When I was 12, a group of adults from an abstinence-only education program came to speak at my school. At the end of their lecture, they asked us to sign our names on a sheet of paper that read something along the lines of, “I pledge to remain abstinent until marriage” and “abstinence is cool!”
Many of my friends crumpled their pledges into paper balls and had a free-throw contest using the classroom garbage can as their basketball hoop. I saved my sheet of paper and took it home.
Sex didn’t mean anything to me. I didn’t understand it or what it felt like to desire it, and, according to my teachers and the adults who gave the lecture, signing the pledge was the mark of a “good” kid. I refused to break rules, and if abstaining from sex was a guideline set before me, I would adhere to it no matter what — especially when the decision seemed obvious. Why would I engage in something I didn’t even want or care about? Pairing sex with marriage — an abstract concept I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about for years — also relegated sex to a future, adult me who, I assumed, would understand why and how to incorporate sex into their life.
Now, at 25, I understand that sex is an inherent part of the equation of most people’s lives. Sexuality is a driving force, a lens through which many people see the world. People go to bars and clubs in order to meet someone to go home with; they sign up for dating sites and hook-up apps like Grindr to find people to have sex with within a five-mile radius; they dress a certain way or wear certain products to feel sexier, and occasionally to grab the attention of people they’re attracted to.
For many, the question is one of when they will have sex, rather than if they ever want to have it at all.
Sex does not fit comfortably into my life. It never has. In my late teenage years, I blew off the idea of saving sex for marriage not because I wanted to have sex, but because I could neither imagine myself married nor ever wanting or having sex at all. I started to think that something was wrong with me for not understanding the desire to have sex — something that I labeled “intimacy issues.” I’m not sure where I got the phrase: Google, “Grey’s Anatomy” or the depths of my own sad brain.
On the rare occasion that I had a crush on anyone, I mostly dreamed of holding hands with them, kissing them and just spending time with them. Thinking about having sex with them was not something that came naturally to me. I tried to force the thoughts into being, but they were always uncomfortable. I came to think of myself as defective. Why was I the only person I knew who didn’t want to have sex, who didn’t seek it out and who avoided it on the very rare occasions in which the opportunity to have it presented itself?
I never talked to anyone about my feelings (or lack thereof) about sex. I figured that one magical day in the future, everything would click, so I stayed quiet and didn’t tell anyone about my “problem.”
At 20 I fell into a relationship I initially viewed as my induction into normalcy, but my desire to have sex with this one person did not translate to the desire to have sex in general. I’d thought that having and enjoying sex for the first time, and on a regular basis, would “fix” me; that I would see the light and awaken to a brand new world in which I would become a sexual being, but it didn’t. Sex remained an abstract concept that I could not apply to my life outside of this relationship. And after this person and I broke up, I was more confused about my relationship to sex than ever.
In the years since my first (and last) relationship, I have desperately tried to understand sex, to understand what my issues with sex are, to understand why thinking about having sex with almost anyone makes my nose wrinkle and my torso tense. I came up empty almost every time.
Then, last year, after coming across discussion about asexuality on the Internet, I sat with the term for a few days. I’d thought that asexual people never wanted to have sex and never had sex, whereas I’d had sex and enjoyed it. What did that make me?
But after reading more information on asexuality in addition to personal anecdotes written by asexual people, I learned that the definition of asexuality has nothing to do with how much sex one does or does not have. Asexuality is simply a sexual orientation defined by a lack of sexual attraction.
I couldn’t believe that I was only just learning this at 24, that my whole life could have been framed differently had I known more about asexuality when I was 12. I didn’t have to grow up thinking I was broken. I didn’t have to grow up forcing myself to think about having sex, as though that would make me “normal.” I have always been enough.
When it comes to being a person who is asexual but who sometimes enjoys sex, I still have a lot of unpacking to do. The circumstances under which I will or will not have sex vary; the circumstances under which I will enjoy sex are even harder to pin down.
The most important thing to me is that I now have a framework for my sexuality, and I can now understand my desires (or lack thereof) and myself better. I don’t need to do what it seems like everyone else is doing in order to lead a full life. Fullness and fulfillment can only be reached when I am true to myself.