It used to seem like a strange, foreign word — but then you saw a chart online that talked about what makes someone asexual. You did some googling and found some blog posts and videos where people talk about their experiences. You’ve dissected your life, you’ve googled, you’ve talked to close friends and asked them some questions that you worried were maybe too personal but you just had to know if this thing — this word — was what made you feel so different in so many spaces all your life. Maybe you’ve never had sex and never been interested and it piqued your curiousity and so you did some reading. Or maybe you’ve had sex and even liked it, but never really wanted it again. This word — this word seems to fit.
And it dawns on you. “Wait. Am I asexual?”
Or, maybe you’ve also learned about the asexuality spectrum. You’ve seen a word for someone who has rare sexual attraction, or who has it under a specific circumstance — or maybe even someone who has it and then it goes away. And maybe you thought “Wait, am I demisexual, fraysexual or graysexual?”
If you’re wondering this, especially right after reading information during this Ace Awareness Week, I hope this piece can help.
These are some concerns that I often see among aces who have just discovered their sexuality, and some advice that I hope helps.
First of all I’d like to reassure you that there’s nothing wrong with being asexual.
You do not need to be cured or fixed. If the possibility of being asexual — or on the asexuality spectrum, referred to sometimes as ace or acespec — feels daunting, you’re not alone. We live in a world that expects everyone to have and to want sex, even if they only want it for procreation and not for pleasure. It’s expected that we all understand what it means to have sexual attraction automatically — that it isn’t something that needs to be explained. When we live an experience that doesn’t fit into what we’re taught, we can start to feel like the odd one out. Everyone wants to fit in, after all, and when you know you don’t, that can be pretty scary.
It isn’t uncommon for people lie about who they are and how they feel for years because they are afraid of driving away the people they love or disappointing them — even if they’re not queer. I remember hearing one story about a friend who pretended to like romantic comedies for years because her friend liked them and she just didn’t feel like she should say anything. It seemed more important to lie for the sake of social niceities than to tell the truth. Eventually the truth did come out, and the friendship was better for it — though choices for movie nights were changed.
When you apply this to something like being queer, that fear or rejection can increase. It isn’t just a fear of not being liked — it’s a fear of being fundamentally misunderstood to the point where you may be fired, disowned by your family, forced into conversion therapy or, in certain parts of the world, may face prison or the thread of a death sentence. Coming out is a risky thing — and realizing you might need to is scary, too.
And it’s okay to be scared. It’s okay if finding a new word for yourself, one you didn’t know existed and describes you perfectly, feels a little overwhelming at first. Learning to love and be ourselves authentically, no matter who you are, is a big deal. It’s okay if it takes time.
One key thing to understand about asexuality is that it is not a choice or a disorder.
Asexuality — or being anywhere on the asexuality spectrum — does not mean something is wrong with you.
I feel like this point needs repeating because there’s still a lot of misinformation out there about whether or not asexuality is “natural”. There are doctors who think it’s just depression or think that it needs to be medicated, whether or not it’s something that the patient feels distressed by. Conversion Therapy: Asexual Edition discusses a drug that is marketed specifically to women and AFABs who have a low sex drive and its dangerous side effects, as well as dangerous wording that is listed in the DSM-V under Male Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder and Female Sexual Arousal Disorder. Both discuss a lack of desire to have sex as a problem, something to be treated. There is wording in there that says that if a person is comfortable in their asexuality then it isn’t a problem, but this doesn’t leave room for persons who may be asexual and haven’t found self love in it yet. This is a major problem — in a heteronormative world, anything that deviates from what’s “acceptable” can feel like a struggle to come to terms with, and it being listed as a disorder certainly doesn’t help.
Previously, homosexuality was listed as a disorder as well. Over time we have come from it being officially listed as a diagnosable illness to something that is protected under law — but discrimination still exists. There are still people who cannot come out safely to their families and even people who protest the funerals of queer people. We have a long way to go in the acceptance of LGBTQIAP+ — and part of that includes furthering awareness and acceptance of asexuality as a sexual orientation rather than a disorder.
