A finalist for the 2015 LAMBDA Literary Award.
What if you weren’t sexually attracted to anyone?
A growing number of people are identifying as asexual. They aren’t sexually attracted to anyone, and they consider it a sexual orientationlike gay, straight, or bisexual.
Asexuality is the invisible orientation. Most people believe that “everyone” wants sex, that “everyone” understands what it means to be attracted to other people, and that “everyone” wants to date and mate. But that’s where asexual people are left outthey don’t find other people sexually attractive, and if and when they say so, they are very rarely treated as though that’s okay.
When an asexual person comes out, alarming reactions regularly follow; loved ones fear that an asexual person is sick, or psychologically warped, or suffering from abuse. Critics confront asexual people with accusations of following a fad, hiding homosexuality, or making excuses for romantic failures. And all of this contributes to a discouraging master narrative: there is no such thing as “asexual.” Being an asexual person is a lie or an illness, and it needs to be fixed.
In The Invisible Orientation, Julie Sondra Decker outlines what asexuality is, counters misconceptions, provides resources, and puts asexual people’s experiences in context as they move through a very sexualized world. It includes information for asexual people to help understand their orientation and what it means for their relationships, as well as tips and facts for those who want to understand their asexual friends and loved ones.
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About the Author
Julie Sondra Decker has been writing about asexuality awareness since 1998 and has participated in articles for Salon, the Daily Beast, Marie Claire, as well as other mainstream magazines and journals. Her Youtube video on asexuality has received more than 300,000 views, and she plays a primary role in the documentary (A)sexual by Arts Engine (rated over 40,000 times on Netflix). She is also a regular contributor to Good Vibrations. She resides in Tampa, Florida.
Read an Excerpt
The Invisible Orientation
An Introduction to a Sexuality
By Julie Sondra Decker
Skyhorse PublishingCopyright © 2015 Julie Sondra Decker
All rights reserved.
A sexual orientation currently estimated to describe 1 percent of the population. Asexuality is usually defined as the experience of not being sexually attracted to others. Less commonly, it is defined as not valuing sex or sexual attraction enough to pursue it.
Asexuality isn't a complex. It's not a sickness. It's not an automatic sign of trauma. It's not a behavior. It's not the result of a decision. It's not a chastity vow or an expression that we're "saving ourselves." We aren't by definition religious. We aren't calling ourselves asexual as a statement of purity or moral superiority.
We're not amoebas or plants. We aren't automatically gender confused, anti-gay, anti-straight, anti-any-sexual-orientation, anti-woman, anti-man, anti-any-gender, or anti-sex. We aren't automatically going through a phase, following a trend, or trying to rebel. We aren't defined by prudishness. We aren't calling ourselves asexual because we failed to find a suitable partner. We aren't necessarily afraid of intimacy. And we aren't asking for anyone to "fix" us.
Asexual people don't all look down on sex or people who have sex. We don't all avoid romantic or emotionally close relationships, and we aren't automatically socially inept. We aren't defined by atypical biology or nonfunctional genitals. We aren't defined by mental illness, autism, or disability. We don't try to recruit anyone.
We don't have a hole in our lives where sexual attraction "should" be. We can't be converted by trying sex. We aren't, by definition, lonely or empty. We aren't, by definition, immature or incompetent. We aren't, as a group, uglier or prettier than anyone else. We don't tell people not to have sex in the name of our orientation, nor do we use the term asexual to imply perceiving ourselves to be "above" sex.
Some want romance. Some don't. Some are willing to have sex. Some aren't. Some are virgins. Some aren't. Some masturbate, or have a libido, or want children. Some don't. Some feel isolated, afraid, confused, othered, erased, and invisible. We wish we didn't.
If you're not asexual, listen to us. Trust us to describe our own feelings. Understand that happiness isn't defined by traditional sexual relationships. Don't assume we need therapy or treat us like we need to be cured or tell us we're broken. Our rarity forces many of us to go through life without the understanding and support of others like ourselves. We want to be understood outside the deliberately constructed communities in which we're talking to ourselves, and that's why we need you. We want to combat the negative messages that make us feel invisible. If we're introducing you to asexuality, that means we're inviting you to understand.
Meet us halfway.
Asexuality Is a Sexual Orientation
What does it mean to identify as asexual?
If someone says "I'm asexual," usually they're expressing that they aren't sexually attracted to other people.
In some cases, people who identify as asexual are expressing that, for them, sex isn't intrinsically worth pursuing for its own sake, or that they aren't interested in sex, or that they don't want or don't enjoy sex, or that they don't want to make sex part of their relationships. But regardless of what definition someone uses, asexuality as a sexual orientation should be respected. Some asexual people prefer to see asexuality as a lack of sexual orientation, which is also a valid interpretation, but many prefer to say that their sexual orientation is, simply, attraction to no one.
