For this month’s Going Over the Rainbow post we are going to look at one of the more misunderstood orientations—asexuality. I’ve broken this post up across two weeks because there are a lot of misconceptions as to what being asexual is and I want to address those before getting into actually writing an asexual character.
So what does it mean to be asexual? It varies by person but the simplest definition is a lack of sexual attraction. It is not the same as abstinence nor it is a mental illness. Asexual persons may not experience the desire to have sex with someone who they might otherwise find attractive or appealing, but that doesn’t always hold true either. Mostly because asexuality is, itself, a spectrum.
The asexual spectrum includes people who are completely repulsed by the thought of sex all the way to sex-positive individuals who may even enjoy sex with their partner. It’s a very personal thing for each asexual person and no one but them can tell you where they fall on the spectrum.
Many asexual persons will refer to a romantic orientation such as illustrated in the chart:
Looking at the two charts combined you’ll see that there is a vast number of possible combinations. I personally identify as panromantic demisexual. What that means to me might not mean the exact same thing to someone else with the same chosen labels. For me personally, I am romantically attracted to people regardless of gender while I have only ever experienced sexual attraction twice in my entire life. To those who don’t know me I might appear to be a monogamous heterosexual. This is a misconception. Monogamy is a choice. My being sexually active with my partner doesn’t make me heterosexual, I am still asexual. I do not look at other people and find them sexually attractive. In fact trying to imagine sex with someone results in feelings of revulsion and panic. I quite literally cannot fathom it.
This doesn’t mean that asexuals can’t get turned on or don’t have a libido. Sexual attraction and libido are two separate things. You can experience sexual attraction yet have a low libido and there are people with a desire for sex that doesn’t relate to their orientation. There are asexuals who do engage in sex or who masturbate for a variety of reasons including but not limited to: pleasing a partner, releasing tension, to get to sleep or because they enjoy it. They are still asexual.
Asexuals also face unique issues within the community and recently there has been a call by some for them to be dropped from the LGBT community. Some asexuals feel that they would be better served by having their own separate community since the majority of the LGBT community is highly sex focused. This is an ongoing debate and will probably never be fully resolved.
It’s also good to keep in mind the kinds of challenges asexual face in our society. Sex is seen as normal, healthy and something that is integral to being human. Its even listed as a basic human need along with eating and breathing in Maslow’s theory of the hierarchy of needs. Which any asexual will tell you is preposterous. No one has ever died because of a lack of sex. Lack of love, yes. But love is not sex. Sex can be an expression of love and intimacy but the act itself can be done for reasons outside of love. But, because of this view of sex and sexuality many asexuals report feeling broken or being seen as not wholly human by many, even being referred to as robots or plants or just being flat denied as existing. Acephobia is very common and often goes unrecognized and unchallenged.
Asexuals face being infantilized, fetishized as virginal, excluded by the LGBT community, labeled as mentally ill, and generally dismissed by society at large. These are all things your character might face as well. Don’t shy away from addressing these issues if your plot allows for it.
Next week we will delve deeper into how to actually go about writing an asexual character.
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