While Miranda, Samantha, Charlotte and Carrie may have perfected it, they were not the only ones who spent lunches gossiping about their sex lives. College students and young adults are almost expected to be sexual. And if they are not, even then they are just waiting until marriage to hop in the sack. That is why awkward looks are not uncommon to Andrew Gray, a 27-year-old Lansing resident, who gets them every time he tries to explain that he has never had sex and he has no desire to.
Throughout both high school and college Gray felt completely alone while his friends dated and formed sexual relationships. While searching for answers to his disinterest toward those activities, Gray found a forum on the Web addressing the topic of asexuality. “It felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders,” Gray said. “I suddenly had a community of people that I could relate to, many of them having had the same feelings of aloneness growing up. The forum gave me a group of people that I could confide in while not having to answer a million questions.”
[Gray]The Web site that Gray stumbled upon was www.asexuality.org, which currently hosts the world’s largest online asexual community as well as a large archive of resources on asexuality. The Web site also known as the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, or AVEN, was developed in 2001 to help create an open, honest discussion about asexuality among sexual and asexual people alike. Gray and those like him are a newer phenomenon of people who are asexual – that is they feel no or very little desire to engage in sexual activity.
The founder of the AVEN Web site, David Jay, 24, started the site because like Gray, he wanted to find other people like him. “Before I started the Web site there was no place for asexuals to go and feel like they weren’t completely alone,” he said. “This isn’t an easy society to go asexual in unless there is a place to say, this is OK, such as the site, where people can talk about their experiences.”
Gray said living in a society where marketing often centers around the ideas of lust in relation to sex can make it hard for asexuals to feel like their desire not to have sex is normal. “Society depicts sexual desire as a common interest that everyone has,” he said. “This makes it extremely difficult to come out to someone, letting them know that sex isn’t something that you’re interested in. People just don’t understand why I wouldn’t want to have sex because they’ve grown up with the assumption that it’s something everyone does and everyone enjoys.”
The AVEN Web site makes it clear that sex is not something everyone does and enjoys. Jay’s site boasts over 12,000 members who create a dialog around the subject of asexuality. The site also helps to answer some questions about asexuality. “I think the biggest misconception about asexuality is that we aren’t capable of forming intimate relationships,” Jay said.
Sexual or nonsexual, all relationships are made up of the same basic stuff, according to the AVEN Web site. Communication, closeness, fun, humor, excitement and trust all happen just as much in sexual relationships as in nonsexual ones. Many asexual people experience attraction, but feel no need to act out that attraction sexually. Instead they feel the desire to get to know someone, to get close to them in whatever way works best for them. Asexual people, who experience attraction will often be attracted to a particular gender and like those who are sexual, will identify as gay, bi or straight.
Jay, who has been involved in both gay and straight relationships, has never felt the need to have sex, and developed a sense of connecting with people in other ways, he said. “Sex is one way to show you love someone, one way to have fun with someone, one great thing that you can do in a relationship,” Jay said. “But it’s not the only thing you can do.”
Even though Gray is not attracted to women sexually, he is still attracted to them in a romantic way. “I still like to be affectionate with people,” he said. “I still hug, kiss and cuddle with the people that I date, but I never feel the urge to take it to the next level.”
Dating can often be challenging to asexuals, according to the AVEN Web site. “When asexuals date the friendship and dating lines can get really blurred,” Jay said. “You don’t have the sexual relationships here and the nonsexual relationships there, to define who you are or aren’t dating. So it tends to be a fuzzy line with relationships somewhere in the middle.”
The possibilities for non-sexual intimacy are vast. Some asexuals enjoy physical closeness, perhaps cuddling or stroking, while others express intimacy through talking, and making each other laugh, according to the AVEN Web site.
Some asexuals, instead of establishing one-on-one romantic relationships, prefer to connect with the people around them in a community-based intimacy framework, establishing emotional intimacy with other people (including sexuals) without forming expectations of sexual or emotional exclusivity. For asexuals who are comfortable with this setup, it can alleviate the biggest source of tension in a standard mixed relationship because the sexual person can have their sexual needs met elsewhere.
Gray, who hopes to find someone to spend the rest of his life with, finds it hard to create long term relationships because there is so much emphasis on a healthy relationship involving sex, he said.
Gray is currently dating Lansing resident Rachel Erikson, 25, who respects the fact that Gray is asexual, but isn’t asexual herself. “Andrew and I have been dating on and off for about three months now but we aren’t in an exclusive relationship,” Erikson said. “He is definitely someone that I could see myself settling down with but there would have to be give and take on both of our ends to make something long term work.” She admits that at some point they may need to discuss how his asexuality and her needs will play into their relationship, but for now, they are taking things slow.
The tension between the sexual partner’s expectations and the asexuals partner’s needs can be very difficult to work with in some relationships, and many asexuals consider success so unlikely that they prefer not to date sexuals at all. But successful mixed relationships do exist, according to the AVEN Web site. Some of these relationships are completely sexless; in others, the asexual partner ‘compromises’ by having sex occasionally under certain circumstances.
[Jay2]Another point the AVEN Web site stresses is that unlike celibacy, which is a choice, asexuality is a sexual orientation. The site also notes that people do not need sexual arousal to be healthy, but in a minority of cases lack of arousal can be the symptom of a more serious medical condition. It warns readers that if they do not experience sexual arousal or if they suddenly lose interest in sex they should probably check with a doctor to be safe. Very little research has been done on asexuality as opposed to the other sexual orientations so much speculation exists.
The definition of asexuality does have it critics, most of whom work in the medical field. Although psychologists cannot argue with the fact that the amount of people who identify as an asexual is on the rise, some do question whether it is their sexual orientation that makes them have no desire for sex or an imbalance of hormones, which can be adjusted. Others in the medical field worry that the body could be sending a message that is being slipped under the radar because many illnesses have symptoms that that include loss of sexual appetite.
Critics of asexuality say that not enough research has been done – and place blame on a number of factors including repression, physiology, psychology or something as simple as waiting for the right person. But asexuals say that they are happy being who they are.
Sex sells. Everyone knows that. So that is why asexuals often have a hard time selling themselves to a society that has barely heard of them. Asexuals only ask for a little open-mindedness when considering their position on sexuality – even if their position does not technically include a sexual one.