Asexual and aromantic: Redefining the normalcy of sex and desire
By: Sydney Khoo
My parents didn’t let me start dating until I was in university. Terrified of disappointing them, I waited until I was eighteen and in my first year of undergrad. Up until that point, the gender of a person didn’t sway my attraction to them, so I assumed I was attracted to all genders.
I hadn’t been able to bring myself to use the labels ‘bisexual’ or ‘pansexual’ because neither of them felt right to me. I felt like both of them implied sex was an option, whereas sex never felt like something I was willing to offer in a relationship.
I wanted it to be clear that sex wasn’t, and might never be, on the table. So I identified as celibate.
To my surprise, even with sex off the table, it wasn’t all that hard to find someone nice to date. To my dismay, dating isn’t all I hyped it up to be. It didn’t take long for me to realise I hate it. Not the person I’m with, but the entire concept of being in a long-term relationship. Hanging out, talking, getting to know someone on an emotional level, that was all fine, but the concept of being someone’s ‘other half’ was repulsive to me.
It occurred to me that if I wanted to start working in Hong Kong or move to Japan for two years, I would have to consider this other human being’s feelings and plans. It was claustrophobic. I had spent eighteen years of my life being stuck in a box filled with such little wiggle room among my parents’ wishes and expectations that it was a liberating relief when I was finally free. I realised I’d only replaced their expectations with a significant other’s.
After eleven months, my first romantic relationship becomes my last.
In 2010, I stumbled upon the term ‘asexual’ on Twitter. The TV show Sherlock had just been released and there was an uproar on social media about Sherlock’s sexuality. The definition on Asexual.org was the same then as it is now:
Asexual: a person who does not experience sexual attraction.
I figured the term couldn’t apply to me because I experience sexual desire and I like orgasms. In my head, masturbation was the biggest ‘fuck you’ to the world’s insistence that a partner is necessary for sexual satisfaction.
And yet, for years, I kept coming back to it. I think a part of me hoped I’d misunderstood, that there was some sort of loophole I could sneak in under. I wanted, so desperately, to find a community of people who felt like me, who didn’t want sex with other people but enjoyed sex alone.
It’s distressingly lonely feeling like you’re weird or broken, like there’s no box you fit in because you’re so outside the realm of normalcy that there’s no one else who feels the way you do.
When I was 23, a friend online told me in no uncertain terms that just because I masturbate, doesn’t mean I can’t be asexual. It’s strange how such a small piece of information can be life-changing.
I later learn sexual desire refers specifically to the desire for sexual activity, while sexual attraction refers to the desire to engage in sexual activity with another person. To put it in cruder terms, sexual desire means ‘I’m horny’, whereas sexual attraction means ‘I’m horny for another person’.
Indeed, it’s entirely possible for asexuals to experience sexual desire. In fact, asexuals don’t have to experience sexual attraction to have sex. It’s common for an asexual person to participate in sexual activity for any number of personal reasons, the same way a heterosexual person might have sex for different reasons.
So, finally, at the age of 23, I climb out of the celibate box and into the asexual one. It’s important to note that there’s a difference between sexual attraction and romantic attraction. While sexual attraction is the desire to have sexual relations with someone, romantic attraction is the desire to have romance.
It’s not uncommon for a person’s sexual orientation and romantic orientation to be different. While someone might be sexually attracted to all genders, they might only want to date one of those genders.
Sometimes a person’s sexual and romantic orientations are the same. A heterosexual can be heteroromantic. In the same way, an asexual can be aromantic. It’s embarrassing how long it took me to figure out that I tick both boxes.
Right now, I’m 26 and my parents are adamant that I not close the lid of my box. Ironically, I think they’re worried I’ll end up single and alone. They’re insistent that I’ll meet ‘the right person’ who will ‘change my mind’ and convince me to climb out of my box and into another.
To be fair, they could be right. There’s a chance I could be demisexual or demiromantic. There’s a chance I’ll meet someone, and after spending enough time with them, decide I want to date them. After a while, I might even want to sleep with them.
There’s also a chance I won’t. There’s a chance I know myself better than my parents do – that the two people who raised me have no idea what gets me off and what turns me on. There’s a chance that I might never experience sexual or romantic attraction because I’m just not built that way.