Illustration by Leo Walton
As an asexual (ace) person, I find myself continually bombarded with romance in a society that worships sex. Everywhere I look, it’s there. It’s hiding in the pages of an initially promising novel, it’s plastered across billboards and it’s playing in cinemas all over the world. There’s no escaping sex. Sometimes, it seems you can’t step outside your front door without seeing some kind of reference to sex or romance and this can be exhausting for people who are aromantic (aro), asexual or both.
Almost all forms of entertainment include sexual or romantic elements, which can be alienating for aces as we often can’t relate to it and some find it completely repulsive. Walking through the world as an aro-ace, I experience a sense of isolation in my own feelings, or lack thereof, towards sex.
As a media-consumer, I find it difficult to identify with characters in books and films simply because of the lack of ace and aro representation within entertainment. Sex can crop up unexpectedly in books and it can be painful to witness characters who I could previously relate to become strangers; motivations become blurry and the narrative becomes hard to follow. Sometimes I feel cheated when this happens. It’s as if I’ve been betrayed by the storyteller, despite the fact that they don’t owe me anything.
When I was a child, life was easy. Before sex and romance became a factor, I was able to relate to the world as any of my peers could but, inevitably, the people around me began to develop romantic tendencies. For the first time, I was alone in my asexuality. My mind matured, the media I consumed naturally grew more complex in plot and character backstory and sex as a narrative thread became increasingly dominant in stories. I sought out well-written novels which didn’t include any sexual or romantic elements, but the older I got, the more difficult it was to find a book that met my specifications.
School was no better. Romantic and sexual attraction were significant topics of conversation amongst students and possibly even worse were sex education classes. The assumption that everyone feels sexual attraction was deeply rooted in the education programme like mycelia through gorgonzola and I felt as if I were an alien unaccustomed to the air composition of a strange planet. I was confused and lost.
Much like the sex education at school, advertisers have a propensity to suggest that sexual attraction is a universal experience and use romance and sex to sell products. As a result, the very airwaves carry sex and romance. It pervades screens and paper and I feel trapped by sex, as if it is constructing a cell around me which restricts my ability to understand the world around me.
Sex is to humanity as the sun is to the earth, resulting in no niche for ace people except the shadows.
Being ace in a hypersexual society can be difficult. It’s a part of my identity, though, and I’d never wish to erase it, despite the everyday vexations that come with living in a highly sexualised environment. It’s a confusing world we live in; a world which uses sex to promote products seemingly unrelated to their own selling point and one which champions the idea of finding a sexual or romantic partner to spend the rest of one’s life with. To me, this notion is incomprehensible. There is nothing about either sex or romance that entices me to involve myself in it and I find myself quite content to surround myself with friends who accept me as who I am: aro-ace.