In search of information about my own sexuality, I met many broken hearts and negative thoughts about my own future.
Text Mats Vederhus
Illustration Ida Neverdahl
The first time I got in touch with my asexual me, I wasn’t old enough to understand it. I was in the United States, more specifically in Pennsylvania, to visit my girlfriend at the time.
It was a distance that had been going on for over half a year. The night before I went home we drank a little and she wanted to have sex with me. In a very clumsy and insecure way, I said no. She had dressed naked and wanted to get me up in bed. When I couldn’t do it, she was naturally infuriated. A few hours later she broke up with me via mobile phone while I was at Amsterdam airport.
The distance between us played a big role, and I hadn’t yet learned to get to know myself in many areas. An example is that it took me many years before I understood why I couldn’t have sex with her right there and then. I’m asexual.
I have never really had an especially conscious awareness of my own sexuality. I’ve never been a member of Skeiv Ungdom, the Association for Gender and Sexual Diversity (Free), or participated in Pride Parade. But I’ve realized I’m not like everyone else. As I accidentally, mostly via the internet, read about asexuality, I found that the description fit me.
What is asexuality, I ask Elsa Maria Almås, head of the Association for Clinical Sexologists (NFKS) and married to Esben Esther Pirelli Benestad.
“Asexuality is that you do not experience sexual desire or sexual need, and you do not want to participate in sexual activity,” she answers.
I don’t neccessarily agree with that last part – it’s not that I don’t want to do it, necessarily, if I’m in a relationship, but I have no need.
In 2007, the Kinsley Institute at Indiana University sponsored a survey on asexuality. They found that self-identified asexuals reported a much lesser desire for sex with a partner, lower sexual arousal, and lower sexual excitement. However, they did not differ when it came to sexual inhibitions or masturbation.
Being asexual is also not the same as being aromantic, meaning that you do not have romantic feelings for others. Asexuals can be just as hopelessly in love with others.
I ask Almås if it is common to live in relationships as an asexual.
“I don’t know any research on the topic, but I think some lives as single, and some live in relationships,” Almås replies.
She believes it may be very difficult for others to live in relationships with asexuals because of the lack of sex.
I wonder if it’s common to offer sex to your partner even if you don’t get anything out of it yourself. Almås says that also happens, but she admits that she doesn’t know how common it is. She also doesn’t know how to come out as asexual.
– It’s individual, I guess. As I’ve encountered it, it’s not really something that you “come out” as.
While heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality are most often established early in a teenager’s life, according to the previously mentioned survey by Kinsley Institute, it isn’t certain when asexuality can be decided. It is also unclear whether asexuality needs to be lifelong, or if it can change over time.
– It is said that asexuality is the last taboo in relation to sexuality. But I find it quite easy for people to talk about now, at least when they come to a psychologist or sexologist, “Almås says.
My first meeting with an asexual
After looking around the web, I come across an article from Gaysir.no where Rain Hansen has been interviewed. Rain is 23 years old, from Svelvik and is the first adolescent I have talked to.
He found out that he was asexual four years ago.
– It hit me when I thought a little more about why I just wasn’t as interested in sex as everyone else. After joining an Asexual group, I realized that I had much more in common with them than I thought.
Rain has been in love with both boys and girls. But just falling for the same or the opposite sex is also quite normal. Or not falling in love with someone.
I ask if there are any asexuals who have sex with their partner just to make the relationship work.
– Some do. Others have sex just for fun. Personally, I can’t have sex for any partner’s sake. It’s just not worth it for me.
He masturbates regularly. He benefits from it, and like many other asexuals, he’d rather enjoy sexual pleasure from himself.
“It’s probably because I just don’t like sex,” he says.
Rain has been in quite a few relationships before, he says, but now he has been single for three years. He says he’s realized that he doesn’t have to be in a relationship to feel well. Nevertheless:
“I’d like to be in a relationship if I meet someone who’s worth being in a relationship with. But I can’t be bothered looking for someone to be in a relationship with. And I can’t bother to enter into a relationship if I’m unsure whether it will be worth it.
He experienced no notable problems coming out of the closet.
– When I came out to parents and friends, things went well, just about everyone understood quite well. Even those who didn’t understand were respectful and asked if they were wondering anything instead of saying something bad about it.
