So many people have told me “I could never date an asexual person because they don’t want sex” I’ve lost count. I often hear or see both asexual and allosexual people say aces don’t want to have sex and/or they don’t have sex. In this post I’ll discuss how this common narrative is both inaccurate and problematic. It wouldn’t be any better to start saying aces do have sex. Like in the term queer and the famous Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment, there’s a lot of lovely confusing middle ground and I think it is so much more inclusive.
Content warning: this post contains discussion of sex, invalidating asexual identity, hypothetical animal experimentation, and mentions bdsm/kink.
Asexuality is much too complex for blanket statements about sexual desire and behaviour.
According to the 2014 asexual community census 35% of aces have had sex and out of that 35%, 36.1% were influenced to have sex because “I find it pleasurable.” In other words, sex was likely a good experience that they participated in or even sought out because they enjoyed it.
Interestingly 42.3% of asexual people are indifferent to to the idea of themselves engaging in sexual activity and 2.7% are favorable (the rest picking repulsed). The numbers change for different ace identities, with 61.2% of gray-asexuals being indifferent and 11.4% being favorable. For demisexuals 54.3% are indifferent and 29.8% are favorable.
I think it’s worth pointing out that while many people who are repulsed by the idea of having sex don’t want to have it (thus following our common narrative), it is possible that there are a number of aces who are repulsed and yet still want to have sex for a myriad of reasons. Usually we don’t do things we are repulsed by, but sometimes we do, and if you venture into the bdsm/kink community doing stuff you are repulsed by is actually incredibly common (and there are aces in the kink community, even if we don’t talk about them much).
Being repulsed, indifferent, and favorable also aren’t necessarily consistent states. For some people these states may fluctuate, mix together, or not be useful to describe their experiences.
These statistics do not include aces that would find sex pleasurable or are curious about sex but haven’t had it. As Siggy pointed out to me while reading an early version of this post, do aces want to have sex is such a loaded question. Do you mean right now? In five years? How often? The idea of aces wanting to have sex at all is so vague that it would be difficult to get useful answers.
My point in referencing these statistics is to show that at least some aces do have sex, want to have sex, and might want to have sex but we don’t know about them. Simply saying aces don’t have sex or don’t want it is inaccurate.
I think there’s an important difference between “I came to identify as asexual because I don’t want to have sex and asexual people don’t have sex” and “I came to identify as asexual because I don’t want to have sex and that’s a part of the asexual experience.” In the first statement all of asexuality is conflated with your personal reason. In the second statement you come to identify as asexual because it can encompass or include your personal reason.
Notably asexuality usually gets conflated with particular experiences and not others. It’s easy to say allosexual people are the ones who have sex and as their opposite, aces don’t have sex. In this instance there’s both a binary and homogenization going on, both of which Ecofeminist Val Plumwood addresses as integral parts of oppression. In a binary we assume two groups are complete opposites like night and day (aces and allo people are complete opposites). In homogenization we assume everyone within a group is the same (all aces don’t have sex). While there may be similarities within a group, there are also important differences between individuals. Homogenization and binaries thrive when we stifle narratives that don’t fit into stereotypes.
I personally do a lot of self-stiffling; every time I write on this or similar topics I ho and hum, edit my work at least twelve times, send it to the other contributors for feedback, and then consider not publishing it at all. A while back I mentioned I don’t identify myself as asexual on dating sites. This post could be considered the long explanation for why I do that; it’s very uncomfortable for me to talk to allosexual people about my asexuality because I know they think I never want to have sex. When I mention that isn’t true some people thank me for teaching them more about asexuality. It’s awkward but nice. Others tell me I’m not asexual. My least favourite group considers the topic an invitation to ask invasive sexual questions (“so do you masturbate,” “how do you like to have sex,” etc.).
Beyond the Binary
It’s not about saying aces don’t want sex or they do; in a binary we will always abandon someone.
If you identify on the ace spectrum because you don’t want to have sex, you don’t have a sex drive, sometimes you do but it’s very low, you used to but now you don’t, you don’t have sexual attraction, you only have sexual attraction after you’ve formed a friendship bond, or anything down the very very long list, I want you to be welcomed. I also want to feel welcome if your personal reason doesn’t look like mine.
I think asexuality is inherently queer because, like queer, it can hold so many different identities. It is transgressive, shifting, changing, and against the norm. There are still stereotypes about what it means to be queer (including that queer = gay, plain and simple, nothing else), but many of us agree queer is so much more than that.
Instead of saying asexual people don’t want sex or asexual people want sex, I propose treating asexuality like Schrödinger’s cat. Erwin Schrödinger came up with a thought experiment of putting a cat, poison, and a radioactive source in a box. Until you open the box you have no idea if the cat is dead or alive, meaning the cat is simultaneously dead and alive. Until you ask someone how they experience asexuality, they simultaneously want to have sex and don’t. They also simultaneously have a sex drive and don’t. And so on. However most of the time it’s none of your business so be cautious and respectful about how or if you ask.
In my opinion let people share how they came to identify as asexual and what asexual means for them on their own time, if they want to. Until then, consider them a big question mark you aren’t entitled to know everything about.