In honor of Asexuality Awareness Week Oct 23-39, we ask Melanie, a woman who identifies as asexual, a few questions. SEX+STL will be hosting a screening of the documentary Asexuality: The Making of a Movement Tuesday, October 18, 7pm. We’ll let you know how it goes!
Kendra: What is asexuality?
Melanie: Asexuality is a sexual orientation and describes someone who is not sexually attracted to anyone of any gender. Unlike celibacy, which is a lifestyle choice, asexuality, just as any other sexual orientation, is a natural part of who we are and is something that cannot be chosen or changed.
Kendra: Is there an asexual spectrum?
Melanie: Although in the strictest sense asexuality refers to those who do not experience sexual attraction there are grey areas. There are those who do occasionally experience sexual attraction (referred to as grey-asexuality) and those who may only experience sexual attraction after forming a strong romantic/emotional bond with someone (referred to as demisexuality).
Attitudes to sex can also be on a spectrum. There are some asexuals who regard themselves as “sex positive” whereas others are “sex negative/anti sexual”. Then there are asexuals who enjoy having sex and would be willing to have sex as part of their relationships, whereas others may be repulsed by the idea of themselves having sex and would not be willing have sexual relationships.
Kendra: When did you realize you were asexual?
Melanie: I had been in a long term sexual relationship and wasn’t really getting much out of sex. I thought initially it was because this was my first sexual partner or I was inexperienced. Then I wondered if the sex I was having wasn’t exciting enough or if I had a problem with my libido.
It took me a long time to realize I simply wasn’t interested in having sex full stop. Eventually I broke up with my partner because the pressure to have sex was becoming too hard for me. Over time I met other guys but they always wanted more. I felt so confused because even though I was developing crushes on people (men and women) I never thought of them in a sexual way or desired sexual intimacy with them. Then one day I was in the hairdressers and overheard two people discussing a mutual friend: “Oh yeah, he’s taken himself out of the dating game. He’s come to the conclusion he’s asexual, he doesn’t like men or women.” It made perfect sense! That’s what I was.
Kendra: What are some common misconceptions about asexuality?
Melanie: I think the biggest misconception is that asexuals are “missing out” if they aren’t having or desiring sex. We’re not missing out; we just experience love and relationships differently to most people.
Another misconception surrounds the concept of asexual relationships. I have often heard people say that a relationship without sex is nothing more than friendship or that someone cannot truly love their partner unless they are having sex. As an asexual in a relationship with another asexual I find this misconception particularly hurtful.
For the majority of people, sex is regarded as what defines a romantic relationship, with love and sex being closely connected. On the whole asexuals don’t connect love and sex, since they don’t experience sexual attraction. Sex is just one way of expressing romantic love. Sex isn’t necessarily what separates love and friendship: some couples choose to be abstinent yet are romantically involved, and there are people who have sex whilst having no romantic connection.
Just as sex can exist without love, love can exist without sex. Romantic love is an almost indescribable feeling and is felt and expressed in different ways by different people. No single way is right or more real than another.
A lot of misconceptions exist around the “cause” of asexuality. I don’t believe asexuality, or any other sexual orientation, is “caused” by anything, I believe it’s a natural part of who we are. People will often suggest hormonal problems as a possible “cause”. At present, there is no evidence to suggest that asexuality is caused by hormonal problems. I personally know of a lot of asexuals who have had their hormone levels checked and the results have come back as normal. Although the majority of asexuals do not desire sex, this is largely due to the fact that they do not find anyone sexually attractive, rather than other factors such as a hormone imbalance.
Kendra: When I see someone walking down the street I find sexy, I get interested and turned on. I might start fantasizing about them. What is this scenario like for you?
Melanie: I can find people sexy and beautiful. When I see someone attractive walking down the street I become fixated on how amazing they look. My cheeks flush; I get butterflies in my stomach and I can’t stop staring! The only thing I can relate it too is getting “twitterpated” like in Bambi. I don’t start to fantasize or get turned on, I simply admire their beauty. I guess I appreciate good looking people like I do good works of art.
Kendra: When I’m watching a movie and a hot sex scene comes on, I get turned on and feel squirmy. What is it like for you when you watch porn or see sex acts?
Melanie: I experience the exact same thing. Asexuality isn’t about what your body can or can’t do, it’s about attraction and how you feel towards people. For me becoming aroused is just a natural bodily response triggered by being exposed to a sexual stimulus – my mind isn’t in it at all, it’s all physical. I’m not interested in the people or what they are doing. To me it’s no different than smelling food and having my stomach start rumbling – it’s just my body responding, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m interested in eating.
Kendra: What resources do you recommend for those wanting to learn about asexuality?
Melanie: Asexuality.org is the main asexual resource on the web and a good introduction to the concept of asexuality. Asexual Awareness Week also includes introductory information. Hot Pieces of Ace is a YouTube channel in which a team of asexuals discuss topics relating to asexuality and life as an asexual. Another great way to learn about asexuality is to simply talk to asexuals!