I'm asexual, which means I'm not sexually attracted to anyone. I'm also aromantic, which means I'm not romantically attracted to anyone. Asexuality is a sexual orientation--it's about attraction, not about behavior, so it is not the same thing as abstinence or celibacy, and it's estimated to describe one percent of the population.
One in a hundred sounds like a lot for something so poorly understood and invisible, right? Well, you can thank our sex-compulsory culture for that. We all grow up believing that sex and relationships are essential to happiness, and if you want one but not the other (or, God forbid, you don't want either), you're encouraged to shut up about it. You're encouraged to believe something is really wrong with you, and you will usually react to it by trying to "fix" yourself or hiding what you think is broken.
Asexuality erasure, invisibility, and denial hurts people who know they're asexual, but it also makes it far more difficult for asexual people who don't know they're asexual to find out that they are. This means they spend their formative years believing they can't connect meaningfully with other people and that they will be doomed to being alone; that their partners (should they try dating) deserve sex and that they are literally abusing their partners if they do not consent to it; that they are selfish or inhuman or warped beyond imagining if they do not or cannot enjoy sexual relationships; and that they do not deserve to have their desires respected--others' desires will always trump theirs. And because most other people don't know about asexuality, they perpetuate misleading and damaging beliefs about sexuality that can hurt asexual-spectrum people--sometimes in very visible and measurable ways if you take a look at what it does.
Asexual people are almost always treated to what's known as the Outsider Experience, and this can lead to depression and anxiety that also will not be properly treated because mental health professionals they may seek out will see their lack of interest in certain types of relationships as one of their symptoms. Even our therapists and doctors try to "fix" something about us that isn't broken, without understanding that what we really need is a culture that fosters sexual agency, not just sex. And real sexual agency includes the option to say no, to say never, to say it's not part of how you express love, to define the circumstances under which you would like to engage in it.
This Asexual Awareness Week, it would be super great and amazing if non-asexual people could help us with our visibility efforts. Do you want to know the basics?
Non-asexual people could recognize the contributions they can make to criticizing sex-compulsory culture. You may not be asexual, and you may not know any asexual people (or you may not think you do), but you can make this world better for everyone on the asexual spectrum by questioning assumptions about sex/relationships and their central focus in our society. You can question sexual assumptions and blanket statements like "sex is a universal human desire" or "every person dreams of finding the perfect partner," and you can refrain from making statements that equate sexual attraction/romantic attraction with being human, being truly alive, being a person, and being fulfilled/happy.
You can listen and believe when someone comes out as asexual or describes something to you that sounds like an asexual experience. You can express support and spread awareness materials. And you can avoid perpetuating messages that suggest asexual people have to investigate every other possibility (abuse, mental illness, physical illness, social problems, suppressed homosexuality, autism, lack of experience, medication, lack of potential partners, youth or age, etc.) before acknowledging their orientation, and you can refrain from assuming that any of the above traits invalidate someone's asexuality if they do coexist with it. Asexuality isn't a last-resort diagnosis. It isn't a diagnosis at all.
Here are some more ways you can help.
- Read my article How to Be an Asexual Ally.
- Check out my Asexuality Resources.
- Watch this video to see comments from people who have been helped by my efforts.
- Watch the documentary (A)sexual. It's on Netflix, I think. Watch it with or recommend it to someone who doesn't understand.
- Read and share Adri's intro to asexuality in comic form!
- Read and share Asexuality Archive's "the comment section" to learn more about the things detractors say. Maybe also my video Asexual Bingo.
- Share Asexual Explorations with your favorite science bro--the people who say "Asexuality doesn't exist because biology." This site collects academic and scientific research on the orientation.
- Buy (or borrow from your library) MY BOOK ON THE TOPIC, jeez!