Assuming you are a “normal heterosexual girl” for far too long: Emily’s story

Emily, female, 24, United States.

Growing up, I was a normal heterosexual girl. Or so I thought. I picked out a boy to have a crush on in 5th grade, because everyone was beginning to have boys they “liked.” Not that too many people around me were all that vocal about it, but I think I felt pressure from my mom to have someone I “liked” in that way. We were growing up, beginning puberty, and before long our “raging hormones” would take over.

Except… I never noticed that extreme change. I thought the one or two “couples” who were actually “dating” in middle school were freaks. What did dating mean, for them? Holding hands? I doubted they actually kissed. We were too young.

I watched a lot of TV. I judged what dating was from TV, movies, and a few of my favourite books too. It involved some pretty sexist assumptions like the guy always paying, always driving, etc. It involved being nervous about sex before the big “first time,” which made sense to me. Because I was certainly not ready for sex.

When I was 12 years old, after I’d finished my second sex-ed course ever in my life, I realized something. They had never actually taught it in school, and I had no idea what this elusive sex thing really was. Sure, it somehow involved a penis and a female’s genital area as well. But how did it actually work? You’re kissing and… suddenly your body just “knows what to do?” I had some curiosity about sex, and a lot of confusion. They mainly taught “puberty & reproduction ed,” not sex ed, to my frustration.

Eventually I learned from my dad that the lyric “she goes down on me” in the song “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind, one of my favourite songs, meant “she performs oral sex on me.”

I slowly learned that it was “normal” for guys to masturbate to porn quite frequently. I learned all sorts of things about male sexuality. But I figured I was kind of normal for someone of the other gender. I figured no females got what all the sex hype was really about, none of this stuff was intuitively exciting, no girls were desperate to see guys naked, etc. None of my friends were vocal about anything. If they called a guy attractive, or perhaps “cute” or “hot” I figured they were just drawn to their looks in some vague way. Not that they had any real secret desires for sex!

I was very confused by the fact that girls ended up stuck in the position of having babies while still in high school. Why didn’t people just wait till they were grown up to have sex? To me, having sex, at least when too young, seemed almost like smoking cigarettes. Both were discouraged, and were basically dangerous, and it was so easy to just NOT… (I didn’t realize that people actually were tempted to have sex even before their first try, unlike before their first cigarette.)

I didn’t date in high school, but that wasn’t that weird. It didn’t really feel like everyone had a date. A lot of people, sure, especially by the time senior Prom rolled around, but not everyone. I wasn’t that weird. So I didn’t think to question my default straight status (placed upon me by heteronormativity) much. I considered girls briefly but I figured if I was a lesbian (and I didn’t really know bi was a valid option) I’d know. I’d have such a strong crush on a girl that I couldn’t lie to myself anymore. That clearly wasn’t me.

I attended a college. Lots of schoolwork, not a lot of friends, except for the online variety. I enjoyed vidding in my spare time. It felt like age 20 was kind of when it became too old to have never been kissed, so I was a little embarrassed, but it wasn’t a major stressor for me. I didn’t manage to be very social in school. I was very social in the online vidding-community, though. Also in the online atheism & skeptic community once I finished my Comparative Religions course during my sophomore year. “Angie the Anti-theist” on twitter mentioned that she had asexual friends. I asked her what that meant. She sent me to AVEN’s homepage.

I realized some of it applied to me, but closed the page and waited a few more years before really taking it seriously. After I graduated, at age 22, enough was enough and I needed to start dating. I used OkCupid. My first date was wonderful; we talked for hours. But when the guy kissed me… nothing. No feeling of excitement. No “chemistry.” Just disappointment. We ended up not going on a 4th date. I obsessed over AVEN’s forums, looking for an answer to that elusive question: “What is sexual attraction?” (And is it true that I don’t feel it? That I’ve never been attracted to anyone in that way? Probably.)

It took almost another whole year for me to find another guy on OkCupid (mainly because a lot of the year I wasn’t even trying). We hit it off instantly. I liked him so much just from our first day stumbling across each other’s profiles and messaging a bit. We were perfect for each other. I was 23, he was 22. We were each other’s first boyfriend/girlfriend. But he liked kissing me and I always felt like pulling away. I didn’t ever feel aroused. Not with him. Not when reading erotic fanfiction. Not when trying to fantasize, whatever that meant.

I admitted I’d never masturbated. I told him I feared I might be asexual, but I hoped I was just demisexual. I explained what it meant. I sent him online links. He asked if my religious upbringing had lingering effects, that that was why I never masturbated. I told him while I was raised Catholic, no, I was not repressing any urges. They just weren’t there. My upbringing was never that strict. My dad and boyfriend wondered if I should see a doctor and get my hormones checked. I wondered too. But ultimately the asexual online community assured me that if I had no other reason than my asexuality to question it, then it probably was unnecessary to check, and besides, low sex drive was different to no sexual attraction.

I decided if I tried sexual stuff, maybe I’d like it – or maybe it’d prove that I really was asexual. Sure enough, my first time being naked with my boyfriend was enough for me to feel pretty darn sure. We ended up doing naked stuff on two separate occasions, but never getting too far. My boyfriend was respectful and understanding every step of the way, although a bit disappointed himself. He found me so sexy. He was completely in love with me. He masturbated to fantasies of me orgasming when he performed oral sex on me, or me being the dominate one and him being submissive, or… He couldn’t stop thinking about me. But I didn’t relate. At all. I wished I did. But the more I looked at tumblr’s asexual tag, the more I realized I was asexual and it was okay to want to remain a virgin for my entire life if that’s what I chose. I couldn’t see myself ever compromising for the sake of sex, in order to make any romantic relationship work. I’d much rather find a way to live my life sex-free. We broke up amicably. My boyfriend understood that it wasn’t my fault that I was asexual, it was just who I was. We both had seen the break-up coming as soon as I didn’t enjoy the “foreplay” or whatever you want to call what we did. We both had kind of gone into it knowing that if this experiment in getting me turned on didn’t work, nothing would, and my boyfriend needed to find someone else to have his first real sexual relationship with.

Not too long before my 24th birthday, I freely embraced the asexual label. I’d been afraid of it. I was so used to being a straight girl. But coming out as asexual to my friends and family has been empowering. I don’t feel awkwardly unsure anymore as to why I never was all that interested in dating. I don’t feel scared of sex anymore. I understand my thoughts and feelings better than ever. I am sure of my identity in a way I didn’t even realize that I wasn’t, before. And it’s a really nice feeling. Sure, not everyone really understands my asexuality. But because I’m sure about who I am, I can confidently clarify the truth. (More and more confidentially and clearly with each time I practice coming out to someone.)

I wish I’d learned about the asexuality label sooner. I hope less girls grow up like me, not realizing that it is not the norm for people of the female persuasion to experience absolutely no sexual attraction nor sexual desire. But rather that it means a separate sexual orientation label fits you, and that you are different, but that there are others like you too. So you’re not alone.