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PressReader.com - "Asexual healing"

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http://www.pressreader.com/uk/elle-uk/20170201/281569470408358

 

Elle UK, 1 Feb 2017

 

This website won't let you copy and paste, but it's an article about how millennials date while asexual.  

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Found a way to copy pasting it is long, in spoilers.  Edited to remove repetition, formatting errors and assist in consistency.

 

Spoiler

The ab­sence of sex­ual at­trac­tion to any­one doesn’t mean the end of love and dating

 

Six years ago, I was ly­ing in bed with my then boyfriend. I still had my train­ers on. Ev­ery­thing was about to fall apart. I knew he was go­ing to ask me why this was the first time, af­ter four months of dating, that he’d been ad­mit­ted into my flat, and why we’d not had sex, and why, when he put his tongue in my mouth, I’d re­coil. How do you tell some­one that when they kiss you it feels like some­one is putting a scarf over your face and pulling it tight? That you feel sheer panic? I thought, “Tell him now, be­cause when you say it’s be­cause you’re asex­ual, he’s go­ing to leave.” So I did, and he did, and I put those train­ers in the bin.’

 

My friend Sarah, 28, works in mar­ket­ing and is now in a happy re­la­tion­ship with a non-asex­ual man (more on how this works later). She’s laugh­ing a full, hearty belly laugh when she hits me with the trainer line, but I’m find­ing it hard to smile. This year she ‘came out’ to me as asex­ual. Asex­u­al­ity means a lack of sex­ual at­trac­tion to­wards any­one. Ini­tially I was shocked, not least be­cause she’s in a re­la­tion­ship. A 2015 sur­vey sug­gested Brits in re­la­tion­ships have sex three times a month*, on av­er­age, and I’d as­sumed Sarah and her boyfriend were no dif­fer­ent.

 

Be­ing asex­ual is not like be­ing sat at a ban­quet, starv­ing and sali­vat­ing, with your jaw wired shut. As Sarah puts it, ‘You don’t like mush­rooms, right?’ I stick my tongue out to show dis­taste. ‘But if some­one you loved wanted to eat them all the time, then you might, say, let them put some in a risotto and you’d swal­low them down. That’s what an ac­tive sex life is for me.’

 

I probe fur­ther: ‘What do you mean, then, that you oc­ca­sion­ally have sex?’ Sarah pauses. ‘Only very, very oc­ca­sion­ally, and that’s prefer­able for me to ever giv­ing oral sex. But yes, that’s a hy­per-rare com­pro­mise I make.’ She pulls a dis­gusted face.

 

Liv­ing with­out de­sire is dif­fi­cult to con­cep­tu­alise us­ing our Freudian un­der­stand­ing of psy­chol­ogy. We’re a civil­i­sa­tion built on the pre­sump­tion that every­one con­stantly wants sex. Take the maxim ‘sex sells’, still the pil­lar on which most ad­ver­tis­ing is built, from Won­der­bra’s ‘Hello boys’ to Diet Coke’s ‘win­dow washer’, via Kim Kar­dashian and Louboutins: sex is ev­ery­where you look.

 

Not un­til 2004 did Cana­dian aca­demic An­thony F. Bo­gaert’s pa­per pro­pel the term ‘asex­ual’ into com­mon use and es­tab­lish the idea that 1% of the Bri­tish pop­u­la­tion were asex­ual**. Of that fig­ure, 70% were women.

 

Thanks to on­line com­mu­ni­ties, such as AVEN (Asex­ual Vis­i­bil­ity And Ed­u­ca­tion Net­work), aware­ness is in­creas­ing. But with such pow­er­ful stigma sur­round­ing the ideas of asex­u­al­ity, it’s safe to as­sume more peo­ple are asex­ual than we’re aware of. Con­ver­sa­tions around gen­der have been rife re­cently, with many peo­ple from Gen­er­a­tion Z iden­ti­fy­ing as gen­der fluid (os­cil­lat­ing be­tween gen­der and non-­bi­nary iden­ti­ties) or pan­sex­ual (not being lim­ited in your sex­ual choices by gen­der or sex). Celebri­ties such as Mi­ley Cyrus, a pan­sex­ual, and Amandla Sten­berg, who is non-bi­nary, are her­alded as role mod­els but I can’t think of a sin­gle asex­ual icon. I can’t imag­ine the ad­mis­sion of zero de­sire would go down well with the PR squads. ‘Asex­u­al­ity sells’ has less of a ring to it.

 

I’m told that asex­u­als are of­ten asked whether they’ve been di­ag­nosed as asex­ual, or if there’s a ‘cure’, which sug­gests it’s a term we’re still not fully clued up on. I ask math­e­ma­ti­cian Dr Michael J Doré, 33, who is asex­ual and joined AVEN in 2009, to ex­plain what asex­u­al­ity means to him. ‘Everyone has cer­tain peo­ple they aren’t sex­u­ally at­tracted to, and asex­u­als find that ev­ery­one falls into that cat­e­gory.’ He was quick to add that ‘asex­u­al­ity is a sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, not a dis­ease, pathol­ogy or a choice. We’re just like gay or straight peo­ple.’ And it’s like any sex­ual pref­er­ence in that ev­ery­one falls on a spec­trum.

 

Take my friend Sarah, who is able to have a lov­ing re­la­tion­ship with a non-asex­ual man and oc­ca­sion­ally have sex. I ask her to tell me more about how she makes the re­la­tion­ship func­tion in a bal­anced man­ner where both par­ties are sat­is­fied: ‘It’s hard at times. It helps that he trav­els a lot and I rel­ish in hav­ing my own space.’ And the sleep­ing sit­u­a­tion? ‘We share one very large bed. We kiss, but not pas­sion­ately and not for too long. But occa­sion­ally I like to be hugged, and we hold hands in pub­lic.’ I ask if that’s for show. ‘I think it was when I first “came out”. Now I like it be­cause he does.’

