Western junior Christal Schmidt waited, and waited. Before she knew it, she was a freshman in college and still waiting to feel sexually attracted to someone. It was a feeling she had seen dramatized in movies and heard all about from her friends. Until her first year at Western, Schmidt just assumed she was too young.
“Around my freshman year, I realized if I hadn’t felt anything until then, I probably wasn’t going to,” she said with a shrug.
Schmidt landed on the term “asexual” in college, but she chose not to share with her family. Schmidt believed they wouldn’t understand and said she thinks they would suggest counseling or be disappointed that she would never get married. She said she believes there is a stigma, or at least a deeply ingrained mistrust, about asexuality.
“No one believes you. They say, ‘Are you sure you’re not homosexual? Did you have a repressed childhood?’” she said.
For Schmidt, asexuality is an orientation, an alternative to homosexuality or heterosexuality, which involves no sexual attraction.
Asexuals are people who do not experience sexual attraction. There is considerable diversity among the asexual community. Each asexual person experiences things such as relationships, attraction and arousal somewhat differently. The orientation is just beginning to be the subject of scientific research, according to the Asexual Visibility Education's (AVEN) website.
Asexuality escapes the intense “nature versus nurture” debates that define discussions about queer rights, but this exclusion has drawbacks for the asexual community, said Western senior Kathleen said, whose name has been changed by the Western Front to protect her identity. She does not want a label, like her orientation, to define her. What she does want is to bring awareness to asexuality.
“I don’t even use the word ‘asexual,’ Kathleen said. “It sounds so medical and well-defined, but it’s hard for me to even tell what I am.”
A study suggests asexuality affects up to 1 percent of the population. So statistically, up to 145 Western students are potentially asexual. Some of these students may not even know asexuality exists, Kathleen said.
Kathleen’s orientation lacks the religious criticism homosexuality receives; asexuals are mentioned nowhere in the Bible and it threatens no major tenet of Christianity. But a more important reason that asexuality is not often discussed is because of lack of awareness and the uncertainty surrounding its definition, Kathleen said.
Schmidt describes asexuality as a spectrum. On one end there are people who are completely repulsed by sex and on the opposite side are asexuals who still want to get married and have children, Schmidt said. Some asexuals may feel pleasure having sex, but never feel the initial sexual draw most people experience when they notice an attractive person, Kathleen said.
Schmidt has never felt the feelings that usually arrive with puberty and lingers with people for the rest of their lives. When she realized she never would, Schmidt did some research of her own. She turned to the Internet and found Western Cake!
Western Cake! is a Facebook group co-founded by Kathleen. The name is drawn from a joke in the online asexual community: If asexuals had to choose between cake and sex, they would choose cake, every time.
The Facebook group understands the joke, but had no way to identify each other on campus or meet to talk to one another. Discovering AVEN was a relief for Kathleen; naming the indifference she felt about sex made her feel validated. She said she wanted all asexuals to feel the same way.
The media is also a factor in the lack of conversation about asexuality, Kathleen said. While shows and news segments often exploit the idea, “sex sells”, or get caught up in the furor over queer rights, there are no memorable characters, no plot lines and no discourse about what it means to be asexual, she said.
Kathleen visited the Sexual Awareness Center to see if they had anything about asexuality. The center said they didn’t have any resources available, but that didn’t deter Kathleen. She printed off all the resources she had found online and delivered them to the center.
Western Cake! is where Kathleen hopes students are able to go to address some of the ambiguities and be able to combat the alienation Kathleen feels is a part of being asexual. The group is larger this year, currently at 17 members and it’s also more active.
For now, Kathleen's only concern about asexuality is what it means for her future, and she is not sure Western Cake! can help with that.
“I don’t want to be single forever; what am I going to do? Am I going to meet another asexual person by pure chance or am I going to have to make compromises in order to be involved with a sexual person?” Kathleen said. “I mean, I would be trying to draw from a 1 percent pool of the population and I don’t even know who they are.”
Romance still exists for her and the idea asexuality would limit her to such a narrow wedge of the population is not something she wants to accept. Instead, she plans to push herself to grow in certain ways and be open to make some of the compromises people who are not asexual will expect, Kathleen said.
Kathleen said having understanding peers is helpful to feeling validated and legitimate in their orientation.