How do I know if I’m asexual?
Given the stigma surrounding asexuality, it is difficult to gauge an accurate picture of how many people in the UK identify as asexual. The most commonly cited study on the matter is one done in 2004 by Anthony Bogaert on data from the 90s. Of 18,000 respondents, just over 1% agreed with the statement “I have never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all.” Another study is said to have put this figure at 5% of males and 10% of females identifying asexual.
A 1977 paper by Myra T. Johnson defined asexuals as men and women who “regardless of physical or emotional condition, actual sexual history, and marital status or ideological orientation, seem to prefer not to engage in sexual activity”.
Indeed, just because someone identifies as asexual, it does not necessarily mean they also wish to avoid relationships altogether – everyone is believed to fit somewhere on a spectrum of sexuality and the same applies asexual people. Speaking to the BBC, Michael Dore, who came out as asexual when he was 15, said that asexuality is a “binary state”. He added that an asexual person can be heteroromantic (feeling love for someone of the opposite sex), homoromantic, biromantic, aromantic, etc.
However, it wasn’t until 2004 when the Bogaert study came out, that the idea that some members of the population do not with to engage in sexual activity began to spread.
“If you’re not feeling any inclination to have a sexual relationship, don’t put yourself through something you don’t want. If you’re unsure and want to test the waters, only go as far as you’re comfortable.”
If the figure is indeed closer to 10% among women, it is surprising that so much stigma remains around the subject. That being said, a standout feature in Bogaert’s study showed that of the 1% who identified as asexual, about 70% of these were women, meaning that perhaps the study only served to reinforce notions that women are simply ‘less sexual’ than men.
And yet, if, as a women, you dare to mention that you don’t think you are sexually attracted to anyone, chances are you would be met with comments such as “you just haven’t found the right person” or “once you’ve slept with someone you’ll know you are”.
These reactions can make it incredibly difficult for some to understand what is happening when they begin to realise they are asexual. How can you tell you may be asexual? What is the process? And in what ways can speaking to family and friends help or hinder you when it comes to coming to terms with your asexuality?
Devon, a 20-year-old student, first began questioning her sexuality when she was 17. “I was in college and all my friends were always talking about sex,” she says. “If not sex, then video games. I could talk about video games for days, but I couldn’t, and still can’t, say more than a word about sex.”
Her friends, she says, were mostly boys, who would always talk about the sexual things they wished to do to their crushes. Devon could never engage, and would think that maybe she was a prude, or immature. “It took me a while to realise that it was none of that, I just had no interest in sex,” she says, adding that she thinks she always knew deep down that she didn’t want to have sex.
“I made the mistake of telling them that I was asexual, as I just wanted to be out and accepted for it. But they didn’t understand it and that annoyed them. They kept threatening to buy me a dildo, reciting that one I’d tried using it I would ‘no longer be scared’.”
Snao Cone, resource and education director at the Asexual Visibility and Education Network agrees that while some people know they are asexual from the beginning, others learn about themselves through life experience, and he adds that people should trust their instincts. “If you’re not feeling any inclination to have a sexual relationship, don’t put yourself through something you don’t want,” he says. “If you’re unsure and want to test the waters, only go as far as you’re comfortable.”
Of course, as Snao points out, those rules should apply to everyone of all orientations, but there’s so much emphasis put on sexual experience that many people are pushed past their personal boundaries.
“This is especially true for asexual people who feel like they’re missing out or failing to live up to things simply by not wanting sex,” he says. “Whether you firmly know you’re asexual, or you’re still questioning — there is no shame in not wanting sex, and there is growing community of people to support you.”
Pressure from peers to be sexual
As it stands, Devon has never slept with anyone, and says sex isn’t on the horizon. Considering any relationships in the future, Devon has now come to the conclusion that if she does end up in a relationship with a sexual partner, and she does love them enough, she would consider having sex but she wouldn’t actively search for it.
In terms of support from her family, Devon discussed it with them when she was 18, around the time she first started identifying as an asexual, and while they didn’t really understand, they weren’t fussed either. “I suppose that’s probably one of the best responses I could have hoped for,” says Devon.
However, now she’s 20, Devon says that with age come certain expectations. Her Grandma still says that she just needs to find the right person, and her father always asks her if there are any boys in the picture – “and I know exactly what they are asking me,” says Devon.
However, the worst case she has experienced of people pressuring her to be sexually active actually came from colleagues in an old workplace. “I made the mistake of telling them that I was asexual, as I just wanted to be out and accepted for it,” she says. “But they didn’t understand it and that annoyed them. They kept threatening to buy me a dildo, reciting that one I’d tried using it I would ‘no longer be scared’.”
How can we change the current conversation to make things easier for asexual women to come out?
As Snao points out, asexuality still isn’t widely known or recognised in many of the key areas of dialogue on sexuality, even though all it would take would be to introduce a few more words to the conversation.
Of course, the more a subject is discussed in mainstream media, and among people, the more accepted it gradually becomes, or at least the conversation around it becomes a more “acceptable” one to have. Devon agrees, and adds that it is always healthy to discuss sex, whichever aspect of it you are discussing.
“However,” Devon adds, “There is an issue with how people discuss sex.” It is talked about as if it is something everyone is expected to do, which causes pressure simply because everyone believes what they are told about it. “It’s why I initially struggled to find a definition for my sexuality,” Devon says, “Because we’re not educated on it”
Snao adds that its is also important to make sure the message being spread doesn’t miss the mark and inadvertently exclude asexual people.If the dialogue is framed in such a way that allows people to say “Yes, I’m asexual” as opposed to “No, I’m not sexual”, he says, then we can make huge strides in creating inclusive conversations for everyone.
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