The Invisible Orientation
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The Invisible Orientation

Julie Sondra Decker

  1. 240 pages
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

The Invisible Orientation

Julie Sondra Decker

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About This Book

What if you aren’t attracted to anyone? This Lambda Award Finalist is an overdue look at the least understood part of the sexual identity spectrum. Most people believe that everyone wants sex and experiences sexual desire. But that’s why asexual individuals are left out, marginalized, and made invisible by what most perceive as an incomprehensible orientation. While awareness and understanding has increased when it comes to gay, trans, and bisexual people, asexuality remains a mystery to many, even those who are experiencing it. When an asexual person finally comes out, alarming reactions commonly follow: loved ones dismiss it, or fear that an asexual person is psychologically damaged, or suffering from abuse. Critics confront the asexual people with accusations of following a fad, hiding homosexuality, or making excuses for romantic failures. All of this contributes to a discouraging master narrative that there is no such thing as “asexual.” The Invisible Orientation outlines what asexuality is, counters misconceptions, provides resources, and puts asexual people’s experiences in context as they move through a highly sexualized world. Featuring the varied and personal stories of asexual people, and information on what it means for their relationships, The Invisible Orientation “shines a much-needed light on an experience that’s far more common than most people realize”(Charlie Glickman, PhD).
* Foreword Reviews’ INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award Finalist in Family & Relationships
* Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY) Silver Medal in Sexuality/Relationships
* Next Generation Indie Book Awards Winner in LGBT

