When it comes to sex and relationships, we clearly have a well-drawn picture in our minds. That picture has been put there by the iconic romance movies we have cried to in the middle of the night or the mesmerising books we have all loved so much so that we’ve re-read them at least twice. This picture, however, is not close to reality. It has been tainted by years of heteronormative conditioning which was reinforced by what the greater percentage of viewership was comfortable watching.
In modern times, when the world is a bit less homophobic, people can date somewhat more freely though there are still places where being part of the LGBTQ+ community is not accepted in society and law. However, one’s sexual orientation is their choice and it should be accepted. Asexuality, like others, is one such sexual orientation.
Asexuality is defined as the lack of sexual attraction. Now, there can be two kinds of asexual individuals broadly; romantic and aromantic.
Romantic asexuality is when an individual feels romantic attraction to a person. There can be biromantic asexual individuals, meaning they are attracted not sexually but romantically to two or more genders. On the other hand, aromantic asexuality has been described as when an individual does not feel any kind of romantic attraction for anyone.
There are several questions and misconceptions about asexuality that have taken hold in people’s minds ever since this term was first used. Some people think that asexuality is an act of celibacy. This couldn’t be further from the truth as asexual people can and do engage in sexual acts by themselves and with others.
We need to understand that sexual attraction is different for each individual. Feeling sexually attracted to someone changes with age and the prevailing times. When we are in our 20’s, getting sexually attracted to someone for us would be different from how we get sexually attracted to someone when we are older, say our 30’s. We need to consider the fact that asexual individuals are the same in this aspect. Asexual individuals may feel sexually attracted to others at some point in their lives. A number of asexual individuals do spend quality time with their partners and get intimate without hesitation. It is also found that most asexuals actually enjoy having sex but don’t express any desire to do so.
A proportion of people think asexuality to be a mental disorder such as SAD (Sexual Aversion Disorder) or HSDD (Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder). Well, it is none of the above. Asexuality is a sexual orientation. SAD and HSDD are mental conditions associated with anxiety towards sexual contact. This anxiety towards sex can arise due to societal pressure but not at the idea of sexual contact.
Another misconception pertaining to asexuality is that it is caused by hormonal imbalance. This is simply not true. Loss of sexual attraction due to hormonal imbalance is often sudden. An asexual person has never experienced this kind of attraction during their life so, it can’t have been caused by a temporary change in hormone levels.
“Asexuality is not a choice,” says sex therapist Dr. Debra Laino in an explanation issued to the Medical Daily. Dr. Debra further explains that anyone can make a choice to celibate but asexual people do not really feel as though they are making a choice. It is just the way they are and this is the deciding factor.
According to this article by lifestyle editor Isabelle Khoo, if a person is asexual and in a relationship with someone who is not, then the one way to make the relationship work is to understand each other’s sexual needs. Giving your partner the time and maybe drawing up a chart for intimacy.
If you truly love your partner and they are asexual, all you need to do is change your mindset. For some people, sex in relationships is indicative of their partner’s love for them and provides validation. According to Chantal Heide, a Canadian dating Coach, when one seeks validation through sex in a relationship, this can only lead to destroyed self-esteem. In essence, understanding your partner’s needs is the first step to any healthy relationship whether or not you are dating someone asexual. Some asexual people do feel romance. They like holding hands, going on romantic dates, all or maybe some of the things that are conventionally expected of people in relationships. They expect everything from their partner as someone who is capable of sexual attraction does.
While you should not be pressuring your partner for physical intimacy and understanding their needs, you can also draw up a chart where you both agree upon the minimum number of times you will get physically intimate with each other. Lastly, find ways to be intimate with your partner apart from sex. Complimenting them or kissing them spontaneously can do the trick. For a relationship to work, it has to be an effort from both ends.
Asexuality has been under-represented in the media. While we see movies portray people of every sexual orientation, the number of asexual characters is limited. This might be due to the fact that people still do not accept asexuality as a sexual orientation. In fact, the only asexual character I know of is Florence from Sex Education.
Many NGOs are constantly working for the upliftment of asexual people. The pressure to be intimate with someone has caused increased levels of anxiety and the deterioration of mental health of many in the community. One such NGO in India is “Indian Aces” started by Dr. Pragati Singh in the year 2014.
Many people still do not accept asexuality. This is due to a lot of reasons but the primary one is the belief that an individual has to find someone to spend their lives with which is not possible if you are not sexually attracted to them. It is society that must accept these individuals and let them make their own choices. In the words of Dan Robello, who identifies as an ace and runs an NGO for Asexuals in India in conversation with Leeza Mangaldas, “It’s not like we don’t have sex. But our attraction for a particular person is not based on sexual desires.”
Today, a lot of asexuals face backlash even from within the LGBTQ+ community. The invisibility and erasure of asexuality are encapsulated by the common misconception that the “A” in LGBTQIA stands for ally, rather than asexual. At least one percent of the entire population of the world is considered to be asexual, but asexuality is often not recognised and misunderstood in both heterosexual and the LGBTQ spheres.
There have been a lot of debates on the inclusion of the term asexual in the acronym LGBTQ and hence the community. Those in the favour of excluding the asexuals from the community base their arguments around the logic that the LGBT community has fought against the stigma of homophobia and transphobia for a very long time and asexuals have not been systematically oppressed in any such manner. They are “basically straight.” It should be noted that the LGBTQ community is not just about fighting homophobia but also the stigma that anyone who is not straight or without sexual desires in ways that the post-Industrial Revolution society dictates is not “normal.” It is about accepting those who are not accepted by society themselves.
Asexuality, like every other sexual orientation, is valid. It is our responsibility to make sure they have a voice and visibility in society.