You might think of sexuality as a spectrum, a straight to gay gauge with every color of the rainbow in between. Or you might think of it in boxes, labeled upon delivery at birth.
But there are those who don’t fit on any scale or section of sexuality, asexuals. Asexuals don’t feel any sexual attraction, and there’s a bunch of misconceptions about them.
One is that asexuals are very different than LGBTI people. While one is not sexual and the other is, if you consider what is said to them, it feels very much the same.
Acephobic language many asexuals hear includes: ‘It’s unnatural’, ‘it’s a phase’, ‘you must have been abused’, ‘you haven’t met the right person yet’, and even, ‘you’re an abomination’.
To help bust these myths, I spoke with Michael Doré, a 32-year-old from London who works with the Asexual Visability and Education Network (AVEN). He is also a mathematician. One of the myths, he wanted me to note (and bust), was that not all asexuals are mathematicians.
Myth 1: Asexuals don’t exist
‘The first thing asexuals get is, “Actually, no you’re not, there’s clearly something wrong with you,” Michael said.
‘Or they could get, “You haven’t met the right person yet”, “You’re not old enough to know”, “You’re too old to want sex anyway”. A very common one is “You’re just gay but you don’t want to admit it”.
‘There’s nothing wrong at all with being gay, but it’s just not the same thing as asexuality.
‘People get told to check their hormones out, people get told the meaning of life is sex, people get intimidated into being silent about being asexual.’
Asexuals do exist, asexuals are normal, asexuals are also a little obsessed with cake (at least on Tumblr).
Myth 2: Asexuals don’t fall in love
For those that need a dictionary definition, asexual is an orientation where people do not feel sexual attraction. You may hear some describing themselves as ‘ace’.
You can be heteromantic or homoromantic – wishing to have relationships with either the opposite or same gender. Biromantic is both. Panromantic is loving someone irrespective of gender.
Aromantic asexuals are people who do not want a relationship or sex.
After all, you can have sex without love. Why can’t you have love without sex?
Myth 3: All asexuals hate sex
Asexuals enjoying sex sounds like a contradiction, but it’s simple. Some asexuals enjoy and are happy to have sex with their partners. They can even get sexually aroused during sex. It’s just they don’t feel sexual attraction.
For Michael, the very idea of sex repulses him.
‘There’s a spectrum of asexuals who are anywhere from what you might call “repulsed” to what you might call “indifferent”.
While there is a big overlap between ‘lack of sexual attraction’ and ‘doesn’t like sex’, there are things asexuals can enjoy.
Every body is different, and it reacts the way it reacts. Seeing your partner happy, that’s great.
And also, it’s not like every gay person can say they’ve never had sex with someone of the opposite gender. Some asexuals say the same thing.
Myth 4: Asexuals don’t masturbate
Because gay, bi and straight people connect masturbation with the simulation of sex, it’s tied up in our minds in that way.
For asexuals, it’s a little different on what they imagine when they masturbate. (There are, of course, asexuals that don’t masturbate at all).
‘Nobody really knows apart from in anecdotal evidence,’ Michael said. ‘It’s obviously not something people talk a great deal about and I believe is the subject of ongoing research.
‘From what we know, asexuals don’t tend to imagine sex. It also tends to be a third person thing, something that you’re observing.’
So this could involve masturbating to watching a film with a girlfriend or boyfriend. Lots of different fantasies and it depends on the person.
Myth 5: Asexuals can only date other asexuals
Asexuals can be in a relationship with anybody – sometimes it involves sex and sometimes it doesn’t.
‘Relationships where one of the partners is asexual work best when both go in with their eyes open and are accepting of each other’s sexuality,’ Michael said.
‘It’s part of the reason why we need more asexual awareness because sometimes an asexual person gets into a relationship, they say they’re not interested in sex, and it’s not taken seriously.
‘That kind of attitude tends to have a bad turnout for both partners. It can cause a lot of unhappiness and it can cause a feeling of rejection. Even though it’s not really rejection, it can feel like that to the person who’s not asexual.’
