Understatement of the century: Sexuality is complicated. If we’ve learned anything in the past few years, it’s that the notion of binary sexuality is not only limiting; it totally disregards reality. But while we’ve opened up our minds about the space between "gay" and "straight" labels, it seems that people often forget about another orientation that may not fit as neatly onto that spectrum: asexuality.
Defined simply, asexuality and aromanticism refer to people who lack the desire to have sexual and romantic relationships with other people. Historically, there has been very little research dedicated to understanding the asexual/aromantic community (also known as the ace/aro community), in large part because it undermines what many psychoanalysts have been telling us for so long: that sex is the most essential of human desires. (How's it going, Freud?)
Thanks to the growth of online ace/aro communities on Twitter, Tumblr, and Reddit in recent years, local meetups and national organizations have formed at an unprecedented rate. The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), the largest and most established of these organizations, estimates that approximately 1% of the world’s population identifies as asexual based on a 2004 survey of 195 people. Of that population, roughly a third also identifies as trans, non-binary, or gender non-conforming.
Of course, since sexual and gender identity can be a charged topic, it’s hard to get an accurate estimate of how many people out there don’t identify as "gay," "straight," or anything in between. But it’s safe to say that there are plenty of people whose stories are often absent from the public narrative on sexuality.
So we decided to speak to a few people from the ace/aro community to get a deeper understanding. If we’ve been told that so much of the human experience is influenced by a motivation for sex and romantic love, what does life look like when this motivation isn’t there?
Ahead, five people explain what being asexual in your 20s and 30s is really like.