Question of the Week: September 23rd, 2014

A couple of extended discussions with people at my meetup some months ago have really wedged this question in the back of my head, because people often have such different perspectives.

Before you discovered the asexual community, did you think that everyone was really just like you were and that sexuality was overblown, or did you know you were different and think you were alone with it?

This is always an interesting question for me because I have no real answer for it. I discovered the asexuality community much too early to have really thought much about this, honestly; I think I found it right as I was beginning to notice I was a little different. I think that maybe I would have noticed that most people weren’t like me, given a chance, but it’s hard to be sure.

About Sciatrix

Sciatrix is an American graduate student studying ecology, evolution and behavior. She identifies as asexual and has mostly given up trying to sort out the whole romance thing for now. She has previously blogged about asexuality at Writing From Factor X. In her free time, she trains in canine agility and knits oddly cabled hats.
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19 Responses to Question of the Week: September 23rd, 2014

  1. Liz says:

    For most of my life I thought everyone felt the way I did. I read depictions of romance (aro here) and asexuality and assumed that it was “Hollywood/romance novel BS” and/or I would magically start feeling that way at some arbitrary point. I would list things I wanted in a friend and think it was what I wanted in a romance, I would decide I had a crush on a boy if I liked talking to him, and I would pick the character I thought was the coolest and most aesthetically appealing on TV shows/in books/whatever and decide they were the hot one. I mean, I’m hetero, so my feelings are how straight people feel, right? Right.

    When I dated a couple guys I realized I wasn’t feeling the way I was “supposed” to, that I didn’t want to have sex with anyone and I didn’t care about being in a relationship, but I thought asexuals would never feel some things that I felt and were supposed to be naive about sex and not understand it. I thought I would have just known if I were asexual.

    So in my case, mostly the former and a few very unpleasant years of the latter.

  2. Both.

    As a teenager, I thought all my classmates were faking interest to be cool. (I still think some probably were, but not all.)

    Later, in my twenties, I realized that other people were, in fact, interested, and that pretty much everyone else was far, far, more interested than I was.

    • I seem to have thought everyone was like me until I was about 18 or so, but eventually came to realize (there was no sudden epiphany) that I was different (context: I didn’t learn about asexuality as a concept until I was 31).

  3. Estrid says:

    I think it is a really interesting question, and “unfortunately”, I’ll only be able to answer it retrospectively.
    I discovered the asexual community rather early (as far as I remember, I was 14 or 15 – today I’m 22), though I didn’t start fully identifying as asexual right away.
    As I recall, I did kinda suspect that I was the only one feeling the way I did, as I saw more and more of my friends getting into sexual relationships, and I remember people in my class at age 15 being very concerned about whether they had “sex appeal”. Also, people mostly reacted with disbelief or “wait till you meet the right one” around that age, when I voiced a disinterest in sex.
    I often hoped that those of my friends who did not get into sexual relationships early would turn out to be asexual in the end, though none of them did. So I guess that sort of reflects a hope not to be the only one alienated by the whole sex-thing going on.

  4. luvtheheaven says:

    I did not think people were lying, pretending, or even exaggerating (much) but I did think that men probably were WAY more sexual than women (and I was a young woman myself, by the way), because all of the female friends I surrounded myself with did not seem overly sexual. I figured women liked sex once they were having it, and men were the ones who actually wanted it before having it. Romance and who people had crushes on/found “sexy” was not something my group of friends discussed much, and those who were dating in high school and college seemed like they wanted to avoid the subject and focus instead on discussing subjects like our families, school and work lives, TV shows we were into, etc. I think growing up in a very conservative town I had subconsciously drifted toward a group of allosexual girls to be my friends who were the least obsessed with sex as possible.

    The one exception was one of my friends, let’s call her Rebecca, who could not stop talking about boys, but because she was the only one, I felt like she was the exception to the rule, not me. I basically had somehow gotten under the false impression that all or at least most straight girls were demisexual (despite not knowing the term), and needed not only to have a close friendship with a guy but rather to actually date a guy before that desire to have sex with him would come.

    However, I did briefly toy with the notion that I might be a lesbian or bisexual, because deep down I knew I didn’t feel much differently toward guys vs. girls, but for some reason the narratives I’d heard about homosexuality made me think that if I wanted to kiss girls, it’d be an “obvious” feeling. (And I hadn’t hear any bi narratives.) For some reason, I had missed the memo that this was true for straight girls too, that I should really not be identifying as straight if I didn’t really want to kiss guys. But the thing was, a part of me did want to. I wanted to experience all of the romance I read about/saw in the movies/in TV shows lol. I wanted to know what kissing would be like.

