TW: acephobia, conversion therapy
This week is all about asexuality and aromanticism at UEA. Starting from today, there’s a week of events ranging from an information stall to film screenings and a discussion panel hosted by UEA Pride. The occasion is Ace and Aro Awareness Week, and you can find the full list of events here on this handy timetable.
While asexuality becoming increasingly visible is a positive thing, the downside is that the long period of invisibility means most people have already developed some pretty untrue ideas about what asexuality is. Seeing as it’s Ace and Aro Awareness Week, I figured I’d flex my debunking fingers and dismantle the five misconceptions about asexuality that I’ve faced most often.
1. THE ROBOTIC ASEXUAL
This one’s pretty obvious. It comes from this idea of not having a sex drive being indicative of there being something wrong. Clearly not feeling sexual urges means that you can’t possibly be human, or even have a pulse. It’s also a damaging idea because it assumes that all asexuals are completely sexually inactive, which simply isn’t the case. I mean, I don’t like burritos, but it doesn’t mean it’s impossible for me to eat one or that I don’t get curious every now and then. Also, greysexuals and demisexuals – who are part of the asexual spectrum – can actually experience sexual attraction under some circumstances and may or may not take part in sexual acts. It depends on the person. People are complicated, and they get even more complicated when you factor in things like sexual and romantic attraction.
BBC Sherlock caused some drama involving this stereotype when show creator Steven Moffat responded to a question asking whether Sherlock was asexual by saying ‘If he was asexual, there would be no tension in that, no fun in that – it’s someone who abstains who’s interesting.’ You know. Because being asexual makes a person uninteresting and all asexuals are the same, right?
2. ASEXUALS DON’T HAVE SEX
This sounds a bit counter-intuitive, I know, but I did touch on it already. Humans are messy and odd and no two are exactly alike. For that reason, asexuality is a spectrum, not a singular identity. On one end, you have allosexuals (non-asexuals). On the other end, sex-repulsed asexuals, who not only don’t experience sexual attraction and intimacy but are repulsed by it. In the middle you have identities such as greysexuality (people who feel as if they fall somewhere between allosexuality and asexuality) and demisexuality (asexuals who may experience sexual attraction if a deep bond has been formed).
So, in conclusion: some asexuals do have sex. Others don’t. Some are repulsed by it. It’s a big old complicated world.
3. ASEXUALS ARE ALWAYS SEX-REPULSED
This one is a messy conjoined version of ‘the robotic asexual’ and ‘asexuals don’t have sex.’ Somehow, by combining the idea of asexuals being unemotional and some asexuals experiencing sex-repulsion, you end up with this notion that clearly all asexuals are intensely sex-repulsed. This one is most commonly spread by allosexuals, and the reason given is often along the lines of ‘what other reason could there possibly be for not wanting to have sex? Clearly they just hate sex.’
Um, no. Asexuals are a big group of people – and we’re all different. I would actually say that sex repulsion is a spectrum in its own right, with people able to be repulsed by specific acts or levels of intimacy.
4. ASEXUALS ARE BROKEN
Things get a bit nastier when people who are absolutely convinced that not wanting sex means something is wrong progress to the conclusion that asexuality is actually some kind of illness. I think this one finds its origins in the fear of the unknown, fear of what it might mean if sex isn’t actually a fundamental human necessity, and the fact that a low or absent sexual drive is listed as a symptom for many illnesses.
Trying to fix something that isn’t broken can cause actual damage to occur – just look at the horror show that is conversion therapy. Unfortunately, this idea of asexuality being a disease is so insidious that you find it even on the biggest of TV shows. In the episode Better Half, House learns of an asexual patient and bets $100 dollars that he can find ‘a medical reason why she doesn’t want to have sex.’ Spoiler alert, he does. Because not wanting sex can only mean that something is wrong with you, duh.
5. ASEXUALITY IS A CHOICE
Asexuality is often seen as a modern fad, so you get people assuming that those young’uns are opting to be asexual because it’s the new craze or to seek attention. These opinions are (mis)informed thanks to the role of sex in the past, where women were expected to remain nonsexual until marriage and you had more widespread celibacy.
People aren’t inventing their asexuality or pretending – they just have more information than people did in the past.
There’s two truths here. Number one is that asexuality isn’t a modern fad. As it becomes more visible, more information about asexuality is available to more people, and so more people are able to recognise their own asexuality and increase the visibility of asexuality in turn. People aren’t inventing their asexuality or pretending – they just have more information than people did in the past. This allows them to make better-informed judgements of themselves and their own desires.
The final truth? Asexuality isn’t celibacy. It isn’t a choice. It isn’t about turning sex into an opt-out system. It’s not some kind of modern-day monkhood craze. It isn’t an illness, it doesn’t make you robotic or uninteresting, and not all asexuals have the same experiences with their orientation. Asexuality is just another part of the book of humanity – a book we’re finally finding all the pages to after spending centuries trying to hide them.
Featured image © Paige Selby-Green