By Leah Himlie
It is estimated that 1-2% of the human population has red hair. The same percentage is estimated for the number of people who have green eyes, and lastly, the same percentage is estimated for the number of people who identify as asexual. Despite the first two statistics being perceived as valid, true statements, many people invalidate or are ignorant of asexuals. Asexuality Awareness Week was last week, but people either still don’t know about the orientation or they say that since asexuals make up only 1% of the population, they are “making it up for attention.” The thing is, even just 1% of 7 billion is 70 million. That adds up to between 70 and 140 million people who identify as asexual.
What does it mean when people say they are asexual? No, it doesn’t mean they can reproduce like a plant. It means that they do not feel sexual attraction toward anyone. While straight people feel sexual attraction to those of the opposite gender and gay people feel sexually attracted to those of the same gender, asexual people feel sexually attracted to no one, no matter what their gender is. Asexuality is not abstinence because most people who practice abstinence still feel sexual attraction. They may think things such as, “That person is sexy,” but deliberately choose not to do anything about it. For asexuals, that attraction isn’t there, so they don’t have to actively choose to turn away sex. They never desired it to begin with.
Just because people identify as asexual doesn’t mean they can’t have sex. They can have sex, and they can even like it. Sexuality is about attraction, not action. If a gay man has straight sex, he is still gay if he identifies as gay. In addition, just because some people don’t experience sexual attraction doesn’t mean they can’t experience romantic or sensual attraction. They can. Asexuals can have varying romantic orientations just like people who do feel sexual attraction, also known as allosexuals. If sex without love is possible, then love without sex must be possible too.
In the society where sex is considered part of “what makes us human,” asexual people often do not feel like they can come out and talk about it. They are ridiculed and told things like, “You just haven’t found the right person yet,” and “You’re just a late-bloomer.” Those statements are hurtful and invalidating. If asexual people believe them unconditionally, they may keep waiting and waiting for the understanding of this foreign concept to descend upon them. When it never does, they may feel broken, shamed, or inhuman because they’ve been told, “Sex is a human thing,” too many times. The asexual may wonder what is wrong with them even though there is nothing wrong. They may become confused and feel isolated from everyone else; a special kind of isolated because even though asexuality is included in the LGBTQIA+ community, many exclusionists call heteroromantic asexuals “straight.” This is hurtful and can make asexuals feel like they’re “too straight to be gay, but too gay to be straight.” That mentality is toxic because it implies there are “levels of gayness” or that being asexual is “faking gay”; neither of which are true. The word gay can be used as an umbrella term for all non-heterosexual, non-heteroromantic, and non-cisgender individuals. In order to be straight, one must be heterosexual, heteroromantic, and cisgender. Asexuals are not heterosexual; therefore, they are not straight.
This is why asexual awareness is needed. Coming out as asexual shouldn’t be a vocabulary lesson. It shouldn’t immediately result in the person they’re coming out to trying to convince them they are wrong about their own label. It should not be an excuse for people to ask inappropriate, personal questions. No one should spend middle school, high school, and beyond believing they are broken or inhuman or don’t belong in this world. Asexuality Awareness Week is celebrated so that people who may feel this way know they are not alone. There are at least 70 million people who don’t feel sexual attraction. That many people is not a mistake. They exist. They are real. They are valid.
Leah Himlie is a student at Rushford-Peterson High School. She is one of eight area students participating in the Journal Writing Project, now in its 20th year.