4 People With Ace Identities On What People Get Wrong About Asexuality
Not everyone's comfortable talking about their sex life, but knowing what goes on in other people's bedrooms can help us all feel more inspired, curious, and validated in our own experiences. In HG's monthly column Sex IRL, we'll talk to real people about their sexual adventures and get as frank as possible.
The LGBTQIA+ community is not a monolith, but sometimes our experiences are all lumped together, erased, or invalidated in larger conversations. Asexual people ("ace" for short), are just one of the groups that are often left out of the conversation, along with trans/non-binary/gender-nonconforming, bisexual/pansexual, and intersex people, plus those who are further marginalized.
"Asexuality" is defined as the lack of sexual attraction to others or having a very low desire for sexual activity. Sexual and romantic attraction exists on a spectrum and includes people who are graysexual/grayromantic, demisexual/demiromantic, reciprosexual/recipromantic, akoisexual/akoiromantic, and aceflux/aroflux. The most common definition of asexual implies that all asexual people experience a total absence of sexual attraction, but this isn't true—there are people who exist within the gray areas; people who experience an attraction that is sexual, but not romantic; and people who still engage in intimate, but nonsexual relationships.
According to a 2019 study conducted by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, 1.7 percent of sexual minority adults identify as asexual. Some additional findings include: ace people reported facing more everyday discrimination and stigma than non-asexual queer people and more than half of those surveyed had engaged in sexual activity and were just as likely to be in an intimate relationship as non-asexual (allosexual) queer people. Data from this and other studies matter because it helps us move past the widely held misconceptions that ace people don't experience sexual attraction or have sex or date at all; that all ace people are queer, or that they are "broken" in some way.
Ahead, I spoke to a few ace people about how they navigate both platonic and romantic relationships, how allosexual people can be more affirming of their experiences, and how they came to terms with their identities. Here's what they shared.
"It takes so much for me to like a person and when I do, there's so much emotion attached to it."
"I align most with demisexuality, and it took me a long time to connect with this identity. I'm not super big into labels but discovering that I align with being a demisexual helped me feel seen.
"We live in a hypersexual society. I don't say that to slight anyone, but sex sells, and it can be fun or funny to talk about. It piques curiosity. I feel like I followed the crowd a lot because I didn't want to come off as 'weird' or childish when it came down to sex, but I wasn't really interested in it as much as other people. Friendships are easier for me to navigate than romantic relationships. Dating is different. It takes so much for me to like a person and when I do, there's so much emotion attached to it.
"Life is all about standing firm in your truth, but it helps to have some reassurance. Generally, when people hear 'asexual' they think aromatic. That's not the case. I think the most affirming thing people can do is research and actually absorb facts about asexuality and subsets of sexuality."
— Keli, 32, Philadelphia
"People have told me they can 'fix me.'"
"Broadly speaking, I would identify as just asexual. I still experience aesthetic, platonic, sensual, and romantic attraction. I don't experience sexual attraction. I first discovered the term asexual when I was in college. I was surfing around on queer blogs on Tumblr—as any queer person did in the 2010s—but once I found it, it wasn't hard to say, "Oh, that's me." Asexual was it. That word explained so much of me, like why I had only slept with my friends, why I was never particularly fulfilled by sex, and why I never initiated sex with my partners I didn't care about and didn't want to have sex the same way that other people did. I realized I had been confusing other forms of attraction for sexual attraction.
"Dating while asexual can be hard. I've had people tell me that it's 'a waste and a shame' because I'm asexual. People have told me they can 'fix me.' I've been told any number of rude things about the validity of asexuality; it's a widespread and commonplace occurrence for asexual people. There's anxiety around meeting new partners, which makes me think about questions like: Will I have to explain my sexuality to them? Will they be accepting? How big of a want is sex for them? How can we navigate those needs? Are they open to a polyamorous relationship? Can we connect on a kinky level? Do they even know the answers to these questions? It sucks to be someone's learning curve. I'm a polyamorous, kinky, asexual. It is challenging to date. But those same challenges can also be the solutions. In a polyamorous relationship, my partner is free to satisfy their wants and needs I can't fulfill elsewhere. Kink allows us to connect physically and emotionally in a way that doesn't have to involve sex.
"I try to view my relationships for what they are; I can build them based on what they need to be and what attractions are there. But, I do think being asexual has made me acutely aware of how often attractions are experienced simultaneously. It's assumed that aesthetic and romantic attraction automatically equals sexual attraction, or that aesthetic equals sexual, and that platonic can't be mixed up with any and all forms of attraction. I was never taught to differentiate between the different types of attraction. I was never even taught the different forms of attraction. The truth is that any combination of these attractions is possible. Asexuality is a legitimate sexuality. It is not the same as celibacy, or an illness, or a choice, or a phase.