Dumped for sex
Rain invites me to the closed Facebook group The AVEngers, which has 120 members from all over Norway. Through the group I come into contact with «Anastasia».
Anastasia originates from Latvia. She came to Norway as an exchange student X years ago, before studying Norwegian and English at the University of Riga. She fears talking to me under her full name because of the prospect of work. She is the second asexual I’m talking to.
Anastasia had never had a boyfriend before she came to Norway. When she lived in Latvia, she wasn’t aware that she was asexual.
– I was sure I was heterosexual because I fell in love with boys and imagined conversations with them. But I wasn’t entirely sure about this whole sex thing. It didn’t seem very tempting, really.
In Oslo she found a Norwegian man. They had sex at the beginning of the relationship, but it didn’t live up to expectations. She didn’t quite understand why people thought it was so great. For her it was a boredom, but not a nuisance. A bit like washing the dishes, she was bored and daydreaming.
– I thought maybe it would progress into something more exciting, but it was pretty boring. Then eventually we stopped doing it.
In all other ways, the relationship worked great, she believes. But the lack of sex became a bigger and bigger problem.
He didn’t say explicitly that sex was a requirement for him, but eventually he suggested that she might not be like everyone else and asked her to investigate the term asexuality. At first she was skeptical. She wouldn’t admit to herself that she, in her own words, was a “freak”. But eventually she thought she could see herself in the stories she was told by others.
In the end, her boyfriend dumped her.
– He couldn’t imagine an entire life without sex. He thought I was sexy, but it wasn’t fun for him if it wasn’t fun for me. There was a lot of physical contact and cuddling, and I really appreciated it, so it’s a little sad that you have to have sex if you want cuddles.
A male friend told her that the best thing about sex is to feel how much the partner wants it. The feeling of being desired.
Anastasia has come out to all her friends, but not to her brother and her mother.
– I try to be as open as possible, but of course it’s a sore thing to talk about and you can get strange reactions. I don’t want to hide it from my potential partners, but I don’t think it makes me very attractive, unfortunately.
Children and family aren’t particularly desirable for her, but a little more cuddling in her everyday life would have been nice. The problem is, according to her, that it isn’t easy to find men who are asexual or “ace”. Most of the ace environment she was a part of were girls.
– I have no chemistry with the asexual men I know.
Anastasia says she still wants a boyfriend but she finds it hard because everyone is concerned that sex should be a part of the relationship.
– I don’t want to ruin anyone’s lives.
The partner deserved better
At this point in the writing of this article I am already quite tired. I went into this story with zero expectations about what to find, and so far, I’ve mostly found solitude and, to some extent, broken hearts. The result isn’t as disappointing as it would be if I had started hoping to find happiness and / or well-functioning couples, but still disappointing.
The next person I come in contact with is Ida Kristine Meland (29), who lives in Sola, and is a member of the same Facebook group as Rain. She came out as asexual when she was 24 years old, after a long time of tests and visits to her doctor. She ended up searching online using the phrase “Why don’t I like sex”. From the results she came across asexuality.org or AVEN (Asexuality Visibility and Education Network).
Meland is very open about her sexuality to her friends, but hasn’t yet told her parents about her sexuality. She isn’t sure whether or not she will ever tell them.
When I ask if she has been in many relationships, she answers me rhetorically.
– What is many relationships really? I have probably been in fewer than most, but surely more than many as well. Before I knew I was asexual, I was in two long-standing relationships where I constantly felt I stole something from my partners. I was afraid I didn’t really like them since I didn’t want to have sex, which the outside world told me was common in a relationship, she explains.
She ended both of the relationships because she, in her own words, “felt my partner deserved something better than me”.
– In addition, I constantly wondered if I actually had the feelings I should have for them.
After she found out she was asexual she has been in several shorter relationships where she has been completely open about her sexuality. Some have ended because she moves around a bit, others because her partner at the beginning of the relationship believed that he could handle being in a relationship with an asexual, but eventually got troubled because of the lack of sex.
She thinks finding a partner can be both difficult and easy. She is present on several dating apps. There she is quite clear about the fact that she is asexual. But many of the men she talks to don’t understand what asexuality is. When she explains what it is and that she’s not really interested in having sex with them, many people say it’s not for them.
