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Illustration by Melanie LambrickMelanie Lambrick

Things asexuals really wish you'd stop asking them

Josh Pappenheim

This article has sexual content

One of the best things about the age of online is (largely) how accepting we all are of sexuality.

Whether you’re hetero-, homo-, bi-, pan-, demi-, sapio-, or any other sexual, odds are you’ll be free to find love however you desire. But how do you feel about someone feeling little or no sexual desire whatsoever?

Asexuality is generally defined by a lack of sexual attraction or a lack of sexual interest. But that varies. It can refer to people with low or absent sexual desire, attractions or behaviours. Some may engage in purely romantic relationships, some may not. But in today's hyper-sexualised world the concept of asexuality is, to some, even more alien than perhaps homosexuality seemed in the mid-1900s.

Asexuals can be upset by invasive questioning or just a total lack of acknowledgement. We spoke to a number of people who identify as asexual to find out which questions and attitudes towards their sexuality really get under their skin.

"You’re just scared of sex"

Paul: Because I express romantic attraction to people and have engaged in sexual behaviour in the past, people see this as evidence that I am truly sexual and merely using ‘asexuality’ as a mask or defence mechanism because of insecurity. There are many reasons why I've experimented (usually unsuccessfully) with sex in the past; curiosity, social conformity or simply wanting to connect to another person. However, sex is still not an inherent need or desire for me in the same way it is for a sexual person.

To make matters even more confusing for people, I have sexual fetishes and do masturbate, but these do not involve sexual attraction to other people. That even the most open minded and accepting of my friends simply can't understand or empathise with what I'm going through makes me feel very disappointed, frustrated and isolated.

"Maybe you should see a psychiatrist."

Paul: This comment frustrates me because it suggests that asexuality is a mental disorder in need of curing. The first person to say this to me was my ex-boyfriend, who simply couldn't wrap his brain around the concept of asexuality. Ironically, this was the exact same reaction that his mother had when he told her he was gay. Although he had been hurt and offended by his mother's comment, he didn't see any hypocrisy in repeating it to me. Just because asexuality itself is not a mental health issue, it can create feelings of depression and loneliness. So far, I've been reluctant to ask for professional help because I don't trust a doctor to actually understand asexuality or my experiences with it.

Will: Something I've discovered is there are people who feel like they have an ownership of your sexuality and it's down to them as a sexual person to analyse. People saying, "oh, sex is great, I feel so sorry for you," as if I have something missing and will never be truly fulfilled without it. Some go as far as questioning if I was sexually abused and asexuality is like some kind of Freudian reaction to that (I wasn't, just to clarify).

Illustration by Melanie LambrickMelanie Lambrick

"Are you sure you just haven’t met the right person yet?"

Paul: This is intended to be reassuring, with the implication that ‘it gets better’ and Prince Charming will come along to make everything right. To me, however, it translates as another dismissal of asexuality as a legitimate orientation. If someone suggested that a gay man simply ‘hasn't met the right girl yet’, it would rightfully be considered dismissive and insulting, perhaps even homophobic.

Will: I'm a romantic asexual. Someone I was dating, who had said they understood and respected the fact I don't desire sex, said after becoming frustrated about not having sex that they "thought I just hadn't met the right person to have sex with," and they thought they "would be the one to change my mind". The tone in which they said it that was like "you don't know your own sexuality as well [as I do] and therefore why won't you have sex with me?"

"Do you masturbate?"

Giselle: It's usually "do you masturbate?", "what do you think of when you masturbate?" Being asked personal questions about sexual actions - as opposed to attractions - is a big no-no among asexuals, it's a bit like asking a trans person about downstairs. It's unnecessary. Young people or immature people tend to think that's okay.

Will: Asexual people can have sexual thoughts and feelings, but it's the fact that I often never want to act on them which is why I identify as asexual. I don't think it's about never having sexual thoughts or erections or even never masturbating. It's about just not having the desire to act on those feelings. People presume I'm gay and repressing that, which is something they fixate on and some have even told me, "no I won't accept it - you're just gay.”

Illustration by Melanie LambrickMelanie Lambrick

"You're asexual, then why do you lead people on?"

Paul: Despite being asexual, I do enjoy physical intimacy and the sensual pleasure of kissing and foreplay. I may not get sexually aroused from these experiences, but I still enjoy the touch of another human being. However, because I am asexual, apparently I have no business in pursuing people because I'm basically teasing them and wasting their time. Perhaps it is dishonest or misleading to go home with someone after a night out with no intention of having sex with them. This has resulted in some uncomfortable or even intimidating experiences with people who don't like hearing the word 'no'. At the end of the day, I have needs as well and just because they expect sex from me doesn't mean that I owe it to them.

There's a perception of asexual people as cold and robotic; people are afraid to touch us, either because they consider us non-viable or because (kindly) they are afraid of making us uncomfortable. I am currently in a new relationship with a sexual person; coming out to him as asexual was undoubtedly a game changer and it remains to be seen if he'll be able to accept this part of me. He has already expressed concerns that if we do have sex, I will only be doing it for his benefit, which in turn takes the fun out of it for him. Before I even have the chance to take my clothes off, my asexuality is already influencing how he sees me. As much as I try to take ownership of my asexuality and be proud of it, my past experiences have taught me to associate the word with rejection and loneliness.

"Oh, I used to think that about myself, you'll get over it eventually."

Paul: While I do have a colourful collection of self-esteem issues, I am confident that my asexuality is not the side effect of a passing insecurity. I'm aware that people find me attractive and feel perfectly comfortable being naked and physically intimate with others; I simply have no inherent interest in sex or sexual attraction to other people. Although a well-intentioned attempt to relate to me and make me feel less alone, this comment actually has the opposite effect and makes me feel more misunderstood.

So, the next time someone decides to discuss their asexuality with you, maybe leave out the questions, and just sit back and listen...

Illustrations by Melanie Lambrick

Originally published 18 July 2016.