6 Weird Ways the World Looks Different When You're Asexual
For the majority of people, sex is the most compelling thing in the world, for obvious "perpetuation of the species" reasons. Sex sells. Sex rules. Sex draws the eyes to this paragraph like a tractor beam, because the word "sex" is in it like a million times. But there are people out there with no interest in sex at all. They aren't sick, or drugged, or suffering from any sort of disorder; they're asexual. Cracked sat down with two of these people to learn a little bit more about what life is like when your anaconda don't want none, period.
Without Sex, Much of the World is Nonsense
Even if you aren't having it, sex is a constant presence in most of our lives. You can't make a blockbuster movie without two attractive people at least pre-boning for the camera. And many of the ads we see on a given day use sex appeal to try to convince us their brand of liquor, car, or toilet sanitizer is the one we need. But roughly one percent of the population identifies as "asexual." These people are still capable of getting boners (or, for the ladies, wide-ons), but it's purely a mechanical thing. They don't experience arousal or sexual desire at the sight of other human beings. And as a result, a huge chunk of the human experience is shrieking lunacy for them:
Julianna: "Yeah, media is weird and confusing. I mean, as I get older, I'm understanding on an intellectual level why advertising works like it does, but I still don't get how just showing a hot lady makes things sell. I think there's still a part of me that doesn't believe that the highly sexual world exists ... sometimes I'll be listening to a rap song and I'll realize oh wait, this isn't a joke or exaggeration, that is legitimately what the rapper wants to do to girls, ew."
Or to whoever.
Now, asexual people are still perfectly capable of falling in love, so a well-written movie relationship is always compelling. But making a believable relationship requires a lot of time and build up, and that's really hard to do when you've got to fit in a dozen awesome fight scenes as well. It's much easier to simply stick two sexy people together on screen. Hollywood knows our brains will do the rest.
"Clearly, these two people who barely know each other are destined to bone."
This makes a lot of movie love stories boring and nonsensical to asexual viewers:
Andy: "I can (and like) watching emotional relationships build up in movies, and it is no problem if two lovers have sex ... However, if they just two sexy people hot for each other, and there is no real relationship behind, I find it very boring."
But the real awkwardness comes from misunderstandings around simple things like hickeys:
Julianna: "I once spent a day following a friend of mine around, telling him that if he needed a safe place to stay my house was open to him, because he had weird red marks on his neck and I thought he was being abused. He had to pull me aside and explain to me, an adult, what a hickey is, just so I would leave him alone."
"Suddenly, I understood why someone would ever want to wear a turtleneck."
If all of this is sounding a little crazy to you, well, that's another problem asexual people deal with every day. Sex, and the ability to find something "hot," is so central to most of our lives and worldviews that we can't conceive of another human being lacking that entirely. As a result ...
People Don't Believe Asexuals Exist
Yep, one major problem asexuals face is that a lot of people straight-up don't believe they exist:
Andy: "... they either assume that asexuals are just homosexuals still in closet, or that they haven't yet 'activated' in sexual matters."
"I will literally believe in unicorns before I accept that you don't hold every preference I do."
This causes more problems than might be immediately obvious. See, asexual people still have the same desires for human companionship and love as anyone else -- they just don't care so much about the bumping and grinding that usually goes along with it. So if an asexual finds someone they're drawn to emotionally, they're going to have to "come out" to that person at some point. One big hurdle in any asexual's life is expressing their interest in someone else, plus their lack of sexual interest in that person, without it sounding like a "let's be friends" talk.
Some mental health professionals still consider asexuality a disorder, presumably one curable by the right amount of Vitamin D or V. And there are disorders that can have a total lack of sexual attraction as a symptom. But asexual people aren't "normal" folks who woke up one day unable to get an erection. They've never known any sort of sexual desire, and they don't feel bummed out about it.
The fact that their animal brain isn't in direct control of their wallet may be of some consolation.
Asexuality has even been observed in the animal kingdom. In 2004, a group of sheep scientists got a bunch of sheep together, then plied them with sheep-wine and whatever the sheep equivalent of Marvin Gaye is. But despite the scientist's best ewerotic attempts, ten percent of the rams showed no interest in mating. This still left open the possibility of gay rams (too easy) but when those same, increasingly creepy scientists made that an option, only five-seven percent were into it. Two-three percent of the rams consistently showed no interest in sex of any kind. The scientists labelled them "asexual," and then presumably went home to think very hard about their lives.
You Can Be Asexual and Still Enjoy Sex
Asexual people still have fully functioning equipment. And like anyone else, they're perfectly capable of enjoying an orgasm.
Andy: "Usually when I ejaculate, I don't get an orgasm (it is bit difficult to explain, but it just goes off without any special feelings). However sometimes I do get orgasms, but I think they are much fainter than in most people (as I have read/heard how other people describe their orgasms, it didn't sound it is the same experience). I actually sometimes prefer masturbation without heavy orgasm, as it causes headache afterwards. I don't know if this is anything general within asexuals, or just my own attribute. But the orgasm/ejaculation is never related to another person. It is impossible for me to get orgasm with another person during sex without heavily supporting with my own hand (and even then it feels very artificial and not good)."
But some, like Julianna, find the whole wet, sticky, smelly, awkward act of boning off-putting, for some reason.
Not that there aren't times when we totally agree.
Julianna: "We don't have anything blocking our ability to feel sexual pleasure, so there's another subset of asexuals who do have sex but just don't really initiate sex or have any drive to have sex. At the same time, there are asexuals like me, who not only don't have a sex drive but also are repulsed by anything sexual at all."
