This article deals with the sensitive topics of sexuality and sexual orientation and may be uncomfortable for some readers.
This is part one of a two-part series. You can find the following article by clicking or tapping here.
This has been surprisingly difficult to write. When I decided that I was going to take the opportunity presented by a new year to openly discuss my sexuality, I didn’t anticipate that getting the words to flow would be so difficult, but after six months and several failed writing attempts, here we are. If it weren’t for the fact that it’s Pride Month spurring me on, I daresay I wouldn’t have gotten this finished.
This is the first in a two-part series of personal posts here on the website in which I explain or share a little more about myself and my private life than I ever have before. The semi-anonymity of the website has, to a degree, emboldened me to do so. Though some close friends know that I am asexual, it isn’t something I discuss freely or openly with most of the people in my life. I’ve always been somewhat of a private person, and though I have come to accept my asexuality more in recent years, for a long time it was a source of shame and embarrassment, and for years before that, simply an unknown feeling that at various points I repressed, struggled with, and fought against.
So one more time, for the record: I am asexual.
Asexuality is, broadly speaking, the absence of sexual desire or sexual attraction. I would direct anyone interested to learn more about it in a general sense to websites like AVEN – the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network. In this piece I will primarily be discussing my perspective on asexuality rather than presenting a full picture, but asexuality is itself a spectrum with differing interpretations and viewpoints, and those of you interested to learn more about it beyond my singular experience would be well-served there.
Where to begin? This is the question that’s taken up much of my time over the last few months as I struggled to put this piece together. I grew up in a time and place where there was no internet, no Google, and the word “asexual” was used only in a scientific context to discuss the reproductive process of single-celled organisms. Though homosexuality had been decriminalised decades earlier, in the villages and small towns scattered around the rural area where I grew up, LGBT+ people were not commonly out, and homosexuality was not generally accepted by a significant number of people.
At school, the word “gay” was used often by my peer group to describe something they didn’t like. Missed the school bus? That was “gay.” Your favourite football team lost a match? That was “gay.” I don’t know if this was a regional thing, and of course other words were in use too. But I distinctly remember from those days that the word “gay” had become synonymous with something bad or unpleasant. No one I knew was openly gay, and the few people suspected of it found themselves subject to hate and abuse – as I was myself on many occasions for not acting the “right” way or for saying or doing something deemed “gay” by bullies.
As I reached my teen years and conversations in my friend group – which mostly consisted of males – turned to sex, I began to feel like an outsider. Not because I was a virgin, but because unlike any of them I had no interest in sex at all; I didn’t even masturbate. But not being aware of asexuality, nor believing that the way I felt was valid, I joined in with my peers, and even lost my virginity at age 15.
Sex education in this part of the UK in the ’90s can only be described as shockingly bad. I had two lessons called “sex education” that I can recall. Each lasted around an hour and primarily consisted of watching slides on an old overhead projector (the same set of slides both times) that were probably made in the 1970s, while a clearly uncomfortable teacher stood by silently. In a room full of thirty giggling kids making snide remarks, very little education actually happened. The information that was conveyed only described the basic mechanics of sex, the need to use a condom to avoid STDs, and how sex equals babies; it was also purely heterosexual, with not even the scantest mention made of the LGBT+ community.
My parents opted to leave sex education to the school system, never so much as mentioning the subject to me. That may be a generational thing; my parents grew up in Britain in the ’40s and ’50s, and the postwar generation, while “sexually liberated” in some ways, was still very constrained in others. I don’t blame them for the lack of sex education; they wouldn’t have known what asexuality is anyway!
Having heard friends bragging for years about sex and their sexual prowess, I began to think that perhaps if I experienced it for myself I would finally come to understand why everyone treated it as such a big deal. After a brief phase of telling people that I would abstain until marriage for religious reasons – which seemed like a convenient excuse, even though I’m not and never have been religious – I decided that maybe once I experienced sex for myself I’d change my mind and finally be “normal” like everyone else.
This is an awkward thing to have to say, but I am – as Data put it in Star Trek: The Next Generation – “fully functional.” I’m not impotent nor suffering erectile dysfunction, and I am capable of performing in the bedroom, as I found out when I became intimate with my first girlfriend. I felt some degree of trepidation at that moment – was I about to discover the joy of sex? Would I finally understand why it’s been the number one topic of conversation among my friends for years, and why they seemed desperate to engage in it at every opportunity?
