This article originally appeared on VICE Spain. María is 28 years old and doesn’t want to have sex. Not because she's unhappy, traumatized, insecure, or saving herself for marriage—as many people she meets assume—but because she's asexual.
Around 1 percent of the British population self-identifies as asexual—a sexual orientation that broadly means someone doesn’t feel sexually attracted to other people. When María was a teenager and noticed she wasn't attracted to guys, she assumed she was gay. When she realized she didn't like women either, she briefly thought she felt so different from everyone else because she was born in the wrong body—but that didn't seem to be the issue either.
It wasn’t until she was 24 and, after a night out, started thoroughly searching online, that she found the term that resonated with how she'd always felt. Her discovery of asexuality also led her to the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN)—connecting her to other people with little or no desire to have sex.
I spoke to María to find out what it's like to be asexual in our hypersexualized world.
VICE: Hey, María. What does being asexual mean, exactly?
María: Being asexual means never feeling sexual attraction, or feeling it only slightly, or rarely. There's a lot of diversity within the community—we have asexual people who do feel a romantic attraction to people, which means they have a nonsexual desire to share their life with someone. We have people who don't feel that at all. And there are gay and trans people in the community, too, of course. The only thing that asexual people have in common is that we don't really feel the impulse to sleep with other people.
Do asexuals ever have sex, even though they don't or hardly feel the desire to?
You have to distinguish between two things: sexual attraction and sexual behavior. Attraction is the impulse that you feel. The impulse that drives you to a person or situation, which in our case is very low or nonexistent. But our bodies still respond to certain stimulations—we can get horny and have an orgasm. So there are asexual people who decide to have sex, either because they enjoy pleasuring their partner or because although they don’t feel that desire, they still know that they are going to have a good time.
There are also asexual people who are in committed relationships just because they feel the social pressure to conform. They might be married with children, but are unhappy because they've never been able to explain to their partners how they truly feel.
But are there couples where both partners are asexual?
Yes, of course. There are asexual people who still go searching for a partner because that romantic ideal is just as much ingrained in us as it is in anyone else. There are thousands of ways an asexual and sexual person, or two asexuals can make a relationship work. But the most important things are consent and communication—which are obviously crucial to any relationship, but maybe even more so when one person doesn't ever feel the urge to have sex.
Do asexual people masturbate?
There are those who do, and those who don’t. There are people who don’t feel a strong attraction to others but still get horny, so they masturbate. Being asexual is all about how attracted you are to others, but pure libido works independently from that. I know some people through AVEN who've told me they masturbated during exam term because it relaxed them, and I know girls who do it before their periods because they say it helps prevent menstrual cramps.
Do you ever watch porn?
Yeah, lots of asexual people watch porn and have their own fantasies. Watching people make out or have sex is basically part of our culture. If I’m watching a film where two people are in love, for example, I root for them to have sex—though in my personal life, I don’t relate sex with love at all. I’m not really sure why I do it, but that's just the way it is. Also, I've been turned on by scenes in porn and regular films, but when those same situations happen in my own life, they never end with me wanting to have sex.
Are asexual women and men judged differently by society?
Yes. Asexual men are accused of not being manly enough, or it's assumed that they don't want to admit they're gay. Girls are often told they must be lesbians but are also said to just be frigid and bitter.
How do people react when you tell them you’re asexual?
People often think I'm celibate, which is a completely different thing. Celibates do feel sexual attraction but choose not to have sex, while us asexuals have no or very little sexual desire but can still have sex whenever we want. And people are often very patronizing toward asexuals—they tell us that we're just going through a phase, that we'll change our minds when we eventually meet the right person. I've even been told that the reason I don't have sex is because nobody wants to sleep with me.
Do people treat you differently when they find out your sexual orientation?
Yes, definitely. Some will completely ignore me on nights out as soon as they realize that sleeping with me isn't an option. Others fetishize it. There was this one time, when a friend of a friend found out I was asexual, and she started asking tons of questions. While I answered them, she interrupted me to tell me that she was feeling an immense urge to fuck me. There had been no sexual tension between us until she saw me as some sort of challenge.
It's bad enough for those of us who never feel sexual desire, but it’s even worse for asexuals who have felt desire at some point in their lives. Once people know that, they naturally assume that they have the magical powers to make us feel desire again.
Are you less affectionate with people you meet because you don't want to give them the wrong idea?
I was 17 years old when I started to realize that I didn't feel the same desire as most people, but back then, I didn’t know that being asexual was even a thing. All I knew was that I didn’t want to sleep with anyone, so I became a very cold person. I wouldn't kiss or hug anyone, and I wasn't affectionate with people because I thought it could send mixed signals. I thought eventually they would expect something from me, and when they didn't get it, I'd be accused of leading them on. But I got older and wiser, and once I was able to put a name to my feelings, I became a lot more open and honest about it with the people close to me.
Is it strange to live in a hypersexualized society and not feel sexual desire?
I grew up in it, so I'm used to it. Sure, looking back, I can remember times when I felt awkward because I didn't react to certain sexual cues the way I was expected to. For example, I remember hanging out at a bus stop with some friends when they started talking about the advertisement right next to us that showed this guy in his underwear. I became so deeply aware of the fact that I hadn’t even noticed him. Even now, when I watch a film and two characters have sex for no reason —completely unrelated to the plot—I find it hard to stop thinking about what the point of it all was.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.