A lack of experiencing sexual attraction is the only thing that all asexuals have in common. That’s what the definition of asexuality is. But that definition doesn’t help people who are trying to figure out if they’re asexual. It’s a definition through negation, which isn’t useful if you’re not sure what’s being negated. It’s like saying “You’re unxonoxian if you’ve never seen a xonox.” How are you supposed to know if you’ve never seen a xonox, when you have absolutely no idea what a xonox is? Maybe you’ve seen one, but just didn’t know that’s what it was called. So you ask someone how to know if you’ve seen a xonox, and the best answer they can give is “Well, if you’ve seen a xonox, you’d know.”
Because of this, figuring out if you’re really asexual can be a challenge. How do you know if you’ve never felt sexual attraction when you’re not sure what sexual attraction even is, and no one can satisfactorily explain it to you? What I’ve found is that most asexuals don’t come to the realization that they’re ace from reading that definition. Instead, they read what someone else wrote on a blog or in forum posts, or they see a news article or YouTube video on asexuality and think, “That person just described me.”
Even though a lack of sexual attraction is the only thing all asexuals have in common, there are clusters of shared experiences, similar things that some asexuals have felt. It’s these shared experiences which often make people come to realize that they’re asexual. In this series of posts, I’m going to explore some of them.
(Please note: These aren’t universal ace traits, so don’t worry if you don’t fit into them all. I haven’t even experienced all of these myself. This shouldn’t be looked at like a checklist or “Am I Asexual?” test or anything like that. You can still be asexual even if you’ve experienced none of the things on this list and you may not be asexual even if you’ve experienced most of them. There’s no diagnostic test to confirm if you’re asexual, there’s no twenty-seven point checklist, and you don’t have to pass an initiation or be referred by someone who’s already in the club. The only person who can truly diagnose your sexual orientation is you.
Also, I want to note that these thoughts or experiences should not be taken as some sort of manifesto of the unquestioned and unified belief system of all asexuals. They’re not necessarily the right experiences or the wrong experiences, and certainly, some of them may be misguided or born out of ignorance. I am writing about them here because some asexuals have passed through these thoughts on their way to discovering their identity, and I felt it was important to mention them for those people still making the journey and who may currently be thinking the same thoughts.)
In this first installment, I’m going to talk mostly about personal thoughts, thoughts about yourself and your identity.
Links to the posts in this series:
- Possible Signs of Asexuality – Part 1: About You
- Possible Signs of Asexuality – Part 2: About Sex
- Possible Signs of Asexuality – Part 3: About Others
You don’t think about sex.
When thinking about activities you’d like to do with a romantic interest, sex rarely makes the list. You might not catch the punchline to a dirty joke, because you’re not operating in that frame of reference. When other people start talking about sex, you have to take a second to remember that other people think about that sort of thing. When you hear that old statistic that people think about sex every seven seconds, you only think about how wrong that statistic is.
You realize that everyone else thinks about sex in a completely different manner than you do.
This is the one that finally tipped me over the edge. One day, I was talking with a friend about some sex scene on a TV show I’d seen the day before. I was trying to figure out the positioning and mechanics of what was supposedly going on because it didn’t make sense to me. As the conversation went on, it became apparent that I was focused on the wrong thing, that it wasn’t meant to be about the impossible and/or uncomfortable contortions required to make the scene believable, it was meant to be about the sex.
This, in itself, wasn’t weird. I’ll often find things odd about scenes in movies or TV shows and try to sort out the problems afterward. What was weird is that at no point in the conversation did I ever think anything like “Oh hey, sex! Yay!” I realized that I never really did think that way. Ever.
So I started rewinding my life, going over various sexual situations from my past. What struck me was how, in almost every single one of them, there was something that made me feel different. One or two things over the years might have just been a fluke. A handful of things bunched together during one summer might have just been a phase. But here, in event after encounter after situation, consistently, for close to 20 years since the start of puberty, there was something different.
I don’t find people “hot”.
My girlfriend had to be very persistent to convince me to have sex with her.
I find most porn to be boring or unappealing.
I’d zone out of most conversations on sex.
I never had “urges”.
I never saw the point of a bachelor party.
And on and on the list went. It became absolutely clear to me that my views on sex were completely different from anyone else I’d ever talked to. It wasn’t some isolated thing. There was something fundamentally different about me.
It was because of that realization that I went out to try to discover exactly what it was that was going on with me, which is how I discovered asexuality.
You think of sex in anthropological or scientific terms, rather than romantic or erotic terms.
