When I started going through puberty, I was taught three things about sex: 1. Sex is “intercourse between a man and a woman,” 2. Sex always leads to teen pregnancy, which will ruin your future, and 3. The only way to prevent teen pregnancy is by practicing abstinence.
I was raised by a Vietnamese mom and an African American dad with strict expectations. My mom wanted me to focus on school rather than socializing, while my dad wanted me to perform femininity through my gender presentation and not think about boys at all.
I had no person or resources to turn to about my fluctuating sexuality. I experienced romantic attraction to a few boys, but not sexual attraction. On the rare occasion when I did experience sexual attraction, it was when I found myself staring at a girl’s cleavage or butt. Without the language to express my feelings or the ability to explore them, I kept my head in books and suppressed my sexuality until my mid twenties.
Reading the manga Sailor Moon and watching the anime series and movie Revolutionary Girl Utena and Adolescence of Utena helped me come to terms with my attraction to girls, but there was still something missing. I knew I liked girls, but I didn’t know how I liked them. I appreciated the physical appearance of girls to the point where I literally wanted to write poems about them and maybe have romantic relationships with them. However, the idea of sex with a girl — especially penetrative sex — felt uncomfortable. I also felt the same way with other genders.
I started looking up information about my queerness, but researching other aspects of my unique relationship to sex never occurred to me. Romance, sex, and sexual attraction are normalized, regardless of orientation or gender. I knew I was bi and nonbinary, but I thought that rarely experiencing sexual or romantic attraction meant that I wasn’t queer enough.
In early 2018, I came across the YA novel Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann. Although I initially got the book purely to review a debut Black YA author, the novel’s Black, biromantic, asexual protagonist ended up explaining and validating most of the confusing feelings I had about my sexuality. This book helped me realize that I was a bi, grey asexual who experiences aesthetic attraction first, rather than sexual or romantic attraction. Aesthetic attraction is when you appreciate the physical appearance or beauty of a person — in short, you enjoy looking at a person, but you don’t have a crush or feel turned on.
I also found resources on grey asexuality, such as the literary journal The Aze and the Asexual Visibility and Education Network. I realized that maybe I would want to have sex or romance, but only under specific circumstances — like when I have a deep, emotional bond with someone (this is known as demisexuality). I also started affirming my asexuality through writing essays and poems about my experiences.
At the same time, I had to gradually unlearn what I had been taught about having and enjoying sex. Coming across articles about non-penetrative sex acts sparked my interest in nipple play, erotic massages, and dry humping. I started experimenting a bit with sex fantasies, erotic fanfiction, and masturbation. Whenever I would wake up in the middle of the night with my mind and heart racing, my mind eventually drifted to nighttime fantasizes of hot makeout sessions and half-naked sex. I would also masturbate by rubbing one of my breasts until I felt calm enough to try and go back to sleep.
Masturbating and indulging in sex fantasies gave me the sex positivity that I’d been starved of for most of my life. I finally realized that it is completely possible to be asexual, experience some sexual attraction, and enjoy sex — even if you’re only having sex with yourself.
For now, I’m happy having a sexual relationship by myself. I like being able to affirm my occasional sexual urges without judgement from anyone else. It is also a way for me to have some “me timewp_postswhen I need a break from the stress of work and my responsibilities as a parent caregiver. I hope that someday sex can inspire my creativity, especially since I’ve discovered a newfound appreciation for some sexy artistic works, such as Janet Jackson’s song “Would You Mind?”
I’m still unlearning the wrong things I learned about attraction and sex, and my journey is unique. Like other orientations, asexuality is fluid and can vary from person to person. Through resources such as sex education and queer support networks, as well as some self examination, you can decide if and how you want to enjoy sex.