Since a very young age, I saw people in relationships and wondered, “Am I a late bloomer?” I started dating as a teenager but I refused to have sex. I told myself that I should have sex after getting married, or after becoming an adult. Religious beliefs and parental concerns were other reasons to say no to sex. But there was always an underlying and unstated reason – I didn’t feel sexually attracted to my partner. In fact, I never felt sexually attracted to, well, anyone.
When I became an atheist, I realized that not feeling sexually attracted to anyone had more to do with me than with the idea of religion. There was no longer any force judging me from the clouds for having sex, and yet I didn’t feel sexual attraction for anyone. I blamed it on my age for a while, and agreed with everyone around me that I’d grow out of it. But the reality is that it wasn’t a phase.
How I realized I was asexual
This is something I often get asked. I just knew that I didn’t feel sexual attraction. What I needed was the vocabulary to describe it and sadly, it took me eight years to find the right words. Asexuality is feeling no sexual attraction or minimal sexual attraction towards others. There are different types of asexual people. Generally, asexuals are those who feel romantic attraction but little or no sexual attraction. There are aromantic asexuals as well but that conversation is for another day.
The issue is that many people fall on the asexuality spectrum but they’re unaware about it. This often leads to confusion and misunderstanding for years. For me, dating is hard as sex is treated as an inevitable part of it. But I’m a sex-repulsed asexual. I’ve always felt sex to be more of a chore in a relationship than an expression of love because of my repulsion towards sex.
Many asexuals struggle and face abuse because of similar issues. As a woman, I was expected to have sex with my heterosexual partners. This often led to mental, emotional, and physical abuse where my partner was abusive and my desire to not have sex was used as an excuse to abuse me. Our society is oppressively heteronormative where women are taught to be desirable for men and men are taught to expect being served by women. The power dynamics are suffocating for all women, asexual women included.
I realized I was asexual when, as an ally to the LGBTIQA+ communities, I began reading about asexuality on asexuality.org, the website of the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN). The term asexuality clearly described how I felt and I got to know that people like me were sex-repulsed asexuals. I was in college and was 19 when I finally realized that what I felt was called asexuality. As my friends often used to discuss relationships and sex, it made me realize that they were heterosexual and I was asexual.
The asexuality spectrum
One distinction between types of asexual people is whether they’re romantically attracted to others or not. Asexuals who are romantically attracted to others are called, predictably, romantic asexual people. Under this broad umbrella are the heteroromantic, those who’re romantically attracted to cross-sex or cross-gender people; homoromantic, those who’re romantically attracted to same-sex or same-gender people; and biromantic or ambiromantic, that is, those who’re romantically attracted to more than one sex or gender.
There are also polyromantic asexuals – those who’re romantically attracted to multiple sexes or genders but not all sexes or genders (this isn’t the same as being polyamorous, which involves multiple romantic and sexual relationships at the same time based on mutual consent of everyone involved). Panromantic asexuals, on the other hand, are romantically attracted to people of all sexes or genders.
Instead of describing romantic attraction in terms of whether the desired partner is the same as or different from one’s own sex or gender, some asexuals find it more important to choose a term that describes their desired partner without describing themselves. For instance, an andromantic asexual is someone who is romantically attracted to masculinity, men, or male-identifying / male-presenting people. Similarly, someone who is gyneromantic is attracted to femininity, women, or female-identifying / female-presenting people.
Skolioromantic asexuals are those who’re attracted to androgyny, non-binary people, or androgynous-identifying / androgynous presenting people. Lithromantic asexuals are those who’re attracted to other people, but don’t want that attraction reciprocated.
In terms of the intensity of desire that an asexual person feels, there’s a spectrum with sex-positive asexuals on the one end, sex-repulsed asexuals on the other, and sex-indifferent ones somewhere in between. Finally, a person of any gender can be asexual as gender identity and sexual orientation aren’t correlated.
Asexuality support forums in India
Asexual representation is rarely seen in public discourses in India, which makes it difficult for people to understand and accept asexuality. With my previous interviews, especially with VICE India, I faced cyberbullying for months at a stretch, particularly from heterosexual men. When I wrote my first asexual character (for my book Marriage of Convenience), I realized how important it was for fellow asexuals to see the representation of asexuality in the media.
My coming out as asexual caused many issues in my life. I was once fired for being asexual. I’m an activist and I still face discrimination in several spheres. The lack of awareness also creates unsafe spaces for the asexual communities in India. I have seen many community members being forced into marriage, abandoned by their parents, and facing violence.
Asexuality forums in India are diverse. The most helpful has been Indian Asexuals that has guided many community members through asexual meets since 2014. The AVEN website, which came up in the 2000s and is still functional, has helped start a conversation around asexuality across the globe. With my organization All India Queer Association, I’ve tried to bridge the gap between different identities so that they can come together to empower the LGBTIQA+ communities through mental health support, employment support, workshops and more.
I’m lucky that my mother who’s 60, a homemaker, and an artist, is supportive and helped me become the activist and author that I am now. But not every asexual person is as fortunate. Asexuality deserves recognition like any other sexual orientation and as part of the spectrum that is human sexuality.
About the main photo: The author at ‘The QUART Project – Red Festival 2.0’ held in Delhi in 2018. Photo courtesy The QUART Project