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#21AceStories: Is Asexuality Synonymous With Celibacy?

#21AceStories: Is Asexuality Synonymous With Celibacy?


Asexuals explain the difference between their sexuality and celibacy.


As nearly any asexual person can attest, people who claim the often misunderstood orientation spend a good deal of time combatting the myth that it's just celibacy.

Ultimately, this myth can be traced back to problematic assumptions and stereotypes that claim asexual people are unable to find sexual partners and so are making "celibacy" into a sexuality. This false correlation can lead to a number of challenges for asexual people.

The pervasive narrative that proclaims every person is or should be (at some point) sexual sees asexuals further stigmatized. Similar to how LGBT people are sometimes subjected to efforts to "cure" them through so-called conversion therapy, asexual people face a similar phenomenon in which they are told they just need to have the right sex. Some critics even go so far as to say that asexual individuals need medication to "fix" their lack of sex drive.

This false, damaging narrative can have dangerous consequences. Asexual people have faced "corrective rape," wherein a rapist attempts to justify their assault as an effort to "correct" a victim's sexual orientation, gender identity, or, in this case, lack of sex drive. Further, many asexual people report feeling alienated within a sex-driven society that writes these individuals off as celibate.

In an effort to combat this abundance of misinformation, The Advocate asked the same four questions to 21 asexual individuals from all around North America. The diversity in the group reflects the assortment of experiences asexuals live. Some of the asexual participants are in relationships -- monogamous, nonmonogramous, and polyamorous -- while others are living single lives. Some participate in certain forms of sexual activity, and others are sex-repulsed (a term among asexuals meaning they do not have sex). Some masturbate and are even performers in pornography while others don't engage in any type of sexual activity.

In the first installment of #21AceStories, we asked asexual people about the biggest misconceptions they face. In this second installment of #21AceStories, our asexual participants educate us on the differences between asexuality and celibacy.

Alyssa, asexual, 22, Rhode Island: To the folks who think being asexual means being single, I say, "Sometimes yes; sometimes no." Some single asexual people are single for reasons that relate to their asexuality. Some single asexual people are single for reasons that have little or nothing to do with their asexuality. And some asexual people are in relationships. And it's all fine.

Stacy, panromantic ace, 29, Texas: Depends on the attitude of the person. If they know what "asexual" truly means and are choosing to pass judgment on us and ignore what they have learned, then they can go jump off a bridge. But if the intent is curiosity coming from a place of ignorance, then I would be happy to educate them and inform them. The main thing that everyone should take into account is that groups are made up of individuals. To lose sight of the individuals when you're looking at the crowd is dangerous and a huge injustice to yourself and them. Everyone's story is different within and outside of the asexual community. Putting people in boxes and molding everyone to the stereotype you've built in your head is hurtful and will make sure you miss out on knowing some amazing people.

Lucian, queer gray ace, 24, New Jersey: Well, as I said, I have two wonderful partners. I have been with my fiance for going on four years now. Or is it five? Time isn't my strong suit. Regardless, my other relationship just turned one. You can be asexual and in a relationship. They are not mutually exclusive. If someone loves you, they love you. You can make it work. Both my relationships are open, so my partners, if they choose, are free to sleep with others if they wanted to. Will that work for everyone? No, but the point is that asexual people can date, successfully.

Jack, asexual, 20, New York: That's another misconception. Asexuals can fall in love. I don't dabble in romantic feelings myself, but there are plenty of asexuals in relationships and marriages, who may have sex to make their partners happy but don't actively seek sexual relations.

Marcia, queer asexual, 29, Missouri: I've been in my current relationship for a year and a half. She isn't asexual, but we're poly, so while we're not dating anyone else right now, she has my full support if she'd like to have a sexual relationship with someone. Also, relationships are so much more than sex.

Samantha, asexual, 28, Michigan: I suppose asexuals are more likely to remain single than most people, but it's certainly not synonymous. I only know myself and two other asexual people, so I'm working with a tiny sample size.

Jason, asexual, 41, Pennsylvania: I have been happily married for 16 years. Asexual people want the same things as everyone else in general. Many of us are married, have children, work, and raise families. Some of us prefer to live alone and some of us prefer a relationship with another person that is not romantic but is still about sharing each other's life. We call these asexuals aromantic. Asexuals are a diverse group of people, but certainly not all of us are single or choose to be.

Celestine, asexual panromantic, 34, Louisiana: I disagree -- I just believe that it takes more work and a lot more compromise. Two asexual people could live perfectly happy together, but the odds of two asexual people meeting and falling in love with each other aren't great (asexuals comprise about 1 percent of the population). It happens, but it's going to be rare.

In reality, it's much more likely that an asexual person will end up with a sexual person. In that case, the couple has to be willing to talk long and hard about how they're willing to deal with the incompatibility in their sexual orientations. This is, I firmly believe, something that love alone isn't enough to support if the people can't be adults and mature. Is the sexual person willing to give up sex? For how long? Is the asexual person willing to have sex for their partner, and if so, how often? Are both people willing and prepared for an open or polyamorous relationship?

There are a number of solutions, but none of them are easy in this society that looks down on anything that isn't "traditional." So no, I don't think being asexual means being single, but I know that unless we're lucky enough to find and fall in mutual love with another asexual person, being in a relationship will be extremely challenging.

Kate, demi-panromantic asexual, 27, South Carolina: It depends on the person! Some asexuals, like myself, love being in romantic relationships, while some prefer to be single and some get married or settle down with partners. At the end of the day, all of us have different wants and needs and each relationship is different.

