Asexuality and Loneliness

Creations / Blog / Asexuality and Loneliness

Sep 19, 2023 | About 6 min reading time

This is a rewrite of a post I originally uploaded on Medium, about half a year after I first started identifying as asexual.

Content warning: this post will discuss internalized acephobia, trauma, and sexual harassment/abuse. Be warned.

Feelings are complicated. Being asexual makes them more complicated.

Asexuality is defined as a lack of sexual attraction, which is frustratingly vague for the average person to understand and also impossible to prove — because you can never prove a negative. That's not to say people identifying as asexual are wrong, but to explain why it's so hard for us to realize we're asexual and come to terms with it. If I don't know what sexual attraction feels like, how can I say for sure that I don't experience it?

I've identified as asexual since around the middle of March 2020. At the time of writing this, it's been around three and a half years since then, but I do still find myself regularly having doubts. Every once in a while I try to convince myself that the safety and comfort I feel around my also asexual girlfriend whenever the topic of sex comes up is me having sexual attraction to her, but luckily my logical brain kicks in after a few minutes and says, "No, you just like not feeling pressured to ever pretend to want sex, you like feeling able to express that if you did ever do it, it'd probably just be for the intimacy, and you'd rather have cuddles anyway and fall asleep on her shoulder, and she likes that, and you feel understood for possibly the first time in your life."

What even is sexual attraction, though? For the longest time, I thought it just meant having fantasies about certain people. I thought the anxiety that came along with these fantasies meant I must just be really into them. When I had intrusive thoughts about people who had sexually abused or harassed me, I assumed this was what sexual attraction felt like for me: a gnawing feeling of shame and dread and fear swirling around in the pit of my stomach.

It took me years to figure out this was a symptom of trauma, and not genuine attraction. It took me years to stop trying to force myself into relationships and situations I didn't want.

The Asexual Visibility and Education Network defines asexuality as not experiencing an intrinsic desire to have sexual relationships. On some level, I know that most of the population finds sex incredibly important. On another level, I'm always shocked that it's important to the extent that it would be defined as an intrinsic desire (this is not to imply that this is somehow bad, I mean simply that I do not and will not ever understand this experience because I do not experience it).

As an example, in high school, when I was having lunch with a girl I was dating at the time, one of her friends came up and decided to give us some relationship advice. One of those pieces of advice was to have sex at least once a week. We were fifteen at the time.

Looking back on it now, I realize that many fifteen-year-olds are not virgins (and her comment probably would've made more sense to someone who was not asexual), but at the time, I thought this was absolutely bizarre. I could not fathom why sex would be important enough in a relationship, even once you were no longer a virgin, to warrant a minimum number of times you must engage in it weekly for your relationship to be healthy.

Quick side note: when I mentioned this to other allosexual people I knew, they laughed and said it should be more than once a week, confusing me further.

Later on in high school, I remember my best friend at the time offhandedly making a joke that the bus that morning had smelled like sex. I looked at him, confused, and he said, "Dude, I'm not a virgin."

Suddenly it felt like an elephant had sat on my chest.

Around that time, friends of mine started talking about sex almost incessantly - while I was trying to eat, while I was trying to do my schoolwork, while I was trying to do anything but talk about sex - and I started to feel like I was a child overhearing conversations I shouldn't have been overhearing. I started feeling angry and betrayed, too, like I was being left out of something I desperately wanted to be part of.

I tried to fit in. I made jokes about sex. I forced myself into situations I didn't really want to be in. The elephant sitting on my chest grew and grew, until I was having panic attacks and breakdowns and desperate to finally figure out what was wrong with me and why I couldn't just be normal. I told myself that no one would want me if I couldn't be normal.

This certainly wasn't helped by people treating my "innocence" around the topic of sex as a challenge. One former friend thought it was funny to ask me to look at his tablet screen, knowing I'd expect to see a funny picture or something and look over almost immediately, only to be greeted with graphic pornography. He treated my clear discomfort as hilarious, and even when it got to the point that my other friends had to cover my eyes before I could look (I'm autistic too, which definitely played a role in this - I tended to be very trusting at the time), this seemed to egg him on more.

On one occasion, he came up to me from behind, grabbed me, and bent me down over a desk in front of all our friends before I managed to squirm away; on another, he dragged me onto his lap at lunch, and when I pointed out to him that his knee was in an awkward position between my thighs, he laughed and began bouncing it up and down directly into that area before I successfully wriggled out of his grasp.

He wasn't the only person who treated me in this way, and when I met my current partner I had almost grown to expect this sort of behaviour. I guess that's what societal expectations around sexuality can do. When someone deviates from the heteronormative idea of what orientation should look like, no matter in what way, they're made to feel like an outlier. Asexuals are estimated to make up around 1% of the total population, a percentage similar to redheads (1-2% of the total population). It's likely you know at least one asexual person, if not more.

And yet many of us don't ever figure out we are asexual, sometimes even when we know of asexuality. I knew asexuality was a thing as early as twelve years old, and had multiple asexual friends who I noticed I shared a lot of experiences with. It still took me until I was nineteen to finally accept that I myself was asexual. This feeling that I was abnormal led me to believe that I was simply overreacting to the sexual assaults and harassment I'd undergone, that they were annoying for sure but that I needed to calm down and get over it.

I'm glad to be able to say that I'm doing much better these days. Surrounding myself with people who know what asexuality is has helped immensely, and it's given me a much better idea of what someone respecting my asexuality actually looks like.

One of my most noticeable experiences of this is the time I was in a car with someone I had just met from university recently, going to hang out with two other acquaintances at the mall. A song came on the car radio, and she immediately fast-forwarded past it. I lightheartedly asked her if she disliked the song, and she explained that it had been a song mentioning sex and she didn't want to make me uncomfortable in case I was sex-repulsed, so she erred on the side of caution. We only ever hung out a few times, but I still remember her fondly.

I do think, though, that this feeling of loneliness related to orientation needs to be talked about more. I don't want to live in a society where sex or lack of it is assumed to mean something about our character at all, whether it's demonizing people who have more sex than what is considered socially acceptable, or people who have less sex than what is considered "normal," or people who have sexual attraction to multiple genders, or people who have sexual attraction to the "wrong" gender in society's eyes.

Instead, I want to live in a society where we acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of ways to feel sexual attraction, including not feeling it at all.

Hopefully, we'll soon live in a world where this is a reality.

If you're curious about asexuality, or you're asexual yourself and want to find more stories of people with similar experiences, the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network has resources and information, plus forums for asexual people as well.