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A sexual orientation currently estimated to describe 1 percent of the population. Asexuality is usually defined as the experience of not being sexually attracted to others. Less commonly, it is defined as not valuing sex or sexual attraction enough to pursue it.
Asexuality isn’t a complex. It’s not a sickness. It’s not an automatic sign of trauma. It’s not a behavior. It’s not the result of a decision. It’s not a chastity vow or an expression that we’re “saving ourselves.” We aren’t by definition religious. We aren’t calling ourselves asexual as a statement of purity or moral superiority.
We’re not amoebas or plants. We aren’t automatically gender confused, anti-gay, anti-straight, anti-any-sexual-orientation, anti-woman, anti-man, anti-any-gender, or anti-sex. We aren’t automatically going through a phase, following a trend, or trying to rebel. We aren’t defined by prudishness. We aren’t calling ourselves asexual because we failed to find a suitable partner. We aren’t necessarily afraid of intimacy. And we aren’t asking for anyone to “fix” us.
Asexual people don’t all look down on sex or people who have sex. We don’t all avoid romantic or emotionally close relationships, and we aren’t automatically socially inept. We aren’t defined by atypical biology or nonfunctional genitals. We aren’t defined by mental illness, autism, or disability. We don’t try to recruit anyone.
We don’t have a hole in our lives where sexual attraction “should” be. We can’t be converted by trying sex. We aren’t, by definition, lonely or empty. We aren’t, by definition, immature or incompetent. We aren’t, as a group, uglier or prettier than anyone else. We don’t tell people not to have sex in the name of our orientation, nor do we use the term asexual to imply perceiving ourselves to be “above” sex.
Some want romance. Some don’t. Some are willing to have sex. Some aren’t. Some are virgins. Some aren’t. Some masturbate, or have a libido, or want children. Some don’t. Some feel isolated, afraid, confused, othered, erased, and invisible. We wish we didn’t.
If you’re not asexual, listen to us. Trust us to describe our own feelings. Understand that happiness isn’t defined by traditional sexual relationships. Don’t assume we need therapy or treat us like we need to be cured or tell us we’re broken. Our rarity forces many of us to go through life without the understanding and support of others like ourselves. We want to be understood outside the deliberately constructed communities in which we’re talking to ourselves, and that’s why we need you. We want to combat the negative messages that make us feel invisible. If we’re introducing you to asexuality, that means we’re inviting you to understand.
Meet us halfway.
Asexuality Is a Sexual Orientation
What does it mean to identify as asexual?
If someone says “I’m asexual,” usually they’re expressing that they aren’t sexually attracted to other people.[1]
ASEXUALITY: A sexual orientation characterized by sexual attraction to no one. Approximately 1 in 100 people is asexual.
In some cases, people who identify as asexual are expressing that, for them, sex isn’t intrinsically worth pursuing for its own sake, or that they aren’t interested in sex, or that they don’t want or don’t enjoy sex, or that they don’t want to make sex part of their relationships. But regardless of what definition someone uses, asexuality as a sexual orientation should be respected. Some asexual people prefer to see asexuality as a lack of sexual orientation, which is also a valid interpretation, but many prefer to say that their sexual orientation is, simply, attraction to no one.
Most people use the term sexual orientation as shorthand for “what kinds of people are sexy to me.” But when asexual people answer that question with “no one, thank you,” some non-asexual people resist processing that answer. Our society is used to hearing breakdowns: heterosexuality means experiencing cross-sex or cross-gender attraction, and everyone else is gay, bi, or pansexual. But when someone answers the “Who’s sexy?” question with a blank, the world often yells “Hey, that’s impossible!”[2]
This interpretation constitutes an unnecessarily black-and-white understanding of attraction. Even within the more popular orientations, it’s not always simple. For everyone, sexual orientation is more like a range, not a simple series of separate categories. (Especially since gender isn’t as simple as “male or female/man or woman,” which complicates how we describe what genders we’re attracted to; some people are between, outside, or a mixture of the binary genders.[3])
Describing attraction can get very complex, but for an asexual person, sexual attraction or inclination is toward “no one.” That’s not the same as not having developed a sexual orientation yet. Asexuality may look like a blank space waiting to be filled, but even if an asexual person never changes, their orientation is indistinguishable from “not yet” on the outside. It’s impossible to prove a negative.
So if asexuality looks like a big nothing, how is that different from not having a sexual orientation at all? Some say the difference is analogous to a situation that can occur on a multiple-choice test. If answer choice D allows the test-taker to say “none of the above,” that’s very different from simply not answering the question. It’s certainly going to be graded differently. Asexuality is an answer to the question, even if that answer is “none.” It’s not just a shrug. The word none can still fill in a blank.
“I’ve known for years that I’m not like other people when it comes to sex, but I always just thought I was simply not very good at being straight.”
Asexual people can say they haven’t experienced sexual attraction, but yes, it’s true they can’t be sure it couldn’t happen, logically speaking. However, they can be about as sure as anyone else about who they are attracted to, even if it happens to be no one. After all, people who are only attracted to one sex or gender aren’t generally interpreted as “not yet” bisexual, but asexual people are held to a different standard.
The past and the present are usually good predictors of the future. Most people identify their orientation based on past and present attractions, so it naturally follows that asexual people could do the same and still have their orientation respected.
