THE NUANCE OF ASEXUALITY

0 Posted by - 14/06/2016 - Featured, Features

Max Stainkamph | @maxstainkamph

Sex is fucking everywhere.

It is on our TVs, in movies and it’s mass selling terrible, terrible books. It is on the lips of every boyband and pop tween, covering every second billboard and advertisement. Plus, the whole porn thing.

For most people, why would you want to? Intercourse is arguably the most passionate a lot of people will be in their lifetime. It’s instinctive, primal and natural.

For some, this world without sex, lust or romance, without annoying and ill-timed boners, isn’t a Katarina Kohn, or Kat for short, is 19. She identifies as asexual, which put very plainly means she doesn’t feel sexually attracted to others.

She describes asexuality simply. “Some people like coffee, some people like tea, some people like soda, some people like two of the above or all of the above, but I don’t like coffee or tea or soda,”

People who identify as asexual, like Kat, refer to themselves as aces. They inhabit a broad spectrum ranging from those with no interest in romantic partners or sex to those who want a romantic relationship, but without intercourse.

Kat’s first experience with asexuality was part of a break-up. She hadn’t identified as asexual during the relationship, but her partner thought she was an ace.

“He essentially broke up with me because of my latent asexuality,” she says. “Turns out he’d been telling people he suspected it, though he didn’t ask me about it.”

She ignored it at the time, but Kat’s curiosity got the better of her.

“I went online and starting googling it, going on the asexuality subreddit, AVEN sites, and everything really resonated with me. I felt great knowing it was a real experience, not just me being weird.”

The study of asexuality is still in its infancy, but Dr Vivienne Cass, currently teaching at Curtin University, has spent nearly four decades studying sexual identity and sexuality. She has also done a study of asexuality. She says it has only recently begun being recognised.

Dr Cass says it isn’t just the public who aren’t aware of it, but “most professionals would have disregarded asexuality as asexuality” ten or twenty years ago.

There is also a struggle over the recognition of asexuality.

“We can take this back and look at homosexuality in the 70s, there were some who accepted it, some who were fighting to accept it and some who felt really bad about themselves,” Dr Cass says.

Kat agrees. “Nobody knows what it is,” she says.

“The people who do know the definition often have these archetypes in mind like Sheldon Cooper or Sherlock. That’s not what real aces are like. We’re regular people.”

She says she’s had friends who struggle to accept it.

“About half of the friends I came out to already didn’t believe me or didn’t validate me right away. One insisted for weeks that I love sex and that if only I would do it, I’d love it just like she does.”

“She insisted that my very humanity was based in sexual attraction – and desire and action – and to deny myself of the opportunity to feel those feelings would be to strip me of my humanity.”

Kat says “my sexuality isn’t something people need to know,” and while she feels comfortable talking to people who are asexual, she fears judgement from those in her community; her family, most friends, her church group, but says a lot of her reservation is just who she is.

“I don’t want to walk around being the one with something to say about myself and my experiences.”

Not all people accept asexuality this easily. Some people struggle to come to terms with their asexuality.

One such person goes by the name Carbon on Reddit ace forums. They said they stumbled over the concept online when they were 19, and after a few weeks simply realised “holy shit, I’m ace”.

“It took me a really long time to come to terms about it too. I hated being ace so so much for a few years, and I still do a little. I would frequently just get really drunk and cry about it because I was so afraid of being broken,” Carbon says.

Carbon, now 21, accepts being ace, “but damn, 19 year-old me was terrified of navigating through college completely alone because no boy would date me because I wouldn’t put out,” they say.

It was only after talking to a roommate about sex and sexual attraction that they began to accept it could be something that was normal. Finding online places for asexuals, such as subreddits and the online site Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (or AVEN).

They say the ace community is “super amazing” to be a part of, and finding another ace is like “discovering someone who is into that really obscure thing from the 90’s that literally no one knows.

“I’m always psyched as hell when I find a new ace.”

But what do aces feel? What replaces that drive most people have?

For some – nothing. It’s like trying to flex a missing limb. John Nickel, 22, found his asexuality when he was set adrift as he stayed single and his friends all entered relationships He didn’t feel the same drive they did, and considers himself aromantic.

“I never really wanted to be in a relationship; I don’t see relations any different with girls as it is with guys,” he says. “I’ve never had any interest in relationships.”

Kat, however, feels a bit differently.

“I feel attraction toward others. I’m a social person and I love my friends and having connections with people. It’s strongly platonic in most cases for me.”

In cases where she likes someone “a lot,” Kat has “no issue holding, touching, hugging that person.”

“I’m really not touch averse – on the contrary; I enjoy physical contact with my more-than- friends. But the most important thing is to be around them, always.”

I asked John if he feels alienated by the amount of sex permeating society.

“Not really,” he says. “I do feel kind of bored when people… switch the topic to sexual innuendos or how ‘awesome’ someone’s sex life is. Ugh, I don’t care.”

“I don’t find nudity interesting, I find it boring; I understand that we’re all naked underneath but I just don’t see what people see in these charades,” he says.

John tried “looking into” nudity once. “I didn’t feel anything; not disgusted just… eh, no interest.”

So what aces feel is a difficult question to answer. The difficulty with answering it stems from the difficulty in defining asexuality.

Dr Cass sees asexuality as far more complex than a simple question of ‘do you like sex or not?’

She says sexuality comes under three domains; sexual arousal, sexual desire and sexual attraction, “and even then we can separate sex from attraction,” which gives six or more categories at the most basic level of asexuality.

Hence, she thinks the label is too broad.

“So, what I believe and what I’ve seen is people who call themselves ace or are called asexual by a clinician, could actually come from any of those areas,” Dr Cass says.

She also says due to the lack of study in the area, many people are mislabelled, or mislabel themselves.

Dr Cass says while labels can be good to provide a sense of identity – “identity is important to stop us feeling alienated” – she thinks some people not only risk not identifying themselves properly but also potentially trapping themselves in that label.

“If [labelling yourself] means you never consider any alternatives, you never think outside the box, any label can be stultifying,” she says.

She also says many people don’t properly understand sexual identity and what factors impact it.

While many people are just born with a low libido, or sex drive, many factors in our lives quell sexual urges.

“The most common everyday thing that can lead to people to not feeling sexual is just being very

While she is careful not to discredit anyone who has thought it through, Dr Cass says she has seen many people come to the conclusion they are asexual without realising there are factors that influence that.

She also says this problem is very prominent in young people, from Australia to Japan and all over the world, where teenagers and young adults are “so focused on everything else in the world; jobs, going to work, careers, all the other things in life, they don’t stop and take time to get in touch with themselves or their bodies.”

“There are more young people not expressing themselves sexually, because they are simply more occupied elsewhere.”

This is not a black and white issue. There is far, far more to it than simply putting people in the category of “asexual” or “everyone else,” and Dr Cass thinks people need to be aware of what Kat calls the “nuance” of asexuality.

Some asexuals “might be on one end of a continuum,” while on the other end there are “people who have sex a lot, where sex is just a behaviour.”

“A behaviour lacking passion and intimacy,” according to Dr. Cass.

“I like to focus on the shades of grey between things.”

Carbon agrees to a large extent, but doesn’t think it matters.

“We aren’t all the same. Despite our size, aces are still a very diverse community and we’re working really hard to make sure no one gets alienated,” he says.

“At the end of the day, there’s only one thing that all of us share, and that’s the fact that we don’t feel sexual attraction.”

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