This personal essay is part of an ongoing series, “My Sexual Truth,” representing the many diverse perspectives that exist on sex and relationships.
You ever have those conversations where you casually bring up the fact that you don’t like something generally accepted as cool, like ice cream or Breaking Bad?
Inevitably, the person you’re talking to will try to convince you you’re wrong, or that you should give it another chance. Those conversations are tedious, but usually last no more than a minute before both parties decide it’s too trivial to argue over.
Now, imagine if that conversation never ended. That’s pretty much my life not liking sex.
Lots of people call me asexual which, by most definitions, means not having sexual desire or attraction. Sex is something I have never wanted, and something that I have not, and hopefully will never, do—neither recreationally, nor to have children. But I don’t really like the term “asexual” because of how quickly things change and how fluid sexuality is.
To me, it’s so much more than that. It’s constant feelings of confusion, self-doubt and guilt every time I feel arousal, attraction or desire. I find that I rarely think about or fantasize about sex, but often envision a romantic life in which I’m living with a partner. Since I’m attracted exclusively to women, I identify as heteroromantic. But because the lines between this type of attraction and sexual attraction are so thin, self-doubt always rules my mind when it comes to girls.
(Editor’s note: there is some dispute among sexuality experts over the reason and parameters of asexuality, but researchers have estimated that roughly 1% of the population is asexual.)
This was hugely controversial for me growing up on Long Island, a place I would characterize as a white conservative paradise away from the melting pot of New York City. It felt like sex was the ultimate goal for boys in their teens and twenties. Anyone who had sex was immediately promoted to a step above everyone else who was still a virgin.
My first exposure to sex was forced on me in the weird way it is for all boys who grow up in suburbia. I went to a friend’s house when I was 11 or so, and while his mother was out, he randomly started playing porn on his backroom computer. He said somebody we went to school with showed it to him and that it was “sick.”
I immediately felt repulsed. It felt violent and wrong. Not in the Catholic guilt way, but like I couldn’t physically watch it without vomiting. I pleaded with him to stop, so I wouldn’t have to look away while he watched porn in front of me. He didn’t stop.
About a year later, I was on the bus going home when a kid started pestering everyone about their sexuality. I made the mistake of telling him I didn’t care, so he uttered the worst possible insult to any boy on Long Island under 20: “gay.” To defend my honor I said I wasn’t queer, to which he snapped back, “So you like to fuck girls?”
Naively, I answered sincerely. Instead of defending my masculinity, which would have been the “smart” move in that situation, I said, “No. I don’t like fucking girls.” A back and forth over whether I was gay continued until, ultimately, he concluded that if I didn’t want to fuck men or women, I must have been sexually attracted to aliens. I felt helpless to stave off this humiliation from an 11-year-old kid in front of my own brother and neighbors.
As I grew up, those “ew. gross” discussions evolved into people trying to find justification for why I was still a virgin. People said everything from “you haven’t met the right person yet”; to “you’re just depressed”; to one AP Psychology student being absolutely convinced that I had low dopamine levels in my brain, despite knowing little else about who I was, much less the ability to make an advanced medical diagnosis.
Just a few days ago, one of my dearest friends embarrassed me in a crowd with a “wait, you still haven’t gotten laid?” despite knowing that I just have no interest in sex. Even people I’ve confided in deeply, about how awful life is in my position, still make the time to bust a joke every now and then for a cheap laugh from our group.
Still, it has definitely gotten better since high school. People have grown out of being gross teenage boys and are generally more accepting of “alternative sexual lifestyles” (for lack of a better term) outside the standard LGBT definitions. But while I hoped I would eventually find new, more accepting, more queer communities, and that those expectations and quizzical expressions would start to go away, they never did.
The same people who march in the streets, rightfully shouting that sexuality is nobody’s business, end up hitting me with the recurring “maybe you just haven’t met the right person” suggestion. I say this not to dismiss their struggle, but to explain just how deeply ingrained sexuality is into our society. Even the people taking up arms against sexual norms still find it confusing when somebody just doesn’t like sex.
For this reason, some asexual people who feel like they belong in an LGBT+ categorization refer to themselves as the “invisible queer.” I personally don’t feel entitled to the label, because as a heteromantic white male, the discrimination I face is nowhere near as perilous as the dangers faced by people who are attracted to members of the same sex.
But it’s still difficult. And even if the science says that one percent of the people I meet are going to be kinda like me, it feels like so much less than that. In my entire life, I’ve met maybe four or five other people who identify as asexual, so it feels much bleeker.
I tell myself it’ll be ok. Even if there are days where the sexual world feels stacked against me, the masculinity and sexual obsession that plagued my peers in our teenage days have, for the most part, faded away. I grow a little more comfortable every day with who I am, and although it might sound cliché and a terribly uninnovative way to end a story of negativity, that’s what really matters.
James Grottola is a writer based in New York. You can follow him on Twitter @yadingoid
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