Asexuality

In the previous article on asexuality, this often invisible and misunderstood sexuality has been explained. If you don’t know a lot about asexuality already, make sure to read that article first! Now, we’ll go a bit more in-depth into the misconceptions that come along with the invisibility of asexuality. This invisibility is being fed by the lack of representation in the popular media and the mainstream perception. Not only does this scarcity of representation have consequences for the biases surrounding asexuality, but it affects aces themselves as well.

Common misconceptions

Generally speaking, people tend to have little knowledge about asexuality. Because of this general lack of knowledge, people have created assumptions and prejudices that can be extremely harmful for the aces around them. All of these misconceptions together make a very long list but I’ll just mention a few of the most common ones.  

A first important misconception is that asexual people would never experience sexual desire. This is the case for some aces but definitely not for everyone. Asexuality is about the attraction that people feel, or rather don’t feel, towards others. Although this does not mean that someone can’t feel sexual desire. [1] To clarify the difference between sexual attraction and sexual desire: the first one is an attraction towards a specific person, while the latter doesn’t relate to a person specifically but rather to the experience of desire. As a result, someone can feel like performing sexual acts while not wanting to do that with another person or simply not feeling sexually attracted to the person they are doing it with.

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A second misconception is that aces shouldn’t be part of the LGBTQIA+ community.[2] This misconception stems from the thought that asexuality is not a sexual orientation because it is about a lack of sexual attraction. However, this is completely wrong. First of all, the ‘A’ in LGBTQIA+ stands for ‘Asexual’, not for ‘Ally’ as some people tend to think. Secondly, asexuality is very much like any other sexuality in the sense that it revolves around sexual attraction. Just like heterosexual people feel attracted to the opposite gender and homosexual people feel attracted to their own gender, aces feel attracted to no gender at all. Moreover, the LGBTQIA+ community involves everything that differs from straight and cisgender, so aces are definitely a part of the community. Another misconception that can be added onto this is that asexuality is sometimes mistaken for a gender identity. Asexual people can have different gender identities. These don’t have anything to do with their asexuality. For example, aces can be trans, non-binary, cis, etc.[3]

To continue, people sometimes think that aces are not capable of having intimate relationships. Although, asexual people have the same emotional needs as everybody else and are just as capable of forming intimate relationships as everyone else. Of course there are also aces who choose to not have relationships, just like there are heterosexual people who choose not to be in a relationship but this should not be generalised.[4]

Lastly, another misconception that forms a big problem for aces is the thought that sexuality is a choice. With this train of thought, people spread the idea that aces have chosen to be asexual while in reality, people can’t choose whether they experience sexual attraction or not. This also means that aces won’t magically start experiencing sexual attraction when they “meet the right person” or when they choose to have sex.[5]  This idea is also what fuels the form of ‘therapy’ that tries to change people’s sexual orientation. These practices leave a lot of trauma on the LGBTQIA+ people going through the so-called ‘therapy’.

All of the misconceptions mentioned above are extremely harmful for the representation, visibility, and validation of asexuality and consequently for the mental health of aces as well. That is why it is so important to talk about the topic and correct people when they express these misconceptions. Another effective way to get rid of these prejudices would be having role models and positive representations in the media, but those seem to be hard to find.

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Where is the representation?

The representation of asexuality is very limited in all aspects of life. The mainstream media generally don’t include aces while it is very important to include people of all sexual orientations. Throughout history, there have been a few fictional characters who can be seen as asexual [6]but who do portray a harmful stereotype if so. These stereotypes are a painful expression of the miseducation and lack of education on the topic that unfortunately also leave their marks on the representation of today. Luckily there are some, although very few to be honest, good representations out there. There still is a long way to go but from time to time a series like Sex Education does try to give a truthful representation.[7]

Fortunately, we still have YouTube who can provide us with insightful videos about asexuality. There are various educational channels, such as ‘Psych2Go’[8], that have covered the topic providing correct information and using their platform to spread awareness. There are a couple of content creators as well who have shared their personal experiences online, for instance, Ash Hardell, who talks about the topic in some of their videos[9]. Anthony Padilla also did an interview with several aces in which they shared their experiences. As for Instagram, a nice account to follow is @sallyvinter, who creates fun and educational comics about asexuality. If you want to find more asexual artists to support, you can go to this website which contains a list of asexual musicians, writers, filmmakers and many more.

