"I’m in my second year of college and I identify as asexual. It seems like every time someone finds out and starts asking questions, they end up insisting that I just need to try it, or find the right person, or build up some confidence. It feels like I can never just say "No," and it makes me really anxious about the possibility of finding myself in a more dangerous situation. How can I respond to this?"
- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Kara Kratcha as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions
I do think that you do need to build up your confidence, but not in the way these horribly nosey people (herein referred to as GIHs—Google Impaired Humans—because they should be learning about the basics of asexuality themselves before they start asking you invasive questions) mean. The line of thinking here seems to be that your confidence should come from a comfort with your (a)sexuality*, and a comfort with your (a)sexuality means that you have found a way of having sex that makes you happy and actively pursue that happy-making sex act. I do think that it’s important to feel an ease with your (a)sexuality in order to feel confident, but I’m not on board with the wide spread assumption that feeling at ease in your (a)sexuality means having sex and letting everyone know about it.
I mean come on, this should be obvious: for an asexual person, exhibiting confidence about your (a)sexuality often doesn’t mean letting everyone know about all of the great sex you’re having because—by definition—you don’t experience sexual attraction. That’s the whole point. Thinking that expressing ace sexuality with confidence necessarily involves having sex is absurd, and it shows (along with the GIHs’ insistence that you just need to experiment or find the right person to have sex with) that these people aren’t listening to you when and if you try to educate them (since they have clearly demonstrated that they cannot educate themselves via www.google.com). Dismiss them. You don’t owe them an explanation. Disengage from these conversations and physically walk away if you need to.
Of course, ignoring the overwhelming cultural narrative that everyone wants sex is more difficult than shutting down individual conversations. Sometimes it’s impossible to do even that. I won’t lie to you and say that your “no” will always be honored. The unfortunate reality is that we live with rape culture, which says that a woman’s “no” means “maybe” or “try harder” and that a man wants sex so much that he can’t help but take it by force. Both of these ideas feed into compulsory sexuality, that overwhelming cultural narrative of “everyone wants the sex” again. I think that your fear that you can never just say no is completely grounded in these toxic narratives.
You’ve asked me how to respond. I can’t tell you how to avoid being raped (which is how I read your “more dangerous situation”) because rape is always the rapist’s fault and never the victim’s, but I can tell you how I have learned to express my (a)sexuality with confidence.** After my first year of college, I resolved to not do things I don’t want to do. Before I made the active decision to say no, my default answer to just about everything then was “yes,” regardless of how I actually felt. Will you edit my research paper? Yes. Want to go to this sketchy party with me? Yes. Can I have your phone number? Yes. Yes. Yes.
When I first made this resolution, I was in a long distance relationship. The hundreds of miles between me and my partner did a pretty good job of preventing genital bumping most of the time, so saying no wasn’t even explicitly connected to sexual activity for me. But the thing is, my mindless “yes” to everything was so insidious that saying “no” to the most innocuous requests felt impossible. That I felt unable to say “no” made my “yes” completely meaningless. I didn’t feel like I had a choice, and that disempowerment extended to my ability to say yes or no to sex. I didn’t feel confident in my (a)sexuality because I didn’t feel like I had control over myself.
So I changed my default answer to “no.” I said no to bad papers and weird parties and unwanted come-ons. I said no whenever I could. I said no over and over until it became automatic. I said no until saying yes took some serious thought, until I had to abide by my actual desires and not the desires I thought I should have. I said no until it was the answer the people around me expected to hear.
I write that in the past tense, but the truth is that learning to say no is an ongoing process, and it’s still really hard for me. Making people hear “no” takes so much more work than making people hear “yes,” and constantly fighting for your no is exhausting. Saying no takes a lot of confidence and a lot of practice. So here’s what I think you should do: practice saying no everywhere you can. Say no like you think the Google Impaired Humans are really listening to you, even if you know they aren’t. Say no right now, just for fun. Say no to ensure that when you say yes—be it to sex or something other people call sex or a favor for a friend or a big piece of cake—your yes will mean yes.
Then, when some GIH tries to tell you how to “fix” your (a)sexuality, tell them that you are perfectly confident that you do not experience sexual desire, thank you very much. Exude confidence. Radiate ease. And if the GIH fails to listen to you, offer to teach them how search engines work and flounce away with your fabulous asexual self.
*A note about words: I will be using “asexual” to mean “the sexual orientation of a person who does not experience sexual attraction” and “ace” to mean “any orientation on the asexual spectrum.” I am addressing a person who identifies as asexual, but I think this advice applies to pretty much all aces (and probably everyone) with only a little modification.
**That said, I can give you resources for asexual survivors of sexual assault, which you can find here.
Kara Kratcha studies English literature at a university in New York City. She tells everyone that she wants to go into publishing, but really she’s always wanted to be an advice columnist. (Kara would like to thank Everyone Is Gay for making her dream come true.) If she had to pick a label, she would probably go with “genderfluid polyamorous demiromantic grey-ace,” but usually she just kind of shrugs. Right now (like, probably literally right now) Kara is working on her senior thesis on representations of asexuality and asexual relationships in Sherlock fanfiction.