The Pursuit of Garlic Bread: An Illustrated Primer to Asexuality

Just FYI, this article was written by a minor. However, I’m doing my best to represent asexuality and the asexual community in as complete a way as I can, and therefore am going to be discussing some non-minor things. …I’ll be mentioning sex a few times. Thanks for your understanding.

Welcome to Asexuality: An Illustrated Primer! 

A simple drawing of a girl with pink hair smiling with her eyes closed, holding an asexual flag.
That pink-haired lady is me! Hello! I’m holding the asexual flag!
I’m asexual biromantic! If that second bit scares you, I’ll explain later.

What is asexuality?

An asexual person is someone who does not experience sexual attraction to others. That’s the basic definition, but for reasons we’ll be getting into shortly, the term “asexual” can have a lot of context ascribed to it.

“Asexual” is often shortened to “ace”, and is separate from aromanticism. An asexual person can feel romantically attracted to someone! Asexuals can go on dates, have crushes, want to have significant others and do anything someone in a romantic relationship does, just without the sexual attraction. 

A simple drawing of a girl with pink hair leaning in from the side of the page. The text "and it's still awful" is in red next to her.

Asexuals, otherwise, are just like anyone else! Not feeling sexual attraction might be strange to some, but a common ace realization story consists of the ace realizing that sexual attraction isn’t an elaborate joke humanity decided to play. That feeling like you’re not getting something? That is mutual.

As an identity, the acceptance of asexuality is relatively new. It has only been extensively documented recently, and research of asexuality is still developing. However, as we’ll get to shortly, asexuality was not “started by the internet”. Instead, it suffered from a lack of vocabulary to describe it and, therefore, document it. Asexuality has existed for a long time, just as any other identity has.

The asexual experience varies between each person, and there are many identities that fall underneath the term “asexual”. Just like the spectrum of sexuality, asexuality falls within a spectrum! This is called the “asexuality spectrum”, and people who fall within it are often termed “aspec”.

A bar containing a gradient from red to purple, labeled with the words "allosexual" (above the red end), "demi, gray, etc." above the middle, and "asexual" above the purple end. Below the bar are simple drawings of three people smiling up at it.

A quick overview of identities on the spectrum:

Allosexual just means non-asexual! An allosexual, or “allo” person, feels sexual attraction towards others. It’s easier than saying “a sexual person”, because that’s a strange thing to call someone! If you’re not asexual, you don’t have to identify as allo specifically, it’s just a way to make things easier when talking about asexual vs allosexuals. It’s akin to transgender vs cisgender. …Kind of. 
Gray-Asexual people only feel sexual attraction very rarely. Gray-ace folks can choose to identify as Gray-Ace and some other sexuality, like heterosexual or bisexual.
Demisexual people only feel sexual attraction once they feel close to someone. You might be thinking, “Gee, isn’t that just like everyone else?” That’s actually used against demisexuals a lot, but that isn’t how everyone else is. Keep in mind that action is different from attraction. A way I heard it described by a demi friend was that they never had celebrity crushes or “love at first sight” type things, but once they were friends with someone for a while they realized they wanted to be More Than Friends. An allo person might feel sexual attraction towards someone, but wait until they feel better about the relationship to act upon it.
There are many other, more specific identities that people choose to identify with, but I won’t cover them here. Just know that if you come across an aspec person who chooses to use one of these labels, they’re not trying to be “special”, they’re just using the terminology that makes them happy.

A simple drawing of two people smiling and holding flags with the text "in the middle" in the center of the image. One of the people is holding a gray-ace flag and has the text "Can have little a sexual attraction, as a treat" over him in red. The other is holding a demisexual flag and has the text "Needs a minute" over her in red.

Asexuals and aspec folks may be repulsed, indifferent, or happy to participate in sex itself. That last one can confuse people sometimes, since why would someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction want to participate in sex? 

Asexuals may have sex for a variety of reasons. Some say it’s for their partner, some say it’s because they desire emotional closeness, and some (though a minority) do it just because they enjoy it. Asexuals often have a libido (physical sex drive) even if they aren’t sexually attracted to anyone, and may choose to have sex and even enjoy it because of their libido. They can also enjoy the physical closeness that comes with sex, or may do it to make their partner happy. Asexuals, like any other demographic, are all different people, and as such have different preferences. 

The important thing to note is that behavior does not necessarily equal attraction. Just like someone may date men and realize later that they’re a lesbian, an asexual may have sex but later realize they’re asexual. Therefore, if someone’s had sex before, that doesn’t mean they can’t be asexual. 