While I am genital/sex-repulsed, I was married for almost five years before my husband passed away, and we had sex regularly -- I even enjoyed it! I loved being with him and I wish he was still here. Love looks different on everybody (whether romantic, platonic, etc.), and I don't understand why that is so difficult for people to understand.

Lydia, queer panromantic asexual, 21, Washington, D.C.: That's not what being asexual means; that's what being single means. Some asexual people are single and want to be. Some asexual people are aromantic altogether. Some asexual people are single and don't want to be. Asexuality is not a choice. Asexuality is not celibacy. Asexuality is not arrogance or narcissism. Asexuality is not pathology. Asexuality is just not experiencing sexual attraction to others. That's it.

Ashley, asexual, 19, Texas: Asexual people can be single if they want to. Asexual people can be in relationships if they want to. We're all different and have different preferences. Asexuality is a spectrum. The label "asexual" doesn't mean we all act the same. It's really not that different from dating between allosexual people, just with another set of identity and boundaries.

Elizabeth, asexual heteroromantic, 19, South Carolina: Asexuals can date and marry people just like allosexuals. Honestly, relationships will be a lot more complicated if our partner is allosexual rather than asexual, but many couples are able to compromise and find happiness. If the asexual is not genital-repulsed or sex-repulsed, then they may be willing to have sex with their partner. But more than that, sex is not (and cannot) be the basis of a healthy relationship. Love is that, and asexuals are just as capable of forming loving relationships as allosexuals. Also, asexuals are perfectly capable of flirting and dating without having to form any long-term commitments or bring sex into the equation. Aces can and do date just for fun, to have someone to hold hands with and hug and maybe even kiss, without worrying about a serious commitment.

Brittney, asexual biromantic, 21, Washington: I'm tempted to say they're right. In a culture so wrapped up in sex, bringing up a topic like asexuality is hard, especially when it tends to be met with confusion and disbelief. Then there's the matter of when to bring it up: the first date, or later down the road when your partner wants to have sex? And then there are people who think they can handle dating an asexual, only to find out they can't, which can leave both parties hurt and upset in the end. If someone invented an asexual dating website, that would be wonderful. But even then, some asexuals might feel pressured to stay single, because if they were to enter into a relationship, their peers might say they "grew out of" their asexuality.

Rae, asexual, 26, Maryland: Well, I'm a newlywed, so it obviously hasn't worked out that way for me! Yes, being asexual did make dating more difficult and sometimes more traumatic. On the other hand, if a potential significant other bailed, that was a good warning sign. Also, "there's more than one way to do it." If you're asexual and think you're doomed to being single because there's a particular sexual activity that you just cannot imagine ever doing, but you could deal with some other activity for your partner's happiness, there you go. A polyamorous partner would also be a possibility.

AJ, asexual heteroromantic, 30, Ohio: Being asexual can definitely complicate things, but it doesn't really change the way the dating game works if you're looking for a long-term romantic relationship. It's all about finding someone you're compatible with, respecting each other and each other's desires, being honest with yourself and your partner, and being willing to compromise because the other person's happiness is important to you. Adding asexuality into the mix does mean needing to have some very frank discussions about what you want in the bedroom, but that's a conversation we should all be having regardless of our sexual orientations.

Meg, asexual, homo-grayromantic, 32, Canada: Many asexual people have healthy relationships, even with sexual people. Some even have sexual relations with their partners. Asexual people can have just as strong a relationship as a sexual person. Our lack of sexual attraction does not mean that we can't form emotional bonds with others.

Jessica, asexual, 27, Florida: I do not believe being asexual means being single. It's like when a person is celibate or abstinent. They are not the same. There's a difference between not wanting sex, and not wanting a relationship. I cannot stress this enough. I have seen this misconception many times and find it grossly inaccurate. As an asexual, I do still desire a relationship with someone, even if I don't desire sexual relations. Just because someone prefers to be single does not necessarily makes them an asexual. It's kind of like someone saying to an asexual about their asexuality that they must be a virgin. Having no desire for sexual relations does not mean that they have not had sexual relations.

Claudie, asexual, 26, Canada: Well, I've been in a relationship for over three years now. I'd tell them that's bullshit. I'd also tell them that they really need to examine why they ask that question. Being single wouldn't be the end-all of one's life. I'm good where I'm at, I like having a partner, but the emphasis we put on sex and love as a society is unhealthy.

Chloe, asexual, 17, Ohio: I would love to let them know, being asexual doesn't doom you to a life of loneliness. One of the best relationships I've ever seen were two asexuals that loved each other very much. Some asexuals do choose to stay single and its their choice and you should support them. They are choosing to do what makes them happy. Everyone deserves to be happy with who they are.

Jamie, lesbian gray asexual, 20, New York: Does being sexual mean you are always having sex? No, of course not! Being asexual means you still have romantic attraction. Unless you are aromantic, you still want that warm fuzzy feeling when you cuddle up to the person you love. Rom-coms are still very real to us asexuals.

Jackson, multigender trans ace 28, Nevada: "Single" means by yourself and any living being experiences being single, probably more than actually being in groups. Even sharing similarities with people, I'm an individual and that means I'll be by myself sometimes. As I stated above: red hair, left-handedness, receiver of abuse, asexuality, LGBTQIA+, these are all individual things that add together to equal a person not define a person. Also, really?!?! Why does "being single" in the conventional sense people use this term make someone, asexual or not, akin to a pariah? Some asexual people choose to be single, some sexual people choose to be single -- what's really the difference there?

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