When a person has no sexual attraction to others or doesn’t seek out sex, some may view that person as an undeveloped heterosexual person, as though being straight is the default. But sexual orientation is not determined by whether someone has sex or who they have it with. Orientation is not a behavior—not for asexual people and not for anyone. People who are sexually attracted to cross-gender partners are still heterosexual even if they have not had sex with a cross-gender partner. No one suggests heterosexual teenagers should identify as asexual until such time as they become heterosexual through sex with a cross-gender partner. Abstaining from sex is not the same thing as asexuality; it is the experience of attraction, not the behavior, which defines a person’s orientation.
With 1 in 100 people not experiencing sexual attraction and/or not feeling motivated by or interested in sex, that’s a lot of people wandering around largely unacknowledged. The 1-percent figure came from a large survey of eighteen thousand people administered in Britain, with 1 in every 100 people surveyed agreeing with the statement “I have never felt sexually attracted to anyone.”
Some say this figure could be an overestimation because some technicalities could allow people who are not asexual to agree with that statement. And some say it is an underestimation, since some of the 99 percent may not know how to define sexual attraction and assume they have felt it even if they haven’t. Some people misinterpret aesthetic appreciation, romantic attraction, or sexual arousal as being sexual attraction, only to realize later that they are asexual. Since this initial sample, researcher Anthony Bogaert has continued to study asexual people, and says the other samples he’s reviewed up until the present suggest this figure is still somewhat accurate.[4]
That said, asexual communities are growing as awareness spreads, with more and more people recognizing themselves in the definitions every day. Respecting their orientation is important regardless of the numbers.
Asexuality Is a Mature State
Just like some people can’t see the difference between “an asexual orientation” and “no orientation,” many also can’t see why “not interested” isn’t the same as “not interested yet.” Asexuality describes a mature state, not a passing phase or a blank spot before “real” maturation. Asexual isn’t something you call a child before they reach sexual maturity. Asexuality applies to maturing or mature people.
Asexual people are often told they will one day find “the one” and develop sexual feelings and the values society attaches to them. Many asexual folks have to hear this over and over and over again, which thrusts a perpetual image of immaturity upon them. Asexuality is not a signal that a person is necessarily stunted emotionally or physically, and feeling sexual attraction or inclination is not the line everyone must cross to be treated like an adult. Maturity should not be measured by willingness or inclination to seek out or accept sexual experiences.
“I always laugh when I see these claims. I’m thirty-nine years old. It stopped being plausible a very long time ago that I could just be a ‘late bloomer.’ Yes, there are asexuals in their thirties. We exist. Our asexuality exists.”
Maturity doesn’t have a specific definition with check boxes to tick off. It’s common for people—especially people who are in few or no marginalized groups—to define maturity, functionality, happiness, and normality against their own standards, which they present as universal. Because of this, it’s common for people who consider sex and sexual attraction part of their adult lives to say, “If you don’t have sexual interest, you don’t have an adult life.”
Asexuality challenges this . . . and it should. Plenty of people who desire or engage in sex are immature. It doesn’t make sense to insist that someone must be immature if they don’t have or desire sex. Maturity is subjective, and how/when it manifests is highly individual. Asexual people usually develop mature adult lives and relationships just fine. The huge amount of diversity in how adults find success and happiness should be acknowledged, even if some adults don’t seek out certain types of partnerships or certain kinds of intimate experiences.
Asexuality Is a Description
A sexual orientation is not a decision. A person’s sexual orientation describes how that person experiences attraction.
It does not describe any decision that person makes about expressing sexuality, and it does not represent a vow or an intention regarding sex. Much like a heterosexual person does not “decide” when to start being attracted to partners, an asexual person doesn’t “decide” no one is sexually attractive or worth pursuing sexually. It just happens.
Asexual people are often asked why, how, or when they “decided” to be asexual—usually by a well-meaning person who believes orientation can be chosen. People who ask this question generally feel asexual people are shutting themselves off from something wonderful—something they themselves find satisfying and fulfilling—and they can’t understand why an asexual person would “choose” to forgo such experiences.
Sometimes it helps if these people can understand that it wasn’t a choice, and that for the asexual person, engaging in sex might not be the fulfilling experience that it is for them. Asexual people can—and often do—decide to have sex. After all, people of any orientation can have sex with partners to whom they are not attracted. But asexuality is about attraction, not about willingness to engage in sexual behavior.
If someone who has never been sexually a...

Table of contents

Citation styles for The Invisible Orientation

APA 6 Citation

Decker, J. S. (2015). The Invisible Orientation ([edition unavailable]). Skyhorse Publishing. Retrieved from (Original work published 2015)

Chicago Citation

Decker, Julie Sondra. (2015) 2015. The Invisible Orientation. [Edition unavailable]. Skyhorse Publishing.

Harvard Citation

Decker, J. S. (2015) The Invisible Orientation. [edition unavailable]. Skyhorse Publishing. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Decker, Julie Sondra. The Invisible Orientation. [edition unavailable]. Skyhorse Publishing, 2015. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.