The Invisible Orientation


tw: mention of conversion therapy and rape.

I am just asexual. I have never experienced sexual attraction.

I’ve never felt drawn to anyone’s body, never wanted to undress them and touch their bare skin. I’ve never had a crush. I’ve never fallen in love at first sight, as the saying goes. I don’t lust after a preferred gender, person, or body type. I’m not interested in sex. And, honestly, I’m rather content missing out on that stuff.

Asexuality is the sexual orientation defined by a lack of sexual attraction or desire. That’s it. It isn’t being genderless or agender as some assume – gender and sexual orientation are separate parts of identity. It isn’t the ability to reproduce with oneself – humans are incapable of biological asexual reproduction. ­Asexual people are as human as non-asexual people (though sometimes we joke about being amoebas). The only difference is that most people are allosexual, meaning they experience sexual attraction, while asexual people do not.

A way to understand the asexual experience is to reflect on the negative space in monosexual orientations. A gay man is not sexually attracted to women. A lesbian is not sexually attracted to men. A straight person is not sexually attracted to those of the same gender as themselves. Neither of these people sexually desire those their orientations don’t point toward.  

In a similar way, an asexual person is not sexually attracted to anyone.

Asexuality is a spectrum. The space between being totally asexual and totally allosexual is known as gray-asexuality or graysexuality. A gray-asexual may feel sexual attraction infrequently or weakly, only experience sexual attraction under specific circumstances, or feel a dissonance between themselves and what they’re sexually attracted to. Gray-asexual is an umbrella term that incorporates many other terms that can be standalone labels or combined with other sexual orientations. So someone could call themselves a gray-asexual or a graysexual bi lad.

Demisexuality is a common manifestation of gray-asexuality, wherein one doesn’t feel sexual attraction unless they first develop a close emotional bond with someone. Like gray-asexual, they could describe their orientation in conjunction with other sexualities, such as demisexual lesbian, or they could identify as demisexual alone. 

Asexuality is not the same as celibacy. Many aces – the shorthand nickname for asexual – do abstain from sex due to disinterest or are sex-repulsed, meaning they find the idea of having sex sickening. They could also be sex-indifferent, in that they don’t feel strongly about sex in one way or another.

There are many asexuals who do have sex. These sex-favorable aces have sex for a variety of reasons: they may enjoy the bodily pleasure or want to relieve their libidos, they may perform sexual acts to please their allosexual partner(s), they may relish the intimacy of sex and use it to express love, they may find sleeping with people a fun activity, they copulate to reproduce, and so on. Remember, asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction, not sexual behavior. Still, studies have shown asexual people tend to have less sex than the general population. A lot of aces would rather masturbate. 

(Note: this isn’t the same as the similarly-sounding sex-positive and sex-negative, which are political stances about the presence of sex in society). 

Asexuality isn’t the same as being loveless. “Love” nowadays is conflated with romance and sex. Yet many aces do recognize that they have romantic feelings despite a lack of or fleeting sexual desire. 

That may seem like a discrepancy to a world that conflates romance with sex. According to the ace community, romance does not always go hand-in-hand with sex. It shouldn’t have to.

The Split Attraction Model (SAM) recognizes other distinct forms of attraction to form affectional orientations. Aces who have romantic feelings often label their romantic orientations. They may identify as heteroromantic asexual, biromantic demisexual, panromantic graysexual, or other combinations. Or, like myself, they may just be aromantic asexual, feeling neither romantic nor sexual attraction. 

On the other hand, there are aromantic people who are allosexual and benefit from SAM, such as aromantic lesbians, demiromantic pansexual, grayromantic bisexual, or other combinations–though there is more than just romantic or sexual attraction and SAM isn’t just limited to the aromantic and asexual spectrum.

Being asexual in this world is daunting. We live in a sexusociety, where everyone is assumed to be or become sexual beings, where sex permeates throughout our lives and social structures, even implicitly. Advertisements use scantily-clad models because sex sells. Governments give benefits to married couples. Romantic subplots and sex scenes persistently interrupt entertainment media regardless of genre. Family and friends nag us for being single. No matter if someone is a disciple of the sex revolution or a traditionalist puritan, everyone is thought to have sexual desires and to have sex at some point in their lives.

Not being sexually active or resisting social pressures to couple up is met with suspicion and scorn. “Virgin” and “prude” are insults. Partners break up with us when we come out. People would rather classify asexuality as a disorder or medical problem, dehumanize us, or try to “fix” us with corrective rape and conversion therapy. Even in the queer community, some would rather claim the A in LGBTQIA+ stands for straight cisgender allies than asexual and aromantic people.

Amatonormativity paints exclusive romantic and sexual relationships as the ultimate bond between humans and pressures everyone to pair up. Anyone who violates that expectation must be wrong, yet aces like myself disagree. Many of us prioritize our friendships. Others are content being single. Many are in romantic nonsexual relationships. Relationship anarchy, polyamory, and queerplatonic relationships are popular within the ace community, already critical to the hierarchy society expects in mutual human love. Asexuals are thought to compose only 1 percent of the human population. Nevertheless, our experiences give insight into the oppressive societal structures that influence everyone under the guise of “love.” There are many ways to love and find pleasure, but sex isn’t the only way. There are people who don’t want to have sex, and that’s perfectly okay

Alasdair (he/him) is the digital editor of QBurgh. He is a recent graduate of Chatham University with a BFA and a MA in Creative Writing. He grew up around Pittsburgh and now wishes to become involved with the local LGBTQ+ community. Through his writing, he hopes to represent and advocate for queer people like himself.