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Essay:The Perils of Asexuality
I only recently discovered that I was asexual, and have been re-evaluating my life experiences under that lens. To clarify, I only recently discovered that asexuality was a thing, after which I almost immediately realized that I was most certainly one—I didn’t wake up one day and decide I was asexual, but rather discovered a label that matched my own experiences and feelings. Until I stumbled upon an encyclopedia entry for it, I thought of myself as a broken heterosexual, but more on that later.
This essay isn’t a rant about how hard life is as an asexual, and how the world needs to change or anything. I know (or rather, I assume) that mine is a rare condition, so rare that I didn’t even know it existed until I was 23 years old, and it would be incredibly unfair of me to ask the vast majority of humans to cater to my ‘brokenness.’ Instead this is intended simply to inform. Knowledge and understanding are never a bad thing. That said, I absolutely cannot claim to speak for all asexuals (as if such a thing could ever be claimed); the contents of this paper are simply my own experiences and thoughts on the matter.
To be more specific, I’ll cover how I learned and was introduced slowly to the reality of sexual culture, my own relationship experiences, and some thoughts on the current state of things.
Growing Up in an Unrelatable World
I was born and raised a Seventh-Day Adventist, and as such was more sheltered during my early years about sexuality. We did have sex-ed in elementary school, and looking back it was remarkably progressive for being a religious institution, but going into academy I didn’t really have any idea about how ingrained sex was in modern culture.
One of my most vivid memories about my freshman year of high-school was the English teacher breaking the news to us that pretty much everything was about sex. At the time I thought I was a typical human male and honestly didn’t believe a word she said. I could remember watching Friends as a kid and even brought that up as a counter-argument to her claim, to which she replied “Friends is all about who can get laid.” Which I again didn’t believe until I saw a Friends episode after that class, and discovered that she was right.
After that I began to notice it everywhere. It seemed that every TV show’s plot revolved around males courting females. I realized that most of the books I read involved, in some way or another, sex, often with that being the driving motivation for some of the characters. As a child I didn’t pay much attention to these, but as I grew older I began to realize that this probably wasn’t a coincidence. Stories are more engaging if the characters are relatable, and I began to realize that sex-as-a-driving-force was seemingly the most relatable aspect, at least for males.
This confused me greatly. Again, I considered myself a typical male, and I couldn’t relate to any of these characters. But I kept seeing it everywhere. Another moment scarred into my memory was reading a book designed to inform teenagers of both genders how to relate to the other gender. One chapter basically boiled down to the idea that anything a guy does for a girl is in some way an effort to get laid or in other ways gain sexual pleasure. For example, holding a door open for girls was a way to check out their ass. This disturbed me, as at the time I held doors open for girls because I felt it was the polite thing to do. I had no interest in checking out asses, and ever after that I felt I couldn’t even smile at a girl without worrying if they were thinking it was simply a way to get into their pants.
I began to wonder if it was only a teenager thing, or if these books were biased against men (once again, I considered myself a typical man), or informing everyone of the worst characteristics of the male gender in an effort to avoid rape situations or something. But once again my experiences taught me otherwise. I’d hear men—adult men—say things like “Everything I do is, in some way, done in hopes that it’ll lead to sex.”
It was about then that I realized that I could not relate to this world, this culture that surrounded me. The whole of society has this clique, this in joke with the feel of “you’d have to be there to understand”, for which I was, and will be, perpetually absent.
Relationships and Acting Normal
For the entirety of my childhood, I viewed human sexuality as a two-dimensional bar. On the one side you had homosexuals, and on the other heterosexuals, and that everyone fell somewhere on that line. As I had no interest in boys, but I did have interest in girls, I figured I was on the heterosexual side. In elementary school I had that naive, playful “like” of a few girls, in that sense that I knew boys liked girls, and that was what I was supposed to do to fit in. Since it was elementary school, I didn’t feel too out of place, and it was easy to assume everyone was like me and just going along with the way things were supposed to be.
When I entered high-school, I went to a boarding academy which, aside from taking me away from all my acquaintances from elementary school, put me in a position where I was with my peers all the time. It was during those four years that I developed my strongest inter-personal relationships. I met half of my current friends at that school.
Now, boarding academy is different from a day school in that you can’t put on a mask for 8 hours and then go home and be yourself. Either you wear the mask all the time, or you don’t, and in the process of doing either you get to know a lot more about yourself. For me, I learned—though mostly only in hindsight—what a relationship means to me.
I met and courted two girls during my time there: an author (I’ll call her “Emma”) and an artist (“Olivia”), both of whom I still consider excellent friends. Emma was only there for one semester, though our friendship brought me in close contact with her friend and roommate Olivia, whom I dated the longest.
