Like many other asexual, or ace, individuals, I realized I was asexual after watching the character Todd from “Bojack Horseman” discover his own asexuality and all the possibilities that could mean for his dating and sex life.
Before then, I didn’t even know that asexuality was a sexual orientation that I could identify with.
But the confusion Todd felt surrounding his attraction to others, as well as the pressure he felt to engage in sexual acts despite not wanting to, was deeply relatable to me and my experiences.
I first began watching Todd’s story unfold in 2019, and in the following year — after giving myself the same grace to explore my feelings — I felt comfortable with the “asexual” label. So much so that I decided to come out to a close family member.
Since then, I’ve been learning more about what asexuality is and what it can truly encompass for me.
When I first found out about asexuality, I spent my days in a constant stream of self-reflection.
But as I tried to find a community of my own, I was confronted with assumptions about my identity and attempts to invalidate my experience — from other ace folks.
As you might expect, this kind of gatekeeping often succeeds in pushing people away and fuels harmful stereotypes of who’s “allowed” to be something or identify a certain way.
So, in order to reclaim what I know I’ve felt within myself for so long, I decided to turn my reflection into action.
I sought out books and articles written by other, more validating, ace folks. I talked through my sexuality with people I knew I could trust to listen and offer support.
I also started writing about what I’ve experienced so far, using my journey as a jumping off point to identify what I feel is missing from overall ace community and work to change it.
And one area in particular that all-too-often excludes ace folks is the mainstream sex-positivity movement.
Asexuality has long been a misunderstood sexual orientation. Many people aren’t even aware that a person can be asexual or that asexuality exists on a spectrum like all other sexual orientations.
Not to mention that asexual people can also have sexual libido, a desire to masturbate, watch and enjoy porn, experiment with sexual kinks, engage in romantic relationships, and, yes, even have sex.
This lack of education and understanding can negatively impact people who are asexual but don’t know it, as it did me.
And in turn, when people think of sex positivity, whether as a movement or a personal sentiment, they don’t consider that people who have an aversion to sex can still participate within the sex-positive movement or be a part of the community.
Sexuality is fluid — it isn’t a rigid or binary state of existence. This means that people can be any combination of asexual, aromantic, and sex-positive.
According to Dr. Laura Vowels, a sex and relationships therapist and principal researcher at sex therapy app Blueheart, the sex-positivity movement is “about prioritizing personal agency and choice when it comes to sex and minimizing judgment.”
“The movement aims to challenge harmful social and cultural norms about sex and sexuality,” she says.
She adds that the inspiration for sex positivity typically stems from the idea that some societies view sexual expression as essentially good and healthy, while others have a negative view of sexuality and seek to repress and control libido.
Vowels emphasizes that “a key point is that the sex-positivity movement isn’t just about supporting the act of sex for pleasure, it’s about supporting sexuality.”
In her book “Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex,” Angela Chen writes that “Sexuality is everywhere. In every place that sexuality touches society, asexuality does too.”
So, with that in mind, the sex-positivity movement is one that should especially include people on the ace spectrum — both romantically and sexually — because not doing so is disregarding the true nature of sex and sexuality and how both can impact our lives.
In a heteronormative, sex-driven society, the inherent queerness of not desiring sex and not centering it in one’s life can teach people a lot about attraction, libido, desirability, and so much more.
And in the overall sex-positive movement, including asexuality can begin to normalize both having and not having sex. It can also create space for the idea of sex to be taught in a way that’s healthy and beneficial to all; rather than exploitative, limited, and further influenced by patriarchy.
Growing up, I thought teenagers were supposed to be sex-crazed, and when I wasn’t, I tried to force myself to be.
Pressuring myself to engage in sexual acts before I was ready and when I didn’t really want to ultimately stunted my sexual maturity and harmed my mental health in the long run.
If a movement as influential as that of sex positivity made clear that an aversion to sex is not only an option, but a “normal” one, this could save many adolescents and adults alike from putting themselves in harm’s way just to fit in.
In an article for Stonewall, Alice Olivia Scarlett presumes: “For individuals who have had to fight for their right to have sex with the people they want to, the idea of not wanting to use that privilege might seem ridiculous, dismissive even.”
However, being ace doesn’t mean being anti-sex.
Rather, “when someone chooses to be non-sexual or engage in limited sexual activity, they’re doing so because they’re choosing to prioritize their sexuality and their own mental health, as opposed to feeling obligated to date or have sex with other people because of guilt or social pressure,” explains Vowels.
Asexuality and aromanticism are by no means new concepts. Things like the expansion of the internet and social media have made it easier for other ace people to connect with each other, as well as begin educating allosexual people on the fullness of the asexual experience.
That being said, the sex-positivity movement has some catching up to do. Vowels emphasizes that “there must be [a] greater emphasis on the fact that the movement is about celebrating and supporting the freedom to embrace your sexuality, not just the act of sex.”
Like many others, people who are asexual want to do things like advocate for the rights of sex workers and help make sex education courses more inclusive.
We want women and other marginalized genders to no longer be subjected to shame or stereotypes for daring to have the same sexual libido or desire that a patriarchal society suggests only men should have.
But to do all those things and more, ace people can’t be made to feel as if we don’t belong because being sex-positive is somehow in conflict with our sexual orientation.
Issues and discrimination that asexuals face such as societal erasure, gaslighting, corrective rape, and medical prejudice also have to be an equal part of the fight for sex equality.
Proper education, representation, and advocacy are needed when fighting for justice, visibility, and space for underrepresented communities like the ace community.
Therefore, movements as impactful as sex positivity shouldn’t neglect asexual people who are looking to explore what it can mean for them, because asexuality is not one-size-fits-all nor is being sex-positive.
Upon learning I can be both, I am learning about sex (both personally and through a broader social lens), what and who I desire sexually and romantically, what arouses me, and so much more.
And all of this is happening through a lens of asexuality and without any doubt that doing so somehow makes my identities illegitimate.
Ebony Purks is a graduate student at the University of Incarnate Word working toward getting her degree in communications. She is also a freelance writer and Junior Life Editor at The Tempest. Ebony specializes in writing about pop culture, social justice, and health, especially examining the many intersections between those subjects.