I identify as an asexual lesbian. It took me around 47 years to figure that out.
An asexual is a person who does not experience sexual attraction -- that is what most people in AVEN, the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, accept as the basic definition. (As far as I can tell, this definition has not made it into any dictionaries, which instead give fun biological definitions like "having no sexual organs" or "having the ability to reproduce without another organism involved.")
Beyond the basic definition, asexuals come in all shades. Some will have sex if someone else initiates it and enjoy it. Some are OK with having sex as a way to please their partner. Some do not enjoy sex. Some are absolutely repulsed by the thought of sex. Some want to fall in love and have a romantic relationship without sex while others have no desire for romantic relationships at all. Some are romantically attracted to the same sex and some to the opposite sex. I could go on but it gets very convoluted and complicated the amount of permutations you can get among asexuals.
It has been a long twisty road to come into this identity. I was a very shy kid. I never felt sexual attraction to boys or girls in high school, and attributed this lack of desire to my shyness and how unhappy and lonely I was. I often thought I was just a late bloomer. I just wasn't ready for sex yet. In time I would be ready. I definitely believed that when I got to college, I would fall in love with a man and have sex with him and enjoy it. I also thought I would get married to a man and have a family. It was a great fantasy, and I looked forward to it coming true.
So off I went to Purdue University with hopes of becoming an engineer and getting a good job upon graduation -- and finding true love along the way. I did have a few boyfriends during college, but I did not find my true love, nor did I have sex with any of my three boyfriends. I felt very abnormal. I thought there was something wrong with me because I didn't want to even kiss my boyfriends, let alone have sex with them. So started the long road of attempts to fix myself because I wasn't "normal." I did some heavy petting with boyfriend number three, but it was only for his sake and I was just enduring it -- the start of a pattern of trying to convince myself that I was enjoying it, when in hindsight it was just unpleasant for me. Two of my breakups were absolutely because I wouldn't have sex with them. I am glad that I held my ground about the sex, even though it was difficult to do and I felt really bad about it. At least I had some inkling of listening to my feelings at the time and following my gut.
I graduated from Purdue and went off to graduate school at Cornell, where I had my first serious relationship with a man. The old sex bugaboo came up, of course. He wanted to have sex and I didn't. I again tried heavy petting and did not enjoy it -- but again did it, as it seemed a requirement for having a relationship. I was getting psychotherapy for depression at the time, and my therapist tried to talk with me about my lack of sexual desire for him. She even asked me, "Do you think you might be a lesbian?"
I answered, "That would be too easy an explanation." I don't know if that was prophetic on my part about the asexuality, or whether it was a touch of homophobia about being a lesbian. Eventually, we broke up because I didn't want to have sex with him, and I continued to think there was something wrong with me that needed to be fixed.
I graduated from Cornell and set off to Mountain View, California for my first job in the real world. I liked my new job -- but was struggling with my nonexistent social life. I managed to make some friends through the local tennis club. I played with one guy in particular. We were well matched as tennis players. He was a handsome and intelligent man, and all pistons should have been firing -- if I were "normal". But I felt no sexual attraction to him. Still, I thought I would ask him to my company party because, hey, that's what normal women do -- get a date to the party with a kind, handsome man. I got all dressed up for the party. So did he. He gave me flowers. He was a gentleman all night. And I spent the night wondering why I wasn't having fun with such a handsome, cool date. I felt like an actor playing the part of "a woman on a date with a handsome man" for most of the evening. I was so relieved to get home and have the date over and done with. He was the last man I ever dated.
After a few years in California, I ended up feeling quite depressed and sought psychotherapy to deal with it. The psychotherapy was about the depression, not about the lack of sexual desire, but it got me doing lots of introspection and thinking about the happy times in my life and figuring out what they had in common. I noticed that during many of the happy times, I was hanging out with women only, and not with men. I felt an energy around women, and felt more comfortable around women. For perhaps a year I thought about this, and I noticed that I found women attractive to look at. I think I tried to convince myself I was sexually attracted to the women -- but in retrospect, I wasn't.
