It was a day like any other: My abuelita picked my sister and me up from our school in San Francisco, and we were taking a stroll around our Latine neighborhood before going home. While heading into a tiendita to buy fig bars, a man near the entrance looked me up and down and started touching himself. I was five years old.
In the decade-plus since then, many ordinary days have turned traumatic due to public sexual harassment. There are the times when men on the block boldly yell, “let me fuck you, mami.” And there are times when men’s catcalls have had no words, using their eyes and tongues to loudly gesture what they want to do with my body. As a Latina, and one who fits the slim and curvy stereotype, my body has always felt like it is open for consumption, whether I want it to be or not. My Mexicanness and Nicaraguanness signal to the world that I am available at all times and to all. As an asexual (ace) woman, this hypersexualization of my body without my consent feels violent — and it has made navigating life and relationships exhausting.
I realized I was ace when I was 15 years old. At the time, my friends from high school started talking about sex. They shared stories about who they had been hooking up with and who they wanted to be intimate with. These conversations made me uneasy. I wasn’t having any of these sexual experiences, and I had no desire to start. As a bisexual teenage Latina, my disinterest in sex made me feel like there was something wrong with me. In pop culture, Latinas like Alexa Demie and Cardi B are always the sex symbols. In entertainment, characters like “Glee’s” Brittany Pierce and “Game of Thrones’” Oberyn Martell taught me bisexuality involved sexual promiscuity. So anytime my friends would ask me about who I wanted to sleep with, I’d lie and drop several random names. This was easier than saying that the thought of being naked with someone repulsed me or that intimate touching frightened me.
"As an asexual (ace) woman, this hypersexualization of my body without my consent feels violent."
IRIS SELENA SANCHEZ
There were other reasons for this fear that weren’t directly tied to my asexuality. The first time I was touched sexually was when I was 11 years old, without my consent. A kid I know rubbed my thighs, moving them higher and higher in an attempt to grab my vulva. I wasn’t sure how to feel or what to say; the only thing I knew was that I didn’t like what was happening. I didn’t know it then, but this was sexual violence.
I remember feeling similarly icky every time I visited my father after my parents’ divorce. While my dad never physically or sexually abused me, being forced to kiss and hug a man who made me feel like there was something wrong with me for liking girls felt harmful in another way. It was like I had no say over my body and who had access to it. The man on the street could be aroused at the sight of my prepubescent body and use it as fodder to pleasure himself. The boy from school could run his fingers up and down my leg because he wanted to. The father who caused me so much pain, confusion, and self-hatred could have my physical affection on demand.
I want to be clear: My history with sexual harassment and sexual harm didn’t make me asexual. Like other sexual orientations, there is no causation when it comes to being asexual. There is no gene or trait that makes you this way. Being asexual feels as natural to me as being bisexual. It’s who I am and who I want to be. It doesn’t need fixing because nothing was taken from me or destroyed in me.
"Being asexual feels as natural to me as being bisexual. It’s who I am and who I want to be. It doesn’t need fixing because nothing was taken from me or destroyed in me."
IRIS Selena SANCHEZ
But I didn’t know this until I started learning about asexuality as a teenager in high school. Reading that there were other people who experienced little to no sexual attraction — and that they lived normal, happy, and fulfilled lives — was life-changing. It was the first time I had ever felt seen and heard. It was the validation I had needed for so long.
But even though learning about asexuality helped me to feel valid, I didn’t feel secure in my identity. Latinas are stereotyped as being “spicy” and “sexy,” and while I feel revolted by both of these words, it’s what many people think about me when we meet, including potential romantic partners. Identifying as asexual has made it difficult for me to date people. When I express interest in someone, they very quickly try to have sex with me. Later, when I tell them that I’m asexual, they are shocked and overcome with thoughts that they are unashamed to share with me: They have never met an asexual Latina. They didn’t think “hot-blooded” Latinas could be asexual. They believe they have what it takes to reignite the hypersexuality that is inherent to me because of my culture.
Oftentimes, being an asexual Latina feels like a lonely contradiction, especially as someone who also wears form-fitting clothes and trendy crop-tops and dances to salsa and reggaeton — styles and genres that, like me, have been deemed sexual even though they’re not. Then I remember that there is no one way to be asexual. In fact, asexuality, like sexuality, is a spectrum. Some people experience no sexual attraction. Meanwhile, others experience a little sexual attraction, and some only do when they are in certain types of romantic relationships.
"Oftentimes, being an asexual Latina feels like a lonely contradiction."
IRIS SELENA SANCHEZ
Similarly, asexuality doesn’t have one look. According to survey by Aces & Aros, Latines make up 8.5% of the ace community. After reading this, it made me more secure in who I am. I can be Mexican, Nicaraguan, and asexual. I can dress in fashionable garbs others regard as sexy without asking or wanting sexual attention. I can embrace Caribbean Latine culture’s music and move my body without it being sexual. I can date women and men without being debauched.
Now in my early 20s, I’ve finally arrived at a place where being Latina, bisexual, and asexual no longer feel like conflicting identities, but I know that others still see my body as a spicy, exotic sexual conquest. I receive the reminders every day, whether I leave my house or post a video on TikTok. I know that the generations-long depiction of Latinas as sexpots in the media will take a lot to undo, so I use my social media to educate folks on Latines and asexuality. Through this work, I've virtually met other ace Latinas, and women of colour, who understand the difficulty and exhaustion that come with navigating life at this intersection. While in different places around the country and world, we are united in this work and fight.
Like them, I'm determined to make peace and find joy in my culture, my body, and my asexuality by rewriting scripts and creating my own rules.