In my first sexual encounter, and in several encounters thereafter, all I can remember thinking was: “is this it?” Is this all sex is: just lying down, bashing our genitals together, trying to stay on target and not miss the hole? It was interminably boring, it was hard work, and I quickly learned that it required a great deal of acting to feign happiness lest you upset your partner. But above all, I was disgusted by it.
Human genitals – male and female – are just incredibly unappealing to me. They stink, both as a result of being confined under clothing and by their proximity to the waste extraction system, and are truly ugly to look at. The idea of putting mine in or near someone else’s filled me with disgust. I felt that way then and it remains how I feel to this day.
That sense of disgust was what I tried to supress for a long time. I convinced myself to try different sexual partners, different positions, different kinks, even oral sex – which may be even more disgusting to me than regular sex due to putting one’s mouth on the aforementioned region. Or having someone’s mouth on mine. Neither were enjoyable in the slightest.
In my late teens as I prepared to go to university, I got access to the internet for the first time, and after spending some time online looking up reasons why I might not enjoy sex or why it feels disgusting, I seriously wondered if I might be gay. Having a boyfriend was out of the question because of my family’s attitude to homosexuality, and with no one local to test out my new theory, my gay experiences in those days were very risky – meeting up with strangers from dodgy internet chat rooms and message boards in whichever city was closest. I had a number of encounters with significantly older men during this period – only to confirm my belief that gay sex was no more enjoyable that straight sex.
I’m not aromantic. I do like being in a relationship and I still wanted to have a partner, despite how I felt about the sexual side of things. After moving out and having spent some time abroad, I settled down and met a woman who was my age, and we got along great. There was only one problem: she was very sexual.
I can, for a time, fake that. I can keep up with a partner, pretend to be into it, and perform my “obligations” in order to keep the relationship going. But it was hard work, and all the while I felt as though I was living with some horrible secret. Though other aspects of the relationship were progressing well, the sexual side was eating away at me.
But this was still at a time when the term “asexuality” did not exist in my lexicon. Everyone likes sex, so I felt I had to find a way to like it too, or at least tolerate it. Over time, though, my ability to put on the mask and feign interest in bedroom activities faded, and because my partner – who had, in the intervening years, become my wife – was still a very sexual person with sexual needs, the relationship began to fail. I don’t blame my now-ex-wife for cheating, because I wasn’t giving her something significant that she needed. At the time it was horrible, of course, but on reflection I can understand why our marriage ended the way it did.
It was my ex-wife who first used the word “asexual” to describe me, though she did so as an attack and an insult rather than to be helpful. I denied it, of course; I was a man, and men aren’t asexual. Men love sex, and I couldn’t deal, at the time, with the idea that I was so radically different from everyone else that such a label should be assigned to me.
As my marriage broke down and paperwork was being filed, though, I spent some time looking into what it means to be asexual, and despite my internal objections, every step I took resonated with me. It took years to come to terms with it, but eventually I began to be comfortable enough in my own mind to call myself asexual.
In the years since my divorce I’ve dated different people, and though at first I would not be up front about asexuality, I learned quickly that it was something I needed to do. I need to give a potential partner the opportunity to leave before they find out that I can’t offer them what most people consider one of the key components of a relationship. And, on the flip side, I need to know that anyone I’m considering dating is 100% okay with that.
I’ve had some unfortunate experiences of meeting people who would say that, while not asexual themselves, they loved the idea of an asexual partner. There are myriad reasons why someone would think that, of course, and I don’t believe for a moment that any of these people were lying or being dishonest. But I found out that most of the time, even if they thought they wanted that at first, it wasn’t something sustainable in the long run. Asexual to me means no sex. Ever. It doesn’t mean “not very much sex but still some sex sometimes,” though to some asexual folks it may – if you want a broader perspective I strongly recommend AVEN, as mentioned.
To me, though, being asexual is a label which describes how I felt in every sexual encounter I’ve ever had, both male and female: I didn’t enjoy it, I found it boring, and I found it disgusting. I don’t experience sexual attraction to any other human, and I will not ever have sex with anyone again.