Recall that, at this same time, I was learning that the stereotypical guy was doing everything to get laid. I did my best to avert this stereotype, though not out of any conscious choice to do so, but because I simply didn’t feel any of those urges. I enjoyed Emma and Olivia’s company, sought it out, even, but never once did I feel the urge to make our relationship more physical. Hugging was the most physical contact I desired.
After high-school, I went to a community college, where my only interactions with my peers was the hour or so we were in class together. I never developed any friendships, let alone relationships, as I had everything I needed by keeping in contact with Olivia. Things with Olivia culminated when she came to visit me. My stepfather offered to, if not outright purchase them for me, direct me to a place where I could get condoms, prior to her arrival. I declined, as I still felt absolutely no desire to have sex. Olivia and I, by then, had known each-other for around six years, had been dating for most of it, and that visit was the first time we’d ever even kissed. An act which was initiated by her.
It was then that I realized that something was drastically wrong with me, and our relationship slowly died. I was satisfied with our emotional connection. I enjoyed being with her, going on road trips up and down the coast, talking and playing games and watching movies. But I had no desire for anything more, no drive to compliment the relationship with physical intimacy. In short, I couldn’t be a good boyfriend.
After Olivia and I broke up I foolishly attempted to rebuild a relationship with Emma. Luckily for the both of us, it didn’t take 6 years for that to die as well. As I cannot provide adequate physical connection, I shouldn't engage in such relationships, any more than someone who knows nothing about medicine shouldn’t become a doctor.
The Now and Soon
If I were to find a label for my sexuality, it would be “Heteroromantic Asexual.” I am emotionally attracted to females, but feel absolutely no sexual attraction to them or anyone else. A good way to explain the difference between the two is internet chatting, where I feel right at home. On a text-based chat system, I can converse, and feel emotional connection with people without any form of biology getting in the way. I desire intellectual companionship and mental intimacy.
That doesn’t exclude physical closeness, however. Talking online is in no way a replacement for being in the same room, or going on a road-trip, or hiking up to a waterfall. But the physical aspect of a relationship which I desire falls far short of that which most people would consider is needed for a healthy relationship. I am forced to conclude that I likely will be unable to form a meaningful and deep connection with someone without forcing either of us into an uncomfortable spot—either my partner will be forced to accept something far less than a full physical connection, or I will be forced to fake it. Neither are acceptable to me, as in either case the relationship as a whole would be built on a false cornerstone.
As such, I’m also put into a difficult position regarding my daily interactions with others. I care about peoples’ happiness, and make it my goal to improve the lives of those I meet. I strive to always be a positive influence on others’ moods, such that nobody would regret encountering me. However, this goal is hampered by the knowledge that, as a male, if I am kind to women, there always seems to be the understanding that I am only doing so to court them. It doesn’t seem fair for me to have to go around every day with a shirt or sandwich board that says “I am asexual, so if I’m nice to you it’s not to get into your pants”, but neither would it be fair to ask of everyone to adjust their paradigms of the whole male gender for those of us who are asexual.
I have been trying to find ways to breach the topic with my friends, in the hopes that I can be kind to them without them expecting me to one day ‘cash in’ and ask for sexual favors or something, but even if that works this culture still taints my experience with the random strangers I meet, for whom my parading around in a sandwich-board declaring my lack of sexuality might be strange at best.
Broken and Inhuman
As my friends can attest, I often jest about being a robot. I exist, and go through life completely oblivious to this aspect of humanity which I will never be able to understand or even comprehend any more than a person born blind cannot understand or comprehend color. I still catch myself thinking that the importance people place on sex is imaginary, that the entire world is just playing along with the status-quo. It has reached a point where I am close to legitimately asking “What is this thing you humans call love?”
It sounds funny, and the first time I realized my friends wouldn’t think that me asking that question would be strange I even chuckled to myself. But then I stepped back and realized the underlying horror: I don’t think of myself as human.
This isn’t due to some anti-asexual agenda, or any sort of hate speech. It’s not a result of bigotry or people dehumanizing me. It’s a result of me being in a culture that I cannot understand. All of culture says that there’s this fundamental aspect to being human—hell, to even being alive—which I do not possess. For the entirety of my adult life, I have identified as a non-living machine, which is completely false.
I am human. I do desire intimate relationships. I am a social creature (albeit much less social than most), yet I feel like an alien even among my own family. And that, for me, is the greatest peril. Alienation not through bigotry, but through a culture so tuned to sex that I legitimately view myself as inhuman.