Asexuality is VALID. Sex is not a necessity for love or romantic relationships, and asexual people live happy, fulfilled lives. Asexuality is a minority identity and therefore belongs in the LGBTQ+ community. While they may not be as “obvious” as other LGBTQ+ folks and therefore don’t experience a lot of the same struggles as them, they do suffer from the type of fear and hatred that results from a lack of understanding and empathy.

The text "Aces are LGBTQ+" above a simple drawing of a girl with pink hair smiling.
We’re in the plus!

What isn’t asexuality?

Often, people confuse asexuality with the decision to not have sex. Asexuals don’t choose to not feel any type of sexual attraction, it just doesn’t exist. 

Asexuality isn’t:

  • Celibacy or abstinence (the decision to not have sex)
  • Someone who’s scared to have sex
  • Someone in denial about being gay
  • Someone in denial about being straight
  • Someone with a hormonal disorder (hormonal disorders have other symptoms beyond a decreased libido which would be much more obvious!)
  • A mental illness
  • A result of past trauma
  • A result of being emotionally distant
  • Single-celled reproduction (in this context, at least. Words can gain new meanings, Derek.)

Just like any other gender or sexuality is not caused by childhood trauma, asexuality is not caused by a past traumatic event relating to sex. It is not okay to, unprompted, ask an asexual if they went through anything like this in the past, and it isn’t okay to ask an allosexual either. Y’know, just don’t pry.

A simple drawing of two cells in the midst of dividing. Both cells are smiling. One has the text "I'm actually pansexual" over it in red, and the other has a gay pride sticking out of it.
you don’t know WHAT those cells identify as

That last bullet point is used when arguing against the existence of asexual people more often than one might think. But asexuals have history behind them like any other identity. The term “asexual” has been used to describe people who don’t feel sexual attraction since at least 1907, and records of asexual people existing were documented long before that (though they weren’t using the term asexual), even if a lot of modern ace discussion and history compilation takes place on the internet.

A simple drawing of a pink-haired girl with an asexual flag on her shirt smiling mischievously and reaching towards a heart labeled "society's collective love".
real pic of me

Once again, asexuals belong in the LGBTQ+ community! They are their own separate identity and they deserve space just as much as any other. An argument often used against asexuals being included in the plus is that they’ll steal the spotlight meant for other, “more valid” members. First of all, acceptance is not a limited resource, and kindness isn’t scarce. There is enough room in our collective hearts for any marginalized person. Any resources meant for LGBTQ+ folks will go to whoever needs them, and allowing ace folks to partake won’t mean that they’ll steal it all with their grabby little hands.

Often, asexual people will receive pushback if they come out to someone. It’s hard for many allos to understand life without sexual attraction, and the assumptions made about aces can hurt them. Listen to your aces.

What’s the split attraction model?

The definition of asexual (and aromantic, and any aspec identity) relies on a distinction between romantic attraction and sexual attraction. Therefore, there is value in differentiating between romantic and sexual attraction. That’s where the split attraction model comes in!

A simple drawing of a pink haired girl gesturing to the text "The split attraction model!" next to her in red. Beside her and the text are two interlocked shapes, a heart and a diamond. The heart has the text "romantic attraction" and the diamond has the text "sexual attraction" inside of it.
There’s no “officially sanctioned” visual for this, so this is just how I’m drawing it.
Who would sanction it, anyway? The High Council Of Queer Folks?

The split attraction model, or SAM, makes an effort to differentiate between romantic and sexual orientation. This means that while someone may feel that their sexual orientation falls under one label, their romantic attraction falls under another.

A set of three interlocked hearts and diamonds, similar to those in the previous drawing. Each has a set of flags within them. The first combination of flags is "pansexual aromantic", the second is "bisexual homoromantic", and the third is "asexual biromantic". Underneath the third set is a simple drawing of a pink haired girl saying "that's me".
You can also be “bisexual biromantic” or “heterosexual heteroromantic”, but there’s no reason to say it in so many words. Just “bisexual” or “straight” is fine.

With this model, asexual and aromantic people are given the vocabulary to describe their attraction to others. It separates sexual and romantic attraction into two separate concepts, allowing a more full description of one’s orientation.

This model isn’t exclusive to aspec people! Though they might make up a good portion of the people who actively use it (as it’s easier than saying “I’m both asexual and bisexual!”), allosexual and alloromantic people can use it to better describe their orientations as well. In the example above, there’s a person who identifies as neither ace nor aro. They’re sexually attracted to more than one gender, but are only romantically attracted to their same gender: bisexual homoromantic. This model can be used for any combination of romantic and sexual orientation.