If it does cause you significant stress, it may be because we live in a world where sex and sexuality are often tied into self worth. If you’re considered sexy but don’t want sex, then surely something is wrong with you. If you’re considered unattractive and don’t want sex, then surely it’s just because you’re unattractive, not your sexuality. If you’re a young woman with no desire for sex, it’s because you’re pure and good, but if you’re a young man, then something’s wrong with you.
But — and I will say this over and over again as I continue to write — there is nothing wrong with you.
Here are some questions I commonly see with people just discovering their asexuality or aceness:
Why didn’t anyone tell me about this?
This is a common refrain I hear from older aces who discover their orientation later in life — in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s — heck, even in their late 20’s and 30’s. It’s common to feel bitter towards our sex educators for not including queerness in education, and to feel bitter towards our queer elders for not telling us that asexuality exists. While we can’t justifiably be angry with everyone who didn’t tell us about it — maybe they didn’t know, or maybe they didn’t think it was relevant — it is understandable to feel bitter about not knowing earlier in life. It is understandable to grieve the time lost pretending to be someone else.
I don’t know why you weren’t told earlier. There is a lot of work to be done towards normalizing and making accessible the conversation surrounding asexuality, and a lot of good work is getting done. It’s a really amazing thing to be a part of, and I wouldn’t be here if no one had started talking about it before me.
I understand this feeling. I wish I had known as a teenager that asexuality existed, and more than that I wish that I had grown up in a world where less value was placed on my sexual availability and more was placed on my person. I didn’t, but I do now.
I think that’s the thing you have to focus on — the future. You know now that this is an orientation, that there are other people like you. You know now that there are resources and blog posts and websites built for you and people like you, a whole community rising up and saying, “Hey! We’re here too!” — and you are a part of that community if you choose to be.
It is okay to grieve lost time. Just — don’t let it take over you. You know now, and that’s better than not knowing. Use this knowledge to take your next steps.
I have trauma — what if I’m not really ace?
Is it my sexuality, or is it me? Am I not interested in sex because a bad thing happened, or was I already not interested? Am I traumatized because I had sex and I didn’t know not having it was an option, but I thought I would lose my loved one if I didn’t?
These are all questions I hear aces with trauma ask themselves frequently. In fact I’ve asked myself these questions, too. It can be hard to pinpoint where your sexuality is and where trauma begins when it comes to any sexual orientation, not just those along the asexual spectrum.
I can’t tell you for sure if your ace-ness is a result of trauma; I don’t know your life, or your brain. I will never experience the world the way that you do.
What I can tell you is that if a word like “asexual” or “demisexual” or “cupiosexual” makes you feel better about yourself, and doesn’t hurt anyone (your queerness does not hurt other people, it only hurts their pride), then that’s enough.
Labels are there to make you feel better about yourself. I understand wanting to pick apart all the different words and their meanings and figure out yourself, but I also know that this is an exhausting process and sometimes it just hurts more than it helps.
Do I have to come out?
The short answer is no, you do not have to come out. You never have to share more information with the world than you want to, or than you feel comfortable with. I especially would recommend waiting if your home, school, or work life is unsafe or could become unsafe for you. Coming out can be a dangerous thing in the wrong environment.
In the right environment, it can be a joyful, affirming occasion. If you choose to, I hope that it is for you.
Whether or not you come out is your choice, but the first thing is always to make sure that you are safe if you do. You may need to come out in stages — first to close friends, then to a coworker, then to your family. You may have some people you come out to and others who never know. You might come out online and not offline, or you might come out to your partner and no one else. Who you are out to is your choice.
Whatever you do, please make sure that you are safe. If you have uncertainties that you will be safe, try and form a backup plan of somewhere to go or someone to contact. Your safety comes first, always.
If someone comes out to you, do not out them to other people. You don’t know who they are out to. Even if you see them out online, or you see them out to you and a few other close friends, maybe their grandmother didn’t know and they were keeping it a secret to avoid a big family fight. You don’t know what is safe for that person and what isn’t; do not assume you do.
I’m dating someone who isn’t ace— will they still want me?
Sex and sexuality is highly valued in romantic relationships. Sex is seen as an ultimate gift, something that brings pleasure and brings two people closer together. Sex is not an end all be all confession of love, though. This is a narrow view of sex, and not a healthy one. You never have to have sex to prove to someone you love them, and anyone who tells you you do is not worth your time or space.
