To put it simply, those who identify as asexual typically do not experience sexual attraction (in most cases). The term “asexuality” tends to bring about false assumptions and lead to people making offensive comments, even if they don’t realize it. It’s important to educate yourself about what falls under the umbrella term of “asexual,” especially if you know someone who identifies on the asexual spectrum. Keep in mind the following things and similar comments you should NOT say to an asexual person.
1. “You’re so lucky you don’t have to deal with sexual attraction”
While this may be said with good intentions, it actually erases all of the struggles that asexuals face. Heather Milne, an associate professor at the University of Winnipeg who teaches queer theory, says comments like these are problematic because the person saying them doesn’t necessarily know whether the person they are talking to has struggled with their sexual identity or with labels. “It assumes that being asexual is easier than being sexual, which is not necessarily true,” Milne says.
In fact, Hannah*, a sophomore at the University of Iowa, says that asexuals have unique struggles even when compared to other queer sexualities. “It’s a very subtle kind of struggle because our society emphasizes relationships and sex so much,” Hannah says. “It’s hard to watch your friends pair up with each other and wonder if you can ever have that kind of close relationship with anyone if you don’t actively want sex.” To label asexuals like Hannah as “lucky” is completely unfair.
2. “Asexuality isn’t a real thing”
According to Milne (and basic sensitivity), saying this negates asexuality as an identity. “[It] assumes that under the ‘right’ circumstances, the person can become sexual,” she says. “[It] also assumes that somehow becoming a ‘sexual’ person should be the goal when in fact the person could be very happy and fulfilled just as they are.” There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being asexual, so don’t ever imply that.
3. “I can change your mind”
Saying this also negates asexuality, but it’s offensive for a couple of different reasons, too. For one, it assumes that as humans we must be coupled up to be happy which is not the case for everyone, says Christina Spaccavento, a relationship and sex expert. This is clearly not the case at all.
Saying things like this also show a lack of education regarding asexuality. Tara*, a senior at Winthrop University, wants people to know that asexuality is not a choice and it definitely isn’t affected by outside influences. Treating people as though their sexual orientation is a phase or something they can grow or be persuaded out of is not only problematic, but extremely disrespectful.
4. “You’re just afraid to get close to other people”
This essentially invalidates any sort of relationship that doesn’t involve sex. “[It] assumes that asexual people are incapable of intimacy,” Milne says. “This is not necessarily true.” Hannah finds that this sort of talk negates any kind of loving relationship she might have. “Sex is only one piece of the loving-other-people puzzle,” she says.
It’s also perfectly normal for asexuals to experience romantic, and sometimes sexual, attraction. “Remember that sexual identity and how each individual interprets their own sexuality will vary according to that individual,” Spaccavento says. “So when we talk about asexuality we need to understand that it will mean something different to each person.”
5. “So you’ve never been turned on?”
Questions like these that cast doubt upon asexuality may not be intended to be offensive, but they can be. Just because a person identifies as asexual does not mean that they have never experienced arousal or even an orgasm before. “For example, there are asexual people who can watch a movie with a sex scene and be turned on, but disassociate from the actions in regards to their own lives,” Tara says.
Jena*, a senior at Emerson College, says that detaching the stigma from asexuals and arousal is important. “You don’t ‘un-become’ an asexual if you get turned on, or even if you want to be turned on,” she says. It’s not anyone’s job to classify someone’s sexual orientation.
6. “So you want to be alone for the rest of your life?”
Even if it isn’t said as bluntly as this, implying that an asexual person will never find a girlfriend or boyfriend for the rest of their life is extremely disrespectful (and just rude in general). “It’s scary to think that I (very plausibly) might be alone for the rest of my life,” Hannah says. “And when you aren’t attracted to anyone it’s hard to know where to even start to find that kind of relationship.”Adding into the false assumption that nobody wants to be with an asexual person is completely unnecessary.
The most important thing to remember regarding asexuality is that there’s a lot of variety within the community—meaning that every individual defines their sexual orientation differently. Even if you’re well-intentioned, there are certain things, like we’ve included, that are just downright offensive. The best thing to do is educate yourself, and show your support.
*Names have been changed