their beliefs about sex that make them asexual; it’s just how they feel.

Asexual people have the same emotional needs as anyone else, and like in the sexual community we vary widely in how we fulfill those needs. Some asexual people are happier on their own, others are happiest with a group of close friends. Other asexual people have a desire to form more intimate romantic relationships, and will date and seek long-term partnerships. Asexual people are just as likely to date sexual people as we are to date each other.

Sexual or nonsexual, all relationships are made up of the same basic stuff. Communication, closeness, fun, humor, excitement and trust all happen just as much in sexual relationships as in nonsexual ones. Unlike sexual people, asexual people are given few expectations about the way that our intimate relationships will work. Figuring out how to flirt, to be intimate, or to be monogamous in a nonsexual relationships can be challenging, but free of sexual expectations we can form relationships in ways that are grounded in our individual needs and desires.

Many asexual people experience attraction, but we feel no need to act out that attraction sexually. Instead we feel a desire to get to know someone, to get close to them in whatever way works best for us. Asexual people who experience attraction will often be attracted to a particular gender, and will identify as lesbian, gay, bi, or straight.

For some sexual arousal is a fairly regular occurrence, though it is not associated with a desire to find a sexual partner or partners. Some will occasionally masturbate, but feel no desire for partnered sexuality. Other asexual people experience little or no arousal. Because we don’t care about sex, asexual people generally do not see a lack of sexual arousal as a problem to be corrected, and focus their energy on enjoying other types of arousal and pleasure.

This last paragraph is really important. Many people view an absence of sexual desire and arousal as a pathological thing, a problem that needs to be fixed. And for some people, it is. They desire sex and arousal, and therefore it’s distressing to them that they aren’t experiencing it. Or, it could be a sign of a more serious medical concern. Asexuals don’t experience arousal, but they don’t desire it, either. They don’t feel like something is missing from their lives or their relationships. And in the DSM, which is the book that defines mental illness and disorders, the main criteria for mental illnesses/pathology is that it causes distress or impairment in an individual’s everyday life and functioning. Basically, if it doesn’t bother you and you don’t see it as a problem, or it doesn’t negatively affect your life in any way, then it’s not pathological. Therefore, asexuality is NOT pathological. It’s important to remember that not everyone wants and desires the same things, and that’s okay. “Different” does not mean “wrong.”
In browsing the site, I’ve discovered that they have an RSS feed to Asex Blogs, and I’m loving what I’m learning. There’s also forums. Just like gender and sexuality always do, there’s much discussion and dialogue concerning the variations among asexuals. Classification, “right” and “wrong,” and “normal” and “abnormal” are all things that are discussed thoughtfully, and I’m loving it. It’s opened and expanded my mind in a lot of ways. I came across this post in the forum, pertaining to sexual liberation and asexuality, and I found it to be really brilliant:
“…I would say we’re not liberated enough.

Liberty means being able to make your own choices (as long as that doesn’t infringe on another person’s liberty) for yourself. Liberty means freedom.

If something as simple and harmless as not having sex is seen as taboo, then we don’t have liberty… we’ve simply exchanged one oppressive cultural norm (being chaste and then getting heterosexually married and having 2.5 kids) for a different one (having lots and lots of sex, but in specific ways and with specific kinds of people, according to specific social structures).

I personally prefer this norm to the old one simply because I see more flexibility and acceptance in it – that is, more liberty than we had before – but if we were truly and fully sexually liberated, then everyone’s sexual choices (as long as they don’t harm or infringe on others) would be respected, and not having sex (for whatever reason) would be seen as just another sexual choice.”

I’ve really enjoyed learning about the ways that asexuals navigate relationships and their sexuality. I’m going to dedicate another post to the topic, because there’s a lot there, and I think it’s really interesting.

So, when talking about alternative orientations, do we now include asexuals: LGBTQA? Their struggle for acceptance is a different one that that of the LGBTQ population, but it’s still a struggle nonetheless. And, like the LGBTQ population, they need allies in their fight for recognition and acceptance. I am very much one of those allies, and I hope that many other people are, and will be, too.
Photo source.
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  1. Nell Gwynne
    Posted January 18, 2010 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Hmm…Off the top of y head, I can think of one legal ramification. Isn't a marriage in certain states/provinces legal once it has been consummated?

  2. Britni TheVadgeWig
    Posted January 18, 2010 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    I considered that, too, so I looked it up when writing the post.

    In the eyes of certain religious institutions, a marraige must be consummated to be valid, but legally, it does not.

  3. Sitakali
    Posted January 22, 2010 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    I agree it is possible to be asexual, but very rare. I have known two asexual people: one was starving himself and went on about how "amazing" it was that he stopped being sexual when he stopped eating. Anyone who has studied any biology knows that sexuality goes out the window when you barely have enough calories to live on…also, depriving yourself of life's essentials can create an experience that some misconstrue as being "spiritual." In reality, it's your brain begging for glucose (or oxygen, hey, drowning can be spiritual, too).

    The other person was completely bullshitting me to sound "spiritual" and impressive, and had a sexual girlfriend the next year. I actually wouldn't be surprised if what he told me had been a bizarre attempt to get me to want to sleep with him.

    Come to think of it, both were making it out to be a superior, spiritual experience. Hence, I find it difficult to take this orientation seriously.

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