Sex is everywhere. It's in our commercials, our television shows, our music, our art. There are songs about getting laid or not getting laid, books that examine sexual awakenings of various sorts, movies that center around the two leads getting into bed with one another, and incredibly long sitcom plot arcs devoted to the question of whether certain characters will bone one another.
If you were someone who didn't understand sexual attraction on a basic level—if you didn't really get why people liked doing that stuff so much—this might be a bit confusing. How would you perceive a rom-com, for example? Or appreciate any music after 1950? If you had no intention of ever having sex, would the world even make sense?
To find out I took to online asexual forums and did some asking around. You may know this already, but the term asexual refers to people who don't experience sexual attraction. Three such people agreed to share their stories, as well as some perceptions of modern culture. Here's what they said.
Looking back I realize that I felt different at around 12, but it wasn't until 17 that I knew for sure. The defining moment was at this crazy party with some of my friends. One of the chicks started flashing her breasts and all the guys went wild, but it hardly even got my attention. Before then I'd always doubted my asexuality, but seeing a half-naked woman for the first time and not even flinching, that confirmed it. The reason is this: Whether you're asexual or not, everyone finds certain things beautiful. But art, sunsets, flowers, paintings, and songs don't have any sexual desire attached to them. In the same way, I can find the naked female body beautiful, but it also doesn't have any sexual connotations for me. To me it's an artistic beauty and seeing a half-naked woman was the same. Would you start yelling and going wild over a painting? This is why certain things never make sense to me. Like seeing a woman try to get out of a speeding ticket by flirting with the cop. I don't know why the hope of sex would tempt someone to do something they wouldn't usually do. It makes the mere concept of Hooters completely baffling. Eating there won't get you laid. A hygienic waitress is an asset; one in tight shorts is probably a liability.
I find a surprising amount of things are determined and driven by sexual desire. Like the examples I used above, but also in basically any other interaction. Whether it's a job interview, meeting a potential new friend, or even just a brief interaction with a stranger on the street. How people react to you is pretty much mostly driven by how attractive they find you. I find that so strange.
I'm from Rio de Janeiro. I'm a city boy, an only son, and I wasn't allowed to leave the house because the city was too dangerous. So I passed the time with my toys and cartoon shows, or by just playing on the computer.
When I was six I made a bet with my cousins that I'd never date. They scoffed and offered me a McDonalds Happy Meal for every year that I stayed single after 16. To me it was a perfect bet, and I won every year, but only one of them paid the meal. The rest said they couldn't remember agreeing.
It always bugged me that even smart people are interested in sex and relationships. People I regarded as intelligent friends would always talk about this "special something" they couldn't describe and I couldn't feel. The fact that this experience excluded me was, and still is, devastating. I spent many years wondering if I was the true alien.
Why sex? We as a civilization are so much more advanced than just this one particular impulse. Why not make another impulse central? It could be food or breathing adequately. Sex is not even necessary to survival since IVF was invented. And I don't understand why there are so many songs about sex and how awesome it feels, but there're almost none about chocolate or other foods. How many songs do you know about food? Almost none. That's never made sense to me.
I'm half Polish, but I was born and raised in New Jersey. At first I thought I was bisexual, then I thought I was gay, but I only realized I was asexual around two years ago. I was sick of being constantly bombarded by dick pics whenever I opened my OkCupid account, so I was looking for some other answers. When I found an article about asexuality I cried for the longest time. Finally there was a label that actually made sense: homoromantic, gray-asexual. This means I'm romantically attracted to other men, but my sex drive is extremely low. The solace I found in that long slur of seemingly meaningless, non-compoundable words was ineffable.
The best explanation I can offer to justify my lack of interest in sex involves ice cream. It sounds absurd, but hear me out. Relationships are like ice cream cones, and ice cream is kind of like sex. I've tried vanilla ice cream and I've tried chocolate, but in the end the thing that really got me going was the cone. I could nibble on the same cone all day long. But people keep looking at my cone and telling me to load it with ice cream. I don't need any of the extra flavorings that ice cream brings. I'm perfectly content. All I want is the common denominator: the cone, the baseline, the snappy personality.
My mom once told me jokingly, "I love France, but hate the French." Sometimes that's how I feel about our planet. We've built stunning architecture, created cultures, enslaved one another, abolished slavery, and re-enslaved each other. Human beings have so much potential, but we get caught up in all the wrong things.
To be honest I thought I had an advantage over 99 percent of people for a while, just because my judgment wasn't clouded by thoughts of hound-doggedness. I think a lot of asexuals look down on sexual people at some point or another. It happens when you're such a small minority.
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Illustrations by Carla Uriarte