Asexual Representation Is Scarce In Film — But No Hard Feelings Made Me Feel Seen

This week, I was invited to the premiere of No Hard Feelings, and honestly, I was hesitant about it. Knowing that it was written and directed by Gene Stupnitsky (of Good Boys and Bad Teacher fame), I was expecting sex dolls, sex swings and you know… lots of sex.
I had also watched the trailer and read a little about it. No Hard Feelings centres a 29 30 32-year-old woman named Maddie (played by Jennifer Lawrence), who turns to a bizarre Craigslist advertisement after losing her car and main source of income. For the low-low price of a 40,000-mile Buick Regal, Maddie is tasked by two affluent helicopter parents with dating their son, Percy (played by Andrew Barth Feldman). They're concerned he's about to head off to college with zero dating experience and they hope she will help to bring him out of his shell.
Despite my reservations, I walked into the cinema with an open mind, and what I did not expect was to 100% relate to the story, as a person on the asexual spectrum. For anyone who doesn’t know, asexuality is when you experience little to no sexual attraction and/or repulsion towards sex. Asexuality is on the lowest end of the spectrum of sexual attraction (with allosexuality being at the opposite end). There are many different types of asexuality, and they aren’t to be confused with aromanticism, which is experiencing little to no romantic attraction.
According to his parents, Percy is a shut-in. He has no friends, he never leaves the house, and he doesn’t have a girlfriend. “He’s not gay,” though, his parents insist, reasoning that the porn he watches is “graphic”. Though, as I watched No Hard Feelings, I quickly realised that watching graphic porn just doesn’t seem to fit with his character’s vibe. He’s quiet, sensitive, caring, and a little anxious — but above all else, he really cares about how people perceive him. It reminded me a lot of the opening scene of Netflix’s Sex Education, with Otis meticulously curating adult magazines, lotion and tissues on his bed to make it look like he masturbated; to appear ‘normal'. 
Regardless, Maddie sets off on an adventure to try and date Percy. She plans a series of dates, which involve weiner touching (of the furry little adopted dog kind), beach wrestling while naked, and also punching through a bedroom wall (The Shining style). But despite her best efforts to sway him, it's soon obvious that sex just isn’t his thing. Whether it’s sexual innuendos completely flying over his head, his uncomfortableness when receiving lap dances or just outright saying, “I can’t have sex with somebody I don’t know”. That last one really struck a chord with me because, although the film never mentions it by name, I strongly resonated with Percy’s character in that moment, as an asexual person. 
I personally identify as grey/demisexual. I often don’t experience sexual attraction and often do experience sexual repulsion until I’ve met somebody I can connect with emotionally and feel at ease around. And even then, it’s fleeting. Percy’s aversion to having sex with somebody he doesn’t know, and his general aversion to having sex until he meets somebody and falls in love with them hit a nerve. As did Percy speaking about his traumatic high school experience. I loathed school growing up. I can’t even remember how many fake boyfriends I invented, just to avoid people making a move on me or asking questions. I had no clue that asexuality even existed before I turned 25, so I thought I was a huge freak. It turns out, I was completely normal, and unbeknownst to me, a part of a huge global community.
For many teenagers, there’s an intense expectancy to have sex. I’ve had conversations with young asexual people who I mentor and give advice to, who explain that they even forwent their formals, simply because of the expectation to lose their virginity on 'prom night'. So, when Percy explains in No Hard Feelings that he decided not to attend his own prom, it made total sense to me.
I wholeheartedly didn’t expect this level of thoughtfulness around the nuances of the asexual experience from a Stupnitsky film. I didn’t expect to watch a beautifully written, emotional and tender script from somebody who also had a hand in films that are heavily laced with sexual innuendo and downright crude. Particularly when the tagline used to promote the film is literally: “From the creators of Superbad”.
Truthfully, I expected to watch No Hard Feelings and report back to the asexual community that some may not be able to stomach it due to experiencing sexual repulsion. To my surprise, the nudity and sex scenes were either scaled back or just alluded to (aside from what was, in my opinion, the greatest nudie takedown scene on a beach in film history). I also wholeheartedly didn’t expect to cry, but when Percy played his piano rendition of “Maneater” by Daryl Hall and John Oates, the tears were bubbling. Lyrics like “If you're in it for love, you ain't gonna get too far” had me deep in my feelings. So many asexual people, including myself, have a hard time finding partners who don't expect sex. I once had a man yell at me while I worked, that his penis would "cure" me. According to him, I just hadn’t had the right sex. So, having lived through those exact experiences, I never expected to feel so seen by a film like this one.
All in all, it was a great watch with a lot of tongue-in-cheek humour, a little bit of action and some really tender moments. If I could change one thing, though, it would be including the word asexual at any point in the film, even in an off-handed comment. If I had written No Hard Feelings, I would have at least included a scene where Percy drunk Googles “why is sex bad?” and finds stories about asexuality. But that’s just a personal experience of mine.
Asexual representation is scarce, and this would have been the world’s first feature film with canonical asexual representation if it had overtly addressed it. But hey, maybe there’s room for a sequel?
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