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'We’ve come a long way from ‘asexuality cures’ but mainstream media must do more'

By Federica La Marca // BBC The Social Contributor // 21 October 2020

Within this article, I will sometimes use the shorthand “ace” when referring to the term asexual. Ace is how many members of the community describe themselves. Allosexual, on the other hand, is the word used to refer to non-ace people of any sexuality.

Although asexuality has been recognised as a sexual orientation since the 1970s, its representation in the mainstream media has always been lacking.

Asexuality Representation In Media

"Normalising asexual people in media helps normalise asexual people in real life."

Ambiguous Characters

Ambiguously asexual characters have dominated mainstream media for the longest. Although many consider certain characters in popular fiction as asexual, most have never been confirmed as such. To the general public these characters just look like they “haven’t met the right person yet” or “are just married to their jobs”.

Ambiguous representation is a problem because it tells the asexual audience that, although the character may indeed be asexual, they don’t want to confirm it for fear of alienating the heterosexual audience.

Negative representation

Ambiguous representation is a problem because it tells the asexual audience that, although the character may indeed be asexual, they don’t want to confirm it for fear of alienating the heterosexual audience.

Negative asexual representation can be most notably found in the American medical drama House M.D. In the episode ‘Better Half’, the title-character, Dr House, meets an asexual couple and is determined to “fix” their asexuality by showing them that it “doesn’t exist”. After House succeeds in “curing” asexuality, the couple is relieved that they can finally be sexual together.

This episode was rightly criticised for sending all the wrong messages about asexuality, namely that they are “faking it” and that they can be “cured” of asexuality. It’s not a deadly illness, Dr House!

Positive changes

Netflix’s Sex Education is another shining example of positive change. In it, Florence describes her asexuality with a sex therapist who comforts her, stating that there is nothing wrong with being asexual.

Thankfully, we have moved away from negative or ambigious representation and there are far more characters who identify as asexual and are portrayed in a positive light.

In the animated series BoJack Horseman, the character of Todd Chavez is confirmed to be asexual. Chavez explores this revelation by talking about it and meeting other asexual characters. He is not judged but rather made to feel welcome, included and valid.

Netflix’s Sex Education is another shining example of positive change. In it, Florence describes her asexuality with a sex therapist who comforts her, stating that there is nothing wrong with being asexual. This is by far one of the best TV show representations of asexuality as it is clear, concise and comforting to anyone who might be questioning their sexuality.

Moving forward

Fortunately, the more problematic scripting of the 2000s has been somewhat washed away by TV and film’s recent depiction of asexual people. Screenwriters seem to be more comfortable confirming or adding asexual characters to their story. But we could still do more because normalising asexual characters helps normalise asexual people in real life. The more visibility asexuality gets, the more accepting heteronormative society becomes of asexual people. These changes will make ace people feel less afraid when they are labelled as “weird”, “abnormal” or subjected to any other hurtful comment.

While recent developments are positive, asexuality representation is still trailing behind other LGBTQ+ groups. It has been a slow process and asexuality remains mostly invisible. So, there is no time like the present to support ace creators who are already telling those stories and opening up this safe space in a respectful and inclusive manner.