From Monday October 19th to Sunday October 26th is Asexual Spectrum Awareness Week, and at Lancaster we in the LGBTQ+ Association will be helping to raise awareness and celebrate the asexual spectrum and all those who identify under it.
You may have seen variations of LGBT that include an “A”. This, whatever you may have heard, does not stand for “Ally”. It can stand for various identities under the LGBTQ+ umbrella – including “Asexual”.
You may be asking “What is asexuality? Why do LGTBQ keep making up words? Am I asexual?” Well, fear not. Asexuality is very simple to understand. The asexual spectrum sums up the scale of sexual attraction – at one end are sexual people, who experience sexual attraction, and at the other end, asexual people, who do not.
So why are we dedicating a week to it? As with last year, our aim is to raise awareness of common problems asexual people face – a lack of visibility in the media, being misunderstood or disrespected by family and friends, and feeling unsupported.
To help understand asexuality a bit more, we should discuss the different types of attractions people can experience:
Sexual Attraction – This is when you desire sex with a specific person. As previously stated, it’s on a spectrum, with sexual people (also called allosexual), who fully experience sexual attraction, on one end and asexual people, who experience no sexual attraction, on the other. In the middle you have many people, including grey-asexuals, as they lie in the grey area between sexuality and asexuality. People in this grey area can also identify as demisexual – only experiencing sexual attraction when a deep emotional connection is established.
Romantic Attraction – This is a spectrum of whether you are romantically attracted to someone – whether you want to have a romantic relationship with them. Romantic people, who experience this attraction, lie on one end, and aromantic people, who do not experience this attraction, on the other. As with sexual attraction, there are people in the middle of the spectrum who experience romantic attraction some of the time, to a small extent, or only in specific circumstances.
Sensual Attraction – This is a more specific spectrum of wanting to engage in sensory, but non-sexual actions with a person; this can include hugging, kissing or holding hands. These kinds of actions do not always imply a romantic relationship, which is why this is a separate spectrum to romantic attraction.
Aesthetic Attraction – This is a spectrum which concerns specifically visible attraction. We often discuss whether something is “aesthetically pleasing”, and when applied to people that is a form of attraction. It is completely possible to think that someone looks nice without feeling any other form of attraction to them.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s clear up some common misconceptions:
Myth 1: Asexuals are “broken”. Asexuality does not mean that anything is wrong with someone – it is simply something that differs between people. Many asexual people end up feeling broken because of how often media focuses on sexual relationships, but you should not treat them in this way.
Myth 2: Asexuals do not have relationships. Asexuals can and sometimes do choose to enter relationships. Relationships are not centred around sexual attraction, but develop based on a range of factors. Some asexual people may also be aromantic, which means they do not experience romantic attraction (wanting to be in a relationship with someone), but many other asexual people do experience romantic attraction so they may wish to have romantic relationships.
Myth 3: Asexuals do not have sex. While asexual people do not experience sexual attraction (wanting to have sex with someone) they are able to have sex, and some asexual people do choose to have and enjoy sex both inside and outside of romantic relationships.
Myth 4: Asexuals don’t exist. We can assure you that several asexual people were involved with this campaign, but most people haven’t heard of asexuality because it’s rarely mentioned in the media, as most characters in TV shows and film are paired together romantically or sexually, with characters very rarely defining as asexual. This is one of the issues asexual people face, and it is known as erasure, because their existence and experiences are erased by the media.
Myth 5: Asexuality and celibacy are the same. This is categorically not true. People can choose to be celibate (not have sex) for a variety of reasons, including religion, a desire for a long-term relationship or more commitment, or simply not being interested in sex, and everyone has the right to choose when they have sex and be fully respected in that decision. Celibacy is a choice, unlike asexuality which, like any sexual orientation, is not a choice. Asexual people can choose whether or not to have sex, just like everyone else, but they can’t choose whether or not to experience sexual attraction; sexual attraction is not a choice, but sexual behaviour is.
Myth 6: Asexuals aren’t fun. Asexuality does not make someone boring, any more than being a virgin makes someone boring. Sex is not the be-all and end-all of having fun. Asexual people can be as sociable and cheerful as anybody else.
How should I be a good ally?
So after all this, what should you do to be a good ally – not just during an awareness week, but to asexual people you may know all year-round?
If you’re not asexual, and someone you know identifies as asexual, treat them the same way you would anyone else – don’t ask private questions they aren’t comfortable answering. If someone you know comes out to you as asexual, be accepting, and treat them normally, and ask if there are topics they’d rather not discuss with you, as some asexual people are made uncomfortable by conversations about sex – but beyond this, there’s no reason to treat them any differently than before.
Discuss asexuality with your friends and family – let them know about it and talk about the misconceptions if they’ve not heard about them, and challenge media perceptions. Support your friends on the ace spectrum and ensure that they have space to express themselves and feel free of judgment.
What should I do if I think I’m on the Asexual Spectrum/How do I know I’m not Asexual?
If you suspect that you might be asexual, don’t worry – there are lots of people who are, and there will be people on campus to talk to about it. We suggest looking into the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) http://www.asexuality.org/home/ and other online resources. If you want to talk to someone in the LGBTQ+ Association, check the welfare section of our website for contact details.