Thanet Writers Research Asexuality

Writer and author Matthew Munson researches asexuality and the asexual spectrum on behalf of Thanet Writers.

Image Credit: 
Francisco Goya / Public Domain

Labels for sexuality have existed forever and, as a society, we have a tendency to drill down further and further into smaller subsets. It’s difficult to keep abreast of the different terms within the asexuality sphere, so I’ll be starting this piece with a brief summary of the main labels usually associated with the spectrum. Although it’s not a complete list, it gives a quick overview of the main subsets.

Asexual: Someone who does not experience sexual attraction.

Demisexual: Someone who can only experience sexual attraction after an emotional bond has been formed. This bond does not have to be romantic.

Grey-asexual or grey-sexual: Someone who identifies somewhere between asexuality and sexuality, for example because they experience sexual attraction very rarely, only under specific circumstances, or of an intensity so low that it’s easily ignored.

Aesthetic attraction: Attraction to someone’s appearance, without it being romantic or sexual.

Romantic attraction: Desire to be romantically involved with another person.

Sensual attraction: Desire to have physical non-sexual contact with someone else, like affectionate touching.

Asexuality isn’t the same as being gay, straight, or bisexual. Those labels are representative of the sexual spectrum; if an asexual person is in a relationship, then that doesn’t make them gay, straight, or bisexual. That makes them asexual, as they are in a relationship that can’t change what is fundamental about them—in the same way that a gay man can’t change his sexuality, although he might be able to hide/deny it if he had to.

An asexual person can be attracted to the same sex, opposite sex, both sexes, or neither—almost precisely the same as a sexual person. Some asexuals might call themselves gay, for example, if they are demi or grey-asexual, as it often makes things easier—but when they are single, entirely un-moved by sexuality, and aware that a strong emotional bond will take a while to form before sex is something they will even begin to consider, what do they call themselves? How should they introduce themselves without offering up a ten-minute lecture that might well go entirely over their date’s head?

The following statistic isn’t initially going to sound like a lot, but 1% of the world’s population is on the asexual spectrum. That’s not a huge amount when you compare it to the 99% who aren’t asexual, but think of it another way: 74.4 million people in the world are asexual. Perhaps one or two could feature in a storyline, without causing James Bond’s head to explode. Perhaps the next James Bond could be asexual; he’d certainly be less distracted if he wasn’t as interested in sex, wouldn’t he? Or would he just end up drinking more martinis instead? Something to consider—although James Bond as anything other than a spy and a randy old goat is difficult to imagine.

But it’s also important to realise that asexual people often seek out the community and fellowship of people like them—to discover that they’re not alone and, more importantly, not broken. So, to find other asexuals in a morass of people is sometimes akin to a needle in a haystack, and confusing and worrying as well, so it’s a huge pleasure and relief when a meeting—by chance or design—happens.

Asexuality is different to abstinence and celibacy, which are based on personal or religious choices. Sexual orientation, unlike sexual behaviour, is enduring. Some asexual people engage in sex despite lacking a desire for sex or sexual attraction. This can be for a variety or reason, such as a want to pleasure themselves or romantic partners, or a desire to have biological children.

Acceptance of asexuality as an orientation and field of scientific research is still relatively new. While some researchers assert that asexuality is a sexual orientation, others disagree. I’m one of the dissenters. It is the absence of a sexual orientation, with a spectrum all of its own.

Various asexual communities have started to form since the advent of the internet. The most well-known of these communities is the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), which was founded in 2001 by David Jay. A separate Facebook group, called UK Asexuality, was set up in 2014 for people who…well, I’m sure you can extrapolate.

On the subject of gender, there has always been a connection between a man’s virility and their sexuality; men have known occasions where their gender has been called into question because of their lack of interest in sex. It’s an insulting depiction of masculinity, and an utterly false one; social expectations of gender are entirely constructed, and it’s easily proven; until the early 20th century, pink was considered the de rigeur colour for males. If I asked a man to dress in 19th century fashions with a pink shirt, would that bother them? Either way, they’d be making a value judgement about what defines their sense of self as a man. Same with sexuality; being gay or asexual wouldn’t lessen their standing as a man. How masculine they are isn’t connected to their orientation.

Asexuality can be an interesting plot device, as there is an entire spectrum to play with. Romantic through to utterly disinterested, and everything in between, plus those who fit somewhere and might even engage in sex. How would an asexual seduce someone as a honey trap? With cake and a stiff drink, perhaps? What would inspire an asexual Spiderman if it wasn’t, in part at least, a longing for Mary Jane? If an asexual villain never had to endure the loss of a partner, then would they still be driven to do terrible things?

Asexuality is a normal part of life; 74 million people are on that spectrum, a quiet minority who are your friends, your relatives, your work colleagues, your students, your bosses, your staff…your fellow humans. Humanity is much more than a single, personal experience; it’s a multiplicity of experiences, and our stories would be far more diverse and interesting if we created fiction that wasn’t always driven by romance, or with sexual tension sub-plots. It would make us, as writers, far more interesting.

Thanet-based author Matthew has three novels published by Inspired Quill, is an inveterate blogger, and writing is his passion.

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