You might be interested in sex, but interested in the same way one is interested in geology or zoology. You see it as an object of study, rather than an object of participation. You might want to know everything about it and read everything you can about sexual activities, practices, variants, and combinations, yet at the same time, you’re not really interested in actually doing any of them. You’d rather watch a Discovery Channel documentary on sex than a porn movie. You’d rather read the Kinsey Report than Penthouse.
Sometimes, because of this, you may forget that others don’t typically look at sex as an intellectual curiosity, and you may talk about things in a context where other people are shocked or embarrassed by your openness.
You don’t understand what the big deal is. You haven’t had sex for [insert significant amount of time here], so why are other people so worked up about going without for two weeks?
In general (although not universally speaking), asexual people don’t have a problem going without sex for long periods of time. If you told an asexual person that they couldn’t have sex for ten years, their response will often be something along the lines of “Okay, whatever.” If you told a non-asexual person that, their response will often be something along the lines of “That’s impossible! I’d explode!” (And again, not universally speaking.)
I’ve felt this way before. I’ve seen people moan about how terrible it is that they haven’t had sex in two months. There was a big story about a DJ who went without sex for a whole year as a publicity stunt, and everyone was shocked. I’ve seen men make it sound like their genitals will literally explode under pressure if not emptied in, on, or by someone else within a timely manner. But I haven’t had sex in years and I don’t miss it at all. The concept that someone could be so affected by a lack of sex is totally alien to me.
Sex is totally alien to you.
There’s this thing that everyone else does. It’s on TV, it’s in movies, there are magazines devoted to it, songs about it, books about it. It’s everywhere, all the time. Some people are obsessed by it. They can spend their whole lives chasing it, and sometimes it ruins them.
And you just don’t get it at all.
It’s not that you’re naive, it’s not that you’re sheltered, it’s not that you’re uninformed. It’s just that it’s impossible to fathom why this thing is so important to pretty much everyone else in the world.
And whenever people talk about sex, they might as well be speaking in a foreign language or talking about the intracacies and nuances of macroeconomic theories or 17th century French literature for all you care.
It’s a bit like everyone else is a fan of a sport you’re not interested in. You can watch a game, you can read the rules, you might even try playing once or twice, but in the end, it still doesn’t make any sense why people are so excited about getting to third base or scoring a touchdown.
You’ve thought, “I’m straight (/gay/bi/etc), but not very good at it”.
I felt this way for years before I discovered asexuality. I’d had a girlfriend, and the occasional persons of vague interest had all been women, so clearly that means I’m straight, right? But at the same time, I never really thought about sex. I never went looking for it, I never felt like I needed it. Whenever I thought about these women, I thought about things like going on vacation or scouring the local thrift stores for retro video games with them, but I never really thought about taking them to bed. One day, I decided that meant that I was straight, but I just wasn’t very good at it.
Later, when I discovered asexuality, I mentioned this on an asexuality forum. I was surprised by the number of other people who said that they had felt the same way. Some of them had even used the same phrase to describe themselves.
You’ve thought, “I must be straight by default”.
I’ve seen a couple of people say that they felt this way before they discovered asexuality. The assumption is that someone has to be straight, gay, or bi, no exceptions, no alternatives. Everyone has to get placed in one of those buckets, there are no other options. Clearly, since they didn’t experience attraction to the same sex, they couldn’t be gay or bi, therefore they had to be straight by default, since that was the only bucket left.
I think this makes a good thought exercise for people who don’t believe in asexuality. If those three groups are the only options, where do you put someone who knows they’re not gay, because they’re clearly not attracted to the same sex, but at the same time, there’s not any evidence that they’re straight, either? The only reason you’d put someone in the “straight” bucket is because “that’s what most people are”, which is a ridiculous reason to assign an identity to someone.
It’s a bit like saying there are people who like chicken, people who like steak, and people who like both. You come across a vegetarian and you try to fit them into your limited worldview. “Do you like chicken?” “No.” “Well, therefore you like steak by default.” “No, I’m-” “You have to like steak, because most people like steak, and you said you don’t like chicken.” “But-“ “YOU LIKE STEAK. END OF DISCUSSION.” There’s clearly a “none of the above” option here which needs to be recognized. Some people don’t like steak or chicken, and some people don’t like men or women.
Tomorrow’s post will focus mostly on sex and sexual activity (So you might want to skip tomorrow, if that’s not your deal), while the third day will be about things outside of yourself, like other people.
Links to the posts in this series: