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Asexuality: When Somebody Described Sexual Attraction to Me, I Couldn't Believe That Was a Real Thing!

02/12/2014 16:39 GMT | Updated 31/01/2015 10:59 GMT

"There wasn't really a defining moment, I gradually realised over time. The first was obviously learning that it was a real thing. The second was listening to the way people talked about their experiences with attraction to people, and realising that I had never experienced the feelings described."

Sarah* is a 22-year-old recent graduate from the Midlands. She is part of the 1% of British public that identify themselves as asexual.

"I think you can live romantically without being in a romance. I've never seen myself as a married person with two kids and a dog, living in a semi-detached.

"I see myself more as somebody dedicated to the arts, or to travel - something romantic like that," she says.

Asexuality is often defined as a lack of sexual attraction, which is not to be confused with celibacy or abstinence.

Online, there are various self-made lists of the pros and cons of being asexual. Advantages include, less chance of catch STDs, immunity to sexual advertising and more chances to create purely emotional relationships. Cons include loneliness and losing friends to relationships.

However, research is currently limited with only a handful of surveys being completed.

Sarah defines it as an innate identity like heterosexuality and pansexuality and that some asexuals can be romantically attracted to other people. She heard about the term around five years ago and began to identify herself as asexual at 20-years-old.

"I listened to the narratives about puberty and how it awakens certain feelings, and realising I'd never felt that way.

"It sounds ridiculous but we hear very little about asexuality growing up so I had no idea that anyone could feel any different to how I did.

"Where I see it being recognised a lot more is the internet. That's fantastic to me - no matter where young people are growing up they can learn about different sexualities and understand themselves in a way that I never really had an opportunity to until I was older," says Sarah.

LGTB+ groups, especially at universities, and other more liberal members of society are widely recognising the idea and are encouraging awareness. Asexual Awareness Week, which ran from 26 October - 1 November, hosted local events and covered the internet with articles educating the public about the term.

However, the general ignorance of the public could mean it is some time before it is widely accepted, especially in a society which to this day is still dominated by sex.

"There are a lot of jokes and jibes aimed at people who openly identify as asexual. I don't think this is generally out of malice, though - rather a lack of awareness and misportrayals of what asexuality is and means.

"I can sum up in three different possibilities of how people react to the term.

"The first, "Are you a plant? Can you not get laid? That's not a real thing.

"The second, "What's that? What does that mean?"

"And the third, which is usually followed by a massive hug from me, "Oh, that's cool. I know about that!

"Everybody is much more open minded at university, nobody really expects you to be in a relationship, and even though there is a "hookup culture", it's totally optional as to whether you want to take part.

"I like to think university culture reflects the future society's culture, since students are the future after all, right?"

The biggest challenge for those who identify as any minority sexuality, is the reaction from friends and family.

"I wouldn't say I'm open about my sexuality. My closest friends know.

"Because I'd generally have to educate people about what asexuality is (and usually face a lot of questions) first, I just find it easier for most people to assume whatever they assume about my sexuality.

"It's a matter of practicality, in my mind. But it's a personal choice and I do commend those who are "loud and proud" about it! There's a value in unashamedly letting people know who you are. I definitely aspire to become confident enough to do the same."

"I've managed to have some sort of damage limitation by only telling people I trust, so I haven't been on the end of too much negativity personally. Mostly people are curious because they didn't think that such a thing existed!

"But in a general sense, you do see and hear a lot of hurtful things aimed at asexuals. It can range from the outright offensive like, "asexuals are just too ugly to find someone to have sex with" to more innocuous statements like "why is there an article about asexuality, that's what plants are, that's not a real thing."

Many asexuals still persue a relationship, both sexual and non-sexual. Sarah was in a serious relationship when she was younger that ultimately failed because of the other denying her asexuality and forcing her into acts she did not desire.

"Essentially the person I was in a relationship with made me feel like asexuality wasn't real, that I was somehow treating them badly or deliberately withholding myself for not being sexually attracted to them, and I did end up doing a lot of things that I had no desire to do because of that.

"To someone questioning whether to label themselves as asexual, I would like to say that labeling yourself is a way to make a word fit your feelings, not to make your feelings fit the word.

"If you want to label yourself asexual now and discover that it doesn't quite fit in a year's time, that's fine!

"If you identify with the description of asexual but want to label yourself something different, that's fine too. Or you might find it to be an identity you really settle into.

"At the end of the day, as long as you're looking after yourself and not doing anything you don't want to do, it's okay to not be sure about your identity. Life is just a journey and you'll discover more along the way, so enjoy the ride!

*name changed