By: Cameron Axford
High school can be a hormonal hell. It is the time in young people’s lives when they start to feel romantic feelings towards each other. For even the most “average” teenager, fitting in can be a nightmare. But being a young person with no interest in sex can be socially devastating.
Kelly Ann Larkin is an animator from the U.S who has known her orientation for eight years. During high school she did not know what asexuality was, but she knew she had no desire for sex.
“I had one relationship in high school, but it was clear that we both wanted different things,” said Larkin. “It didn’t last very long, and I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea of being physically close to someone at that time. I felt a lot of pressure to start dating and be more intimate.”
During college, Larkin learned about asexuality and the ace (the nickname asexuals have affectionately given themselves) community. Discovering she wasn’t alone gave her the courage to start dating. Larkin has been in a relationship since 2011 with a non-ace. According to experts, this romantic pairing of sexual and non-sexual people is not common.
Asexuality is the lack of sexual desire. It is different from celibacy, in which people ignore their urges. Asexuals has little desire for sexual contact with others. One per cent of adults are asexual, according to the Journal for Sex Research.
In our sexually open society, the line between emotional and physical intimacy is blurred. Even those who know about asexuality are surprised to discover that aces have a need for love. As asexuality is one of the most misunderstood orientations, dating can be hard for aces. They are often viewed as prudish, rather than biologically different. While visibility of gay and trans people grows, the ace community seems to be left out of the conversation. It is often assumed that asexuals don’t face discrimination and social issues.
Christopher Shillington is a sex therapist who focuses on queer issues. In addition to being educated in sexual studies, he himself has engaged in relationships with aces despite his sex drive.
“I don’t think sex is fundamental in having a healthy relationship,” said Shillington. “In a lot of relationships people often give equal weight to the importance in the quality of the sex and the quality of the emotional aspects. When you remove that sexual piece from a relationship, suddenly the focus is on the quality of the relationship itself. There’s full potential for someone not connecting on a sexual level to have very fulfilling and loving relationships.”
So are aces completely sexless? The answer might surprise you. A large portion of aces do engage in sexual activity from time to time. This may include sensual massages with a focus on skin contact over genital stimulation and orgasms. Masturbation is also not uncommon, either as a solo form of release or something that is shared with a partner intimately. This can be done purely for the non-ace, or actively enjoyed by the ace too. In fact, some aces are not consistently asexual. Like all forms of sexuality, asexuality exists on a complicated spectrum.
Carla Leary* is someone who fluctuates between ace and sexual. Even she has some trouble understanding how her orientation works.
“It tends to be random, just sort of like waking up and feeling like putting on a different coloured shirt,” Leary said. “Sometimes it’s a bit jarring to suddenly feel so different about your identity that you were so sure of yesterday; other days it’s a refreshing change.”
Leary says that her libido can remain constant or absent for months before changing. She says that sometimes she feels so strongly one way it leaves her “thinking how strange it was to even call myself asexual.”
Leary has been in a relationship for the past 5 years with a non-ace. It has been difficult at points, but she credits her partner’s patience and understanding as keeping them together.
Because of changing attitudes, asexuals are slowly coming into mainstream discussion. The internet has provided a haven for those looking for open discussion about that matter. An international web based group called Asexual Outreach has a Toronto chapter active on campuses. They are “A non-profit that works to foster positive ace communities and to intersectionally promote widespread education and acceptance of the asexual spectrum.” As society understands sexuality more, hopefully we can all come to understand the difference between love and sex.