Being asexual in a sex-crazed world
Twenty three-year-old Jo Qualmann speaks frankly about her asexuality. She’s never had sex, but is curious about it “from an intellectual point of view”. And while she hasn’t ruled it out, she can’t see herself “actually doing it”.
The University of Queensland student, who’s never had a romantic drive, describes herself as both a-romantic and asexual, and says this can be alienating.
In her anthropology class at uni, Jo was taught that sex is integral to being human. “I did think I was broken and weird because there is so much that says it’s human to feel these things,” she says.
“You feel isolated because the whole of society talks about [sex] and it dominates how everyone runs their lives; these narratives of meeting someone, becoming emotionally close, becoming physically close, marrying, having kids.”
Jo says people often try to find causes for her asexuality. “[They ask things] like, ‘Were you abused as a child?’ or, ‘Have you had your hormone levels checked? Maybe it’s autism, Asperger’s or another medical issue.’ Some say, ‘You’re just repressed and you need to get over it. You’re a prude.’ A family friend told me to see a counselor and get over my issues, and that I’m scared of getting close to anyone because my parents had a divorce.”
But Jo believes the huge emphasis on sex in society overthrows critical thinking about what sexuality means for different people.
Magazine articles, she says, portray sexless relationships as abnormal; advertising constantly uses sex to sell; and every episode of her favourite show, Grey’s Anatomy, is centred on sexual relationships (“they’re hooking up with each other all the time!”).
Jo says the feminist movement has been hugely positive for sexual liberation, but less attention has been paid to an individual’s choice of whether to have sex at all. “So you can have sex as much as you want, but having no sex? That’s just weird,” she says.
Student Cameron Kennedy, 25, identifies as gender fluid and has never had a desire to watch porn, masturbate or have sex. Cameron would like to experience being in a relationship, but it’s difficult.
“I wouldn’t ask someone on a one-on-one date because there would be an expectation of sex,” they say.
“There are several people I have crushes on at the moment, but I can’t do anything about it. It’s hard to meet people in uni circles, on Tinder or in a club without the expectation of having intercourse. It would take somebody who was extremely attracted to me to sacrifice that. But sex isn’t a necessary part of a relationship – there are other ways to satisfy that urge.”
While Cameron has never had a sex drive, it was only after doing some investigating a few months ago that they identified as asexual. The switch from Charles Sturt University to the University of New South Wales – which “has an amazing queer collective” – helped.
"It’s very much the expectation that if you’re a young person, you’re going to have sex.”
Even so, Cameron says that friends will often ask, “What differentiates a relationship from being just friends if it isn’t sex?”
For Cameron, there’s a higher emotional connection in a romantic relationship than the one between best friends.
“It’s an extra level of vulnerability. I think queer culture – and youth culture, in general – is extremely centred on sex. It’s very much the expectation that if you’re a young person, you’re going to have sex,” says Cameron.
When Cameron was seeing a psychologist last year who asked about their lack of libido, the psychologist jumped on this and encouraged Cameron to take part in a study examining the impact that diabetes has on the sexual function of women.
“She couldn’t understand why it didn’t bother me, but [to me] it’s not a concern,” says Cameron. “I’m just curious to know if there’s a reason, but I don’t want to resolve it.”
For Jo, when asked whether she might try sex at some point in the future, she lets the idea hang for a moment. Then she says, “I don’t know, maybe one day. But I don’t see it as very likely, and I’m not that fussed.”
Saimi Jeong studies journalism at the University of Technology, Sydney. She has written for Guardian Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald and reports for Burwood Scene. Follow Saimi on Twitter @Saimi_J.