Most people use the term sexual orientation as shorthand for "what kinds of people are sexy to me." But when asexual people answer that question with "no one, thank you," some non-asexual people resist processing that answer. Our society is used to hearing breakdowns: heterosexuality means experiencing cross-sex or cross-gender attraction, and everyone else is gay, bi, or pansexual. But when someone answers the "Who's sexy?" question with a blank, the world often yells "Hey, that's impossible!"
This interpretation constitutes an unnecessarily black-and-white understanding of attraction. Even within the more popular orientations, it's not always simple. For everyone, sexual orientation is more like a range, not a simple series of separate categories. (Especially since gender isn't as simple as "male or female/man or woman," which complicates how we describe what genders we're attracted to; some people are between, outside, or a mixture of the binary genders.)
Describing attraction can get very complex, but for an asexual person, sexual attraction or inclination is toward "no one." That's not the same as not having developed a sexual orientation yet. Asexuality may look like a blank space waiting to be filled, but even if an asexual person never changes, their orientation is indistinguishable from "not yet" on the outside. It's impossible to prove a negative.
So if asexuality looks like a big nothing, how is that different from not having a sexual orientation at all? Some say the difference is analogous to a situation that can occur on a multiple-choice test. If answer choice D allows the test-taker to say "none of the above," that's very different from simply not answering the question. It's certainly going to be graded differently. Asexuality is an answer to the question, even if that answer is "none." It's not just a shrug. The word none can still fill in a blank.
Asexual people can say they haven't experienced sexual attraction, but yes, it's true they can't be sure it couldn't happen, logically speaking. However, they can be about as sure as anyone else about who they are attracted to, even if it happens to be no one. After all, people who are only attracted to one sex or gender aren't generally interpreted as "not yet" bisexual, but asexual people are held to a different standard.
The past and the present are usually good predictors of the future. Most people identify their orientation based on past and present attractions, so it naturally follows that asexual people could do the same and still have their orientation respected.
When a person has no sexual attraction to others or doesn't seek out sex, some may view that person as an undeveloped heterosexual person, as though being straight is the default. But sexual orientation is not determined by whether someone has sex or who they have it with. Orientation is not a behavior — not for asexual people and not for anyone. People who are sexually attracted to cross-gender partners are still heterosexual even if they have not had sex with a cross-gender partner. No one suggests heterosexual teenagers should identify as asexual until such time as they become heterosexual through sex with a cross-gender partner. Abstaining from sex is not the same thing as asexuality; it is the experience of attraction, not the behavior, which defines a person's orientation.
With 1 in 100 people not experiencing sexual attraction and/or not feeling motivated by or interested in sex, that's a lot of people wandering around largely unacknowledged. The 1-percent figure came from a large survey of eighteen thousand people administered in Britain, with 1 in every 100 people surveyed agreeing with the statement "I have never felt sexually attracted to anyone."
Some say this figure could be an overestimation because some technicalities could allow people who are not asexual to agree with that statement. And some say it is an underestimation, since some of the 99 percent may not know how to define sexual attraction and assume they have felt it even if they haven't. Some people misinterpret aesthetic appreciation, romantic attraction, or sexual arousal as being sexual attraction, only to realize later that they are asexual. Since this initial sample, researcher Anthony Bogaert has continued to study asexual people, and says the other samples he's reviewed up until the present suggest this figure is still somewhat accurate.
That said, asexual communities are growing as awareness spreads, with more and more people recognizing themselves in the definitions every day. Respecting their orientation is important regardless of the numbers.
Asexuality Is a Mature State
Just like some people can't see the difference between "an asexual orientation" and "no orientation," many also can't see why "not interested" isn't the same as "not interested yet." Asexuality describes a mature state, not a passing phase or a blank spot before "real" maturation. Asexual isn't something you call a child before they reach sexual maturity. Asexuality applies to maturing or mature people.
Asexual people are often told they will one day find "the one" and develop sexual feelings and the values society attaches to them. Many asexual folks have to hear this over and over and over again, which thrusts a perpetual image of immaturity upon them. Asexuality is not a signal that a person is necessarily stunted emotionally or physically, and feeling sexual attraction or inclination is not the line everyone must cross to be treated like an adult. Maturity should not be measured by willingness or inclination to seek out or accept sexual experiences.
Maturity doesn't have a specific definition with check boxes to tick off. It's common for people — especially people who are in few or no marginalized groups — to define maturity, functionality, happiness, and normality against their own standards, which they present as universal. Because of this, it's common for people who consider sex and sexual attraction part of their adult lives to say, "If you don't have sexual interest, you don't have an adult life."
