In 2011-ish, I came out as bisexual. A couple years after that, I came out again as a lesbian. And still, a few years after that, I slowly came out as non-binary. Now here I am, not too long after the last bombshell, coming out once more — but this time, as asexual. It feels like gender and sexuality are an onion that I keep peeling back to reveal another layer. It definitely gets a little overwhelming. Once I begin to know one part of myself, there’s more beneath the surface.
I felt relieved after narrowing down who I was attracted to. I felt whole after figuring out my gender. And now, coming to terms with being asexual doesn’t feel as rewarding as the others did.
Firstly, I don’t know very many Black asexuals. Maybe one or two. Secondly, the race part of it definitely compounds the situation. Black people, especially Black femmes, are highly sexualized in the media, in real life, everywhere. Sometimes I just want to wear clothes without being sexualized or gendered, but my curves and Blackness make that almost impossible. I learned that I had ‘DSLs’ at around 14, all because I have big lips. I am seen as always willing and always available when that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Having those things projected on me since…well, puberty, has had a real effect on how I view sex and desire. In fact, I’m still figuring it out.
Shadeen Francis, who specializes in sex therapy, told me to find language to describe myself with that doesn’t feel judgemental.
“I would love for the umbrella of asexuality to feel like it is still full of possibility for you to really honor the truth of how you feel and what actually feels good to you,” she explained. “It’s an umbrella term. And so even within that space, you might find particular language and labels and terminology that might narrow down something more close to what it feels like to be in your lived experience.”
I still have to think about what feels good to me. I’m not sure yet if calling myself asexual feels 100% accurate. I like sex — I just don’t feel the need to do it all the time. I may lean more towards gray-asexual, someone who likes sex sometimes. That feels more fitting to me.
“For a lot of asexual people, sex still feels good. And people still want to have sex. It just might not be for reasons around attraction,” Francis said. “It might not be for reasons around deep desire, this spontaneous sort of experience of wanting something. There are all kinds of reasons and ways that we can connect to people, and I think asexuality is a beautiful umbrella and spectrum for us to really challenge our understandings of what it means to have meaningful connection.”
For me, meaningful connection feels like laying in bed, cuddling and baring our hearts to each other. It feels like laughing together until we’re crying.
I wish I knew these things about sex and about myself much earlier in my life. I felt abnormal for not really wanting or needing to have sex. I still do sometimes, but I’m definitely further along in my learning.
When I still identified as bisexual, I would have sex with my then boyfriend because he wanted it. There were times when I didn’t really want to, but I would compromise to make him happy. I pushed aside my feelings to continue to be a good girlfriend to him. I feel sorry for that younger version of myself who didn’t have the language and understanding that I do now.
Later, I dated a girl who I didn’t have sex with often. I still wasn’t comfortable with labeling myself as asexual. But I was able to say when I did or did not want to have sex. I was worried she would find me boring. I didn’t want us to be a couple that never had sex, but I just…didn’t care to do it. She felt rejected. And I, again, felt broken.
When I asked Shadeen about how much sex couples should be having, she had this to say: “The going number around what we would clinically consider as a sexless couple are couples that only have sex once a month. But we can see in that number — it’s so decontextualized. I never find it useful. Because what if that is exactly as much sex as I want? What if that is exactly what feels good to me?”
In all relationships, boundaries and communication are key, and I feel that communication is especially important for someone who identifies as asexual. Society can make us feel like we’re flawed or like our relationships aren’t as valid because we’re not having as much sex as we’re “supposed to.”
“You might say, ‘I don’t like pineapple on my pizza.’ Or, ‘I love my pizza with cheese and spinach and ground beef,'” Francis said. “Whatever your particular flavor is, can we navigate that in the world, in the same way that we would do all of the other things that make us feel safe, and that make us feel good, and then make us feel satisfied?”
Now that I’m older and hopefully wiser, I’m able to advocate for myself. I’m able to say what feels good and what doesn’t. How often I want to have sex is completely up to me and how I feel, not how I’m trying to make my partner feel. And I have a partner who is totally understanding about my waxing and waning desire to have sex.
Shadeen’s advice, not just to my fledgling asexual self, but to everyone, is that we’re all normal. “Plenty of people have a desire or libido that is different or lower than friends than past partners and current partners. And that’s also normal,” she said. “And that wherever anyone exists in terms of how much or how little sex that they were that there’s nothing inherently wrong with not wanting more.”