It took eight years of bad dates and worse sex but now I’m finally out as asexual

Feeling trapped in relationships, enjoying intimacy without the sex, and other clues that helped me realise

Asexuality is the lack of sexual and/or romantic attraction to all genders. It comes as a spectrum that ranges from people who will sometimes feel attraction (graysexual), people who feel attraction only after an emotional connection has been formed (demisexual), people who will sometimes have and enjoy sex (sex-neutral), and people who feel disgust or strong disinterest towards sex (sex-averse).

I was in secondary school when I first had the thought: What if I’m asexual? It came from a long time of trying to uncover more of my sexuality and also came with a lot of fear. “Does this mean I won’t get married? Does this mean I’ll never have children? Does this mean that I’ll be alone in the future?” These concerns were what convinced me to bury the word “asexual” deep down inside me for nearly ten years.

Over those years, I went through a range of other labels. I thought maybe I was bi. Then, pan. Then, queer. Then, gay. Then, damaged goods and too much trauma to form stable attachments.

I dated men I didn’t like because that’s what people do

It’s true that I’ve seen plenty of unhealthy sexual and romantic experiences in my life since a young age that I don’t doubt are related to this internalised fear of asexuality. This was one of the biggest reasons I lost myself in a string of one-night stands and relationships I felt trapped in.

I dated men I didn’t like because they’d asked me out and because that’s what people do. I spent three months, nine months, and almost 14 months playing the role of girlfriend in three serious relationships. I played the role so well that no one knew how uncomfortable I was – even me, sometimes.

My last boyfriend is a truly wonderful person who supported me so much during our time together and I did love him – but not like a partner. Even the people I genuinely liked, there was no urge to sleep with them, no urge to do romantic things, no urge to spend my life with them. When these things came up, I felt claustrophobic, like I was being swept along in a tide I couldn’t swim against.

I felt the same connection to bed partners as I would to a vibrator

In my first year at university, after breaking up with my 14-month boyfriend from home, I tried a different tactic to prove to myself that I wasn’t asexual.

My “body count” racked up to double figures and kept going. It became kind of a running joke in the friend group that I would go home with people, usually men, from nightclubs or invite them round on Tinder like an UberEats for sex.

But it wasn’t healthy and I wasn’t doing it because I enjoyed it.

When I was diagnosed with complex PTSD in second year, a large part of me was terrified that this lack of enjoyment from sex was the lasting impact from what people have done to me in the past. I tried to prove to myself that what had happened didn’t still affect me.

So, I went on kissing random people in clubs and shagging random men from Tinder.

Everyone tells you what it’s supposed to feel like but, in practice, it’s almost impossible to know without comparison. These physical sensations (for the most part) felt good but there was this detachment. I always had to be drunk or stoned. I hated it when partners tried to kiss me during sex. I hated looking at them. I never thought about the person but always about the act.

To put it simply, I felt the same connection to bed partners as I would to a vibrator. And yet, I still couldn’t accept that this might mean I’m asexual.

Whenever I tried to picture a romantic or sexual relationship with my crushes, something wasn’t right

I decided it meant I was gay. In third year, to prove it to myself, I started messaging girls on Tinder and went on several dates. I dated two girls for a couple of months each. I grew to like them both but, as soon as I tried to have sex with them or felt it becoming more serious, I noticed myself slipping back into that autopilot of “going through the motions”. That tide of claustrophobia swept back up again.

It was around this time that I opened up to my therapist about what I was experiencing.

I still get crushes, I told her, and I don’t understand it because I’m sure that I really like someone and yet the slightest hint that they might like me back and the feeling disappears.

She asked me about some of my crushes and I started listing them off from my very first childhood crush: Taylor Lautner in Twilight. From him, it went through Abby Maitland on Primeval, Shaggy from Scooby-Doo, and Thorin in The Hobbit. People whose personalities I admired or who I found aesthetically pleasing.

