Friday, August 7, 2009

Yes, I am asexual

Some months ago, I wrote a rather confused post about my sexual orientation. But now that I have the benefit of hindsight, I can present the issue more clearly and accurately. So consider this my second try.

What does asexual mean?

I consider myself to be asexual. An asexual is a person who does not experience sexual attraction. At least, that's what it says at AVEN, the internet nexus of asexuality. It is strongly recommended that you read the FAQs at AVEN for the official presentation.

Of course, it can be a little unclear what "sexual attraction" really means. It's unclear to me, anyways, since I don't have any first-hand experience of it. Different people have described it in different ways, leaving a caricatured image in my mind. It happens you look at someone, or talk to someone, or otherwise interact with someone. You feel aroused, or it leads to sexual fantasies, or it makes you want to talk to them, maybe enter a relationship or have sex. I'm unclear on the details, but it's some instinctive feeling which causes people to, on some level, desire sex with another person.

Asexuals, by definition, are not merely repressing or inhibiting their feelings. They simply don't experience them in the first place. If you tell an asexual that they're just repressing themselves because of the puritanical forces in our culture, they will be A) annoyed by your ignorance, and B) a little confused about what this feeling is that they're supposedly repressing.

Asexuals lack sexual attraction. However, this does not necessarily mean they lack other things. For instance, most people closely associate romance and sex, because they rarely have one without the other. Many asexuals do experience romantic attraction without sexual attraction. In the asexual community, it's common to speak of a romantic orientation (ie heteroromantic, homoromantic, biromantic, aromantic) in addition to a separate sexual orientation (ie heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual). I've discussed in the past some scientific literature which supports this disassociation.

Another surprise: some asexuals do enjoy sex. Just because they lack that feeling which causes them to seek sex doesn't necessarily mean that they don't enjoy it when it happens. But I think most asexuals do not enjoy it, in the same way that most straight men would not enjoy sex with other men. This can cause problems (which can be overcome) in a asexual/non-asexual relationship, since the partners have different levels of sexual desire.

More surprises: Some asexuals experience crushes of a nonsexual nature. Most asexuals masturbate, just like everyone else. Some asexuals can recognize sexual attractiveness (or "hotness"), but are unaffected by it. And some of them have fetishes which are unrelated to other people.

"How come I've never heard of these people?" you ask. It's rather uncommon, rather difficult to recognize, and is often simply dismissed. At least one survey has indicated that asexuals represent 1% of the population. However, this is probably an underestimate, since asexuals are exactly the type of people who are uninterested in taking a survey about sex. Most asexuals themselves have never heard of the concept. Most researchers have never heard of the concept. The scientific literature on the subject is small enough that you can potentially read all of it.

If asexuality were better-known, I think it would help a lot of asexuals understand their own experiences, and might also provide insight into human sexuality in general.

Where do I fit in?

I have absolutely no problem with sex or romance. I think they are great ideas. However, I consider myself asexual and aromantic because I cannot for the life of me understand the concept of "hotness", and I do not ever have crushes of any sort. No person has ever prompted feelings which were recognizable as romantic or sexual desire. I never even think about the idea, except by conscious effort. I'm really not against the idea of a relationship, but it would be quite difficult to start one, since my mind never labels anyone as a candidate. And if I did somehow get into a relationship, I might have difficulty actually falling in love or feeling sexually attracted to them.

Or not. Who knows?

Asexuality is a description, not a commitment. If it changes in the future for me, then that's that. Either I was wrong about my orientation, or my orientation changed. It is thought that asexuality, like other sexual orientations, can sometimes change, but it is rare, and not by conscious choice. Basically, I'm not going to count on it.

How do I feel about this? Frankly, I don't like it, to the point that I want to deny it. I don't really know if I care about the asexual part, but I do care about the aromantic part. I mean, no romantic love ever? That sort of bums me out. At least I still have friendships and non-romantic love. In any case, many asexuals on AVEN are completely comfortable with their asexuality. If you read their FAQs, you might notice that they emphasize how happy asexuals are. I do not doubt it.

But between the internet and me, I think the reason this is officially emphasized is because if they are unhappy with their asexuality, then according to the DSM (the psychologist's "bible"), they have a disorder called Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD). That's right, asexuality is pathologized in much the same way that homosexuality was in past decades,* but only if the asexual experiences personal distress. In my opinion, if something causes me a little distress, that does not necessarily mean it is a disorder.

*As a matter of fact, HSDD derives from another diagnosis, HSD, which at one point included homosexuals, since they are supposedly inhibiting their natural heterosexuality.

I will say that I am happy about discovering the concept of asexuality. It has opened new doors. Before, I would have reacted to the ideas of romance and sex with disinterest or confusion. Now, it finally makes sense why it doesn't make sense to me. It's like a barrier to my understanding has been lifted, or at least partially lowered. And I'm sort of curious about what's on the other side.

What will I do with my life now? Probably the same thing as I have always done before. I'll go on living it.


smijer said...

This is very interesting. I think for most of the rest of us, our sexual thoughts, behaviors and relationships are so important that they make us often neurotic. I can imagine being happier as an asexual.

Question: When you watch romantic comedy movies, are you moved in any way by them? Do you experience hope that the girl & guy will get together (in the hetero versions)? Are you satisfied when they do? Troubled when they have problems? Is there any empathy between you & the characters?

Or have you ever even watched one?

miller said...

I'm not particularly into romantic comedies, or movies in general. But I tend to like dramas, some of which have major romantic elements. A few off the top of my head: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep, Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amelie Poulain, The Lake House, Casanova, and I'll even admit to enjoying Pride and Prejudice. Yes, I do have empathy for the characters. I want them to overcome odds to be together.

How can I have empathy for something I don't feel myself? I don't know. I have to go along with it whether it makes any sense or not. When I say I am aromantic, I mean this in the sense that I do not experience crushes or falling in love (or anything of the like). I cannot choose to start experiencing these things, no matter how much I might like romantic films.

Ily said...

The scientific literature on the subject is small enough that you can potentially read all of it.

Yeah...I think I have done that. Great introduction to asexuality.