– Oddly enough, it’s quite hurtful, my personality is in some way irrelevant. Others continue to talk to me, but I’m always a little afraid that they don’t fully understand. So far, I’ve just been on one date where the one I met didn’t quite understand it and brought it up in the conversation and then decided he wouldn’t want to be with an ace.
She thinks that the dates she is going on for the most part is like everyone else’s. You meet, talk and decide either to see this person again or not. Many people say she should only find another ace, but it seems quite impossible to her.
– Say that 0.5 percent of the population is male ace, and then one has to remove those who are homoromantic and aromantic. Just because you share sexuality doesn’t mean you match. Imagine how difficult it is for heteroromantic heterophiles to find the right one with everyone they have to choose from! I think finding an asexual partner is a little unrealistic.
At this point I start crying. It’s disturbing, because at first I cann’t quite realize if I’m crying for myself or Ida Kristine. Is my journalistic integrity breaking down under pressure? Later in the day, I realize that I’m crying mostly for myself. My future as eternally single passes before my eyes.
Ida Kristine longs, like most others, for a person to share life with.
– Yes, I’m looking for a life partner, someone to share every day with. I want the peace of mind to have someone to come home to, someone you can tell the little things to, someone who’s always there even if you’re not together.
She was relieved when she found asexuality.org online.
– It was a revelation, finally there was nothing wrong with me, something that had to be fixed. Nor was I alone, something I had been sure I was. I was not an emotionless robot from space or a freak of nature. The liberating feeling of knowing what I was and why I was that way, I was born like that and that was okay.
It was hard to come out in the beginning, but Ida Kristine says she had a best friend who is quite open to diversity and has many transsexual and gay friends. She decided that her best friend would be the first to know she was asexual.
It didn’t go as planned. The response she received was that she couldn’t be asexual – she flirted – and that she should go to the doctor and check her hormones. This was a big blow to Ida Kristine, and it took several years before she told anyone else. But the next time she opened up about her sexuality, it went much better and the person asked questions to understand better, she showed full acceptance.
– After that I was completely open about it. I don’t think I’m intrusive about expressing my sexuality but I’m not hiding it. I have a girlfriend I didn’t know was asexual who told me that because I was so open she also enjoyed coming out. It was nice to hear, because it shouldn’t be scary.
She is very keen to educate others about asexuality.
– It’s incredibly important. Not only to get understanding and acceptance from the big community, but also for the younger asexuals out there. For teens to live through their formative years thinking something is wrong with them isn’t healthy and creates many mental problems in many young asexual people.
For the first 24 years of her life, she lived in a constant belief that something was wrong with her.
– It was also incredibly hard to understand the outside world that was so keen on something I when I didn’t see the appeal. If I had known about asexuality, I would have probably avoided a lot of anxiety and depression, as well as not feeling so incredible outside of society.
Off the cliff
Having talked to Ida Kristine, I’m so tired that I notice oncoming depression symptoms: I lose energy, it takes a lot longer than usual to get out of bed and when I’m
home, I’ll just lie down and watch old episodes of the MTV series Faking It.
The series is about two best friends, Karma and Amy, who decide to pretend they’re lesbians in order to become popular at their ridiculously progressive high school. As they kiss in front of the whole school for the first time, Amy realizes she has feelings for Karma. Later, it goes without saying that Karma does not have the same feelings, and the rest of the series is about to navigate through youth school life and try to take care of their friendship.
I’m starting to consume chocolate for consolation – in small quantities fortunately – something I haven’t done in over half a year. Thankfully – thank God – this week is winter vacation , otherwise I would’ve thrown in the towel purely for practical reasons. I still consider quitting because I ‘ve never written a story that has driven me to the extremes of my own psyche to such an extent.
One of the people I live with gives me some supportive words and reminds me that it’s important to get asexuality out of the closet and into the light for things to get better for me and everyone else. The editor of this edition – Olve – convinces me that the best way forward is for me to continue. I realize that he is right, although I know that I will continue to cry, quietly, long after this story has been written.
