When Catherine Esperanza was going through puberty, she never had a crush. Not on any of the kids at school. Not on a celebrity. Friends in middle school and high school began to date, but Esperanza never wanted a sexual relationship with anyone.
“I did not understand why I was so different from my peers,” said Esperanza, now 26. “I just assumed that I was just too serious to have silly childhood crushes, but things would be different when I met ‘the one.'”
Finding “the one” would not end up being the panacea she hoped for in her youth. What Esperanza eventually discovered was she identified as asexual, a sexual orientation in which a person experiences little to no sexual attraction to other people. Asexuality exists on a spectrum, and while some people who identify as asexual don’t desire sex, many do. Identifying as asexual doesn’t mean you don’t have a sex drive, don’t have a high libido or don’t fall in love.
“When I discovered my asexual identity, it just clicked, I had never felt so comfortable in my own skin,” Esperanza said. “I no longer saw myself as ‘weird’ or ‘broken,’ I’m asexual – ace – and it is beautiful and normal.”
Sex educators say people who identify as asexual don’t have a sexual disorder. Misconceptions like this, they say, reflect a limited understanding of sexuality, sex and even attraction. USA TODAY spoke with Esperanza and Aubri Lancaster, a sex educator who focuses on asexuality and aromanticism, to dispel myths about asexuality.
Question: What is asexuality?
Aubri Lancaster: Asexuality is a sexual orientation where the person experiences little to no sexual attraction to other people.
Catherine Esperanza: It’s a spectrum. It can vary in terms of what that lack of sexual attraction means. It could be a total lack of sexual attraction, or sometimes it’s only in certain contexts that you actually experience it. Like, for example, being demisexual you only experience it after developing a deep, emotional bond. If you identify as graysexual maybe sometimes you experience it, and other times you don’t. But broadly it’s a sexual orientation related to a lack of consistent sexual attraction, which is different from sexual behavior or sexual desire or libido, which you can have even if you’re asexual.
Q: What is aromanticism?
Lancaster: It’s a romantic orientation where a person experiences little to no romantic attraction to other people.
Esperanza: You can think of it like, there’s sexual attraction, but there’s also other forms of attraction, one being romantic attraction. So someone who’s aromantic experiences a lack of romantic attraction, or is on the spectrum where they don’t experience it frequently or consistently.
Q: How are asexuality and aromanticism related?
Lancaster: There are a number of different kinds of attraction: sexual attraction, romantic attraction, but also platonic attraction, aesthetic attraction, sensual attraction. Sexual attraction is basically the super intense urge to have sex with another person. And romantic attraction is basically limerence, which is kind of the crush, but the crush with an intense need for the person to love you back. For a lot of people, sex and love are intertwined in that sense. For some people, they experience sexual attraction, but they don’t experience that romantic attraction. And for others, they experience that romantic desire, but it’s not connected with sex.
Esperanza: We often talk about a split attraction model to be able to say, “I don’t experience this type of attraction, but I do experience this one.”
Q: Can asexual people enjoy sex?
Lancaster: One of the biggest myths revolves around people thinking that asexuality is just not wanting sex. Or that it’s an aspect of libido. And it’s not.
Esperanza: It really depends on the person. There are plenty of asexual people who want to be in relationships and have sex and they enjoy it. But often when they come out to someone as asexual, especially in a relationship, their partner is like, “oh, well you don’t want to have sex with me. I don’t want to be with you.” But some asexuals do enjoy sex. … There are others who don’t ever want to have sex, have zero desire in it. For others, it just kind of depends on the day. The common denominator is just that they don’t experience consistent sexual attraction.
There was a funny time when I came out as asexual on a date and the other person said “so you’re like dead fish during sex then?” I tried to explain that asexuality is just about sexual attraction, not sexual enjoyment nor sex drive/interest, but they couldn’t get past the idea of dead fish.
Q: If someone thinks they may be asexual, what do they need to know?
Lancaster: Self-exploration is a challenge for everybody. But the more we make asexuality visible and aromanticism visible, the more people are going to see that and start to understand it and recognize if there is something about that that they see in themselves. As far as helping them along the path, it really is just a lot of dispelling myths.
Esperanza: There is a lot of distress about being asexual in a predominantly allosexual (someone who consistently experiences attraction toward other people) world. You may feel different or weird. For people who are questioning their identity, like, “am I asexual, am I not?” know that you are welcome in asexual spaces. It’s OK if you’re questioning or unsure. At some point, a lot of people question or wonder about their sexual orientations and romantic orientations. That is totally fine.
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