Writing Asexual Characters
Welcome back to Queering the Narrative!
Asexual (a.k.a. “ace”) folx, despite having a letter in the LGBTQIA+ acronym, are often erased or excluded from queer media under the assumption that they aren’t “really” queer. This has led to very few positive portrayals of asexuality (and the closely related aromanticism) in fiction.
Because of that, you’ve probably internalized a lot of problematic ideas about ace people without even realizing it. That’s why today we’re going to be talking about writing asexual characters!
What is Asexuality?
“Asexuality” refers to a lack of sexual attraction. This does not inherently mean a lack of arousal, which ace folx can experience due to stimulation or hormonal shifts. This arousal, however, isn’t connected to sexual desire. Or, put more simply, an ace individual may become aroused, but they won’t be turned on by another person’s appearance or actions.
Asexuality is also NOT a medical disorder. Though there exist medical issues that can result in a loss of libido or sexual function, these are not the same things as asexuality. Neither is asexuality the same as celibacy, though asexual people may choose to be celibate. As mentioned, many ace folx experience arousal — they may engage in masturbation or sexual contact when aroused, but that arousal isn’t connected to attraction
This, I think, is where a lot of the confusion about ace people come from. For allosexual folx (that is, those of us who experience sexual attraction), it is all but impossible to separate attraction from arousal. But people with penises don’t get “morning wood” because they woke up and saw someone attractive laying next to them — it’s a natural, cyclic phenomenon. Even for us allosexual folx, arousal doesn’t always follow attraction!
Though asexual folx don’t experience sexual attraction, they may experience other types of attraction — such as romantic, aesthetic (appearance), or sensual (non-sexual intimacy) attraction.
Also note that some ace folx experience only partial sexual attraction, or only experience sexual attraction in very specific situations (such as after they’ve built an intimate trust with someone). These folx still fall under the “asexual” umbrella, but are specifically referred to with terms like “grey-asexual” or “demisexual”
What’s It Like to be Asexual?
Ace people often describe their orientation as “misunderstood” — and with good reason. People tend to think that asexual people are prudish, ashamed, traumatized, defective, mentally ill, or some other sort of “wrong.” Our society also has an (arguably unhealthy) focus on sex and sexuality, which presupposes the inevitability of sexual contact. For folx who have no interest in that contact, this can feel extremely alienating.
Some ace folx are “sex averse” or “sex repulsed,” meaning that they are distinctly uncomfortable with the idea of sexual contact. This is not true of all ace folx, though — some engage in sexual contact to satisfy their own arousal or to please their allosexual partner. Again, asexual does not mean celibate — it simply means that they have different motivations for having sex then an allosexual person might.
Ace folx who are sex averse/repulsed MAY have experienced some form of sexual trauma in the past, but that is in NO WAY a prerequisite. Ace folx are not scared of sex because of something that happened in their past. Some may have an uncomfortable or traumatic relationship with sex, but plenty of others have always felt that way. And both of these experiences are valid! Someone who identifies as ace due to the effects of a past trauma is still ace, and someone who doesn’t have that history of trauma is still ace even if there’s no “reason.” The reason is because they’re ace!
Contrary to popular belief, ace folx are not inherently cold, distant, or uninterested in any sort of intimacy. As I mentioned before, many ace folx experience attraction in avenues apart from sexual attraction — such as romantic, aesthetic, or sensual. Even if they don’t want to have sex, many asexual folx still desire the deep, emotional bond that can be shared between life partners. These bonds may include such displays of affection as hugging, kissing, snuggling, poetry, music, ridiculously long text messages, making someone coffee every morning, or playing with someone’s hair — there are plenty of non-sexual ways to be intimate with someone, and these are likely to be the things an ace individual is looking for in a partner!
Writing Asexual Characters
When writing asexual characters as an allosexual person, it’s helpful to try and divorce your own sexual desires from your other avenues of attraction:
- Think of your partner. What non-sexual ways do you express affection for each other? What do you like about them that isn’t related to sex?
- Think of someone you admire. Do you admire them because you want to have sex with them? What aspects of their style, personality, ideals, etc. do you admire?
- Think of your best friend, or a close family member. How do you show affection for one another? What would your life be like without them?
Once you think of things in this light, it’s not hard to get an idea of what the world might be like if you didn’t experience sexual attraction — and to realize that it isn’t a bland and emotionless existence devoid of human interaction!
It’s also important, though, to remember the very real struggles ace folx face. If you’re writing in a world similar to ours — where the acquisition of a sexual life partner or partners is paramount to happiness — then your ace character might feel isolated or defective. They might experiment with sex and find it lacking, or else resign themselves to being in a sexual relationship that they find distressing. Don’t approach these struggles flippantly — as with any queer identity, do your research and get a sensitivity reader!
I’m not myself ace, and can only give you so much advice on writing asexual characters. If you’re planning on writing asexual characters, I recommend you check out resources from actual ace folx, like the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) and this TIME article by Julie Sondra Decker.
As I mentioned above, you’ve probably internalized a lot of negative tropes about ace folx without even realizing it — and you can learn about some of those in next week’s Queering the Narrative!
Until then, stay safe, stay healthy, and keep writing!