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Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009

Asexuality: The Invisible Sexual Orientation

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­­I have had sex a couple dozen times 15-20 years ago. I don't remember it being very good. But there is a lot of talk about it, from Viagra ads to articles like yours. Am I missing something? I don't feel the need. Is there something wrong with me?

Thank you for asking this question. As you mention, our culture is saturated with sexual images and innuendo, and much of our advertising, entertainment and political scandals revolve around the idea that everyone wants to get laid, making those of us who aren't interested in sex feel abnormal. I don't think that there's anything wrong with you, and as long as you are happy with your life and your relationships, I don't think you're missing anything.

Over the past ten years or so, a growing community of people have begun to identify as "asexual." Asexuality is defined as having no sexual attraction to other people and is viewed as a sexual orientation or sexual identity, similar to being heterosexual, bisexual, or gay. One of the best-known resources for asexual people is the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), which hosts forums, a newsletter, meetups, and links to other resources at www.asexuality.org. Online communities such as AVEN can be extremely helpful in combatting the invisibility of asexual people in our hyper-sexual society.

Just as with straight or queer people, asexuals are an extremely diverse group. Some asexuals are married or in long-term, fulfilling romantic relationships, while others prefer to be alone. It's important to remember that sex is just one component of a romatic relationship and not jump to the erroneous conclusion that a person who feels no sexual attraction to others can't feel emotionally connected either. Some asexuals may have sex with others (as you describe in your question), some may masturbate, and others may not engage in any sexual behavior.

Being asexual is different than having sexual attractions to others and choosing not to act on them, which is known as celibacy. It's also different than not having sexual contact with others due to shyness or lack of opportunity. Asexuality is about, as you say, not feeling the need to have sex. While this may be hard for some sexual people to understand, it's perfectly normal and healthy, as long as asexual people are not pressured to be sexual and feel accepted by their family and friends.

I don't know if, after reading more about it, you would choose to identify as asexual, and I would never apply that label to someone who didn't self-identify that way. My answer to your question is not meant to tell you that you're asexual, but asexuality was the first thing that I thought of when reading your question, and I hope that this information is helpful to you or others who feel the same way. Whether or not you end up using the term "asexual" to describe yourself, the bottom line is that your feelings are normal, and your question has helped to get the word out that it's OK to not feel the need to have sex with others.

Laura Anne Stuart owns theTool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee's East Side. She has a master's degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

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