The “Invisible” Sexual Orientation
by Srishti Sinha, BMS’24
In a society where capitalism profits using the “sex sells” philosophy, a person not interested in it is looked upon as “queer”. The Lonely “Ace” of Hearts (Ace is a short form of Asexual) find it difficult to accept themselves as this sexual orientation is widely misunderstood, ignored and not discussed. Whenever we talk about the LGBTQIA+ community, asexuality is often swept under the carpet. Quite ironic that it is the only sexual orientation that cannot be explained without talking about sex when it is the one least interested in it.
Asexuality is a sexual orientation in which the person feels little or no sexual attraction towards others regardless of whether they have sex. No, it is not a choice, like celibacy, a hormonal or medical disorder, a mental condition or a “phase”, nor does it stem from fear or hatred of sex. It is not a chastity vow or a statement of “purity”. It is also not the result of a decision or a choice we have made. It is a legitimate sexual orientation, just like being a homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual is, constituting an estimated 1% of the world population.
The standard definition of asexuality opens the possibility that asexual people could experience other forms of attraction like sensual, aesthetic, romantic, emotional and platonic, feel sexual arousal, have sexual desire, masturbate, or even have sex with other people for other purposes. The emphasis should be on the “lack of sexual attraction towards others”. The concept of asexuality is little known to people, and even if they know the definition, they do not understand it well. Thus, there are common misconceptions about this “invisible” sexual orientation.
Let us uncover some myths about asexuality and bust them.
“Asexuality is a lifestyle choice.” It is a common misconception that asexuality is a choice, not a legitimate sexual orientation. Asexuality is often confused with celibacy, the state of abstaining from sexual relations. Many asexual people may choose not to have sex with other people because they are not interested in it, but that is because of their orientation and not their beliefs about sexual behaviour.
“Asexuality is a medical condition.” The notion that people have about asexuality being a mental or physical disorder is wrong and harmful to asexual people and has led to false diagnoses, unnecessary medication, and attempts to convert asexual people. They might feel distressed at their lack of sexual attraction or feel something is wrong with them because of a lack of acceptance in society. But asexuality is not a medical condition or something that must be fixed. Research has said as much. Also, asexuality is not the same as experiencing fear of intimacy, loss of libido, sexual repression, sexual aversion or sexual dysfunction. Anyone can develop these conditions irrespective of their sexual orientation.
“Asexual people are anti-sex.” Some aces might hate sex, some might be neutral towards sex, and some people might have a positive notion about sex even if they do not engage in it. So, no, not every ace hates sex.
“Asexual people just have not found the right person.” This is not how it works. This assumption invalidates all the asexual people who have found the ‘right’ person and are in happy, loving relationships or have been in the past. Also, the validity of a relationship and finding a “right” person is not and should not be dependent on how sexually attracted you are to them.
Coming to the point of having relationships, being asexual does not debar one from experiencing romantic attraction or having romantic relationships. In fact, someone who does not experience romantic attraction is termed ‘aromantic’. And aromantic has nothing to do with sex. An “aro” may develop sexual attraction but do not feel romantically attracted. People of any sexual orientation can be aromantic. One can be asexual, aromantic, or even both. One more term that usually comes up during the discussion of asexuality is ‘demisexuality’. When a person feels sexual attraction towards someone only after developing a close emotional bond with them, such a person is termed a demisexual. Another term we need to know is ‘graysexual’. A person who experiences sexual attraction rarely, or only under specific circumstances, or fluctuates between periods of experiencing sexual attraction and not experiencing sexual attraction, is termed a graysexual. The asexual umbrella encompasses asexuality, grey sexuality and demisexuality.
Sex often follows romantic love. In fact, sexual activity is often used to distinguish romantic love from other forms of love. Further, regular and satisfying sex is generally seen as the sign of a healthy romantic relationship, maybe because we consider sex as the complete form of intimacy. But one look towards aces having fulfilling romantic relationships helps us consider that there is no reason to think that romantic love is incomplete without sex.
One might wonder how romantic love feels like being an ace. We have an extract from the book ‘Asexuality: A Brief Introduction’, giving a glimpse into it.
“I’ve been in love before. She invaded my dreams. She monopolized my thoughts. I’d talk to her for hours every day. I’d smile whenever I saw anything that reminded me of her. I’d laugh about something she said days after she said it. I wanted to spend every moment with her. I wanted to share my life with her. There were no secrets. I saw her face when I closed my eyes; I felt her touch after she was gone, I smelled her hair in the breeze, and I heard her voice in the silence. She was everything to me. I just wasn’t all that interested in sleeping with her.”