When you’re asexual, things can get complicated quickly.
When asexual activist Julie Decker was in college, she went out to dinner one evening with a guy. The two hadn’t known each other long, but everything seemed to click.
As the meal went on, Julie’s dinner companion listened patiently as she explained she had no interest in romance or intimacy.
“He offered no objections and no red flags, so I thought he was cool with it,” Julie, now 37, recalls. They played video games and engaged in friendly conversation for the rest of the night.
When it came time to leave, the man asked for a goodnight kiss. Surprised by the advance, Julie politely refused. The man persisted. He said the night wouldn’t be complete without a kiss. Julie told him the night would just have to be incomplete.
The man then pushed Julie against the car door and dragged his tongue up her cheek “like a dog,” she says. She pushed him away and left. The man yelled after her “I just want to help you!”
Julie didn’t want his help. She was leading a perfectly happy aromantic life, and no part of it needed rescuing.
Over a decade later, Julie has become a vocal advocate for the asexual community, a category of people broadly defined as those who do not feel sexually or romantically attracted to others. She holds speaking engagements, participates in an active Tumblr community, vlogs on her YouTube channel swankivy, and wrote a book entitled “The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality,”
Through her role as a champion for asexuals, Julie has learned a lot about the plight facing asexuals today.
“I was lucky that my situation didn’t lead to anything worse than a non-consensual lick on my face followed by creepy messages,” Julie told Tech Insider recently. “In a world that treats asexuality like a problem someone else can just decide to fix, this kind of treatment is not uncommon.”
But asexuality isn’t a choice. It’s a sexual orientation, and a complex one at that.
The term “asexuality” isn’t actually a catch-all. People can be aromantic (sexually active but uninterested in intimacy), demisexual (sexually active only after getting close emotionally), or grey-sexual (sexually active one day and totally withdrawn the next).
Julie, who was 14 years old when she realised that she is both asexual and aromantic, says the coming out process was met with resistance from her elders and peers. People told her she was too young to know what she wanted. She was just another confused teenager.
“That was frustrating and difficult to deal with,” Julie recalls. “People are basing whether they’re going to respect you on whether they think you’re mature in this particular way.”
Since specific definitions of asexuality are hard to come by, so are statistics on the true size of the community. One 2004 study estimated 1% of the population is asexual, a rate later upheld up in a follow-up study published in 2010.
Late last year, the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) released a census on the asexual community. According to the census, 62.1% of the nearly 11,000 asexual respondents identified as women; 24.6% chose a gender that didn’t align with one or the other, such as genderqueer and agender; and only 13.3% identified as male.
That scarcity of male asexuals is a trend Julie says she’s quite familiar with.
Since cultural norms often dictate that a high sex drive is connected to masculinity, asexual men may see their disinterest as a sign they also lack manhood. Rather than confront the dilemma, an easier alternative is simply to deny it.
“People do sometimes have this reaction like, ‘Oh you’re asexual. That means you made a decision,’ and react violently to that,” Julie says. ” They all think that it’s about a behaviour. But it’s an orientation. It’s about who you’re attracted to.”
She relates the experience to taking a multiple-choice exam, in that answering “None of the above” isn’t the same as not answering the question. “So that’s kind of what we’re doing,” she says, “answering ‘None of the above.'”
Despite her visibility in the asexual community, Julie admits she’d much rather leave the sexual revolution in the hands of others.
“The activism aspect is not something I set out to do,” she says. “And I feel like as more people start doing it, probably people who are better at it than I am will take over.”
Julie hopes that future generations will see just how wide the spectrum of sexuality can be. “Gay” and “straight” are too broad, and the sooner kids can gain that appreciation, the sooner asexuality will be normalized. Society will be able to train its attention on people’s actions, not on how their brains are wired.
“I think that’s where we have a disconnect,” Julie says of asexuals versus the sexually active. While she can process that others enjoy sex and that she does not, “they feel like the only way to interpret me is themselves walking around in my shoes, without acknowledging that my shoes don’t fit them.”
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