It’s the week before Halloween, and midterms don’t seem to be slowing down. As you try to power through the ever-increasing workload, you can’t help but go on Facebook. But why are there all these memes about cake, and why are people wearing so much purple?
It’s Asexual Awareness Week.
Asexual Awareness Week (AAW) is an international, week-long campaign that focused on educating the public about the asexual community in an accessible manner. Every year at the end of October, asexuals crawl out of the woodwork, demonstrating pride and advocating visibility and awareness for the community. But what does it mean to be “asexual?” And didn’t you learn about amoebas in some biology class? More importantly, why should you care about this event?
Let’s start with some basics to catch us all up to speed. Asexuality is a sexual orientation characterized by a lack of sexual attraction to anyone. Because asexuality is an orientation, it is not a choice like celibacy is, and is also not the product of hormonal imbalances or other supposed medical issues. Within such a broad definition, the asexual (ace) community holds a good deal of diversity regarding experiences of romantic feelings, relationships, and levels of arousal. This leads to the adoption of other sub-labels, including (but certainly not limited to) aromantic, one experiencing little or no attraction to others, and demisexual, one not experiencing attraction without the presence of a strong emotional bond.
This is, of course, an incredibly basic explanation of an expansive part of human sexuality, which is not known for being easily summarized or understood. Like other sexual orientations, the ace community’s members are incredibly diverse in their array of experiences and attitudes. I highly, highly encourage further personal inquiry if you find yourself interested. The ace community represents a sizable and expanding sexual minority: A 2014 University of California demographic report found that 4.6 percent of students, faculty, and staff identified as asexual. With more exposure to asexual individuals and a greater community comes more of a need not only for education, but support for this community as well.
The issues and marginalization that the ace community faces often stem from erasure and public misconception. The pervasive stigma against the ace community is termed acephobia. In society, we are conditioned to believe sexual attraction is a biological norm and those of us who deviate from the model suffer sexual defects like hypoactive sexual desire disorder, a medical condition still frustratingly classified in the DSM-V. The systemic medical bias continues: Many psychiatrists and therapists consistently and blatantly deny the sexual orientation of their ace-identifying patients, instead insisting on their ace patients having hormonal imbalances or repressed sexual hang-ups.
The sexualized culture of modern media is another issue we face as a community. Sex and sexual activity are the expectation—especially on a college campus. It is isolating and uncomfortable for those of us incapable of fully engaging or participating in these seemingly “universal” experiences to be bombarded by their dominance every single day. Feelings of brokenness are commonplace, and loneliness can be haunting. I can certainly attest to the discomfort associated with navigating an environment that, at many times, is laudatory of hookup culture. While sex positivity, education, and awareness are healthy and important, it is also crucial to acknowledge and learn about the array of human sexualities present in society.
Acephobia can be far more extreme. A 2012 study at Brock University on the prejudice faced by asexuals found that of all sexual minorities, asexuals were the most dehumanized, even by other sexual minorities. The respondents were even less willing to rent apartments or hire asexual-identifying people, who were seen as machine-like and emotionless.
Corrective rape is an abhorrent reality for the ace community as well. This hate crime is leveled at those seen nonconforming to social-sexual norms, intending to “punish” those viewed as abnormal, or somehow “fix” their supposed misconduct. Such an action systematically targets LGBTQ+ and gender-nonconforming people and ace people are no exception. We have often heard the abhorrent remarks that we must “try” something before we can say that we don’t want it, that we’re “confused” and just don't know what we’re missing. As such an act is at play with larger issues of widespread sexual violence pervasive in many societies around the world, ”corrective” rape is an extreme example of how damaging and simply dangerous the misconceptions and ignorance around asexuality can be for ace-identifying people. Such is why a greater level of awareness surrounding the orientation is needed.
By raising awareness about asexuality that the ace community hopes to gain more widespread acknowledgment and understanding among the rest of society and combat the aforementioned issues. It is through outreach that we can also inform and reassure those questioning their orientation that they are not at all alone, and that their feelings around sex are neither something to be ashamed of nor pathological. It is through an event like Asexual Awareness Week that we help people know that asexuality is a valid sexual orientation—not a lie, not a myth, not a choice, and not at all a problem. Ace people should be proud of who they are and also see that there are plenty of other people just like them.
Love and cake,
Christopher Eskilson PZ ’18 is a biromantic ace kid from Los Angeles, California, majoring in English and minoring in media studies. He likes coffee, exploring abandoned zoos, and reenacting David Lynch movies on a daily basis.