Let's not talk about sex, baby: Fargo locals who identify as asexual open up about the 'invisible orientation'
FARGO — For many adolescents, growing older can bring a lot of changes. Some may become boy crazy or interested in girls as young as 8 or 9, while others don't hit that stage until their preteen or teenage years.
But sometimes, people never feel that way. Research by Brock University psychology professor Anthony Bogaert in Ontario, Canada, suggested that roughly 1 percent of the population identifies as asexual, yet it remains relatively misunderstood and is sometimes referred to as the "invisible orientation."
That's why Asexuality Awareness Week exists, and this year, it takes place from Sunday, Oct. 21, through Saturday, Oct. 27.
Like other subsections of the LGBT community, it can be difficult to neatly define asexuality. The Asexual Visibility and Education Network offers the most straightforward description, explaining that an asexual person does not experience sexual attraction — they are not drawn to people sexually and do not desire to act upon attraction to others in a sexual way.
However, things are rarely as simple as they may seem, according to local residents who identify as asexual.
Asexuality exists on a spectrum, with people who are sex-repulsed on one end and those who are demisexual, meaning they feel sexual attraction, but only rarely and in certain situations, on the other. In order for a demisexual person to experience sexual attraction to someone, they generally need to form a strong emotional bond with another person.
Existing on a parallel, but separate, spectrum is the concept of identifying as aromantic, meaning a person has little or no romantic attraction to others, though an asexual person isn't necessarily aromantic. While some may feel they have no sexual attraction to another person, they can have romantic feelings toward someone.
For Fargo resident Jayce Branden, high school and family helped him understand his asexuality and aromanticism.
"For me, it hit when all of my friends started dating in high school," Branden says. "There were those moments where my friends would talk about crushes and whatnot and I never experienced that."
The usual questions — "Are you dating anyone?" and "Do you like anyone?" — from family members also helped him figure things out.
"I just understood the feelings I was having," he says. "It wasn't until my freshman year of college when I really was like, 'Hey, asexuality is a thing! That is great because that's how I feel!' It's kind of one of those things where a lot of asexual people don't know what they are until they find out it exists."
While Branden doesn't experience sexual attraction or romantically charged feelings toward others, Minnesota State University Moorhead student William Lewandowski does — but only in certain situations.
"I guess I did the whole high school crush," Lewandowski says. "I still have crushes, especially on (TV actor) John Krasinski, but it was kind of the same thing. I didn't know what asexuality was until a few years ago. I find people attractive, but I don't think about people sexually. I am more on the demisexual part where I have to know the person really well to want to be involved that way."
With any unknown concept, there are things that people assume and don't understand. Misconceptions happen regarding asexuality, too, and can spread false information if left uncorrected.
"'You just haven't found the right person yet,'" Lewandowski says, bringing up just one misconception. "That's the one I hear all the time. Or like, 'You must not be doing it right.' I personally feel uncomfortable looking at a person (in a sexual way). I guess that's the whole demisexual thing."
Because an asexual person doesn't experience sexual attraction toward another person, some may think that asexual individuals are celibate. However, there is a difference between celibacy and not having sexual feelings. Those who are celibate make the choice to abstain from sex, while people who identify as asexual still sometimes have sex if their partners are sexual.
"They kind of equate asexuality with, 'OK, you are choosing not to have sex right now,'" Branden says. "So I feel like that is a misconception as well. Like you're just deciding not to have sex or you don't feel comfortable having sex — which is not the case for a lot of asexual people. It's more you just don't think about it. It's not one of your interest factors."
Even in 2018, much remains unknown about asexuality. However, as more research is done and people share their experiences, more resources are becoming available.
YouTube personalities like Ashley Mardell and Aaron Ansuini and blogging sites like Tumblr have helped form online communities for people looking for a place of their own or to find those who understand their experiences. Books are more available now about the topic, and websites like www.asexuality.org have helped raise awareness and answer questions.
But there is one crucial concept that people who identify as asexual want others to know, according to Lewandowski.
"It exists," he says.
"It's hard because there is so little known about asexuality," Branden agrees.
"It's not — like all other identities — it's not a choice," Branden adds. "It's just how we feel. It's not that we are choosing to not have sex, well for the most part, but that's how we feel and we don't want to partake in it because that's what we are."