Despite the fact that asexuality is a recognized sexual orientation, the leader of the Society for Gender and Sexual Diversity (Free), Ingvild Endestad, says that there is no network for asexual people there.
– Most of our groups have emerged as the result of an internally driven need for an activity group, and so far no one has suggested it.
Having said that, she believes everyone who is bound by social norms for sexuality may benefit from expanding the norms and making a larger space for the entirety of sexual diversity. In addition, asexual identity can be influenced by attitudes and lack of knowledge in society as a whole, she points out.
– In medicine, there has also been a sort of pathologization of asexual people. It’s been common to think that there must be an injury – physiologically or mentally – which accounts for the lack of sex drive. For some people, this may also be the case, for example, low levels of testosterone or other blockages, but for most people who define themselves as asexual, this is not the case.
Free’s principles, states, among other things, that “Free believes that everyone must have equal rights, duties and protection, in accordance with human rights, regardless of form(s) of cohabitation, sex and sexuality. Discrimination protection in anti-discrimination legislation must be expanded to include all sexual minorities, including asexual, BDSMs and fetishists, who are currently expressly excluded from the Anti-discrimination Act. Hate crime legislation must be expanded to include gender identity and gender expressions. ”
The first January of this year we got a new discrimination act in Norway, and there is a new addendum that is relevant for asexuals, Endestad points out.
– I don’t know all the conditions in the law, but what is most relevant to the asexual is that there is now an addition to the other anti-discrimination laws called “other significant aspects of a person. ”
If the asexual is not protected by sexual orientation – which probably isn’t the case in the early drafts of the law – one will be able to try one’s case based on other significant aspects, she points out. In other words, a possible discrimination case will be dealt with on the basis of “other significant aspects of a person” in the judiciary.
Satisfied and alone
The last person I’m talking to is Elida Odine Grøndahl. She is 23 years old and works as an assistant at Haukeland Hospital.
“Yes,” she answers immediately when I ask if she can fall for both sexes.
She confirms that she could have sex to make a relationship work, but she probably would have waited a while after finding a person.
Elida could imagine being in a relationship now or in the future.
– If appropriate. I’m very special, she says apologetically.
But she doesn’t miss being in a relationshipvery often.
– Occasionally, I can see someone and think, “Oh, that looks really nice. ” But otherwise I’m very well off, she says.
Elida was 17 when she came out of the closet. She went to high school when she realized she was asexual. Her best friend, who knows very much about sexuality, asked her if she might be. Elida began to read about it and realized that the description fit.
I ask her what it was that made her realize it.
– When my other friends talked about boys they liked and things like that that, I never liked anyone, more or less. In the end, I had to just name someone to fit in.
When Elida came out to family and friends she felt it went very well.
– I did it in the traditional way. I got mom to sit down with me and said, “Now I have something to tell you.” My family reacted a bit strangely because they didn’t know what it was, she says.
Her mother first thought she was about to say she was a lesbian. When she said she was asexual, she just said “Huh? Okay? “. At first she thought it was just a phase.
“We’ll see in a few years,” she said, and now it’s been a few years and she’s okay with it. Now she even thinks she can be asexual herself, “says Elida, laughing a little.
We’ve always shared the same view, Elida explains, saying that her mother may say things like “male bottocks aren’t very nice”.
Elida wants others to know that being asexual is not the same thing as being aromantic. On the romantic scale, a person can go from being aromantic to being panomantic, meaning that he or she likes everyone.
– You can subdivide attraction into romantic feelings and sexual feelings. That’s something I think people should know because it can clear up some confusion. Romantically, I like everyone, but it almost never happens. I am very picky, I think.
After meeting Elida, I feel a bit better. The fact that she is feeling well about her own sexuality and doesn’t miss having someone in her life is a comfort.
Nevertheless, writing this story has cost so much that I have to leave Bergen for the weekend to point my nose northwards, towards Nordfjord. In the face of grandmother, grandfather and raw, brutal nature on all sides, it is easier to escape my own thoughts. When I started this story I didn’t know what I was going to encounter.
Now when I stand by the end of the road, it feels like I have opened Pandora’s Box. I feel at once and at the same time more lonely and more complete than I have done throughout entire my life. I’m asexual. Does it mean I don’t want sex? No. Does it mean I will have it easy? No.