My childhood crushes (all via YouTube)

I told her about a man in my life at the time who I was sure I had a crush on because I found him gorgeous to look at and loved spending time with him.

“No one ever explained to you”, she said, “the difference between aesthetic appreciation and attraction.” She asked me: “Do you notice that the crushes you experience are for people you can trust? People you can get that physical and emotional intimacy from without worrying they will take advantage of you?” She was right.

Whenever I tried to picture a romantic or sexual relationship with my crushes, something wasn’t right. It was like that note from the Lesbian Master Doc that says: “When you think about partners, are they sort of faceless? Are you sort of not involved when you fantasise about them?”

It’s not easy to distinguish between romantic attraction and seeking emotional connection

The truth was that I am and have been looking for platonic affection and emotional connection. Hooking up with randoms felt good because I wanted the post-sex cuddles and pillow talk.

That’s the thing about asexuality. It’s not easy to distinguish between romantic attraction and seeking emotional connection. Between sexual attraction and craving platonic intimacy. Between physical attraction and appreciating something pretty. These things do not necessarily go hand in hand. You can have one without the other and that’s okay.

I understand, now, that I’m looking for physical intimacy in cuddles and affection, emotional intimacy in connecting with partners on that deeper level. I still appreciate the physical beauty in people and enjoy looking at pretty people as much as I enjoy looking at pretty things but, now, I understand that this doesn’t mean attraction.

I was forcing myself into sexual situations to prove that what I deep down knew about myself wasn’t true. I was trying to shag my way past my sexual identity to prove that I wasn’t broken from sexual trauma in my past. But asexuality goes deeper than this – I have been asexual all of my life. Since I was young. It was just that no one ever told me that I could feel this way.

For so long, I thought that the fact I liked the physical sensations of sex or I found people pretty meant that I couldn’t possibly be asexual but these do not mean sexual attraction. Asexual people may still enjoy sex but, unlike allosexuals (people who feel sexual attraction), they are not engaged with their partner, they are just there for the physical act.

Finally understanding what these feelings mean and knowing that there is a whole community for people like me has given me confidence in myself, in my identity, and in how I interact with partners. I’m not forcing myself into situations I don’t want to be in and I’m always asking myself twice if I’m doing something that I’m comfortable with.

Now I am in a place where I can not only accept my identity but feel confident in the face of adversity, self-doubt, discrimination. I still struggle sometimes to tell people I’m ace or explain what this means and not all of the people in my life are supportive or open to learning new identities.

I still wear outfits that make me feel sexy, I still flirt and make jokes about sex, I still fangirl over pretty celebs, I’m still exactly who I was before. The only difference between me and allosexual people is how I interact (or don’t interact) with partners.

I’m not ashamed that I don’t feel sexual attraction. I’m not ashamed that I don’t feel romantic attraction. I’m not ashamed of what I need from partners and I’m not ashamed that asexuality is a spectrum that might fluctuate for me in the future.

Like anyone else, I can be happy and feel supported without having a romantic or sexual partner in my life. I’m not lonely or sorry to be single.

I’m out and proud for possibly the first time in my life. I’m asexual.

The Tab’s Pride reporting series is putting a focus on highlighting LGBTQ+ issues and celebrating queer voices across UK campuses.

If you or someone you know has been affected by this story you can contact Switchboard, the LGBTQ+ helpline, on 0300 330 0630 or visit their website. You can also find help through young people’s charity The Mix, and Galop, the LGBTQ+ anti-violence charity. 

If you’ve got a story you’d like to tell us – whether it’s an incident of homophobia on campus, an experience you’d like to share, or anything you think we should hear, get in touch in confidence by emailing [email protected]

Read more from The Tab’s Pride series:

• ‘I’m stifling myself’: How LGBTQ+ people have to change their behaviour in public

If you want to actually be an LGBTQ+ ally, you need to stop doing these 25 things

‘University became my safe space’: Five LGBTQ+ young people on coming out whilst at uni

You can find all articles from The Tab’s Pride series here