The invisible identity
This article was originally published on WKUTalisman.com.
Malorie Byrne was in middle school when she first noticed that she didn’t experience attraction in the same way as her peers.
Her friends were starting to experiment with dating, but she realized for the first time that she was ambivalent.
“Oh, should I find these people attractive?” she remembers thinking. “Should I find boys attractive? Not that I think they’re unattractive. I’m just not like, ‘oh wow I need to be with that dude.’”
Curious, she started researching online. The word she found for herself was asexuality.
“That’s perfect,” she said, reflecting on the memory. “That’s exactly how I’m feeling.”
Now a Campbellsville sophomore, Bryne became more animated as she reflected on what she had learned.
“Ever since I’ve known I was asexual, I just really loved it,” Bryne said. “It’s one of those things where it’s nice to know there’s a community of people who feel the same way.”
The definition of an asexual given by the Asexual Visibility and Education Network is a person who does not experience sexual attraction or an intrinsic desire to have sexual relationships. Though AVEN was founded in 2001, asexuality is not new. Concepts of asexuality in humans were studied by biologists, sexologists and psychologists as early as the 1940s, though the identity wasn’t named until much longer.
“Historically, there have probably been a lot of asexual people in marriages who have gone along with sex because it’s expected,” said Marilyn Gardner, an associate professor of public health at WKU. The textbook Gardner uses for her human sexuality courses briefly mentions asexuality, though in a list of other identities rather than a topic all its own. Gardner said this is a reflection of the literature not being caught up with current thinking. She also noted that there’s still a lack of empirical research on asexuality.
Communities of asexuals bloomed in the early 2000s with the advent of the internet age as individuals found one another through online forums. Today, an estimated 1 percent of people identify as asexual, according to AVEN, though real estimates are hard to determine. As of 2017, asexuals are protected from employment discrimination by law in New York. For at least a decade, asexual characters have been appearing on TV, from New Zealand soap operas to “Game of Thrones.” Slowly, asexuality is bubbling up to the mainstream.