Asexual people are as curious about their genitalia as anyone else, and many if not most will experiment at some point or another. Some even enjoy it, and like the whole "mutually assisted masturbation" thing, they do so independently of any attraction to the human body. In fact, for some asexuals, thinking about people at all gets in the way of maintaining an erection:
Andy: "If I try to imagine someone with me, I get distracted? I think about how we met, what we discussed and very soon I find myself imagining a romantic meeting, but it will totally distract from the masturbation and it doesn't work."
For once, thinking about baseball might actually help move the process along.
If you are or were a hormone-addled horny teenager, you may recognize that as the complete opposite of every social interaction you can recall.
It Really Complicates Relationships
Asexual people aren't, like, robots or anything. They get that sex is a necessary part of a healthy relationship for most people. Some enter into open relationships, allowing their sexual partner to be sexual without them. Others suck it up, gird their loins, and wade into the vast sticky ocean of erotic love without a set of gills:
Andy: "This raises many kind of issues. For example, very often the normally sexual partner feels lack of confidence in herself (usually they think that somewhat my lack of sexual interest is because of them not being attractive), and thinks that I won't like/love her completely (which is not true)."
It doesn't help if, after a big argument, you're restricted to make-up handshakes.
It's a tough hurdle for any relationship to jump. But people build strong relationships around struggles all the time:
Andy: "Usually in relationships, there is both sex and non-sexual romantic behavior, so it works as a compromise for both participants."
He clarified that, "the romance is for both of us, but the sex is mostly for her."
It may seem like an open relationship would be way simpler than dealing with all that doubt and unenthusiastic humping. But not wanting sex doesn't mean you aren't capable of feeling jealousy. There's the fear that your partner might up and decide that they want to be with someone else who "gets" sex, as well as so many questions that need answering:
Julianna: "How early do I need to let the sexual 'go free?' Is it okay for me to set standards on who the sexual can sleep with (just one night stands, for example), or is that an invasion of their privacy?"
It's Hard to Define Something By Its Absence
Julianna was still a virgin, and seemed somewhat unclear about why anyone would want to have sex at all. But Andy got curious early on, when his middle school classmates started talking about penises and vaginas and what those two things might do together. He lost his virginity at 15:
Andy: "It was some new experience, so I can say that the first couple of times were good, but because of the new experience (I had problems with erection and couldn't get orgasm, but I thought it was just because of inexperience)."
At first, Andy had the same reaction to his sexual difficulties that a kid might have after trying and failing to smoke a cigarette behind the gym:
Or in bed, in this case.
"I thought that sex was just some kind of 'adult thing,' like alcohol or tobacco. At that time I thought that beer tasted terrible, but people think that it is cool because it is 'adult thing.' The same thought occurred about sex. And somehow I originally thought it was kind of cool thing to have sex because adults are doing it, and everybody talks about it."
"Kinda like doing taxes, except both sides get screwed."
It was vaguely strange that the other sex-having kids loved doing it with each other whenever possible, while it felt like more of a chore to him. But for a teenager, having to admit you're different is more terrifying than a blanket made of spiders, so Andy kept quiet. Years went by, until:
"... I was watching a TV series where a joke was based on men having erection when kissing with hot girls in semi-sexual position. My father laughed at the joke ... but I just didn't get it. I couldn't understand how the action was related to an erection. I asked my father about it and he was surprised that I didn't get the joke, so he explained, but I was even more confused. That was the turning point."
People Think of Asexuality As a Disease
Andy: "I have heard that 'I just need a good fucking' to 'cure' from my asexuality. I have even met women (twice) who have said that they want to 'test' if I'm really an asexual, but although it sounds as a joke, it is a bit insulting.
"When I hear this argument, and assuming that the other one is heterosexual, I usually ask him/her if he/she has slept with a member of same sex, and when they usually reply 'no,' I'll tell them that they just need a good go with a member of same sex in order to 'activate' with homosexuality."
"I further proved my point by not trying to talk her into it."
This attitude is incredibly pervasive, and the media we take in reinforces it. Right now, you could go your whole couch potato life without seeing an asexual person. And when one does show up in TV, well ...
Julianna: "Imagine if there was a common theme in movies and TV where gay characters found 'the one' who made them straight. Asexual characters have been portrayed openly in popular media ... on the TV show House, where they are shown to simply be diseased or lying. Imagine being a teenager, just starting to realize you don't have the same sexual feelings as your peers, and learning the word 'asexual' in that context."
It doesn't help that your best example in the media is damn near an asexual minstrel show.
This societal rejection isn't all in Julianna's head, though. In 2012, Dr. Gordon Hodson sampled a group of Canadian university students (a pretty fair-minded group) and a group of anonymous men on the Internet (the exact opposite of that). He found that both groups had a major bias against asexuals. They were less likely to hire or rent an apartment to asexuals, even though, practically speaking, that meant a far lower chance of gross stains on the bedroom carpet.
"Oh no, that's only mayo from my nap-wich."
Here's where it gets really strange. Hodson also studied people's reactions to another incredibly niche flavor of sexuality: sapiosexuals. These are people sexually attracted to the human mind, alone. The subjects still found asexuals more disturbing than the group they'd just heard about moments before. Sexual desire is something people see as a key "human" emotion. We may not understand why someone is drawn to brains, or bondage, or dressing up like a cartoon wolf and rubbing one off in a convention center, but we generally understand being "turned on" by something. We don't understand its absence at all, so we try our damnedest to ignore it, along with any unfortunate people attached to the sex-void.
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