Asexuality is a sexual orientation — thought to describe about 1% of the population — that refers to people who do not experience sexual attraction.
Some folks on the asexual spectrum may experience low or rare sexual attraction and may identify as graysexual or demisexual. Asexuality does not distinguish whether a person desires or engages in romantic or other close relationships, nor does it specify whether a person is having or would like to have sex or other intimate behaviors. It’s a sexual orientation — a way of answering “who are you attracted to?” with “none of the above.” And it is largely misunderstood... even by those who’d like to support us.
In my experience, when I correct people on their seemingly positive assumptions about asexuality, they often become defensive, hurt, and frustrated. If you want to give compliments or support someone who is asexual, your encouragement should reflect who that person actually is. Listen to us when we tell you why certain prejudices are truly, seriously, honestly not helping us.
Here are the top 10 things you should never say to someone who's asexual (even if you mean well):
1. Your relationship is so pure and simple!
Asexual people who fall in love or have relationships do not have a dialed down, simplified version of love. Yes, sometimes sex can complicate matters, but it’s also a shortcut to defining what kind of relationship you have. If asexual people have non-sexual relationships, they’re forced to find ways to have that relationship recognized without the usual markers — and that’s pretty complicated.
2. You must be religiously pure!
Some asexual people are religious or spiritual, but celibacy for the sake of one’s religion is not the same thing as asexuality (especially since celibacy is usually a show of sacrifice). We are also not necessarily more enlightened, and will probably not appreciate being seen as people who have risen above base instincts. We don’t, as a group, think we have gone “beyond” sexual matters.
3. You’re the next evolution in humanity!
We don't consider asexuality to be “where humanity is going.” There’s a strange tendency to associate emotionless, restrained, robotic behavior with a scary, sterile future where all babies are made in tubes and nobody hugs. For some reason, asexual people call up that image in some people’s minds. We’re not emotionless and we don’t want to stamp out sex. We’re really just another sexual orientation.
4. That’s good, because the world doesn’t need more babies and disease.
Asexual people generally don't like to be appreciated just because we don't add to overpopulation or STIs. Furthermore, it’s untrue that we never contribute to these situations. Since asexual people sometimes do procreate and/or have sex, we aren’t excluded from increasing the population or spreading disease.
5. It must be so great to have so much free time.
This suggests you view the 24-hour day as a pie chart, with one large slice that everyone is supposed to devote to sex and/or relationships. If we do not do those things — boom — we have more time than everyone else! Except no. Asexual people do frequently have partnered relationships, and even those who don’t usually still fill some of their time with social relationships. People, asexual and non-asexual, chase their passions — that pie chart is filled with ours.
6. Wow, good for you for being strong, patient and determined!
Phrases like this generally represent a misunderstanding that our orientation is voluntary abstinence or celibacy. It also suggests that we’re waiting for the right person and are resisting our urges so we can do the right thing. This does not represent what asexuality is, and patting us on the back for “resisting” something we may very likely not want is inappropriate.
7. Sexual attraction is so distracting — you’re lucky to not have to deal with it!
First off, some asexual people do have a libido, even if it’s not directed at anyone. Secondly, while some of us do feel lucky to not deal with this “distraction” (as some non-asexual people describe it on levels approaching torment or pain), these sorts of statements can feel infantilizing — like you’re suggesting your life is more complex than an asexual person’s simple one. We have different problems. Don’t interpret us as having no problems just because we don’t have yours.
8. Too bad for the rest of us — you’re so attractive!
Someone may be saying this as a joke, but it suggests that we’re consumable people who are going to waste. If you mean it as a compliment, you can find another way to make us feel good about ourselves. Implying that the world is losing out on an attractive sexual partner because of the tragedy of our lack of desire can definitely make us feel objectified, as though our own sexual habits are a shame.
9. I’m glad you respect yourself. That’s so much better than being a slut/a player/promiscuous.
This shames those who pursue sex more than you think they should. You may think that asexual people agree with very conservative views on how much sex is okay, but being asexual doesn’t automatically mean we’ll appreciate being praised for our supposed restraint.
10. I wish I was asexual!
Saying you wish you were part of a misunderstood, erased, mostly invisible group can have the effect of infantilizing us and minimizing the problems we do have. So say what you mean. Say you wish you didn’t have a libido, or say you wish you didn’t have relationship problems. Being asexual doesn’t grant you a free pass to avoid those problems and, even though some of us have probably wished we were like you too, things like this are probably better left unsaid.
Note: Please keep in mind that asexual people don’t necessarily agree on all of these matters. This list should simply draw your attention to how these statements can be misleading when applied to us as a group.
A longer version of this blog post was originally published on Everyday Ignorance.