While asexual/asexual relationships do exist, which in many ways is the ideal, it does narrow down the pool of potential partners as the number of openly asexual people is so small.
Myth 6: Asexuality is no different from celibacy
This is an easy myth to disprove, but it is harder to shake the misconception in real life.
The difference is celibacy is a choice not to have sex while asexuality is is an orientation.
Celibacy, as most people tend to find out, works about as well as ‘gay cure’ camps do (Spoiler: They don’t).
‘Some asexuals do have sex so they’re certainly not celibate,’ Michael says.
‘Some people might not have sex but they still might not consider themselves celibate because celibacy is a choice.
‘In my case I’m not abstaining from sex for ideological reasons, I’m abstaining from sex because I don’t want it at all.’
Myth 7: Asexuals just have low sex drives or something wrong with them
Some asexual people have low sex drives, but there are asexual people who have normal sex drives or even high sex drives.
Think of being a gay guy on a desert island where there are only women, Michael posits. You might have a sex drive, you want to do something about it, but there is no one you’re sexually attracted to. You might eventually do something to get rid of it, but it still doesn’t change the fact you are attracted to men. It’s the same with asexuals.
And yes, asexuality is completely normal and is separate to what is going on with your hormones.
Myth 8: Asexuals are not bullied
Michael first identified as asexual when he was around 14 back in the mid-90s when there was no community for people who didn’t want to have sex at all.
As he went to an all boys’ school, all of his friends started salivating over women as they got older. To him, it was like they were speaking a different language.
‘I didn’t understand what they were talking about. I didn’t label myself as I thought I was just a late developer.’
People in Michael’s class thought if you’re not straight, then you must be gay.
‘I got a lot of homophobia and I think that’s typical. There are similarities in that sense.’
Myth 9: There are no reasons for asexuals to ‘come out’
‘I don’t think every gay person has a duty to come out to their family,’ Michael believes, ‘So if it’s important to the person to come out as asexual, it’s important.’
Michael believes it’s your choice if you want to come out to friends, but it could be useful in case you’re tired of answering questions about your lack of a sexual life.
But he does believe, ultimately, that if you’re going to get into a relationship with a person it’s only fair to come out to your potential partner. That is, of course, unless you’re an asexual person that doesn’t mind having sex.
‘I’m not blaming people who don’t because some people just don’t know it themselves,’ he said. ‘But I think if you get into a relationship, the other person needs to know what to expect.’
Myth 10: Asexuals do not fit in with the LGBTI community
Michael believes the ‘A’, which is often used for ‘ally’, should be asexual in the ever-growing LGBTI acronym. AVEN, after all, has marched in Pride for several years now.
‘There are many similarities between the experiences,’ he said. ‘We are a minority sexual orientation after all.
‘Some asexuals feel invisible, some might feel isolated, and plenty are confused about their sexuality.
‘In most LGBTI societies at university, an asexual person could feel like that is the place to have a real, honest discussion about sexuality and what it means to them.’
While Michael feels that way, some asexuals don’t want to be a part of the LGBTI community. It’s too sex focused, some say, and there is a danger of alienating people who don’t want to be a part of that conversation.
‘But there are others, like myself, who are sex positive,’ Michael said. ‘Even though I want nothing to do with sex, I have nothing against sex as long as it doesn’t involve me.
‘Not all asexual people hate hearing about sex, and there are plenty parts of the LGBTI community that don’t want to talk about sex that much either.’
Myth 11: There are no fights for asexuals to win
If you’re not one yourself, you in all likelihood know someone that is asexual even if they’re not open about it.
A rough guesstimate puts asexuals at about 1% of the population, but some argue that figure is a lot higher.
So while LGBTIs and asexuals share that feeling of being a sexual minority, they also share different but ultimately similar paths on the way to acceptance.
‘There are differences between us, LGBTI people are more likely to experience hate crime and asexuals aren’t denied rights in the same way,’ Michael says.
But AVEN hopes to get discussions of asexuality into schools, making it clear that a lack of sexual attraction does not mean there’s something wrong with you.
He says: ‘As an asexual community, it’s less about rights and more about acceptance, visibility and understanding.’