Asexuality challenges this ... and it should. Plenty of people who desire or engage in sex are immature. It doesn't make sense to insist that someone must be immature if they don't have or desire sex. Maturity is subjective, and how/when it manifests is highly individual. Asexual people usually develop mature adult lives and relationships just fine. The huge amount of diversity in how adults find success and happiness should be acknowledged, even if some adults don't seek out certain types of partnerships or certain kinds of intimate experiences.
Asexuality Is a Description
A sexual orientation is not a decision. A person's sexual orientation describes how that person experiences attraction.
It does not describe any decision that person makes about expressing sexuality, and it does not represent a vow or an intention regarding sex. Much like a heterosexual person does not "decide" when to start being attracted to partners, an asexual person doesn't "decide" no one is sexually attractive or worth pursuing sexually. It just happens.
Asexual people are often asked why, how, or when they "decided" to be asexual — usually by a well-meaning person who believes orientation can be chosen. People who ask this question generally feel asexual people are shutting themselves off from something wonderful — something they themselves find satisfying and fulfilling — and they can't understand why an asexual person would "choose" to forgo such experiences.
Sometimes it helps if these people can understand that it wasn't a choice, and that for the asexual person, engaging in sex might not be the fulfilling experience that it is for them. Asexual people can — and often do — decide to have sex. After all, people of any orientation can have sex with partners to whom they are not attracted. But asexuality is about attraction, not about willingness to engage in sexual behavior.
If someone who has never been sexually attracted to anyone does develop a sexual attraction, that person may decide to start using a different label. Labels are chosen to describe people — to be able to discuss the issues, find similar people, and understand the experience. When circumstances change, labels can too. There's no danger in asexual people describing themselves as asexual because it is not a decision they're now sworn to adhere to.
If someone's hair color or weight or marital status changes, they change how they describe themselves. The change in description does not mean they weren't an authentic example of what the previous label described when it fit them. For some people, sexual orientation is fluid. So there's no need for anyone to fear that identifying as asexual might become a regrettable mistake. If it changes or turns out to be inaccurate, the asexual person can drop the label. It is not a chastity vow. Asexual communities have a happy history of supporting people who grow to understand that they are not asexual, just like they support those who continue to identify that way.
Asexuality Is a Healthy Status
"But sex is natural!"
Sex is commonly upheld as a normal and necessary part of all people's lives — especially if it's heterosexual, potentially procreative sex. The association between heterosexual sex and procreation is sometimes used as an excuse to invalidate other types of sex, though many forms of non-procreative sex are also dubbed "natural" by the majority. But then asexual people come along, describing a lack of sexual attraction or a lack of interest in sex, and all of a sudden the word unnatural rings out.
Peculiarly, those who invoke presumed avoidance of procreation as proof that asexual people are unnatural won't often use that argument to invalidate heteronormative, sexually active, but non-procreative lifestyles. It's very rare to hear "that's unnatural!" applied to heterosexual cisgender people who use non-procreative sex positions, have sex using birth control, or have sex that involves a postmenopausal or otherwise infertile partner, even though procreation cannot result from these couplings. This is because labeling asexuality as unnatural is not actually about reproduction, even when detractors claim it is. It's about intimate connection — and about the misconception that asexual people cannot experience a supposedly necessary connection with others unless they have sex. Asexual people often cannot be recognized as whole or healthy people if they lack sex, sexual attraction, or sexual inclination in their lives.
Most asexual people can have procreative sex if they wish to; they just happen to have inclinations that are less likely to lead to procreative sex. Even if they have had children or plan to, they will still hear their desires described as unnatural. If someone doesn't want a connection through sex, that's when the in-depth personal questions about medical history begin. Yes, it is possible to have a hormone deficiency, or an illness, or to be on a medication that contributes to lack of interest in or enjoyment of sex. In nearly all cases there are other primary effects besides those relating to sex or arousal, though, especially in the case of atypical hormones; lack of sexual interest can be a symptom of a broader condition, but it is not an illness in and of itself. Despite that, "you'd better get your hormones checked" is one of the most common reactions asexual people hear.
Yes, getting tested for abnormalities and paying attention to health are very good habits to form. But there is no evidence that asexual people's hormones are produced differently from anyone else's. However, it has been noted that asexual people sometimes have a higher incidence of late and less dramatic puberty, though plenty of people with the exact opposite situation also identify as asexual.
When discussing hormones, it's relevant to mention that some asexual people have lowered or absent production of certain hormones, and it is not necessarily "to blame" for their orientation just because hormones are linked to puberty and sex. This becomes particularly relevant in discussing populations known to have atypical hormone production, like those with certain intersex variations. (Intersex refers to people who are born with chromosomes or anatomy/physiology that is not exclusively considered typically male or female.) Some intersex individuals identify as asexual, but their sexual orientation shouldn't be assumed to be a "symptom" of their intersex variation that needs fixing. Some who use medication to control or change their hormones still identify as asexual.