"I think what so many asexual people want is recognition of their sexuality. So many of the misconceptions could be cleared up just by accepting asexuality as a real and valid sexuality. I think that asexuality needs to be included in sex ed spaces, and it needs to encompass all the ways that people can experience and interact with their sexuality."
— Bear Tonight Jr., 27, Asheville, NC
"Asexuality is not something that requires medical intervention, psychiatric treatment, or therapy."
"I am demisexual and gray asexual, or gray ace. This basically means that I have a rare and limited sexual attraction to others, and a vast majority of the time, it only happens after being closely bonded with the person for a while.
"It's actually been good coming to terms with this identity as it explained so much of my past and really made me feel less broken and alone. It's been more difficult with my other queer identities, though. It hasn't been an easy process but I'm so grateful to the friends who have helped me through it.
"Dating and relationships are interesting as an ace person! It's difficult, honestly, to separate that identity from trauma growing up and very low confidence in myself; they all influenced dating and relationships. I also have pretty severe anxiety, and so I didn't really date all that much when I was younger. I had romantic attractions and on rare occasions, sexual attractions, but never acted on either. I figured no one would be interested. In the end, I met my spouse online and—in typical demisexual style—was friends with them for an extended period of time and had actually started a long-distance relationship before I felt the full range of attractions I have toward them. In terms of aceness within the relationship, it takes good communication and honesty regarding one another's needs, and of course, a lot of compromises where possible.
"Being on the asexual spectrum—and discovering that I am—has had a fairly profound impact on how I view close relationships and attraction. It's shown me the importance of recognizing the various different forms of attraction that we have, especially if they don't all line up or point in the same direction. I found out about aesthetic and sensual attractions, which aren't necessarily linked to romantic attraction. It was incredibly clarifying and helped a great deal with what you might call the "queer archeology" of sifting through your history and looking for clues that you'd missed back then, which point toward your identity in the present. And, of course, discovering that romantic and sexual attraction don't have to go hand-in-hand was a true revelation that explained so much.
"One misconception that needs to go regarding ace folks is that it is not a legitimate sexual orientation. Asexuality is not something that requires medical intervention, psychiatric treatment, or therapy. It is not the result of trauma nor is it a label for people who are 'basically straight' looking to force their way into queer spaces. It's a real orientation that has real material effects on those who fall under the ace umbrella.
"I'd like to see more inclusion for ace people from community leaders and groups like HRC [Human Rights Campaign] and queer individuals, some of whom are resistant to accepting ace people into the community. The chief objection to this appears to be that aces are insufficiently oppressed, which is ridiculous because A) Aces frequently face discrimination and are more than willing to tell LGBTQ+ people about it, if only they were willing to listen. And B) the LGBTQ+community is founded on solidarity and alienation from heteronormativity and amatanormativity—it's not a club whose entrance criteria cite a specific level of oppression. Besides that, there is a certain irony in being told you're not oppressed while being excluded and belittled by members of your own community. It would also be great to see more representation of ace people and our stories in mainstream media.
"Finally, I'd implore straight allies to give more to ace organizations; we're pretty much ignored by some of the bigger LGBTQ+ fundraising groups, so it's hard to gather the resources needed to map ace history and fight for better treatment and representation."
— Drew, 38, Illinois
"If people stopped making assumptions or passing judgments and just accepted the reality of ace individuals, it would be a game-changer."
"I identify as demisexual; feeling attracted to other people happens slowly. It usually takes months. The same idea applies to the attraction I've had with celebrities, too. I have to see tons of their interviews, analyze all their songs, and learn a lot about them. I knew that the way I experienced attraction was different than most people, but I didn't know there was a name for it until I attended a sex ed workshop that highlighted multiple ways that people experience attraction.
"It's been hard for me to navigate dating and relationships as someone who is on the asexual spectrum because guys assume that I'm not interested in them at all or that I'm super picky. The reality is that it takes a while for me to experience attraction, and it's not something that I can help. Being on the asexual spectrum has made me prioritize close relationships in my life, especially in a romantic sense. It makes me appreciate authentic and genuine relationships that aren't forced and flow naturally, as opposed to relationships that happen due to circumstance or superficial reasons.
"I wish that people didn't assume that asexuality is a lifestyle choice. Asexuality is often confused with celibacy or abstinence. Sometimes there is overlap there, but not because someone is opting out of sex for religious or lifestyle reasons. It's usually as a result of their orientation—or lack thereof. Acceptance would be the most ideal way to affirm ace individuals. If people stopped making assumptions or passing judgments and just accepted the reality of ace individuals, it would be a game-changer."
— Tatyannah, 25, Philadelphia