By Jennifer Marbley
Oct. 27 marked the beginning of Asexual Awareness Week, which aimed to increase understanding of a part of a population that does not experience sexual attraction. Allen Johnson, a junior at the University of Nevada, Reno said coming out isn’t just for people who consider themselves to be gay or lesbian. He announced his asexuality to a supportive group of friends and family via social media Sunday, Oct. 26.
Johnson said that when people discovered that he was asexual, some of his friends wanted to know how asexuality differed from abstinence or celibacy. Celibacy and abstinence are choices to refrain in sexual activity, while asexuality is a genuine and natural lack of desire.
“[Asexuality] is a real thing,” Johnson said. “This is a sexual orientation and it needs to be taken more seriously.”
Johnson said that he noticed he was different from his peers in middle school and faced social alienation because he wasn’t interested in dating. He dated a girl in eighth grade to fit in with his friends, who began to experiment with relationships and sexuality.
“It was the most uncomfortable thing I’ve probably ever done in my life,” Johnson said. “I was just doing that because I thought I had to do something to fit in, but I was uncomfortable every second. I didn’t want to hold hands; I didn’t want to be next to her.”
Johnson eventually confessed to his girlfriend that he didn’t see her in a romantic way. After they broke up, he never dated again. Throughout Johnson’s high school years, he struggled to find the vocabulary to describe his lack of sexual attraction to either men or women.
Some psychologists have considered asexuality to be a sexual disorder. According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder shares similarities with asexuality. A clinician must diagnose symptoms that include “deficient or absent sexual fantasies and desire for sexual activity.”
The lack of sexual desire must also result in “significant distress” for the individual, according to the DSM-5. Sometimes, lack of sexual attraction can be caused by childhood abuse, hormonal imbalance and other factors. However, people who consider themselves asexual claim to not experience any distress about their lack of sexual attraction.
Johnson decided to spread information about asexuality during Asexual Awareness Week to dismiss myths that his sexual orientation is an illness. He would like more education on a sexuality to increase understanding of his sexual orientation.
UNR queer studies professor Emily Hobson encourages asexuality acceptance. She teaches about the history of the LGBTQ movement in the U.S. and promotes understanding of all sexual identities. She said that asexuals often receive invalidation from people who don’t understand their lack of sexual attraction.
“No matter our age, gender, race, ethnicity, class or citizenship, we all deserve the right to move in and out of different sexual identities, and we also deserve the right to identify as not attracted to others at all,” Hobson said.
Johnson used Asexual Awareness Week as a platform to talk about his right to declare himself as asexual. While there are classes that discuss human sexual and queer studies, there is no organized group about asexuality on campus. With no representation or organized asexual community in Reno, Johnson turned to online forums like asexual.org and social media for understanding and support. For Asexual Awareness Week, Johnson posted daily facts and infographics to increase education about asexuality.
Senior Jason Angeles is an LGBTQ advocate who learned more about asexuality through Johnson’s posts. He said that it’s important to have people to publicly represent preferences that aren’t often talked about. Johnson’s choice to promote Asexual Awareness Week is brave, according to Angeles.
“I think that it’s important to have people to publicly represent identities that aren’t often visible,” Angeles said. “When it comes to identity, we too often rely on thinking within a binary— male/female; gay/straight—and by doing so we erase and dismiss many people in the process.”
Jennifer Marbley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @MissMarbley.