Feeling isolated as an asexual in a sexualised society

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When Stacey wrote about her experience of not wanting to sleep with anyone, even her husband, dozens of readers sent emails saying that they too were asexual. Many described feeling isolated in a sexualised society. Here is a selection of their stories - and a response from an asexual activist about the importance of joining a community.

I am in my sixties and have had two failed marriages, but I have never initiated or enjoyed sex with another person. As a teenager it was easy to refuse sex, it was expected of a "good" girl, but family pressure meant that I was married at 21 and suddenly had no more excuses. I loved my husband and wanted to please him, but I felt no sexual desire and hated the experience of a physical relationship. I never initiated sex with him, and was almost glad when he eventually had affairs because the pressure was no longer on me to satisfy his needs. I felt overwhelming guilt for being so cold and took all the blame for my first marriage ending. I couldn't understand how I could love someone so much but dislike being touched by them... I married an older man 10 years ago who had led me to believe that he also was past sexual desire. Unfortunately this wasn't the case and he took my reluctance to have sex with him very badly. He forced me to perform sexual acts and I ended up hating him for it. We are going through an acrimonious divorce. In hindsight I should never have married again. Gill, London

I am a 35-year-old man, and have only just realised I am asexual. I have always been attracted to people, form romantic feelings very quickly and have always dated. I would fancy someone, enjoy the kissing and physical contact, but when it came to sex, my body would just switch off. I thought it could have been performance issues and I kept trying - it caused huge embarrassment and destroyed my confidence for years. I am desperate for a relationship and had completely resigned myself to being alone and childless forever. But recently I have seen a lot of articles about asexuality, and I can't begin to describe the relief that I am now able to label what it is about me that is different. I can even begin to dream about finding someone who could understand. Matt

I only discovered that I am asexual a few months ago when a therapist suggested it to me. Until then I had no idea what to call myself. I became sexually active when I was 17 and in college, I had a steady boyfriend and was in love with him, but I never felt sexually attracted to him. At first I thought it was due to lack of experience, but as time went on nothing changed. After we broke up I began questioning my sexuality a lot more, considering if I was a lesbian, and if that led me to feel this way. I noticed my body could become aroused, but it's like my mind isn't connected to it any more, it doesn't feel anything. Sex isn't painful for me, it doesn't repulse me, I just don't get pleasure from it. I discovered the Asexual ACES group and page on Facebook and am pleased to have found people who feel the same - or similar - ways as me. But I do worry that I'll never have a romantic partner. I am open to the idea of sex to please the other person, but the fact that I do not enjoy it seems to be a huge barrier for people. I feel very much like I will be alone for my whole life. Devi, Kent

Being asexual I feel irrelevant to a culture which is all about coupling: how much of daily life (fashion, recreation, entertainment) is about attracting or pleasing a partner? I'm not averse to having a partner, but feel excluded from the possibility, because who would invest time and effort into a relationship that isn't going to get them any sex? In a way, passing through the world as a sort of invisible extra is a privilege - you get more of an objective view of human relations when out of the throng yourself - but too much reflection and you start to see how you're surplus to requirements. Maybe someday I'll accept that, but I haven't got there yet. Sarah, Cambridge

'Finding a community helps'

It's possible to feel all alone, to feel like, "I'm too weird to get a partner," or "I'm not normal." But asexuality is just a sexual orientation, it's part of the normal spectrum of human sexuality, there's nothing pathological about it - and that goes a long way to helping people understand themselves as asexual.

People who think they identify as asexual who are feeling isolated or lonely should join an asexual community - whether online or offline (see examples at the bottom of the page). Having a label really helps and finding a community definitely helps.

The internet has really given asexuality its impetus as a movement. Of course, there were always asexual people around but it was very hard for them to find each other - it's not something that easily comes up in conversation and there was no obvious way for people to come together.

Asexuality still isn't really an option that's talked about. People think if you're not straight you're probably gay or you might be bi. So even though there has been more awareness of asexuality in recent years it is still a relatively young movement, and there is still a long way to go.

Michael Doré, The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN)

I've known that I wasn't like everybody else since I was 13. I tried to pretend and even went out with a few mates just to see I was just being a bit slow on the uptake. It wasn't until I was 15 that I came across the term asexual and knew then that was what I am. I would never tell my parents or family. They wouldn't understand. There is a huge generation gap of knowledge between us and none of them would have heard about it or understand it. These issues are not a new thing, they have been around for a very long time but many older people are saying that it's a new fad. They are just hearing about it for the first time because of the wonders of the internet. But the fact that you can now find a community of people online who feel like you, and who can help you come to terms with the fact that you are not a broken person, is so important. Tabitha, Bristol

I am a 52-year-old guy who has been repulsed by sex for as long as I can remember. In my younger days I was always sexually active, but I never got any satisfaction from it. Other than seeing my partner receiving pleasure, I pretty much hated it. I have been in a few strong, loving relationships through my life, and even happily married once, but they all failed as a result of one thing, my total disinterest in sex. While I was still in love, and very happy to be cuddled up in bed or on the sofa, I always found the thought of sex repulsive and this eventually ended the relationships. I've now been single for 11 years and, although I don't particularly enjoy being so, it is far easier than trying to find one of the other 1-3% of people who are the same as me. I just hope that more young people become aware of and open about their asexuality so they can find a similar person and enjoy a normal, loving, non-sexual relationship. Jon, Runcorn

At 28 years old, even having known about asexuality for about five years and knowing that is what I am, I am still struggling to come to terms with it. This is partly due to the overwhelmingly negative and dismissive attitude that people have demonstrated when I have tried to tell them that I am Ace. They always tell me, "Oh, you just haven't met the right person yet," or "You're a prude then." This has damaged my self-image, and undermined my confidence in being asexual in a modern world which revolves almost exclusively around sex. Living as part of a generation who has been constantly bombarded with sex from the media has left me feeling extremely isolated and backwards. I honestly live in fear of dying alone because I am unable to have sex. I am happy with what I am, but the world around me is not, and as such I am increasingly becoming a social hermit, because it easier than living with the disdain of an over sexualised world. Lucy, Cornwall

I'm a 42-year-old man, and it's only recently I've realised what asexuality is and how well I slot into the concept. I used to keep diaries as a teenager, full of the usual angst, but it was interesting that all my feelings and thoughts towards (exclusively) girls were almost entirely romantic, bordering on platonic, rather than the horny, sex-laden fantasies that teenage boys are stereotypically supposed to have. I never really enjoyed my first sexual encounters, though they were interesting as a kind of fact-finding mission. Pretty much every encounter since, regardless of my relationship with the person in question, has been unsatisfying to the point of unfulfilling. I tend to only get even slightly aroused in positions where I'm completely passive, where I'm not in control. I've tried most positions, largely to experiment, and most of them don't work for me, I don't enjoy them and consequently nor does the person I'm with at the time. I do have a long-term partner at the moment. I call her my partner because it doesn't really feel right describing her as a "lover" or "girlfriend" as we're not, by normal standards. Although we regularly share a bed we don't even kiss never mind do more intimate stuff. I don't think she's ever quite got to grips with my lack of sexuality and tends to assume I'm gay. Ian, Nottinghamshire

Where to make contacts

The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) hosts the world's largest online asexual community as well as a large archive of resources on asexuality

My Umbrella is a volunteer-led support group for the lesser known LGBT+ identities

Asexual Awareness Week October 22-28 2017

For more information on sex and relationships visit BBC Advice

All illustrations copyright Getty Images.

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