 

Have other peo­ple been judge­men­tal? ‘I got fuck­ing sick of the “You just need to meet the right per­son” rhetoric,’ she says. ‘I’m fine with sex be­ing a tiny part of my life, as is my part­ner. Don’t pity me. We make love – rarely, but it’s enough for us both.’ Does she worry about him cheat­ing? ‘Look, I know he watches porn. It’s fine. He’s com­mit­ted to me and I don’t angst over it.’

 

Sarah wasn’t al­ways so self-as­sured. ‘When I was 18, the in­ter­net wasn’t even a thing. There were no books about asex­u­al­ity in the library. My adoles­cence was rough – I felt like a freak. I’m in awe of the next gen­er­a­tion’s ac­cep­tance.’

 

For Sarah, there was a wake-up mo­ment at school. ‘My first mem­ory of be­ing dif­fer­ent was in a sex-ed­u­ca­tion les­son. There was this re­ally graphic vis­ual of in­ter­course and I felt dizzy. It snow­balled; sex was all my friends spoke about. I stopped read­ing books for fear of the sex­ual parts, and feeling like a weirdo. I kissed some­one for the first time at 19, be­cause at univer­sity I felt my sex­u­al­ity was a source of sus­pi­cion. I hated it. I’ve blocked out los­ing my vir­gin­ity. I didn’t have sex again un­til I met my cur­rent part­ner, three years ago.’

 

Cam­paign­ers such as Maria Mu­nir, the 20 year old from Wat­ford who pub­licly came out as non-bi­nary to Barack Obama at a Lon­don meet­ing of students and youth lead­ers in 2016, are ef­fect­ing real change. By email, Maria in­tro­duced me to Ge­orge Nor­man, a 22-year-old stu­dent who, in 2015, be­came Britain’s first openly asex­ual par­lia­men­tary elec­tion can­di­date. ‘I got to univer­sity and re­alised peo­ple weren’t act­ing. This thing that seemed so alien to me was re­ally im­por­tant to them. I was 19 when I heard the word “asex­ual” – it made sense of my feel­ings.’

 

I ask him where he found the courage to pub­licly iden­tify as asex­ual, and why he felt it nec­es­sary. ‘I had fears, but largely peo­ple have been very sup­port­ive. We’ve got to make sure no one feels like I did as a young adult, as if there was no one in the world like me, and I was bro­ken and alone.’

 

Jess, 29, works in fash­ion and is liv­ing se­cretly as an asex­ual. I know her be­cause she’s fa­mous for her out­landish style, and I see her at in­dus­try par­ties. Even as a teenager, Jess knew she was dif­fer­ent. ‘I hated peo­ple in my space, and be­came chron­i­cally shy.’ I tell her she seems the opposite of shy. ‘Maybe I’m not shy with women, but there’s no threat and it’s part of my job to pre­tend I’m not. But I de­vel­oped huge breasts early, and peo­ple com­mented. Men’s eyes wan­dered; they still do. I hate men look­ing at me in a sex­ual way. I cross my arms and close my eyes on the tube.’

 

Even­tu­ally I broach the sub­ject of a fam­ily with Jess. I imag­ine that, for women, it makes iden­ti­fy­ing as asex­ual even more bur­den­some. ‘I fear the future. I come from a re­li­gious fam­ily who put a lot of em­pha­sis on hav­ing chil­dren and get­ting mar­ried. They won’t un­der­stand.’ Sarah, who thinks she might want chil­dren, says: ‘If I de­cide to have kids, sex will be a topic that’s hard to avoid. I’m a lov­ing per­son who de­sires emo­tional connections. So kids are in the back of my mind.’

 

Michael ex­plains: ‘Some asex­u­als are in re­la­tion­ships and some aren’t. Some don’t mind hav­ing sex some­times, whereas some don’t have sex at all.’ The de­sire to group asex­u­als into one ho­mogenised ‘type’ has brought about other false stereo­types: ‘Cold, emo­tion­less and out to trap a sex­ual per­son in a re­la­tion­ship’ – Ge­orge ticks off an imag­i­nary list. While his story is par­tic­u­larly hope­ful (‘The peo­ple I date ac­cept me’), there’s still much ground to be gained so that peo­ple like Jess can live with­out fear of be­ing mis­un­der­stood.

 

Cam­paign­ers like Ge­orge and Maria are seek­ing a sec­ond sex­ual revo­lu­tion, one that says peo­ple should be free to have sex with whomever they want, even if that is ‘no one’. Both are em­phatic about the need for ac­knowl­edge­ment of the mul­ti­fac­eted and com­plex re­mit of sex­u­al­ity.

 

As I con­tinue my con­ver­sa­tion with Jess, her voice cracks. ‘I’m ter­ri­fied I’ll be like this for­ever, and I’m not sure if I’m OK with that,’ she con­fesses. I tell her about the ac­tivists I’ve spo­ken to and she looks pleased, but ex­hausted. Un­wit­tingly, we’ve sus­tained a cul­ture that di­min­ishes al­ter­na­tive ideas of what love might look like. It seems an ob­vi­ous state­ment, but to un­der­stand the broad spec­trum of hu­man de­sire, we must also be­gin to accept the ab­sence of it.

 

‘WE KISS, BUT NOT PAS­SION­ATELY AND NOT FOR TOO LONG. OC­CA­SION­ALLY WE HUG, AND WE HOLD HANDS IN PUB­LIC’

 

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