Asexuals, Sex Ed, and the Delayed Realization

(Inspired by discussion of delayed recognition of asexuality in this post: , which made me think of some of the other reasons I personally have for taking so long to develop an asexual identity)

I think that for me personally, a large part of the delay in realizing that I was probably asexual wasn’t that I was afraid of being othered, but that I literally believed that everyone else just felt the same way I did. And I think a part of this may have been the way sex ed was discussed – or rather, the way that such courses focused heavily on sexual behavior, peer pressure, and romantic relationships while carefully tip-toeing around any hint of sexual desire or attraction.

The way sex-ed was taught at my school was similar to the way a lot of anti-drug programs worked: you learned about the possible risks, about ways people might pressure you into it even when you didn’t want to, and how to say no on those cases. The closest it got to acknowledging sexual desire was saying “if you do decide to do it use contraception.” or maybe “some people have relationships with the same gender.” On the one hand, the framing of the class kind of assumed everyone experienced heterosexual attractions – but at the same time there was no discussion of sexual attraction and the way it affects people.

For example, when discussing reason a teen might have sex, the list might look like this:

-because their friends are all doing it

-because their romantic partner says they should do it or they’ll break up

-because they’re afraid of being “prudish”

-because movies make it look glamorous

-because they think “loving someone” means you have to have sex


Basically, all arguments cam down to “peer pressure from friends or romantic partners” and there’s one big reason missing: the fact that people might have sex because they experiences sexual attraction, or experience sexual desire or like orgasm or desire the act purely for itself. I think this may be partly because heterosexual attraction is assumed, and partly because educators are afraid that admitting that people like sex and do it for reasons that are not bad like “peer pressure” might suddenly make all these teens go out and have sex. (This is a common attitude that shows up even more strongly in abstinence-only education and in a lot of anti-drug campaigns).

And I think that that was part of the reason I took longer to figure out that I was ace – because I literally thought that the only reason people would be sexually interested in [boys/anyone] was because of peer pressure, and that when other girls mooned over celebrities they were just “faking it to be popular”. I didn’t realize that my lack of sexual attraction was unusual because I just assumed that everyone else felt the same – and that the real difference was that I had better self-control or was less susceptible to peer pressure.


About Sennkestra

I'm an aromantic asexual and a bit of an [a]sexuality nerd, recently graduated from UC Berkeley with a BA in linguistics. When I'm not reading stuff on the internet I like to cook fancy food, watch anime, and make costumes and other arts and crafts projects.
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9 Responses to Asexuals, Sex Ed, and the Delayed Realization

  1. acetheist says:

    I remember myself having some similar thought processes. It’s hard to recall much without projecting in retrospect, but I do know there must’ve been a kind of disconnect between what I felt and what a heterosexual person is “supposed” to have felt.

    And it still weirds me out, sometimes, thinking about the fact that sexual attraction is something that actually happens.

    • luvtheheaven says:

      Me too. I had “Abstinence Plus” sex ed lol… and this seems really familiar. I did kind of think people would want to have sex for more reasons than just peer pressure, I didn’t think people were lying/pretending when they thought movie stars were hot, but at the same time I felt like people were “exaggerating” or that really only guys felt it and since I was a girl it made sense that I didn’t – none of my female friends really discuss finding people hot 99% of the time anyway. We’re in a culture where we just don’t bring it up.

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  3. Huh. That’s a really good point, and one I had never thought of. Makes sense, though, and I can certainly remember sitting in those classes and thinking “if you risk all THIS by having sex, what’s the point??”

  4. Arbutus says:

    “…I literally thought that the only reason people would be sexually interested in [boys/anyone] was because of peer pressure, and that when other girls mooned over celebrities they were just “faking it to be popular”. I didn’t realize that my lack of sexual attraction was unusual because I just assumed that everyone else felt the same….”

    Yes! This resonates with me so much. I, too, assumed everyone else was faking it when they were talking about girls being “hot” and the like. It took me a long time to realize that, in fact, other people *did* experience sex and attraction and romance as Real Things, and that they shaped others’ lives in a way I was completely unequipped to understand.

    In an absurd twist, my cluelessness about sex and romance led directly to me having a girlfriend. Like, long-term. She liked me, and I had internalized the romantic scripts that adolescents in our society are supposed to follow, and I understood intellectually what my next line was supposed to be even if I was shaky on the meaning. So I just read my lines off the script. I didn’t feel anything for her, which is the same thing everyone else feels when they get into relationships, right?

  5. wow….i never thought of it that way, but this is exactly what happened to me too. i always wondered how i could have been so oblivious (thinking everyone else lacked sexual attraction like i did) but your explanation really makes sense.

  6. moistdwelling says:

    I have though about writing something like this for a long time so i knew as soon as i read the title that i was going to relate to this on an unimaginable high level.

    I went to catholic school and every time we had someone talk to us about sex they would use those exact reasons for why people were doing it and i thought of the exact same reasons of why i was different.

    I remember the mildly confused and deeply narcissistic 15 year old that i was at the time thinking: “what the heck, this doesn’t even seem hard at all. Clearly i’m more logical and self-disciplined than all these idiots! I AM GOING TO BE THE BEST ABSTINENT PERSON EVER!1!1!!”

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