Long before Sabrina Catlin heard the term “asexual,” she knew she was different.
“Growing up as a guy, I was expected to be the dog out there basically, going for it all the time,” she told qnotes. “I just didn’t. I had a girlfriend or two in high school, but that’s about it. We really didn’t try to do anything. They didn’t last very long, of course.”
Catlin married young, at 19, but her lack of interest in sex wasn’t an issue.
“Turns out, she was asexual too,” she said. “Neither of us ever had much interest in the sex act.”
“We were interested in each other, we cared about each other intimately and we liked having that intimate relationship. It’s just we didn’t care about the sex act. She didn’t find it comfortable, and it wasn’t a big deal to me. I just happened to luck out and didn’t know it.”
It wasn’t until much later that she began to put the pieces together, with the aid of the Internet.
“I didn’t have language for it or anything, but I started to get an inkling. And I guess about 10 years later is when I started looking [for information on the topic of having no sexual desire], which would be probably in the mid-’90s when the Internet got a little more built up,” she recalled.
The concept of a spectrum for the LGBTQ community is nothing new, but is often still misunderstood when it comes to asexuality.
Many are surprised to learn that asexuals can be happily involved in romantic relationships, which often include a sexual component.
“Asexuality is a spectrum all its own,” Catlin explained. Meaning there are asexual people who have no interest in romance, and those who do.
“I’m somewhere closer to the romantic side, but not quite all the way over.”
Catlin also identifies as demisexual, meaning she only has interest in having a sexual relationship with someone with whom she has formed a close emotional bond.
“How I look at a relationship is, I want the intimacy and the vulnerability,” she explained. “The sex act is for the partner. If they need it, no biggie. I enjoy it too. Sex, I enjoy, I’ll admit it. It’s not this imperative that says, ‘I gotta have it.’ I’ve gone years without it, just because I don’t have that drive. But when it happens, I enjoy it.”
Yet the simple fact that she has an interest in romantic relationships has often resulted in erasure, she said.
“I have a lot of friends who are bisexual, and they go through a lot of the same things I do, just with the one major difference,” she observed. “We get erased in relationships. If you’re “[a guy]” dating a girl, you’re seen as heterosexual. If you’re dating a guy, you’re seen as homosexual. They don’t see you as bi. Same deal with me as ‘A.’”
Still, Catlin, who transitioned in 2013, said she experiences far more discrimination as a member of the transgender community than as an asexual person.
“People sort of just ignore you when you’re asexual,” she said. “You’re not bothering their daughters, you’re not bothering their sons, they’re happy. You’re just another friend who’s safe.”
However, that erasure can also make it difficult to find and build a community, Catlin said, in part because if someone is in a relationship, it can be hard to know if they are asexual.
“It’s only after transitioning and being on my own that I became aware that there is a community,” she said. “It’s very small in Charlotte. There’s only a few of us that I know of, because we tend to be very private. We don’t broadcast it.”
Understanding asexuality as an orientation
There is a growing understanding of asexuality as a sexual orientation, but admittedly there has been little research done in the area compared to other orientations and identities.
Dr. Nicole Prause, principal investigator at the Sexual Psychophysiology and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory, explained in a 2015 interview with Medical Daily that, primarily, sexual orientation comes down to “behaviors, emotions, and cognitions.”
“There’re lots of challenges to asking these questions,” Prause said. “The science around this has been stigmatized for so long.”
The research into asexuality is still relatively nascent, but an understanding is beginning to build in the scientific community that backs up what asexual people have been reporting for years.
University of British Columbia researchers Lori Bratto and Morag Yule published a study in the April 2017 issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior concluding that asexuality appears to meet the criteria for classification as a distinct sexual orientation.
Further, they stated that it does not appear to be the result of, or a symptom of, a psychiatric condition, or a disorder of sexual desire.
“Although lack of sexual attraction was first quantified by Kinsey, large-scale and systematic research on the prevalence and correlates of asexuality has only emerged over the past decade,” they noted in the study’s abstract.
Bratto and Yule concluded by encouraging further research into the area.
Through further study and communication, it is hoped that the asexual community can gain more acceptance and understanding from inside and outside of the LGBTQ community.