Sex is all around us: in advertising, music, film, the media and fashion. But what if you do not relate to sex at all?
An estimated one per cent of British people identify as asexual, which is defined as the absence of desire to have sex or feel any sexual attraction.
Michael Dore, a mathematician and a press officer of the Asexual Visibilty and Education Network (AVEN) first began identifying as asexual at 15-year-old.
At odds with the majority of the other pupils in his all-male school, at an age where testosterone and sexual desire was rife, Michael said he felt very different to his peers.
“It was like a different language if you like, I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. People would ask me if I was gay or straight. I’m not either of those, I’m asexual,” he told The Independent.
Aware that he might just be a late developer or going through a phase, Michael did not rule out being sexually active completely but “the years went by and nothing changed in that regard”.
Love and sex news: in pictures
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Now 35, Michael continues to not have sex. He explains that sexual arousal is different from sexual attraction. For example, for men an erection is a bodily function which can be caused by arousal or nothing in particular. Michael explains that this still happens with him but it does not mean he then wants to have sex with someone.
“Arousal is a very different thing but as far as sexual attraction is concerned, I have never experienced that,” he says. He tries masturbation occasionally but says he can “easily live without it”.
The thought of sex also actually “repulses” Michael although he does not have any moral objections to it. He also categorises sex with kissing. “Why would you want to exchange saliva with someone? If there is something to it you might want to but if you don’t experience sexual attraction this feels a bit weird.”
Asexuality is now widely considered a sexual orientation and Michael has organised and walked on pride marches.
“It is not a choice it is an orientation,” he says. “I don’t mean you are born this way and can never change but you can’t decide to be asexual one day just like you can’t decide to be straight or gay one day.
“Everybody has people they are not sexually attracted to, but for asexuals everyone falls into this category,” he says stressing that it is not the same as celibacy – where people chose not to have sex for whatever reason - “I would categorise myself as asexual because I don’t ever experience sexual attraction.”
He describes it as also having a spectrum, some identify as ‘greysexual’ – meaning they can and will have sex sometimes. Michael also identifies as aromantic, meaning he also does not like the idea of relationships and has never had one.
“That is not a priority for me”, he says explaining that friendships, platonic relationships, community, professional contacts and hobbies are what he prefers to focus on. “I have never felt romantically attracted to someone… I think people can be aesthetically attractive in the same way I might like a beautiful painting. In an aesthetic sense it is fine but it does not go any further than that.”
However, just like heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual people they are not all the same and some who identify as asexual are in relationships like 26-year-old Celine Hampton who is a biochemist.
“I identified as aromantic until I met my current partner,” she told The Independent. “We met each other last year and I realised that I wanted a romantic relationship with him. This is the first time I have ever felt this way, and it was the same for him as well. I now identify as Greyromantic because I have experienced romantic feelings. I don't believe I will go on to have crushes very often (if at all) if we ever broke up so my experience is far closer to being aromantic than hetero-romantic. “
Celine's partner is also asexual and the couple met at an asexual meet-up last year, they will celebrate their first anniversary this weekend.
Sex can be one of the most exciting and intense aspects for those in new relationships and when Celine and her partner first started dating they both decided to try it.
“Neither of us experienced any intimacy from it at all, even though it felt good. Halfway through, we asked each other why we were doing this again and went to do something else. We have no intention of trying it again except for if we ever want children.”
Celine also identifies as ‘sex favourable’ because she can enjoy the physical feeling of sex however says “the more sex I have, the more sex-repulsed I become. It became a serious problem for my mental health because I was forcing myself to do something that wasn't natural for me”.
Celine – who warns against thinking of all asexual people like the character Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory - still enjoys a fruitful and happy relationship. She and her partner kiss, hug, hold hands and share a bed like any other couple. They are also supportive of each other and have been welcomed into each other’s families.
“If sex without love can exist, then why can't love without sex? To me this is the most natural thing in the world and what we have is extremely intimate,” she says.
Celine struggled with her asexuality while growing up and was bullied at school for being a virgin and uninterested in having sex. At 16, she claims she was attacked by a peer who said she was ‘gagging for it’ and that sex would fix her. At university, she tried to have relationships and sex but it caused her mental health to deteriorate when she realised she wasn’t accepting who she was.
“Throughout my childhood and teenage years, one of my main anxieties was that I'll eventually have to find a partner and get married. I told my parents that I wanted either an arranged marriage or to become a nun,” she says.
Concerned something was wrong or “broken” with her, Celine also had her hormone levels tested (which came back fine) before seeking help for her mental health.
“… Acknowledging my asexuality and accepting myself and being open has been the only way to improve my mental wellbeing. The biggest battle I have faced as an asexual has been accepting myself for who I am and knowing that it is ok to be asexual.”
Other issues have also been reported among the asexual community. Michael says he has known of cases of asexual people being attacked or beaten up for homophobic reasons like gay people have experienced. He also warns against some people who are asexual trying to “correct” themselves through having sex, which can be very damaging.
Both Michael and Celine have supportive and accepting families and friends and while Michael does not see marriage, long term relationships or children as part of his future, Celine wants it to be part of hers.
“Sex will have to happen to have children. My partner and I will have a long discussion though because we both want to respect each other's boundaries.”