When I came across Simone’s story, I went back into our archives to see how recently Laurie and/or I had written about asexuality, and I’m horrified to discover that we’ve never done more than mention the phenomenon. It’s time to fix that.
“Someone who is asexual doesn’t experience sexual attraction,” [Simone] explains. “In terms of sex drive, it varies from person to person, so a lot of asexuals say they don’t have any kind of drive, whereas others say they have, but it’s like being hungry yet not wanting to eat any particular food.” Simone has never had sex but has been in relationships. “I have had brief relationships in the past but I felt like it wasn’t really for me. I would say, however, that I’m a minority amongst asexuals — most of my asexual friends are in relationships.” So, how does that work? “We tend to say in the asexual community people have romantic orientations despite not having a sexual one. People talk about being hetero-romantic, bi-romantic, homo-romantic etc. Others call themselves aromantic, meaning they’re not romantically attracted to anyone. I would put myself in the last category.
Asexuality has gotten more traction and more awareness, at least in the circles I travel in, over the last few years. Aside from being an important identity and marginalization issue, I’ve always thought of it as a body image issue because, well, sexual desire is at least in part an experience of the body–and an experience that the world expects everyone to have in one form or another. So it’s often difficult for asexual people to come to terms with their own preferences and (non)reactions: like every other kind of difference, this one can easily raise questions of “Am I okay? Is something wrong with me?”
Being asexual is completely normal, and not especially rare. A reasonable estimate seems to be that about 1% of the population is asexual. So if you have been on a crowded commuter train platform, you’ve likely shared that space with more than one asexual person, and if you’ve been to a major sports event or a rock concert, statistically there were a few hundred asexual people in the audience.
Let’s get back to Simone’s story, as told to Charlotte Dingle of Cosmopolitan UK:
“I wouldn’t say being asexual has been a barrier, as I’m quite happy being single,” she continues. “I would consider being in another relationship in the future, but whether or not that would look like a stereotypical relationship to other people I’m not sure, because I’m really not a physical person at all. This isn’t common to all asexuals. A lot like kissing and cuddling and other romantic affectionate physical gestures.”
So, what would a relationship look like to her? “If I was in a relationship, it would be more about security and practicality!” she explains. “And it would have to be with someone who was on the same page. I wouldn’t want to be depriving anyone of what they considered a full relationship, so I’m aware that my dating pool is small.”
Simone refers readers to the Asexual Visibility & Education Network (AVEN), which does a lot of good work normalizing asexuality and advising asexual people and their friends and family. AVEN does not seem to use the term “ace” for asexuals, but Simone does, and many others do as well. AVEN does a great job of describing the wide variety of asexual identities, choices, reactions, and expectations, and of responding to people’s inevitable fears and worries.
Simone stands out as someone who has really thought her own personal issues and choices through, and sounds very happy with where she’s wound up:
“You never hear straight people being asked if they might change their minds,” Simone concludes. “It’s only the rest of us (asexual, LGBTQ+, etc) who get asked. I don’t have a crystal ball. Things may well change for me in the future, but I think it would be really great if people could accept that this thing exists.” Simone is keen to stress that, although it is now being talked about more, asexuality isn’t a youth “fad.” “We’re not all young people who’ve read this on the internet and attached ourselves to it. There are older people who’ve gone through their lives wondering what’s wrong with them and then found our community and suddenly it makes sense.”
Sexuality is such an enormous component of our culture, our public lives, and our private lives that (as a sexual person) I find it easy to imagine the relief of just being in a space where no one cares about sexuality. If you’re a person who just would never care about sexuality unless it was shoved in your face, the relief of finding a community where you can get away from it must be a thousand times more intense.