Asexuality is one of the more interesting topics in sexuality these days to me, largely because talking about it reveals a lot of assumptions that our society makes about people. Plus, ‘ace’ has become the general term online to describe asexuality resources, and as we know, awesome terminology always makes things better.
First off, what is it? The Asexual Visibility and Education Network defines asexuality as experiencing no significant sexual attraction in others, or lacking any interest in sex. It’s not celibacy – experiencing desire but choosing not to act on it – and it’s not a temporary loss of libido, which many people go through at different times in their lives. Instead, it’s a general, ongoing absence of sexual desire, and an intrinsic part of who a person is.
Other non-straight sexual orientations and identities have evolved and shifted over time, and most people in those groups have experienced being ‘in the closet’ for some period of their lives. However, since they’re all rooted in the presence of a sexual desire that’s outside of the mainstream, any acknowledgement of that desire or action that comes from it involves an active challenge to the status quo – even if it’s not a public challenge.
Asexuality, however, is a much more ‘below-the-radar’ orientation. You might learn that I’m bi because it comes up when I’m talking about my ex-girlfriend, and I might learn that you’re polyamorous because I’ve met two of your partners. But unless you consciously come out as ace, people may never know that about you.
But even if asexuality doesn’t come up explicitly, the issue of sex comes up all the time in conversation, and it’s part of why asexuality as an identity is becoming more widely acknowledged. Asexuality is inconspicuous in the sense that you may not have to explain how you and your ‘roommate’ are happy in a one-bedroom apartment, but there are a surprisingly large number of people who will start to ask really probing questions if you’re consistently flying solo at family events. Pre-sexual revolution, keeping quiet about your sex life was pretty common, but now that our norms have shifted, not talking about sex can end up being a pretty loud choice to make.
There’s a lot more to asexuality than simply ‘not having sex’ – there are a number of people writing and speaking about asexuality, and some of the definitions are still evolving. Folks who are asexual can still have romantic relationships, have families, and get married. There’s no one-size-fits all approach when it comes to describing asexuality, but it’s important for us to be sure to include it when we’re talking about broader policies of sexual health. After all, sometimes a healthy sex life doesn’t involve sex.