Sex is complicated. It's pleasureful, messy, sometimes earth-shaking, and it sells. It's natural, political, and everywhere. It is not, however, everything for everyone.
For those who identify as asexual, sex takes a back seat when it comes to attraction and romance. It is, by definition, a person who does not experience sexual attraction, not to be confused with celibacy, which is a choice. And around 1 percent of the world's population identifies as asexual. "In the modern, real-world incarnation of the no/low sex spectrum, we find asexual people, a group increasingly interested in 'coming out' and staking their claim on the social landscape," Anthony Bogaert, a self-proclaimed "asexuality expert," writes in The Independent. Yet it is one of the least visible letters within LGBTQIA community, thus making it more prone to erasure and misconceptions. It's just as offensive to ask the cliched "If a guy and a girl were walking toward you, who'd you choose to kiss?" to an asexual person as it is to ask a bisexual person. Like sex, it's complicated.
For many, myself included, questioning your sexual identity after realizing things like your libido don't align with the status quo can create years of doubt and put you into a whole new closet. The confusion in other people's eyes and words upon hearing you don't necessarily feel like getting it on with anyone is deafening. "People often assume that I’m gay due to showing a lack of interest in talking about the opposite sex," Elliot* tells me, saying he'll correct people now but wouldn't have a year ago when he was still trying to comprehend his asexuality. "Many push the idea that I just haven’t found the right person or that I’m embarrassed of being a homosexual," he adds. That, of course, is ignorant toward Elliot and frankly, queer sexuality in general.
It is true that some asexual individuals have zero desire for any sort of romantic or physical relationship. Asexuality and intimacy are not mutually exclusive; some asexual people masturbate and some asexual people do engage in sex. The spectrum of asexuality is wide but valid and necessary to understanding the even broader spectrum of human sexuality.
"Sex with another person is something that I'm generally not interested in," Hunter Crosby, an asexual transgender man, says. "My current most intimate relationship is with someone I really care about on an emotional level, and neither of us is that interested in having sex, but I feel a deeper emotional connection with her than I've felt with anyone else I've just had sex with for the sake of being physically intimate." Crosby's desire for deep emotional connection echoes the handful of other individuals who identify as asexual experiences; sex is fine, but it is not a source of joy or validation for everyone. Asexual romance is, then, desire and longing for emotions. Where some find the act of physical sex to be spiritual, emotional connections and vibes can contain a spiritual element to them, too. For Crosby, "things like having deep conversations about life, little gestures like buying dinner or sending flowers 'just because,' or just being there emotionally when a partner needs it are more meaningful than having sex."
The concept of asexual people in romantic relationships can be puzzling, but, as Crosby tells me, "love [does not] automatically equal sex and that sex [does not have] to be a part of a romantic relationship." Elliot, too, believes romantic asexual people exist. "I think we’re all wired differently and something like that is completely possible," he says. Asexuality is, first and foremost, real. Like everything else, it's complicated, and no two asexual stories will be the same. Its rejection of the binary makes it an outsider within an already marginalized world population. But love, after all, is love and like sex, it's not easy to fully comprehend. Celebrate it because being a good ally means championing underrepresented voices by making the space between you one that's safe, judgment-free, and optimistic—just like a bona fide romance.
*Some names have been changed as a courtesy to subject.