    So I was confused and just considered myself inexperienced for years and years. I figured with experience came feelings of allosexuality and so I didn’t think of myself as too different other than feeling embarrassed by how inexperienced I was by the time I’d gotten to age 22 and still had never been kissed. I first heard of asexuality around age 20 and essentially dismissed it until I was 22 and finally had experienced my first kiss and realized I kind of hated kissing. I started realizing I was different only around age 22 and 23 when I was trying out dating for the first time, and luckily at those times I already had the handy label of asexual to fall into.

  5. Isaac says:

    Thought one always assume people are like oneself until proven otherwise, I never minded if I was different of the rest, and I think this save me much struggle asexuals suffer.

  6. Siggy says:

    I think I felt both ways. I thought people were exaggerating it, and I also felt like I was different somehow. I didn’t have a really coherent worldview of other people’s sexuality. I mostly tried not to think about it.

    • Norah says:

      Mostly this. I thought most people were exaggerating and trying to be cool, and that hot was just something you said when you thought someone was beautiful. But I did think I was probably (even) more lying/exaggerating than everyone else. Or that for most people, by the time they reached 20 or so (I had to think of *some* age), it had ‘clicked’ and they really wanted sex and found people attractive, and that I was really late. When I was 16 or so I was leaning more towards more people just trying to be cool, and when I was 20 I was definitely convinced I was even more different than I’d already suspected at 16, and that most people really did want sex (and so often!).

      tldr: yes, I always thought I was different that way, but I didn’t think I was *that* different and the realisation of how much came with the years. Some of it, but not most of it, more in one go when I learned about asexuality.

  7. Taka says:

    Both ways, I think, like many of the others here.

    At first I accepted my feelings as the standard and never really thought about it — after all, I told myself when I got older, other people are probably just dating more because they’re actually good-looking, and you’re not attracted to anyone because no one around here is your “type” (it was, after all, a small school in the country).

    After a while of that, though, I started to feel like something was off. I didn’t know what it was at first, and then I sort of got that it was about sexuality but not quite (could I be bisexual, thought 17-year-old me? no, that doesn’t make sense, but something in me says I’m not straight…). As I became more aware of it I realized that I was strange, but explained it in my head as my being a “late bloomer” as well as self-esteem issues about not being attractive. (Which was silly of me, but I didn’t know that at the time).

    It took me a while after I discovered asexuality to realize I was ace and fully become comfortable with that identity, too.

    • WovenTales says:

      I actually had a really similar experience, down to the small country (home)school (group) and the wondering about bisexuality—though in my case I did actually identify as biromantic and homosexual for a few months, before realizing that I was even less interested in boys than I was in girls. No, I don’t remember how I discovered the romantic/sexual division before I knew about asexuality.

      What finally made asexuality click for me was reading a transcript of an interview (I think it was between David Jay and Dan Savage) where the non-ace participant commented on how mindblowing it was that aces didn’t find anyone eye-catchingly attractive just walking down the street (which I knew even then was an oversimplification, but for some reason, that’s what did it for me); until that point I both fit into the category that thought that it was mostly posturing and cultural over-emphasis, and recognized that I was less interested than most people, just not how much less.

      Getting off topic slightly, I think a good part of what confused things for me was that I don’t have a complete lack of interest in relationships. I do want to settle down with someone at some point, and think I might be more sex-indifferent than anything else, though I lack any actual evidence to back that up. Because of that, I’ve been identifying as a heteromantic ace for a bit more than a year (yes, I know that’s a relatively short time compared to a lot of other aces’ timelines), though I’ve recently started realizing that it’s more a strong desire for that level of companionship than any actual romantic attraction, and that the same thing that made me decide I wasn’t asexual once has also probably been obscuring the fact that I’m at least gray-romantic, if not aro. I’m kind of surprised I didn’t see the paralells earlier.

  8. acespresso says:

    While I identify with much of what the previous comments contain; it is the order of events and their relative influence on my life that offers an alternative temporal perspective. While in my teens I felt a comfortable association with my peers. Academically…I was ahead; in health, fitness and physical ‘attributes’…I was so so; but, in sexual promiscuity I was being left behind. It took 25 years to recognise that I could never catch up, and a further ten years to recognise that I should never have to.

    Belatedly, it has taken 50 years to realise that “…it is not a race.” Thanks to the peer pressure maintained, in households, educational institutions, in the workplace, on the sports-field, and projected by the various media sources; I felt physically, mentally and socially inferior.

    Fifty years of hetero-normative ‘failure’ led me to search for, and identify with, the aro-ace community. I am very thankful for that!

