The Asexuality Flag
So it might seem weird to you that a person who loves sex toys and often tweets about #peggingadventures with their partner would identify as asexual. I’m using a specific definition of asexuality here, which does not preclude my having a libido or enjoying sexual activity. Maybe asexual isn’t the right word for what I am. There’s a lot of confusion about what exactly the word means, and who it’s for, and I’ve struggled to figure out whether it applies to me. But it’s the best word I have. And yes, I need a word for it. I need a word for it so badly.
A couple of quick definitions: an asexual person is someone who does not experience sexual attraction towards others. Sexual attraction is not the same thing as libido. Libido is the desire to have sex, whether by oneself or with one or more persons. Sexual attraction is the feeling of wanting to have sex with a particular person, due to certain characteristics of that person, physical or otherwise. Asexuality is a spectrum. It contains an array of individuals and sexualities, which vary across the spectrum. Gray-asexual is a term used by people who only experience sexual attraction very rarely, or in very specific, unusual circumstances. Demisexual is a term for people who only experience sexual attraction towards people with whom they have a strong emotional connection; they do not experience sexual attraction towards strangers or acquaintances. An asexual person might be sex-repulsed, or enjoy the physical sensations having sex with their partner, or they might feel about sex the way I do about attending baseball games: it was nice and fun that one time they did it but they’re not particularly motivated to do it again.
I am a person who has sex, both by myself and with others. And yet, sexual attraction is something that I’ve struggled with my whole life. Here’s a little example for you. Sometimes I will see a particularly beautiful person. The person is usually a femme, but not always. I will give a little gasp in sheer awe of their fabulous aesthetic. I take a moment to appreciate how gorgeous they are. If I am with a friend, I might point out the pretty person. I keep walking. My brain stops there. It doesn’t point out how sexy they are, or get aroused, or go “unffff.” It does not matter whether or not I feel compelled to compliment them on their excellent taste in boots, or hair, or body modifications. They’re not sexy to me.
How on earth am I supposed to tell who the sexy people are? I can tell the difference between Literal Hugh Jackman and an average Joe, of course- symmetry of face, how clear and even their skin is, amount of muscle, etc. There’s a checklist. And I know when someone’s hair is a great shade of purple, or their clothes are flattering to their body shape. But what makes one average looking person so much sexier than another? A friend will point out how sexy someone is, and if they are not doing an actual striptease, I struggle to see what makes them different from any of the other individuals we’re surrounded by. For me, sexy people are the ones in sexual situations. Show me a person sitting at a bus stop and I might admire their shoes, but they’re not going to cause me to think about sex. Show me a person in porn who is doing a sex act that I particularly like (say spanking or power exchange or taking big toys) and I will go “damn, that’s hot.” That will turn me on. People don’t.
A few years ago, I had an important conversation with a friend for whom partnered sex is very important. At the time, I was in a romantic monogamous relationship in which we were not having sex of any kind due to legitimate reasons that I won’t discuss here. This close friend told me she couldn’t fathom dating someone with whom she didn’t have a fulfilling sex life. I couldn’t relate to that. I found my relationship with this partner to be tremendously fulfilling romantically, and I saw no reason to end it. I also told my friend that I would be willing to have sex with that romantic partner if it weren’t for the aforementioned legitimate reasons. And my close friend was flabbergasted because she couldn’t imagine having sex with someone being such a take it or leave it situation- either she’s passionately attracted to them or she won’t touch them with a ten foot pole.
More recently, I was having a conversation with this same close friend about being asexual. I told them how I do this thing where whenever I’m making a new friend, I consider dating them. I can’t seem to prevent my mind from doing a “but what if we kissed? held hands? fell in love?” train of thought, even when the person in question has done nothing to provoke it. It’s a little “maybe what if” that I might then choose to do absolutely nothing about, but I do consider it. I thought this was odd, because I’m pretty sure most people don’t appraise all the acquaintances they get along with as potential sexual and/or romantic partners. My friend thought this made total sense, and told me that she does this with people that she is attracted to and hits it off with. She felt that if aesthetics and sexual attraction played little to no role for her, she would also do this with all the cool people she met.
In this way, it sometimes seems that being on the asexual spectrum has increased my sexual partners. When a person is kind to me, respectful, makes me feel comfortable, and I think will be fun to play with, they bring themselves into the “might sleep with” category. This includes nonromantic friends, and I’ve always liked having casual sex with my friends. There are several friends of mine who, were they down and neither of us in monogamous romantic relationships, I would happily have sex with. Because I trust them, and I like sex, and I think it’s fun to explore new things with my friends. Why should I wait for some kind of burning hot connection to have that kind of fun? Something I’ve struggled with a lot is what is the difference between “I want to have sex” and “I want to have sex with you, specifically”? Where is the line? What even is attraction? Some days I just don’t know.
For a long time I didn’t consider that the term “asexual” could apply to me. I have a sex drive, I masturbate, I sometimes have partnered sex. That didn’t feel very non-sexual to me. And I broke down crying somewhere around the age of 13 because I couldn’t fathom what attraction felt like. Because I was pretty sure I had a crush on this girl, but it didn’t feel the way I was told it was supposed to. Because I wanted to spend time with her and talk to her and hold her hand and she did nothing to my genitals. I wanted to be around her all the time and I wanted to be important to her and I was pretty sure that’s what a crush was but I didn’t feel any magical sparks. And I hadn’t felt those magical sparks toward anyone, of any gender, because while I was open to the idea of sex involving another human being, I couldn’t imagine another human being as inherently arousing. It crushed me, because I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I just felt so wrong.
I know I don’t fit a lot of people’s conception of the textbook asexual person. I know that attraction is complicated and that not fitting the mainstream narrative doesn’t mean I have to be asexual. I know that, but I have never felt sexual attraction towards another human being in my life. Before I found the idea of the asexuality spectrum I didn’t know there was a word that applied to me that wasn’t “broken” or “wrong”. Don’t tell me I don’t need that word. When I discovered it, I thought “There’s a word for that? I didn’t know there was a word for that. I didn’t know there was anyone else in the world like me. I thought I was just broken.”
Maybe “asexual” isn’t the most precise word to describe the way I feel. Maybe it’s confusing to have a spectrum so broad that it encompasses wildly different people. Maybe I’ll always have to explain exactly what I mean by that label, or else people will get a wildly inaccurate idea of me. But it’s important for me to have a label. It’s important for me to know I’m not alone, or broken, or despicable. I’m just asexual.