Around about my 30th birthday, I saw an ad in the paper for a lesbian rap group in Palo Alto. As a birthday present to myself, I decided to take the plunge, to check this group out and see what it was like. I felt at home the minute I arrived, and by the end of the discussion I was convinced I really was a lesbian, that my problem with sexual attraction was because I had been pursuing the wrong gender. Now that I was in the lesbian community, I thought, I would of course meet the woman of my dreams. Well, this plain old didn't happen for some 10 years -- but I was happy as a single lesbian all those years, and I think enjoyed that fact that there was no one around wanting to have sex with me.
When I was 43, I finally met and fell in love with a woman and became domestic partners with her. I lost my virginity to her. I finally had sex. At first I convinced myself I was enjoying it, but I didn't really. My lack of sexual attraction to her became a big, sticky issue. It also started to become a little clearer to me that I just wasn't sexually attracted to anyone, and I would be happy as a clam to never have sex again. And yet we were partners -- and partners are supposed to have sex. And sex was incredibly important to her. So I tried halfheartedly to fix myself for her sake. We talked to a sex therapist, and I had a couple of solo appointments with the therapist, but it became obvious to me that I was not motivated to fix myself. I began to finally realize that I was not broken and so did not need fixing. I don't think my partner was convinced I was asexual, but she did come to accept that I identified as asexual, and that we had to find a way to deal with this radical difference in our sex needs. But we did not really get into the possible ways to make an asexual/sexual relationship work, as other issues in the relationship led us to break up.
I learned through this relationship that I was asexual and that it wasn't a problem I had to fix. So now, I'm an asexual who is romantically attracted to the same sex and does not enjoy or want to have sex, and I'm trying to figure out how to live in the world as an asexual lesbian. I realize that pairing "asexual" and "lesbian" together can be confusing. If I say I am a lesbian, most folks assume that means I am sexually attracted to women. I don't know that there is a word that means romantically attracted but not sexually attracted to women, so I just co-opt the word "lesbian" as a quick way to communicate that men need not apply to be in a relationship with me. I tag on "asexual" to let the lesbians know up front that in all likelihood, they won't be having sex with me.
I am lucky to live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where both communities have a presence. However, I must confess, it is difficult to find other asexual lesbians and this is frustrating. There is a small online community of women who identify as asexual lesbians, so I know I'm not the only one who has latched on to this identity, but the asexual community near me is mostly young adults at the moment. It's fun to hang out with them, but I have yet to meet another woman near my age (49) at our meet-ups. I suspect I will do better continuing to hang out in the lesbian community and just be up front about my asexuality. But I'm unsure how to do that. Just when do I reveal to someone that I am asexual: the first date, the second date, or when the other woman makes the first sexual advance? I keep plugging away at it, but I don't get bogged down in counting on finding someone.
Or perhaps I'll just remain single. I do know that I love to hang out with my gay and lesbian hiking friends and will always be a part of the lesbian and gay community here in the bay area. I'm not going to drop out of that community because of my asexuality. I am quite happy to finally be accepting myself for who I am fully. Its a great relief to not feel like I need fixing. I think it's very possible to have a very happy, fulfilling life as a single person. I'm not scared of spending the rest of my life as a single woman. If that is the way the cookie crumbles, the crumbs still taste just as good!
I shall continue to tell people about my asexuality, as I do believe that it's important for asexuality to get visibility. Asexuals do not have to deal with hate crimes or blatant discrimination, but we do have to deal with the fact that people find us odd, and often our lack of sexual desire is called a mental illness. I think it would have been very helpful to me as a kid to know that being asexual was an option. I do feel a bit weird letting the world know I'm asexual -- but if it helps another asexual to realize that they are not broken and they are not the only ones out there, it's worth it.
If you want to find out more about asexuality, I highly recommend visiting the AVEN web site.
Image Credit: WikiCommons
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