  9. queenieofaces says:

    I knew I was different when I was fairly young–probably 14? I was absolutely sure that I was the only one and that I couldn’t speak about this to anyone because then they’d realize what a freak I was and start shunning me.

    • alyshkalia says:

      This was me too–I never thought anyone was like me but was certain I was alone, and because of that I also never told anyone. But after I found out about asexuality I made the opposite mistake in assuming that that was the experience of all aces–clearly not the case, as shown just by the comments here.

  10. I definitely alternated between both while I was 14-16. I’m sure I assumed everyone was like me, until a bully picked up on my asexuality and did what he could to make sure I felt like a freak. But then my reaction to that, at times, was basically to flip the tables and consider him the freak, or at least something that wasn’t normal. Apparently at that age, I couldn’t think to challenge the norm that normal=good. Certainly by the time I graduated high school I started to realize I was different, though.

  11. abonnace says:

    A little bit of both. When I was a teenager I guess I assumed everyone was like me and it wasn’t a big issue. I think it helped that my group of friends were quite nerdy and possibly because it was an all girls school. We talked a lot about anime, books and movies. The only guys talked about were actors or musicians so I just assumed when the other girls said they liked them, it was because they liked them for their skills or character they played, like I did. It probably also helped that a lot of girls at my school came from more conservative religious or cultural backgrounds.

    I assumed the kids that did brag about their relationships and experience were just exaggerating to look cool.I didn’t believe so many could be sexually active let alone interested at all in sex.
    My last 2 years at high school I spent at a co-ed school and I was a little shocked at the way the girls and boys interacted but concluded I must be a “late bloomer”.

    I felt more alone as I got older and began wondering why It hadn’t happened for me yet. I and everyone I knew was at uni and had started meeting new people and dating. I still though most of my issues came from being inexperienced and was thus worried the older I got without gaining this experience. It was on my first date, at 23, when the guy asked me why I hadn’t dated before. My only reason was that I hadn’t been interested. He seemed to imply everyone else spent their time at uni “hooking up” and it was odd that I hadn’t.

    Luckily I found the ace community just over a year later. 🙂

  12. gemmi999 says:

    I knew I was different from a young age, but I didn’t know what asexuality was or who I was. I started by assuming that I was gay because boys just didn’t do anything for me. I didn’t care about who was attractive or who wasn’t, I honestly couldn’t tell most of the time. So, by process of default, I said girls were it for me and left at at that for a long time.

    Then I tried having sex. For about a year I tried it in ALL the ways I could imagine, with boys, girls, together, kinky, etc, trying to figure out what was up with me. I wondered if maybe I was transgender, genderqueer, just queer all together. This was also mixed up in years of trying to figure out why I wasn’t “popular” like my brother and sister were, and why I didn’t want to be, either.

    I finally accepted that I was just “different” one day and decided that I shouldn’t label it. I was 25 or 26 at the time and I finally felt a little bit of peace. I knew I wanted to raise kids, but I also knew that there was nothing wrong with me for wanting to do it as a single parent.

    It was only after years of struggle that I came across the idea of asexuality. And suddenly I understood what was going on with me. I consider myself asexual, slightly romantic, queer.

  13. PurplesShade says:

    Both I think, but mostly I noticed my differences.
    My whole life I have been a little apart from my peers, so I expected to be different, so I didn’t assume everyone else was exactly like me, but I also didn’t know all the ways I was different.

    Since no body talked about attraction in a comprehensive way I had no comparison, no baseline.
    I assumed my experiences with romantic attraction were what other people felt too, but that, just like other areas of my life, they were a little more motivated and ambitious than me about it.
    I also thought people were being hyperbolic when called actors “sexy” I thought they meant “aesthetically appealing”, but I knew there was a gap because I didn’t find the idea of actually being physically close to the people I found aesthetically appealing an ‘attractive idea’. (pun intended)

    Sex, I thought, was just another way to express affection for someone.
    When I asked people why they had sex, they said it just felt nice, so I assumed it was behaviour you chose to engage in because it felt nice; it didn’t occur to me that people would have a built up of feeling about it before hand, because other things that feel nice don’t. Baths for instance, you might feel anticipation for getting into a warm bath but it’s not like you’re drawn to it’s ‘bathiness’, but it feels nice when you get in the water, and so I thought sex was like that. An action.
    I’m grey, and when I first experienced a little attraction, it was towards a girl I had been friends with/crushing on for years, and it was the first time I had felt an appeal outside of curiosity toward the idea of kissing someone, but I didn’t realize what the sensation really was. I thought it was something I felt as part of being in love with her, and I had no clue that it was something other people felt all the time, because as I said I had no comparison.
    But I as I thought about it, realized the idea of being physically intimate with someone, even her, really frightened me. So I decided I had a hang-up, and that was just an oddity I carried alone, and maybe I just needed to wait, and “grow up a little more”, find someone I could trust.

