What is asexuality? What does it mean to be asexual?
Last year Bojack Horseman’s Todd came out as asexual, and in recent months UK soap opera Emmerdale has featured an asexual character.
But what exactly is asexuality? Well, it’s simple…
According to Stonewall, an asexual person (or ace) is defined as someone who does not experience sexual attraction.
However, there is a large amount of diversity among the asexual community, as there is among all LGBT+ communities, and, indeed, the straight community.
Each asexual person experiences things like relationships, attraction and arousal differently. And, like all other terms, it’s a word that asexual people use to help identify and describe themselves.
Is being asexual it like taking a vow of celibacy?
A lack of information about asexuality means there are lots of misconceptions about it. For one, asexuality is not the same as celibacy.
AVEN (Asexuality Visibility and Education Network) explains: “Unlike celibacy, which is a choice, asexuality is a sexual orientation.
“Asexual people have the same emotional needs as everybody else and are just as capable of forming intimate relationships.”
Earlier this year, Steve Winter and his husband-to-be Thom Gray opened up about their three-year relationship as asexual, homoromatic men, echoing AVEN.
Steve said: “Celibacy is a choice. Asexuality, like being gay, straight, bi, trans, etc., is how you are wired.
“Quite simply, you are born this way!”
“The reality is, we do everything a couple does except sex. So that means cuddling, physical contact, romantic gestures, etc,” Thom explained.
“Normally you wouldn’t see your friends having sex, so why would an asexual couple appear any different in comparison to any other couple?”
“I was convinced that I was broken, and that something was wrong with me”
The prevalence of asexuality is largely unknown. Research in 2004 suggested that one percent of the world’s population is asexual, but many within the community believe the actual number to be much higher.
The lack of exposure and information makes it hard for asexual people to come out, because many have never even heard of the term.
Steve didn’t find out what asexuality was until five years ago, when he came across the term on someone’s Gaydar profile.
The man in question, Stephen Lloyd, taught Steve all about asexuality and pointed him to resources such as AVEN.
“This could not have happened at a better time, as I was finding myself to be heading towards a really dark place where I was convinced that I was broken, and that something was wrong with me as I didn’t experience the same feelings towards other individuals that my friends did,” Steve said.
Thom added that “looking back, I realised I have always been asexual, but it sadly took some bad experiences whilst identifying as gay to find that out”.
Both Steve and Thom said that these uncomfortable experiences stemmed from them feeling like they had to fulfil societal expectations and follow a script, rather than be open over how they felt about sex.
The couple have a series on YouTube called “Pieces of Ace” that they started in 2015.
Relationships, attraction and arousal
Some people like to have a lot of sex; some crave relationships; some aren’t easily aroused.
Like everyone else, asexual people respond to relationships, attraction and arousal in different ways.
Some asexual people are happier on their own, while some want to form intimate romantic relationships. Just because they don’t want to have sex, they still enjoy the communication, closeness, fun, trust and all the other stuff that a partnership can provide.
Many asexual people also experience attraction, but don’t feel the need to act on that attraction sexually.
So, asexual people are often attracted to a particular gender, and will therefore also identify as lesbian, gay, bi or straight.
Some asexuals identify as heteroromantic, others as homoromantic or biromantic, while others are panromantic because their romantic attraction isn’t based on gender.
And what about sexual arousal? Well, it happens, but it’s not always associated with a desire to find a sexual partner or partners.
Some asexual people masturbate but have no desire to have a sexual relationship with another person. Other asexuals experience little or no arousal.
Representations in the media
As mentioned above, TV now has a prominent asexual character, in the shape of Aaron Paul’s Todd Chavez, Bojack Horseman’s wacky, lovable, surprisingly insightful sidekick.
In the third episode of season 4, Todd told Bojack: “I think I’m…asexual.”
Bojack responded: “A sexual what? Dynamo? Deviant? Harassment lawsuit waiting to happen?”
“No, asexual – not sexual,” Todd explained. “I’m sure you think that’s weird.”
“Are you kidding? That’s amazing,” Bojack replied. “Sometimes I wish I was asexual. Maybe then I wouldn’t have a strain of herpes.”
After joking about Bojack’s “many” strains of herpes, Todd revealed: “It actually feels nice to finally say it out loud. I am an asexual person. I am asexual.”
Viewers were understandably thrilled, with one commenting: “As an asexual person, I could not ask for a better character to be that representation, and the whole process of Todd’s self-discovery journey was handled so well.”
“As an asexual, for this to be happening in a popular TV show is so amazing I’m literally crying!! Asexuality deserves so much more representation and support. I receive daily hate because of it,” shared another.
“I wish everyone was like Bojack and [replied] positively.”
The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN)
Founded in 2001, AVEN aims to spread public acceptance and awareness of asexuality, and to facilitate the growth of an asexual community.
AVEN also serves as an informational resource and safe space for people who are asexual and questioning and their friends and families, as well as academic researchers and the press.
Movement for Asexuality Awareness, Protection, Learning and Equality (MAAPLE)
Another charity worth noting is MAAPLE, which holds that making the world better for asexuals will make the world better for everyone.
It aims to address the three big issues which asexuals face: inequality, lack of awareness and the lack of role models.