There’s a succulent on my windowsill. I’ve been trying to propagate it for about a year now. But I’m starting to discover a distinct lack of green in my thumb.
When I was fresh out of high school and looking toward the big move to college — the first major tectonic shift in my life — I felt like bottled lightning. I was itching to leave my small hometown on Michigan’s west coast.
Sometimes, when electricity fills my body to the brim, I feel like I have to snap my fingers to let some of it go. Snap. Finally, I’ll be intellectually challenged. Snap. I’ll make friends with people who are just like me. Snap. Maybe I’ll finally meet someone. Maybe I’ll fall in love.
Well, my freshman year of college must have been made of plastic; it deflected my energy at every turn. Because of COVID-19, I wasn’t really allowed to leave my dorm room or let other people in. There were no more than two meal options in the dining hall either. I waited on the edge of my seat for years to be where I was, but after arriving there I found my college experience to be virtually nonexistent. Needless to say, I was barely meeting anyone, platonically or romantically.
When I found the word “asexual” during my sophomore year it was through word of mouth and YouTube comment sections. An entire facet of my experience with love thus far, or lack thereof, could suddenly be communicated with one word.
And I kind of thought finding the asexual label and claiming it would be the end of my needing to figure anything out about my love life. The discovery of sexual identity is a journey all on its own, and I felt like finding a label that fit me should be the end of it, maybe because I needed a break from analyzing myself so much. I was definitely wrong. Self-scrutinization doesn’t take breaks.
Lately, I haven’t been able to wrap my head around how I’m supposed to know who I like if the sexual attraction piece is missing. I feel like a bat trying to fly without echolocation. Or like I’ve been dropped in the middle of the Sahara Desert with a broken compass and a dream. I’ll walk in circles forever, muttering, “Girls or guys? Or everyone? Or no one?” till I die of heat exhaustion. Or worse, die alone.
But maybe I’m overthinking it. I just need to put myself out there! I could download Hinge, tick the “asexual” option on my profile and let people’s profiles come to me. I could strike up a conversation, agree to go on a date or two. What do I even like in a partner? What is a college girl supposed to do on dates? No idea! But I won’t know until I try.
Except, and this could be the anxiety talking, I find the idea of going on a date to be deeply and profoundly petrifying. I’m asexual. I want to date someone, I really do. I want to have my first kiss. What the hell am I supposed to do with that? Am I a walking oxymoron?
The latter question is easy to answer: No, it’s not contradictory to be ace (short for “asexual”) and to want to be in a relationship. Someone who identifies as part of the asexual spectrum, an umbrella term referring to the plethora of different ways one can identify as ace, can be as sexually active or inactive as they want and still be asexual.
Asexuality is a sexuality label that can pair with many other romantic orientations. You could be biromantic asexual (an asexual person romantically attracted to both genders), or homoromantic asexual (an ace romantically attracted to the same gender as themselves), or heteroromantic asexual (an ace romantically attracted to the opposite gender as themselves).
A key defining factor of asexuality is the level of existing sexual attraction, which, physiologically speaking, is not a prerequisite for participating in sex with another person. I’ve seen some aces online describe sex like it’s just another activity in a list of many: working on a puzzle, going rollerskating, having sex — it all carries the same trivial nature.
When it comes to our position on sex, an asexual person can be one of three things: sex positive, sex neutral or sex repulsed. These terms are relatively self-explanatory. Someone who is sex positive would be okay with and might even enjoy having sex, perhaps in the same way you might enjoy doing yoga. Someone who is sex repulsed would be the opposite: They’d dislike sex. From what I’ve gathered through my own experience and other aces talking about their experience online, many people assume those who come out as asexual to be sex repulsed or simply celibate.
Last, if someone is sex neutral, they feel indifferent toward the act of sex. Having it or not having it doesn’t really matter. It’s a shrug, a blank expression, a so-so hand tilting back and forth without enthusiasm.
For a long time I felt like somewhat of an anomaly as an ace person with so much noise around me buzzing about college hookup culture, first loves, etc. But the Statement’s sex survey simultaneously broke stereotypes and showed me I’m not alone. Of the 4,951 students who filled out the Statement’s sex survey this year, 121 noted they were asexual — about 2.81% of the total respondents.
The survey data also affirmed the reality that the label “asexual” does not imply that a person is sexually inactive. Students were asked to gauge how much sex, on average, they were having this semester as well as throughout their entire college experience. Around 20% of asexual students reported having had sex this Fall 2022 semester.
Of these students, 9% reported that they’ve had sex once or twice a month, 7% reported once or twice a week, 2% reported three to four times a week, 1% reported five to six times a week and 1% reported seven or more times a week. For all of college thus far, the majority of asexual respondents, 76%, have had zero sexual partners. 19.4% have had one to two partners, and 2.4% have had 10+ sexual partners.
So, as far as University of Michigan students go, you can be asexual and still be having more sex than an Engineering student.
When asked if they enjoy having sex, around 20.7% of asexual respondents reported “yes,” 39.0% reported “no,” and 40.2% were indifferent. 8.2% of asexual respondents did not agree with the statement, “I’ve had mostly positive sexual experiences in college.” 21.2% agreed and 70.6% were neutral.
Even through a brief examination of asexuality on campus, it’s clear that being asexual is a lot more complex than a general lack of intrinsic sexual desire. Just like many other identities, there is a broad range of personal fluctuations, flexibilities and variations. In other words, asexuality is different for every individual person who identifies with it.
Personally, I could probably go my whole life without having sex and be completely okay with it. I’m the least horny person of anyone I know. That’s how I feel at this point in my life, at least. Maybe I will have sex one day. I’m not seeking it out, but I’m not removing the possibility from my future either. And I’m certainly not ruling out future romantic relationships.
I do daydream, though. Of holding someone’s hand in mine. Whispering waterfalls of secrets and nothings in someone’s ear without worrying that my spring-wound chest or skittish disposition will get in the way. I want to stargaze! Preferably on the roof of some building that we climb up to together after dark. In my mind, I hold someone gently with my eyes and my arms. They hold me in return. We’re humming a duet together in the light of a glowy afternoon. I dream of knowing and being known as fully as possible. There are things that I hide — habits of mine and conversations I bury — that someone could unearth if they want; if they’ve earned it.
I want someone to earn it. I want to yearn to talk to someone again after a long day’s encounters. I tend to walk in the clouds, and someone could fall into step with me if they wanted, if they could keep pace. I would let someone if they asked. I would let someone tie a ribbon around my wrist and tether me to the earth. I would let someone be the hearth I hold my shivering hands to when life becomes cold. I want to roller skate together, scrape knees together, read together. I’d crochet them a sweater. Laugh every which way. Be.
I’m afraid that if I tell someone I’m asexual, they’re going to assume I don’t dream of these things. What is an asexual hopeless romantic to do?
“Dani, it’s your turn.”
A voice calls from the other side of the roundtable. Tight, irritated. They have a wide-brimmed hat on a head tilted so far forward that I can’t see their face. How did this guy get my name? I can’t see anyone who sits around our game clearly. The table is the velvet green of casino greed and the air is thick with scrutiny. I give my head a quick shake, clear the fog and look to remind myself what cards I have. I have four of a kind, all aces. Daydreaming in the middle of the game again. I hope my hands didn’t relax while my mind went elsewhere. No one is allowed to see my cards.
What are we playing again? Euchre? Hold ’em? Spoons? Egyptian rat screw? Wide-brim starts tapping their fingers impatiently.
“Well, kid? You gonna play a card or what?”
Maybe soon. I don’t know.
Statement Correspondent Danielle Canan can be reached at email@example.com.