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An Asexual’s Lack of Words
I have spent A LOT of time looking for the words to describe my sexuality. Often, this endeavour has failed because I did not possess and was not provided with the proper words. As such, many situations have been defined by an unsatisfying lack of words.
I believe this word-lacking is recognisable to many asexuals. As a newly emerging sexual orientation, we have had to invent our own words and to redefine phrases to suit us. Lacking words is confusing and self-destabilising. However, to me, it has been a driving force as well; it has motivated me to work to increase people’s awareness of asexuality and to expand our vocabularies, lest others feel confused and alienated.
I want to cover a few of the instances, where I lacked the proper words.
To me, these instances exemplify how it is sometimes difficult to articulate asexual experiences.
At first, I lacked the word to describe my sexuality. Entering my teenage years, it wasn’t difficult to notice that my peers experienced a sudden interest in sex. I did learn to appreciate flirting and cuddling, and to feel a certain pride when hooking up (i.e. snuggling) with someone at parties. However, I never felt any desire “to go further”.
Quickly, I felt odd. For a while, I told myself that I, too, would eventually have sexual urges. It was hard to convince myself, though. I certainly didn’t experience sexual attraction to either boys or girls (I luckily grew out of this binary thinking). As such, the words I knew, i.e. “heterosexual”, “homosexual” and “bisexual”, didn’t fit.
At the age of fourteen, I had a very fortunate epiphany. I decided to see what would happen if I added the negating prefix “a-“ to “sexual”, and I typed it into Google.
The first hit was Asexuality Visibility and Education Network. I browsed the website, read countless posts on the forum pages. I was baffled. Here, people gathered around a word I felt I had just made up.
Asexual. The posts on the forum told stories of people having experiences that mirrored my own.
Asexual. I no longer lacked a word to describe my sexuality.
That said, he word “asexual” has never been enough to make sense of my emotional and physical experiences, and at times, it has been challenging to reconcile “asexual” with these experiences.
I lacked the words to describe the desire I had to be closer to certain people in a manner that didn’t fit with the conventional understanding of the term “friendship”. In other words, I fell in love. The asexual community had already come up with a word, I could use: Romantic orientation. I could even add whatever prefix I desired.
I lacked the words to reconcile certain physical sensations with the concept of asexuality. A few days every month, my reproductive parts demanded attention. I would spontaneously get wet, ticklish and very responsive to touch. At some point, I learned to call this sexual arousal. But why would I – an asexual – get sexually aroused? It wasn’t correlated with a desire for sex. It wasn’t even triggered by sexual motifs. In time, I experienced this sensation while cuddling and kissing. Doubt grew in my mind whether I was truly asexual, though I still had absolutely no desire for sex. I was left feeling alienated from my body. With the words at my disposal, I couldn’t match my mental state and the physical sensations. No one seemed to frame this physical sensation outside the sexual sphere. It seemed to be unimaginable to have this feeling without sexual desire.
I couldn’t familiarise myself with my body until I happened upon a TEDTalk by Emily Nagoski on unwanted sexual arousal. This taught me the distinction between mental and physiological arousal and arousal non-concordance.
Today, I lack the words to articulate my motivation to be sexually active with my current partner. In presentations (mine and others’), “to please a partner” is often mentioned as a reason why asexuals are willing to have sex. However, that phrase seems unfit to cover why I have sex. I could say I do it to please my partner. However, this isn’t the full truth. And it seems to indicate I’m willing to have sex in spite of being asexual or even though I would rather not. Which is not true. I could say I have sex, because I want to. And to some extent, yes. However, it seems to indicate I feel a desire to have sex. Which is not true. There is no independent desire in me to have sex, and I feel no more sexual attraction than before.
Thus, I’m still struggling to find words, and I suppose it’ll take time before I possess them all.