Alice Oseman on being aromantic asexual
My name is Alice Oseman. I’m a twenty-five-year-old writer and illustrator of young adult fiction. I’m also asexual, and my latest novel, Loveless, tells the story of a teenage girl coming to terms with being asexual.
What is asexuality?
There are many people who don’t know much, or anything at all, about asexuality, but the concept is pretty simple: asexuality refers to people who experience little-to-no sexual attraction to anyone of any gender. Asexuality is not the same as celibacy or abstinence and it is not a medical issue – it’s a sexual orientation, just like being straight, gay, bisexual, or pansexual.
‘Asexual’ is an umbrella term that covers a big spectrum of identities, feelings, and experiences, and all of these things can vary hugely. There is a whole range of more specific asexual identities such as greysexual and demisexual, and asexual people can have all sorts of different feelings about having sex, romance, and forming relationships.
Some asexual people split their orientation into two labels – their romantic attraction and their sexual attraction. While someone may not experience sexual attraction, they may still experience romantic attraction – which is generally defined as attraction that leads to a desire for a romantic relationship. As well as being asexual, a person may also identify as a romantic orientation, such as heteromantic, homoromantic, biromantic, aromantic, or more.
As you can see, that’s a lot of different experiences and feelings under one label! So it’s always best not to assume that being asexual means a person will feel a specific way about sex, romance, or intimacy.
How I discovered that I was asexual
I am aromantic asexual. For me, this means that I do not experience attraction – romantic or sexual – to anyone of any gender.
Throughout my childhood and teens, I didn’t have crushes, even on celebrities, actors, or models. While my friends obsessed over popular musicians and sought out relationships, I didn’t feel any desire to do these things. While I loved the idea of being in a relationship, when boys expressed interest in me, I would feel uncomfortable and struggled to find any appeal in the thought of dating them. For a while, I wondered whether the reason I felt nothing for boys was because I was gay, but I didn’t fall for any girls either.
As a result of this confusion, I felt very alone and wondered whether there was something wrong with me.
I didn’t come across the terms ‘asexual’ and ‘aromantic’ until I started university. At first, I was reluctant to believe that this was me – they were terms I knew very little about and I didn’t know anyone else, even in films, TV shows, or books, who was asexual or aromantic. I was scared about what this would mean for my future, because I’d always assumed I would find ‘the one’ and get married someday.
But the more I thought about it, the more I came to accept that it felt right for me. And soon I was able to start imagining another path for my future. A future filled with platonic love instead!
What challenges do asexual people face?
While all LGBTQIAP+* people experience discrimination, there are many unique challenges faced by asexual people, such as:
• Misrepresentation – Many people believe that asexuality is as simple as ‘not liking sex’ or even think that it’s the same thing as celibacy. Asexuals are sometimes seen as being ‘frigid’ or ‘socially awkward’.
• Lack of representation – There are very few asexual characters in film, TV, and books, and there are very few known asexual celebrities or role models in existence. This results in many asexuals not having any knowledge about asexuality, leaving them feeling isolated in their feelings or even stuck in a relationship that feels uncomfortable and wrong.
• Discrimination in the health service – Due to a lack of education about asexuality, many doctors, therapists, and counsellors interpret asexuality as a medical issue. This can even result in being prescribed medication or other treatments to try to cure an issue that isn’t there!
• The difficulties of coming out – Coming out as asexual can prove difficult because many people still do not understand what asexuality is. Coming out to someone as asexual often has to involve an asexuality lesson or having to argue that asexuality exists.
Advice for people who are questioning
One of the most frequent questions I get about asexuality is “How do I know whether I’m asexual?” The honest answer is that the only person who can truly know whether you are asexual is you. But here are some starter questions that might help you begin to think about whether you might be asexual:
• Do you feel confused by the concept of sexual attraction or you’re not sure what it’s supposed to feel like?
• Do you feel that you have ‘very high standards’ or you struggle to find anyone you feel sexually attracted to?
• Do you find it confusing how much other people care about sex and relationships?
As well as questioning, it’s also important to remember the following things:
• Anyone of any age can identify as asexual, if it is helpful to you. Labels are there for your comfort, not for anyone else.
• There is no need to rush. You can take as long as you need to research, question, and think about your feelings.
• If you identify as asexual now but feel that it no longer fits you in the future, that’s okay. Attraction can change and our understanding of our feelings can change.
Where to find support
If you have a friend or family member to talk to about these feelings and questions, you could always turn to them. But there is also lots of information and support online. Here are some useful websites to get you started:
*An acronym that stands for: lesbian; gay; bisexual; transgender; queer/ questioning; intersex; asexual/ aromantic; pansexual; + (meaning "not limited to").