Today, we recognize that sexuality and gender fall on a spectrum. Sexual orientations such as homosexuality, bisexuality, and pansexuality are well-known, but I’d like to talk about a lesser known one: asexuality. Not everyone is — or wants to be — sexually active.
I wrote to my friend, Tab*, who is asexual, asking her some questions to hopefully shed some light on the nuanced meanings of asexuality and how she navigates relationships.
The Varsity: According to Wikipedia, asexuality is “the lack of sexual attraction to others, or low or absent interest in or desire for sexual activity.” Do you agree with this definition and can you elaborate on what asexuality means to you?
T: I definitely agree with the first half, but I also make the distinction between sexual attraction and interest or desire.
A friend of mine once used the analogy of looking at a beautiful painting in a museum: you think the painting is beautiful, but you don’t want to take it home and have sex with it. That is not to say that people are ‘just objects’ to asexuals, but rather that no matter how aesthetically pleasing they are to me, I just don’t want to have sex with them. They are about as sexually attractive as a painting.
TV: I’m sure there is a stigma around being asexual, especially in a heterosexual and sex-driven society where every form of media is filled with innuendos and sexual references. How do you reconcile your own identity with society’s idea of what a person should be?
T: I think that being asexual doesn’t necessarily mean being sex-repulsed or ‘prudish.’ Nor does it necessarily mean having a low sex drive… or not having any romantic feelings at all. Society, or at least North American society, definitely puts a lot of emphasis on sexual attractiveness as a measure of value, or as something to strive for.
I think it took me a long time to kind of condition myself, or kind of learn to first accept that I won’t be like any of the hypersexual or super beautiful, stereotypical models, celebrities, and characters I often see in [media], but that was okay, and I still had value to other people.
I think that finding out that there was a sort of label for the way I felt about others, sexually, helped me out a lot in accepting that I wasn’t just strange or destined to have no meaningful romantic relationships in my life, which is something that weighs on my mind. I have other things to offer other than just being a sexual partner. Is it actually that important to me to be attractive or valued by people who only consider my sexual value? I figured the answer was no, and that it was kind of BS that I’d be considered less of a person just because I didn’t find people sexually attractive. I never really reconciled my identity with society’s idea of a person more than I just prioritized my identity over society’s fixation with sex.
TV: There’s a lot of emphasis on hookup culture especially with dating apps like Tinder. What does a relationship mean to you? How do you navigate dating and meeting people, especially in university?
T: I’ve been pretty removed from the whole hookup culture. I mean, I have Tinder, but it’s definitely more of a time-waster. To be honest, I’m absolutely trash at navigating the dating scene. I have a lot of my own personal issues to deal with, not to mention I’m the kind of person who mostly keeps to myself. Hookup culture is still definitely something I keep in mind though, and it often intrudes with whenever I get a message or match on Tinder, or some person talks to me for longer than I deem strictly necessary in a social exchange. So, even taking sexual orientation out of the equation, the dating scene is already hard to navigate.
That being said, I have an all-together probably too romantic idea of a relationship. I don’t think I’m quite made for casual dating — if I find interest in someone deeply enough to pursue some sort of deeper relationship, I definitely am in it for the long term.
I’d love for someone to be comfortable with, who inspires me to be a better person, who I change and grow with, who I trust. A person who is worth going the distance for, and who’s as committed to me as I am to them. That sounds awfully idealistic, but that’s probably my best idea of a relationship.
TV: There’s this idea that to be intimate means to have sex — what do you think about this idea of intimacy? And what does intimacy mean to you instead?
T: When I wrote cringy poetry as an edgelord high schooler, I actually wrote about this. My idea of intimacy hasn’t actually changed much since then, although it’s defined itself a bit more. There’s definitely intimacy to be had in sex… baring yourself to another person and trusting that they want you and will accept you as you are. So there’s nothing wrong with saying having sex is intimate.
I think the mistake is when people say that sex is the ‘ultimate’ form of intimacy, or even the only form. I think that as a baseline, intimacy is being able to be vulnerable around another person, not just by being able to share problems and stuff with your partner, but to be able to really experience and share the simple intimacies in life, like waking up and going to sleep in the same bed as the person you love, being able to spend time doing nothing but enjoying each other’s presence, being secure and content. It’s almost hard to describe, but like, if you’ve ever seen a couple that are just so in love… that are just so happy to be with their partner, that it’s almost embarrassing to be witnessing it? That’s the kind of intimacy I’d love to have.
TV: Do you feel pressured to be sexually active?
T: Not enough to make me actually have sex with anyone just for the sake of relieving the pressure, but I definitely feel a bit pressured… Sometimes wondering if I should just have sex with someone just to say I’ve had the experience and can surely say it’s not something I like. Most of the time, I think that’s pretty ridiculous though, because I don’t think it’ll change my attraction. Part of me feels that I should have sex just to experience some sort of intimacy… or that I should at least say yes to sex if my partner asks for it. I think some part of me still considers my lack of sexual attraction abnormal in a sense, such that I should be the one accommodating others’ sexual desire instead of the other way around. Thankfully, I’ve been lucky to have understanding and accepting people around me.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
*Name changed at individual’s request.