It is important to be able to be honest with your partner about your sexuality and levels of comfort with intimate activities. Discovering your orientation is different than you may have previously thought can be scary, but it doesn’t have to mean the end of the relationship. It just means that you need to have an awkward conversation about your self discovery, and the two of you can figure out what you want to do from there.
I cannot tell you how your partner will take the conversation if you tell them you are ace; I cannot predict the future. Some people need sex in relationships. Some aces feel neutral towards or even enjoy the act of sex itself. There may be ways to compromise, no matter where you are on the spectrum of favorability towards sex with your partner. If there are not ways to compromise, that’s okay; there are always people out there who will love you and find a relationship that works with you on your terms, not on terms that compromise your comfort and safety.
If you need to tell your partner you are ace, here are some tips for the conversation:
- Be honest. Tell them you didn’t know before, and you weren’t lying about your sexuality before you knew. It isn’t deceitful to discover yourself.
- Some people find it insulting if their partner is not sexually attracted to them. Try to emphasize that this is not about them or anything they did or didn’t do. This is your sexuality, and no matter who you were with, you would feel this way.
- Be honest about if you want to make things work. Think about if the relationship is right for you — not just if you are right for the relationship.
- Have the conversation somewhere that is private. I personally prefer to take an aimless drive during conversations like this because it is easier for me to look at the road instead of who I’m talking to, as this makes me anxious. Maybe for you your safe conversation space is your porch or your bedroom. Wherever it is, make sure you feel safe there.
- Be prepared to thoroughly explain things. This may be an entirely new concept to your partner. If you don’t know the answer to something, admit that you don’t know. It helps to be prepared with analogies, since you’re explaining something that is likely going to feel foreign to your partner if your partner is allo.
- And lastly, don’t apologize for being ace. You are not doing anything wrong here. You are just telling another person in your life who you are. There is nothing to apologize for in being ace.
What if I’m still not sure that I’m ace?
Maybe you’ve done the reading. You’ve done your homework. You’ve invested time and energy and even had intimate conversations with friends about if they liked sex and asked them point blank “What’s it like?” because you just can’t imagine doing it yourself. Or maybe you’ve had sex and maybe you even enjoyed it, but you never desired it again. You’ve tried to understand arousal and attraction, you’ve even tried watching or reading porn, but you still don’t know if you’re experiencing what you’re supposed to when you engage with it. Maybe you like porn but you never imagine yourself in the midst of things — for you it’s more of a third person, detached view, not something you would want to take part in. You’ve taken every quiz known to the internet, you’ve done the checklists, you’ve asked and pondered and questioned. And you still don’t know.
It’s okay if you don’t know for sure. It’s okay if you know but still struggle with that “am I ace enough?” question that plagues so many of us. (You are, by the way.) It’s okay if you just aren’t ready to use the word “asexual” or if you think it might apply to you but you’re having too much trouble sorting through your circumstances.
Whatever labels you use — or don’t use — are there to make you feel better. If they make you feel seen and heard — good! If you know you’re not allo but don’t feel a word applies to you — that’s fine!
There is no seating limit here, and there is no gatekeeper. You decide your queerness, and you decide if a word goes along with it. No one else gets to decide that for you.
It is okay to be ace.
It’s okay to be ace.
There is nothing wrong with you. I promise.
There is nothing bad about not desiring sex or about not wanting to participate in it except every great once in a while. There is nothing wrong with only ever wanting to have sex after a close bond is formed because that’s the only time you feel sexual attraction. There is nothing wrong with not being able to sort your attractions out and feeling confused by it.
Above all — there is nothing wrong with you.
Whatever conclusion you come to, whatever you end up feeling is right — whether it’s asexuality or not — is your choice. There is nothing wrong with you if you believe you are ace, or if you believe you are for a time and then find yourself feeling a connection with another orientation later. There’s no one way to be ace, and there’s no wrong way to be ace.
Ultimately, it just boils down to what makes you comfortable.
And if you’re new here — I promise you are loved, and you are not alone.
Elle Rose, also known online as secretladyspider, is a freelance writer and demisexuality advocate specializing in LGBTQIAP+ education and issues. She also creates YouTube videos about the intersection between pop culture and mental health. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or help her advocate by becoming a patron today.