Not to be confused with asexual microbes, “an asexual person is a person who does not experience sexual attraction” (this definition is what the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) website displays on its home page). Asexuality is another facet of the gender and sexual minority community and labels a group of people with this shared sexual orientation.
Being asexual does not mean that you don’t want to form deeper bonds with other people. Like sexuals, asexual people (or aces) want human company and understanding just as much as the next person.
This definition of romance (as distinct from sexual attraction) can be somewhat confusing. By considering sexual and romantic attraction as separate things, aces are still able to differentiate their preference of partners based on gender.
Does this mean that all aces like holding hands, candlelit dinners, and long walks on the beach? No. Some asexual (and some sexual) people describe themselves as being aromantic, which means that they don’t feel romantically attracted to other human beings. This is simply another part of the complex human condition.
The attitudes towards sex within the asexual community sit, as you would expect, on a spectrum. It ranges from those who have tried sex and found that it didn’t live up to their expectations, through those who are indifferent about sex, to those who find sex utterly repulsive. This being said, many asexual people who are in a relationship with a sexual person will have sex if it makes their partner happy.
This raises another point. If asexual people do not experience sexual attraction, how are they even able to have sex? Sexual attraction and the physiological ability to have sex are two different things. Some aces do not find sex very enjoyable at all and others do have intense libidos.
Not all asexual people feel that they never experience sexual attraction. Aces may choose to further subdivide themselves into the categories of gray-asexual (sexually attracted to others only under specific circumstances), demi-sexual (only sexually attracted to those they form a strong emotional bond with), or exclusively asexual (never experiences sexual attraction).
Some, if not most, asexual people also masturbate regularly. A six-part series on asexuality published by the Huffington Post quoted Lori Brotto of the University of British Columbia’s Sexual Health Laboratory as saying “…masturbation is not inherently sexual. [Asexuals cite] boredom, stress reduction, helping them to get to sleep, etc., as reasons behind masturbation.” The same article quoted another asexual man as saying that “it’s like an itch you have to scratch”.
An asexual who masturbates doesn’t need to think about having sex with another person to do so. Some aces talk about how their mind goes blank and they consider only how the stimulation feels. Others think about holidays, exams, or plans for the rest of the day when masturbating.
The other thing that might be confusing is the how of masturbating. Some forms of masturbation, like anal and vaginal, are penetrative and it’s hard to get around the ‘So you are sexually attracted to men?’ argument. Just as homosexual women might use a dildo for penetrative vaginal sex or a heterosexual man may receive anal penetration from his partner, aces can enjoy penetrative masturbation even if their toy of choice is shaped like a penis.
Seen within this lens it is understandable that someone who masturbates for physiological reasons doesn’t necessarily have to want sex. On the other hand, it begs the question: do asexual people use pornography? Does this change their orientation?
Yes, some (but not all) aces use pornography. No, it doesn’t mean they aren’t asexual. The Asexuality Archive, a website dedicated to explaining asexuality in layman’s terms, offers this explanation: “[the participants] seem to be enjoying what they’re doing…and I bet that feels good…I want to feel good.” The sex of the participants in pornography one views has absolutely no bearing on sexual orientation. After all, pornography isn’t representative of real life anyway.
Asexuals are a minority inside of another minority and this can be difficult to process. As the LGBTQIA community frequently omits the A (without intention), asexual people often feel as if they don’t belong to a larger group.
LGBTQIA will never cease growing as an acronym. It also doesn’t account for those people who are aromantic or polyamorous, nor does it acknowledge identities that haven’t been termed yet. I myself have started using the phrase ‘gender and sexual minorities’ (GSM) in an effort to use a broader umbrella term to describe this community.
Faced with this kind of confusion, an asexual person could feel as if they don’t fit in. If after reading this article you feel you identify a little with the asexual community (or indeed, identify with any sexual orientation after reading any article in this magazine), the best thing you can do to begin with is doubt. When I say doubt I don’t mean self-deprecate. I mean think critically and become well informed. Critical thinking and research is fundamental to any quest of sexual discovery and forces us to assess how we really view the world, as opposed to how we think others want us to view it. To those aces reading this I say remember: you are not broken, you are not alone.