Chelsea Thomson, 23, is asexual. Grey-sexual with hetero-romantic and autochorissexual tendencies, to be exact. She explains what that means when it comes to finding love.
One rainy Wellington day in 2012, I skipped class and curled up on the couch, surrounded by blankets and half-drunk cups of tea. As I trawled the internet, I stumbled across an unfamiliar term: ‘autochorissexualism’. I’m an English Literature Major with an innate love for words, so of course I looked it up.
Autochorissexualism is a very long word to describe a relatively simple thing. It basically means that there is a separation between someone and the person that arouses them. You might fantasise about that cute guy down the street, for example, but if the opportunity somehow arose you wouldn’t actually want to be sexual with him. It denotes the disconnect between the person and their fantasies. And it was, according to the definition I found, a trait that is found in some asexuals (though not all).
When I read this, something in the back of my mind went 'Oh, right!’ It was like finally seeing the answer to a crossword puzzle you’ve been staring at for too long. Before that day, the term ‘asexual’ had always brought up images of the awkward, germaphobic, touch-averse caricatures served up by TV. Think Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory.
I never thought of myself as asexual because that stereotype, typified by emotional distance, is not me. I have never been afraid to smother my friends and family with hugs, and my teen years were dotted with the occasional boyfriend and the kisses that came with those relationships. So finding that word was pivotal. I realised that maybe, just maybe, pop culture’s interpretation wasn’t always accurate – shocking, I know – and that there was more to this asexual thing than I had thought.
Here’s the thing that no one told me: despite studies showing that only about one percent of the population identifies as asexual, asexuality also represents the broadest variety of sexualities. They just all happen to be crammed inside that small number.
This is because there is a difference between romantic and sexual attraction. For most people the two are intertwined, but for asexuals the sexual attraction is absent. Over the course of a few months' reading, I came to the conclusion that I am not simply asexual, but grey-sexual with hetero-romantic and autochorissexual tendencies.
What it comes down to is this: I would like a loving, romantic relationship with someone – but I don’t want a sex life. People have asked me how I know I don’t want sex if I’ve never experienced it, but there are plenty of things I haven’t experienced that I will never seek out. Sex just happens to be one of them.
No one seems worried that I never want to go sky-diving or that I don’t like eating seafood; sex is the only experience other people feel the need to convince me on, no matter how adamantly I express my disinterest.
I haven’t wanted to have sex with anyone I’ve dated, no matter how attractive they were to me.
Even in the midst of ridiculous teenage crushes, sex was never the focus. It took me a while to realise it wasn’t because I was dating the wrong people, but that I’m just genuinely not interested. I’m not disgusted at the idea, but I don’t need or want it in a relationship. I’m indifferent. Sex isn’t something I want to experience, so I won’t.
When I mentioned this to a friend of mine, he said, “Most people call that situation ‘marriage’, not ‘asexuality’”. I laughed, but honestly, a sexless, loving marriage would be the dream. It’s getting to that point that’s difficult.
Because let’s face it, in this age of owning and being empowered by our sexuality, dating often leads to sex before it leads to relationships – and I haven’t wanted to have sex with anyone I’ve dated, no matter how attractive they were to me, aesthetically or mentally. I’ve dated some really attractive, funny, intelligent guys, and the number of times I would drive home from a date asking myself what the hell was wrong with me is just too high. I would sit at a red light and mentally listing every positive trait of the guy I had just parted with, commanding myself to feel some kind of attraction.
It was exhausting. I was in a cycle of meeting new guys, getting to know them, then reaching a point where it seemed a glass wall stopped me from moving forward. Where everything within me yelled “Hell No!” and recoiled. And so I would break it off, quote the dreaded line (“It’s not you, it’s me” - if only they knew how true that was) and that would be the end of it.
In some ways, it was nice to finally have an explanation for why I’d never wanted to move forward. On the other hand, it added a level of complexity to something most people will agree isn’t always simple to begin with. You think dating is difficult? Try dating with the tagline ‘I’m not interested in sex’ – you don’t get many Tinder matches. So I’ve taken a break from dating in the last year: I feel guilty, like I’m leading guys on, because sex is taken for granted as something everyone wants.
I’ve had a few Tinder messages along the lines of “I bet I could make you like sex”, but the guys I’ve dated (then broken up with) have been understanding. Or at least, their confusion has outweighed any bad feelings. Some were disbelieving of the idea that anyone wouldn’t enjoy sex, but for the most part they have been amicable partings.
One guy I dated briefly simply shrugged and said: “Well, we’ve had fun, so cheers for that.” Then he asked if I wanted some hot chips before I headed home. What can I say? In my opinion he had his priorities straight.
A few weeks ago, my mother, sister and I were having lunch together when the topic turned to my asexuality. I had been dropping it into conversation with my friends and family every so often over the years, but this was more than throwaway sentences; we had a long, in-depth talk. Mum asked questions like: “Have you ever been sexually attracted to anyone – men, or women?” “What about the guys you’ve dated?” and: “Do you feel arousal?”
They might not fully understand, but it’s a lack of understanding borne of our essential differences.
I tried to answer to the best of my ability. All in all, Too Much Information was probably shared. But then my family has always been like that. Even my late Nana, who had us all crying with laughter when she once told us, primly: “You kids think you invented sex, but Jim and I used to go up the hill and...” (Us grandkids ran from the room in horror at this point, but you get the idea.)
So I never really worried about telling my parents. They might not fully understand, but it’s a lack of understanding borne of our essential differences, not cruelty or hate. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t nervous through our lunch; it was the first serious talk we had ever had about it.
Talking to people about asexuality is important to me, because we can’t rely on mainstream media to get it right. But maybe that’s changing: in the last few months, I’ve had more conversations about my asexuality than I’ve had in the past two years. Maybe people are just curious – just as I was curious when I came across that insanely long and unfamiliar word. Just as my mother was curious.
If you’ve read this entire ramble of mine, then you are probably curious yourself. And honestly, that’s brilliant – because curiosity, I have found, can be a stepping stone to something more. That bored girl in 2012 had no idea where that one word would take her; that one single moment of curiosity would go on to open up doors I never knew existed. You can’t know what there is to learn about yourself until you start looking.