If there is any movie that perfectly describes the person that I am, it is the French film Amelie. It is incredibly challenging to admit and indeed with it comes a sense of shame, stigma and isolation, but in truth I have never felt sexually attracted to anyone. I may have a sex drive, but it is not stimulated by sexual fantasy and I am not at all compelled by a need for sexual contact neither do I go searching for it. When I am attracted to someone, it is merely because of a deep need to feel connected emotionally.
Some of us – like me – are not averse to romance and commitment including sexual contact, but only after a considerably deep emotional connection has been created. It is true that I have never bonded with anyone and, in fact, have only ever experienced quite hostile and cruel men that has caused me to further withdraw, however like in Amelie has a lack of physical bonding growing up – a loving embrace, a warm kiss on the forehead – educated me to feel no need for bonding as an adult?
On my journey to self-discovery, or should I say self-recovery, I have recently come to terms that I grew up neglected from any emotional love. I was never taught to understand the meaning and depth of trust, that I never felt the bonding that can form through a physical embrace or even kind and encouraging words, and only ever experienced a disconnected “outsider” feeling as though I were a burden or a problem that left me feeling completely alone.
There is a level of stigma on the subject of asexuality. It is ‘funny’ and almost irrelevant, often confused with celibacy and thus a religious experience where no clear distinction between sexuality and sexual desire is explained; celibacy articulates abstention from sexual activity, but it does not preclude an absence of a sexual orientation or identity.
Anthony Bogaert is a Canadian psychologist that wrote on sexuality and his book Understanding Asexuality stated that the architecture of relationships is founded on our need for bonding with our mother and this cognitive process built into us is transferred later in life to our partners. This bonding is channelled as romance and incorrectly used synonymously with sex, which is formed biologically rather than neuro-psychologically.
Romance is therefore psychological whereas our sexual inclinations are biological, but we often confuse the two as being one and the same thing. This is because of the role of our subjectivity with sexual attraction and that our subjectivity is the psychological core of our experience with our sexual orientation. This orientation from heterosexual, homosexual, and asexual finds each individual uniquely designated somewhere along that spectrum. Depending on where they are, asexual persons can form romantic relationships – this innate need to bond – but do not actively seek sexual partners.
Bogaert clarifies that asexual individuals who masturbate do not view pornography or paraphernalia because there is no subjective ‘target’ and thus a disconnect between the subjective relationship of physical arousal and our sexual orientation. They see the experience as only physical in nature and any need is related to something like a release of tension following their menstrual cycle much the same as one maternally driven to children. There is a distinction between behaviour and attraction.
Attachment theory models this explanation of how we form interpersonal relationships and our experiences during early childhood may have some connection with how we understand romance; a person who may have experienced some trauma or neglect could become promiscuous or detached from any bonding, irrelevant to their sexual identity. The influence of parent-child experiences may have an impact on the anxieties and challenges of romantic relationships later in life including our comfort levels with closeness and intimacy, threshold to experiences of loss and abandonment, and our vicarious learning with the relationship dynamic between our parents among other indicators.
To further perpetuate the confusion, we categorise identities into archetypes of “normalcy” that may, in one way, help designate an explanation of relationships that are considered stable – trophy wife, white picket fence – but it mostly alienates our ability to identify and introspect on how we are feeling authentically. This has been my greatest challenge, since I was left when young feeling quite isolated and confused because I simply deviated so much from the norm and did not understand why.
But the way that I see it, it is almost like real logic without the subjective and imaginary elements that attract people to sexual intercourse and why for me a deep bond is first needed as it logically follows that such a bond explains an authenticity in the connection.