Even though the invisibility in the media is a crucial aspect, it isn’t the only problem. Another reason why the representation is so limited is that many aces don’t feel safe or accepted enough to be openly asexual. This causes a lack of role models for young aces or people who are discovering their sexuality. Having these role models is a very important aspect of growing up and discovering who you truly are. Without them, young people can’t find someone they can relate to. If you can’t find someone who is going through the same thing as you, it might seem as if your feelings are not valid, or as if you are the only person feeling that way. That is why aces should be represented more in popular media and we have to get rid of the misconceptions so that people can be able to feel more comfortable to be openly asexual.

Next to the existence of role models, representation also has an enormous impact on the normalization of asexuality. People generally tend to have negative feelings towards things they don’t know about or aren’t familiar with. So if people would hear about asexuality more often and be able to learn about it, they could have a better understanding of how aces feel and even be able to link asexuality to someone they’ve seen on tv or online. That way, people can make a positive association (if the representation was done correctly) which makes a big difference for the aces around them.

As you can see, action has to be taken. To support this fight for visibility and acceptance you can  become an ally. You can support the community in many different ways. Let me give you some inspiration…

How to be an ally[10]?

The starting point of becoming an ally is always educating yourself. You can find more information in books, on websites, in documentaries, and even on YouTube as I already mentioned. Just type in ‘asexuality’ on Google and you’re good to go. Then, once you know more about the topic, a good way to be an ally is to support asexual organizations, such as the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN). This is the biggest and best-known one, but if you want to support a more local one you can look for Asexual vzw or the Belgian page on asexuality (which is in Dutch!).  

If you want to help increase asexual awareness and visibility, you can contact the teachers or schools that you know and present to them this small guide to asexuality. That way they can teach about asexuality to their students and provide them with the correct information.

Other ways to be an ally are[11] talking about asexuality to other people. Writing articles on asexuality, like this one, to increase visibility and awareness. Share the information you come across (only when it comes from a reliable source of course!), retweet an educational tweet on asexuality, share something on your Instagram story. All of these thinks just might spark a conversation with others, which is a nice way to get the dialogue about asexuality going and pull the topic out of the shadows. On this website you can find great downloadable content to share and raise awareness about asexuality.

And last but not least: don’t forget about the International Day of Asexuality, which is every year on the 6th of April[12]. On this day, you can celebrate asexuality and make it an opportunity to do something more. Even something small, such as having a positive conversation about asexuality with your parents or roommates, can already make a difference for the aces in your environment.

In conclusion, the visibility and awareness of asexuality are not yet where they should be. More and more people are trying to raise awareness and support the fight but there is still a lot of work to be done to make this sexuality more visible and more accepted. Hopefully you understand the importance of actively spreading awareness on the topic now and will start fighting as well, if you weren’t already. Make sure to take a look at or support the aces mentioned in this article, they are doing an amazing job for the community.

Author: Sarah Schouwenaars


[1] https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.kuleuven.ezproxy.kuleuven.be/doi/full/10.1111/japp.12472

[2] https://www.asexuality.org/en/topic/200666-are-aces-lgbtqia-masterpost/

[3] https://www.whatisasexuality.com/intro/

[4] Asexuality.org

[5] https://www.asexualityarchive.com/asexuality-misconceptions-and-mistakes/

[6] https://iafor.org/journal/iafor-journal-of-arts-and-humanities/volume-4-issue-1/article-4/

[7] https://www.asexuals.net/asexual-representation-in-the-media/

[8] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6A7UAH5fcY

[9] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbjFK8QDhVM

[10] https://www.asexuals.net/asexual-awareness/

[11] https://www.asexuals.net/asexual-awareness/

[12] https://www.aseksueel.be/geen-categorie/fijne-internationale-dag-van-de-aseksualiteit-ida

[13] https://www.pinterest.com/pin/439593613635778654/

[14] https://www.reddit.com/r/asexuality/comments/mm8rp8/that_is_true/

UNDIVIDED for KU Leuven

UNDIVIDED is a student-faculty diversity initiative at KU Leuven. For a more inclusive university. Contact us at UNDIVIDED@kuleuven.be or on our social media.

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