'Are you sure you’re not a sociopath?” Is a question I was once genuinely asked on a ‘date’. While there are many disaster date scenarios that may necessitate this question, the situation I found myself in was as tragic as it is comedic. If I didn’t laugh I think I would have cried.
This question had come after he had found out that I vaguely identify as asexual.
Now to those not in the know, asexuality is a huge spectrum and it would be mad to try and address all of it so I’m not even going to try. There are some excellent articles and resources out there if you want to learn more, (Healthline has a fantastic article that helped me enormously) and, as any kind of sexual orientation, being asexual, or identifying somewhere on the asexual scale, can differ enourmously from person to person. For some it can mean they want nothing to do with sex whatsoever. Some identify as ‘demisexual’ which, to my understanding, means they only feel sexual attraction after a strong emotional connection is formed. So rather than trying to explain it and end up oversimplifying and speaking for others, all I will be doing here is addressing my own personal experience with asexuality.
I have never been the most physically affectionate person to begin with. Even with friends I tend to be quite reserved physically and, in my family, my frigidity has long been a running joke. So when I got to an age where most people begin thinking more about sexual and romantic intimacy, well, I was at a loss.
I would also like to point out that I was exceptionally inactive in this regard until recently. I didn’t date or hookup with anyone while I was in highschool, and I didn’t even kiss anyone until after I had graduated. So my lack of sexual feelings or thoughts could be excused as inexperience or lack of exposure. Now, for everyone’s sake that’s as explicit as I’m going to get here because, and as much I am loath to back up this particular stereotype, I can be quite the prude.
So, with this in mind, when I did begin to see people and experience more things that fall into that oh so murky category of romantic/sexual activity, I was almost constantly stressed. I felt like I was missing some key part of being human, that this lack of sexual drive meant I was somehow incomplete. As someone who definitely still has romantic feelings, I was terrified that nobody would be interested in someone with such a difficult relationship to physical intimacy as myself. I felt like I was somehow cheating the person I was seeing at the time out of something vital, even though he knew, to some extent, my stance on asexuality. There was always the argument playing out in the back of my mind of ‘you’re just frigid/you’re just not that into him/you’re just scared because this is a new experience’ and even if those things may all have been partially true, it didn’t explain the fact that I felt the same way about any sexual activity as I did about playing Trivial Pursuit or an exceptionally heated game of Anomia. While that could suggest I am far too into board games, in fact it means almost the opposite: Sexual activity can be fine, a way to pass the time with someone you’re into, but it is not essential to form any kind of connection for me. I didn’t find it repulsive but equally I felt a little like I was missing the hype.
There so many mixed messages around sex, especially around female sexuality, that as a woman no matter how you feel about sex it starts to feel like a political statement. Women who enjoy sex are seen as using their pleasure as a kind of defiance. Women who may not be as open about sex are either regarded as prudes or purposely subverting expectations, depending on who you ask. Is that a sweeping statement? Yes, but it is also one I feel a lot of women can relate to and so, for now, one I feel comfortable making. So with these mixed messages in mind I felt, and still feel, that my attitude towards sex should be me making some political statement. By being, to put it mildly, not that fussed about sex, it’s like I’m reinforcing the stereotype of ‘not like other girls’ as I live in a constant montage of writing, drinking tea and reading literary fiction, my every move soundtracked by The Smiths.
I feel like we’ve gotten a little off track. The political implications of female sexuality is a whole other discussion and my ‘not like other girl’ tendencies are best left untouched.
To be honest, I am not sure how comfortable I am with calling myself asexual to people who don’t know me as most people have a very particular view of asexuality and it is not necessarily one that I want to be associated with. No shade if you do label yourself asexual, it’s just not something I jive with. As you can tell, I have a crippling need to be different.
As with many aspects of sexual orientation, asexuality is a huge spectrum and, for most people, trying to figure out where you fit on it is incredibly stressful. Labels can mean as much or as little as you want them to and for some, myself included, having some category we can put ourselves into, even if it is quite general, can make us feel a little less freakish. I know that the moment I was able to ‘confirm’ that I was some kind of asexual, a huge weight was taken from my shoulders. I remember saying to a friend, ‘I have never felt so excited about feeling neutral in my whole life.’
I hesitate to give any kind of advice to people who may be questioning whether or not they are asexual because it’s such a personal experience that there’s absolutely no fix-all solution. What worked for me (online articles, a handful of questionable Hinge dates, constant anxiety and self loathing,) may not work for you. Any kind of sexuality is so complicated and intensely personal that, as much as it can suck, it’s kind of something you’ve got to decide for yourself, seeking support if and where you can. I was incredibly lucky to have a few brilliant, supportive and sympathetic friends who put up with me constantly whinging about this and for that I am infinitely grateful.
And no, M****e, I am not a sociopath, I just found you distinctly unappealing as a human being.