The model often comes under fire for “oversexualizing” other orientations that don’t use the SAM, like lesbian or bisexual. I argue– and this is completely my own opinion here– that that’s not at all what this is doing. The existence of the split attraction model does not imply that to be a lesbian is an inherently sexual thing. It only provides people who experience a split in attraction with a label they can feel secure in. One person’s existence does not invalidate the existence of another.

Why do I care?

Aces experience stigma like any other minority sexuality. Though, of course, we don’t have the same laws made against us, there are social repercussions to being ace that make life as an asexual difficult.

A simple drawing of a pink haired girl yelling "leave me alone!" while surrounded by text bubbles with anti-asexual sentiments.
I’ve heard all of these at some point. Tag yourself, I’m “cell division”.

Openly asexual people are faced with confusion and disregard for their identities for a variety of reasons. I like to think that most people who react negatively to asexuals are just rejecting something they don’t know much about, but when people within the LGBTQ+ community, people who know what it’s like to feel hated just for being open, exclude asexuals from their community? That is beyond ignorance.

Asexuals face a higher risk of depression and other such mood disorders due to their marginalization as a community. They are hurting due to the relative invisibility of their sexuality and (by extension) their problems. Educating people about asexuality is an important way to combat this. In knowledge we can find acceptance.

On a more personal note, I’ve found that a good portion of asexuals know that they’re ace, on some level, for a long time. Relationships and romance are a common topic among children, even from a young age. These things are pushed on kids since they’re young, whether it’s a parent calling their two-year-old son a “ladies man” or asking their toddler if they have a crush. But a young asexual (or aromantic) without the words to describe how they feel might not relate to or actively reject these notions.

Scribbles surrounding a simple drawing of a pink haired girl floating in the abyss.

In a world where, for most, relationships imply sex, feeling no sexual attraction can leave an asexual feeling stranded in their social circles. Before discovering other people like them, or that there is a word for what they feel, aspec people often feel broken and even inhuman.

I know because that’s how I felt.

For a long time I felt lonely. I obviously didn’t feel the same as anyone else did about relationships, but I thought I was just a late bloomer. In middle school I vividly remember thinking “we’re just kids, why is everyone so interested in love?” But the “just kids” feeling never faded, even after early childhood did. My peers started being interested in romance and all that came with it, and I just felt… empty.

Scribbles surrounding a pink haired girl holding a perturbed looking heart. She yells "Please do the thing!" while the heart replies "ew".

I liked having crushes and the thought of a boyfriend made me happy, but I knew that being a teen meant that people might want to have sex with me. And that was a great big horrible thing that I never wanted. Other people having sex– sure, fine. But putting myself in that position? Never.

In between entering The World Of Dating and identifying as asexual, I thought I was fundamentally broken. I could never have that quintessential human thing that everyone else has. I thought I had some kind of disorder that made me unloveable.

Somewhere in there I figured out that bisexuality was a thing, and I thought that described me– I felt the same way about boys and girls, even if that was very little. I placed myself gently into a little box, and ignored it when my experiences didn’t align with any other allo bisexual I knew.

A smiling pink haired girl next to a diamond with the asexual flag inside of it.

When I learned what asexuality was, I finally felt like I belonged somewhere. There were people like me out there who preferred garlic bread to sex, and they still found happiness (and for some, romance)! We are not lacking some base human necessity, we are complete on our own. And though I admit I am not proud of my asexuality every day– I still struggle with feeling like I’m “faking it” or “not human”– I am on my own journey to accepting myself.

Could I be asexual?

If any of the above hit home, or if you think you could be asexual, then that’s up to you to figure out. You can’t choose who you’re attracted to or how you’re attracted to them, but you can use the terminology that makes you happy.

A smiling pink haired girl wearing blue jeans, surrounded by the text "Oh yeah!"
these are my gender pants

I see people asking what the point of all these labels are– why do we need so many boxes to put people in? But I don’t think the point of labels is to separate people. Instead I like to take comfort in the labels I have chosen for myself, rather than feeling that they define me. It’s kind of a silly analogy, but I like to think of it like this: A label is like your best-fitting pair of jeans. It suits you well, you feel confident when you use it, and it doesn’t matter if it’s not someone else’s style, because it’s meant for you!

As a closing sentiment, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to educate yourselves on aces and the asexuality spectrum. The main problem facing the asexual community is the lack of understanding the general population has. The world needs more acceptance, and education is the best way to ensure we get there!

A pink haired girl cheering, surrounded by purple confetti.
If you have any questions I’ll try to stick around to answer them in the comments!

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