Riverdale

We Asked Asexuals if Riverdale's Jughead-Betty Romance Is Bullshit

You can count the number of mainstream asexual characters on one hand.

by Manisha Krishnan
11 March 2017, 8:34pm

I haven't met many people who ship the Jughead-Betty kiss that took place at the end of the episode six of Riverdale.

IMO, it was a little forced and unnecessary—the two characters don't have much in the way of sexual chemistry. Beyond that, is it too much to ask that a guy and a girl just investigate a murder together as friends and nothing more?

But the asexual, or ace, community has a lot more riding on Jughead's arc. Jughead is canonically asexual—a revelation that was made in Jughead No. 4, released last February. The comic's co-creator Chip Zdarsky later told a New York Comic-Con panel, "People have asked me if there is going to be a romance if I'm writing Jughead, because I'm very romantic, and the answer is no, because there is enough of that in Archie. I think something like asexuality is underrepresented, and since we have a character who was asexual before people had the word for it, I'm continuing to write him that way." Even the actor who plays Jughead, Cole Sprouse, said he hopes his character's asexuality is explored.

Asexual or not, he's still more interesting than Archie. Photo via Facebook

But, at least for now, Jughead seems to be pretty into Betty. VICE reached out to a few people who identify as asexual to get their thoughts on this development.

Research says asexuals account for up to one percent of the general population.

One thing that's important to note is just because Jughead has romantic feelings for Betty, it doesn't mean he's not asexual. Asexual people aren't necessarily aromantic.

"You can basically define it as people who do not experience sexual attraction to others," said Sasha Kaye, 23, a UBC grad who lives in Vancouver. "It's very much a spectrum and there's a lot of diversity in the community in a number of different ways."

Kaye explained that within the group, there are those who don't experience any sexual attraction whatsoever, and "greysexuals" who may experience sexual attraction very rarely. She said she considers herself a virgin but isn't repulsed by sex—just indifferent to it.

Kaye said she always knew she was asexual but she didn't have a word for it. It's part of the reason she said she wants to see an asexual character like Jughead portrayed in the mainstream.

"I remember once in high school watching an intramural sports match and my friends were like 'Oh my god, he's the hottest.' I thought the guy in the sweater was, cause he was wearing long sleeves and I thought he must be sweating."

Then, in university, she saw someone use the term on social media.

"I read this definition and I thought 'Oh my god. That's me.' That moment was life changing."

Read more: How Some Asexuals Use Erotica to Get Off

Kaye said asexuals can crush on someone and desire emotional intimacy the same way as anyone else, and some asexuals are into kissing and cuddling.

That's why she said Jughead's behaviour so far doesn't necessarily rule out an asexual orientation.

"To sort of say he can't be asexual now kind of shows a lack of understanding towards asexuality more broadly."

But Fleurien Leth Graveson (who goes by the pronouns they/their), 29, a Montreal-based photography student is flat out disappointed by the Jughead-Betty storyline.

"Pretty much the main reason I was interested in watching Riverdale was cause I wanted to see if they would follow that arc," said Graveson, who realized they was asexual three years ago.

"Representation for any oppressed or marginalized group is such a huge deal and I think it's really difficult for people who have representation to conceptualize what it's like to never see or very, very rarely see people like you in the media."

Both Graveson and Kaye both said they could count examples of asexual characters in the mainstream on one hand, including Todd on Netflix's Bojack Horseman and a nurse on the cancelled series Sirens. (Graveson additionally said Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games could be asexual, but that was never stated outright.)

Growing up Graveson dated guys just to go through the motions—but it never felt natural.

"For me the relationship part was totally fine, it was just the sex part… It was feeling like everybody was kind of faking it, they couldn't possibly enjoy it as much as they claimed to be."

Asexuals, Graveson noted, can still have orgasms but they wouldn't necessarily turn to another person to relieve their arousal.

"It's like eating a food that you don't particularly like but don't find disgusting. I'll eat it if it's right in front of me but I'm not going to go out of my way to get it."

Graveson, who recently got out of a long-term open relationship, told VICE they wishes they realized they was asexual when they was younger—something that Riverdale has an opportunity to help its younger ace viewers with.

"When those things get taken away that are in the media, it becomes a lot harder for people to find their identity and to know that that identity is totally valid."

Graveson and Kaye have said the writers still have a chance to allow Jughead's asexuality to manifest.

"He's young and he's prob still trying to figure himself out," said Kaye. "If you don't see other asexuals in media, you don't learn about asexuality in school, you're not going to know until you try stuff and figure it out."

Mary Kate McAlpine, 24, of Arlington Heights, Illinois, told VICE she thinks so far there's been no indication that Jughead will be asexual, even aside from the kiss.

"The same way that gay characters can be coded a certain way before (or in the worst cases, in lieu of) being explicitly 'out,' as it were, ace characters can be as well. From the descriptions I've read, aside from him seeming to have a perspective no one else does…there isn't much. And the official character description calls him a 'heartthrob,' which puts him in the context of sex and romance," said McAlpine, who considers herself "solidly asexual."

While she concedes that writers could still be planning on making Jughead asexual, she said she is tired of the issue being "tiptoed around."

"Having no explicit confirmation from the writers that they will keep this canon ace character ace makes me feel uneasy and worried," she said.

Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.