Excerpted from The Invisible Orientation by Julie Sondra Decker. Copyright © 2015 Julie Sondra Decker. Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
My Story xi
What Is This Book About? xiii
Who Is This Book For? xiv
Why Was This Book Written? xiv
Part 1 Asexuality 101
The Basics 3
Asexuality Is a Sexual Orientation 4
Asexuality Is a Mature State 7
Asexuality Is a Description 8
Asexuality Is a Healthy Status 9
Asexuality Is a Reasonable Possibility 11
Part 2 Asexual Experiences
Romantic Orientation 17
Libido and Masturbation 27
Intimate and Sexual Activity 30
Polyamory and Non-Monogamy 33
Kink, Fetish Play and BDSM 33
Gray Areas 35
Asexual Relationships 41
Society, Discrimination, and Queer Communities 45
Asexual Community 67
Young and Asexual 67
Older and Asexual 68
Asexual Women, Asexual Men 71
Asexual People of Color 72
Gay / Queer and Asexual 75
Transgender and Asexual 75
Other Non-Cisgender / Non-Binary Identities and Asexuality 76
Autistic and Asexual 77
Disability, Illness, Mental Illness, Disorders, and Asexuality 79
Asexual People and Entertainment 80
Asexual Community Insiders 82
Non-Asexual People 86
The Asexual Experience 86
Part 3 The Many Myths of Asexuality Bingo! 89
Aren't They Using the Word Asexual Incorrectly? 90
Is Asexuality Based On Fear of or Anger Toward Other Genders? 92
Do People Become Asexual Because They Fail at Dating? 93
Do People Become Asexual Because They're Physically Unattractive? 94
Do Asexual People Have a Physical or Hormonal Problem? 96
Are Asexual People Too Distracted by Their Busy Lives to Be Sexual? 98
Did Asexual People Have a Bad Sexual Experience and Swear Off Sex? 100
Could Asexual People Be Suffering From Trauma Brought on by Sexual Abuse? 102
Could Asexual People Be Secretly Gay? 105
Have Asexual People Just Not Met the Right Person? 108
Is Asexuality a Religious Statement? 110
Are Asexual People Going Through a Phase or Seeking Attention by Being Different? 113
Wouldn't Asexual People Be Lonely All the Time? 117
Are Asexual People Repressed, Boring, or Dispassionate? 119
Aren't Asexual People Being Awfully Selfish? Isn't an Asexual Person a Tease? 120
Don't Asexual People Need to Procreate? 123
Do Asexual People Hate Sex or People Who Have Sex? 124
Should Asexual People Get Therapy to Be Fixed? 127
Aren't Asexual People So Lucky to Have Simple, Uncomplicated Lives Without Sex? 130
Shouldn't Asexual People Let an Experienced Sexual Partner Change Their Minds? 132
Part 4 If You're Asexual (Or Think You Might Be)
Am I Asexual? 137
But This Changes Everything! 141
Should I Come Out? 143
How Should I Handle the Criticism? 144
What If I'm a Teenager? Everyone Keeps Calling Me a "Late Bloomer." 151
What If I'm Already in a Relationship, or Want to Be? What Do I Tell My Partner(s)? 152
So Where Do I Go From Here? 156
Part 5 If Someone You Know Is Asexual (Or Might Be)
A Message for Non-Asexual People 161
What Does It AU Mean? 161
What Do Asexual People Want? How Can I Make Them Feel Accepted? 163
So How Can I Acknowledge Their Existence? 163
Is There Anything I Should Avoid Saying or Doing? 165
Somebody Just Told Me They're Asexual! What Do I Say? 169
But What If I've Already Said Something Kind of Regrettable? 170
What If My Child Just Said They're Asexual? Are They Too Young To Know? 172
What If My Partner Just Said They're Asexual? What Do I Do? 173
Can I Ask Questions? 179
What Questions Can I Ask Without Making Someone Uncomfortable? 180
Anything I Should Avoid Assuming? 181
Part 6 Other Resources
Basic Information, Introductions, Organizations, and FAQs: 187
Discussion Groups, Networking, and Forums 189
Academic Resources and Research Collectives 190
Brochures and Educational Materials 191
Published Papers and Book Chapters on Asexuality 192
Published Articles and Interviews on Asexuality 194
Asexuality-Related Professional Video Media 195
Asexuality-Related Audio Interviews, Presentations, and Podcasts 195
Internet Videos and Channels on Asexuality 197
Asexuality-Related Blogs 198
"Asexual Perspectives" Contributors 199