To a lot of people that’s weird, strange, and even beyond the pale. That’s okay, and I understand why people would have those reactions. I don’t want to force people to talk about an uncomfortable topic, nor do I want anyone to think I’m somehow being judgemental – sex is a normal thing, and whatever consenting adults do in private is their business. I just don’t want to participate!
Lately I’ve been struggling again with my sexuality and gender identity, and that’s partly why I decided to talk about this now and make it known that I’m asexual. Despite telling myself for years that being asexual is okay, and simply part of who I am, there’s still a dark part of me – connected, sadly, to my ongoing mental health issues – that tells me it isn’t okay. That I’m wrong or abnormal. And keeping all of this inside – a secret of omission – isn’t helping. I don’t want asexuality to define me, nor to be known forevermore as “that asexual person,” but I also don’t want to keep my sexuality secret any more.
I created this website to talk about the subjects I’m interested in and to give myself a writing project. Though this subject is far outside of what I usually talk about, this is also my only real outlet, and the only place I feel comfortable writing these words and discussing this topic.
In a way, I think my experience growing up asexual and coming to terms with asexuality shows the need for two things: education and representation. Education can show people like me that asexuality exists and it’s a valid sexual orientation or way of being. It’s normal and doesn’t make you a freak or a weirdo. Representation in all forms of media can be helpful there too, showing that asexual people exist in all walks of life.
Representing asexuality is difficult, because at least in my experience and my opinion, it’s easy for an asexual person to be invisible. Asexual folks who have romantic relationships may be seen as straight, bi, or gay depending on who they have those relationships with, and unless we draw back the curtain and look at what’s going on behind closed doors, we don’t really know how an individual’s sexual life plays out – be they a real person or a fictional character. So I’m not claiming to have all the answers on how to perfectly represent asexual characters in fiction, nor am I arguing that any specific story, film, or television show needs an asexual character immediately. It would be great to see positive asexual representation, though.
One of the things I’ve always liked about a lot of sci-fi and fantasy is that sex is not a big topic of discussion in those shows and films in the way it can be in drama or soap operas. Recent years have also seen a lot of stories introduce casts which are more diverse, including characters from across the LGBT+ community. That representation, while not always (or often) explicitly referring to asexual people, does at least show that these settings and stories are willing to embrace people like me, and that’s an incredibly positive thing.
The Star Trek franchise has, to a greater or lesser degree, touched on sexuality at various points. I’ve seen some asexual folks talk about characters like Spock and Data, and while neither were outwardly asexual, I can certainly see why they resonate with many people. Star Trek has been a franchise I’ve loved since the early 1990s, and it’s no coincidence perhaps that it was around that time that I began to deal with some of the issues I’ve outlined above. Star Trek’s optimistic and inclusive future showed a human race that had put its differences aside to work in common cause, where the ideas of discrimination or marginalisation did not exist. That spirit remains present in Star Trek today, with recent shows representing a broad range of identities and sexualities on screen.
There are still things I’m not sure of in my journey with asexuality. Where do I fit in, exactly? Asexuality is a contentious topic in some areas of the LGBT+ community, and for that reason I’ve never been comfortable using terms like “coming out” or associating myself with the LGBT+ community as anything more than a self-described ally. There are a few people I’ve discussed this subject with, both online and in person, and I have to credit the internet with being an amazing tool and wonderful resource for this and many other topics. Were it not for the internet, I may well still have been struggling alone.
So this article doesn’t yet have an ending. I’m asexual, and now you know. I’m comfortable enough in this online space to be open about it, and in the next article I’d also like to discuss my gender identity in a bit more detail. At some point in the future I’d like to talk about my mental health too.
If you’re a regular reader tuning in for sci-fi and Star Trek, I hope you’ll forgive the detour to discuss some personal subjects. Perhaps this piece will be good background in future if I’m able to discuss sexuality and identity within some of the films and series I talk about here on the website. If anything above made you uncomfortable, I apologise. Thank you for sticking with me to the end, I appreciate each and every one of you who read this.
As mentioned, I recommend AVEN – the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network – for anyone looking for more information. If you are struggling with your sexuality and unsure where you fit in, please know that help is available, and may only be a Google search or phone call away. This article only looks at asexuality from one person’s narrow perspective, and as asexuality is a broad community, I do not claim that my experience is fully representative. As always, this article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.