    When I did find someone, talking about how I felt towards with with other people, and looking up dating advice stuff, I realized that other people felt like this a lot more often than I did. In fact they felt the things I felt only after establishing a strong relationship, for people they’d just met. And that was weird, and so then I knew *I* was weird in a way I’d not realized. But because I felt attraction at all, I didn’t think I could be an ace either… So I felt doubly weird, and alone…

  14. Hollis says:

    Honestly, I didn’t notice that there was anything different between me and my peers until I reached college*. Almost all of my friends in high school didn’t date, nor did I (and any conversations about that sort of thing didn’t go much further than “who do you like?”), and I was definitely interested in romantic relationships, so I didn’t get that there was anything else going on. I mean, I knew that sex was a thing people did, but I just kind of assumed that once you got into a relationship, you’d naturally start wanting to have it with the person you were in a relationship with after a period of time (which is basically how the limited Sex Ed I received in jr high framed things and was pretty much how the church that my family attended talked about things too, except coupled with warnings about how that to do so would be a poor decision). With nobody I was close with in relationships and no experience with a relationship myself, there really wasn’t anyone to say differently.

    Once I was in college and started doing the–I’d say dating but really it was making out with people at parties–thing, I became acutely aware of being Not Like Everyone Else. I seem to lack instincts about what to do (I’ll be honest, still not sure what I’m supposed to do with my hands/arms when making out with someone) and kissing required a lot conscious effort to learn what to do and how to do it (which seems to not be the case for most allosexual people I know? because their advice seemed to generally be “go with the flow” and “you’ll know what to do when it happens” which was decidedly not the case). But also, despite really really desiring some aspects of physical relationship, they were just “meh”. It was entirely frustrating** to be very into someone and very excited to kiss them and then while actually be kissing them, feel really disconnected and not much else.

    *I mean. I really should have. Straight girls (to my knowledge) do not actively spend lots of hours wondering what it would be like to kiss other girls. I’d like to think that I’m not so dense that I would have realized that I wasn’t straight if I had ever developed a crush on a girl in addition to the dudes I had crushes on, but I’m not sure that’s entirely true because I was quite dense about myself and gender & sexuality things. Also, cis people, upon hearing that being intersex is a Thing (hadn’t really known about being trans), don’t really, really actively hope that that is the case for them and that no health professional has noticed it yet. I’m willing to give myself a pass on most of the other signs that I was trans because I had a lot of lady friends expressing similar sentiments of “it would be so much better/easier to be a dude” because they were sick of the boys being exclusive jerks and not because of gender issues (admittedly, I know a couple trans guys that said the same things I did. I think with more awareness that being transgender is a Thing, this may not have been something I was so dense about).

    **It still is very frustrating. It feels sort of like the “subtraction soup” from the Phantom Tollbooth, where the more you eat the hungrier you feel, but substituting physical affection for the soup.

  15. Seth says:

    I don’t think I can honestly say it was entirely one or the other for me. If it were the former, it would have come as a surprise for me to learn that many people experience sexual attraction and genuinely enjoy sex… but it didn’t (though, I admittedly, I was surprised when I discovered that it’s not uncommon for people to masturbate regularly and enjoy doing so). If it were the latter, it would have come as a surprise that there are many other people out there who don’t experience sexual attraction… but I wasn’t surprised by that, either. I don’t remember being surprised at all when I found Wikipedia’s article on asexuality; I just remember thinking that it made considerably more sense than anything I had previously been taught about sex.

    I think the reason for that is that while I had some self-awareness, and was taking the first steps in figuring out my identity, I wasn’t giving much thought to how my experiences compared to those of others. The closest I came was recognizing that it was unusual for me not to view dating and romantic attraction as desirable. I’m sure I’d have been oblivious there, too, except that I did experience limerence, or at least something very close to it, and it was a bad experience for me (I’m not saying it went badly; I’m saying it was inherently negative). It would have been impossible for me not to realize that if other people thought romantic attraction (which I was still conflating with sexual attraction) was a good thing, then this couldn’t possibly be exactly what they were talking about. Even so, since the people in my social circle were far from obsessed with sex and dating, it was easy for me to pay little attention to what that said about me relative to other people, and just focus on what it meant for me, personally. I certainly didn’t think it meant I wasn’t straight. There were other signs that it’s easy to say should have tipped me off in retrospect, but again, even though I noticed and accepted them, I wasn’t thinking about how they differed from the norm. So, I can definitely relate to a lot of what Hollis was talking about above.

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