What is asexuality? For years the definition of asexuality has been misconstrued, leading to incorrect assumptions and damaging stereotypes. Yasmin Benoit is an asexual model, writer and activist trying to bring asexuality and aromanticism into mainstream conversation. As someone who has been openly asexual for the majority of her life, and speaks about asexuality on a public platform, Yasmin has heard a wide range of misconceptions, some of which come from a well-meaning place. Yasmin has created a guide challenging and breaking down some of the most common ones so that we can hopefully hear less of them in the future!
Asexuality is the same as celibacy ✘
Asexuality is often confused with celibacy, because they can manifest in similar ways. Celibacy is the state of voluntarily being unmarried, sexually abstinent, or both, usually for religious reasons. Sure, for many asexual people, their asexuality means that they aren’t interested in having sex. However, that’s a result of their sexuality, it isn’t a lifestyle choice and it isn’t related to religion or social attitudes.
Asexual people have no sexuality ✘
Asexuality is considered as being a type of sexual orientation, or a lack of it. Asexual people experience a lack of sexual desire towards other people. I often phrase it as being a sexual orientation where your sexuality isn’t oriented anywhere. However, that doesn’t mean that asexual people have no sexuality or no sexual feelings whatsoever. Asexual people have hormones like everyone else. It isn’t uncommon for asexual people to masturbate and there are asexual people who still have sex for various reasons. Since asexuality is a spectrum, the ways in which sexuality is experienced can vary in different ways.
Asexuality is a disorder ✘
Like most other non-heteronormative forms of human sexuality, asexuality has been medicalised. The assertion that asexuality is a mental or physical disorder is incredibly harmful to asexual people and has led to false diagnoses, unnecessary medication, and attempts at converting asexual people. The most well-known example of the pathologisation of asexuality is hypoactive sexual desire disorder, which labels a lack of sexual interest in other people as a maladaptive sexual dysfunction that requires treatment. The inclusion of hypoactive sexual desire disorder in the DSM-5 has been widely criticized not just by the asexual community but by medical professionals. Unfortunately, it’s still in there.
Asexual people are anti-sex ✘
There are asexual people who are repulsed by the thought of sex, or by the thought of having sex themselves. I fall into the latter category. However, that attitude does not necessarily extend to what other people are doing. The misconception that asexual people are against other people expressing their sexuality, and that all asexual people can’t stomach conversations about sex, is quite an alienating one. It leads to asexual people being left out of important discussions about sexuality and us being portrayed as dangers to the LGBTQ+ community. It is entirely possible and incredibly common to have sex-positive attitudes and be asexual.
Asexual people just haven’t found the right person yet ✘
The idea that asexual people just need to meet the ‘right person’ who will unlock their sexual desire and ‘fix’ their asexuality is one I’ve always found quite perplexing. It’s an argument that seems to be applied to asexuality more than other orientations. You wouldn’t tell a straight guy that they just “hadn’t met the right man yet,” I’d like to think that most wouldn’t tell a gay guy that they “hadn’t met the right woman yet” either. It suggests that our sexuality is reflective of our company, that no one we have ever seen or encountered has met our standards, and thus we haven’t experienced sexual attraction to the extent that the term ‘asexual’ could be applied.
It ignores and invalidates all of the asexual people who have found the ‘right’ person, the asexual people in happy, fulfilling, loving relationships or have had them in the past. The validity of a relationship is not and should not be based on how sexually attracted you are to that person. This statement also plays into the notion that asexual people are “missing out” on something and haven’t truly discovered our entire selves, that we are incomplete because of our innate characteristics or our life experiences. This isn’t true either.
Asexual people don’t have romantic relationships ✘
This leads me onto this common misconception: that asexual people don’t or can’t have romantic relationships. Sexual attraction and romantic attraction are seen as being so intrinsically linked in our culture that it’s assumed that you can’t experience one without the other, which isn’t the case. The first asexual people I ever met were a married couple. It’s aromantic people who don’t experience romantic attraction, and while there are aromantic-asexual people (like myself), there are lots of asexual people who are still interested in romantic relationships and have them.
There’s an asexual demographic ✘
Even though most people don’t know much about asexuality, they still have quite a specific idea about what asexual people are like. I’ve often heard that, as a black woman and a model, that I don’t look or seem asexual. We’re stereotyped as being awkward white kids who spend too much time on social media and probably aren’t attractive enough to get laid if we wanted to. And if we are attractive enough, then we should tone that down as not to ‘give mixed signals.’ Don’t be too influenced by what you see on social media, where a certain type of person is often the loudest and most visible. Asexual people have varying ages, backgrounds, interests, appearances, and experiences, just like those belonging to any other sexual orientation.
Written by Yasmin Benoit
Feature image by 13th Disciple