While numerous social movements advocate the awareness of homosexuality and bisexuality, asexuality, the absence of sexual attraction, is one orientation that has become more prevalent.
As LGBTQA student organization the Lambda Alliance will tell you, sexuality is a spectrum. How one experiences sexual attraction should not be seen in black or white, as it varies from person to person.
Many sexual orientations, such as demisexuality and grey-asexuality, fall under the asexual umbrella.
Alex Papanicolaou, a Lambda panelist who identifies as asexual, said that many Athenians could be considered asexual without realizing it.
“[The asexual community] is a lot bigger than what people think because of the fact that it can encompass a lot of different people,” Papanicolaou said. “A lot of people can be varying degrees of it and not know. There’s no education about asexuality, so people can just normalize the way they feel and don’t really know about it for the longest time.”
Since the prevalence of Athens’ asexual community is relatively unknown, many asexuals in the Classic City can feel isolated and invalidated.
“Whenever you feel like you’re the only person like that, it’s nothing you can really identify with,” said Tim Buford, fourth year history and anthropology major. Despite common misconceptions, asexuals can appreciate how a person looks without having sexual feelings for them. This is what Papanicolaou called aesthetic attraction.
“If I thought that somebody was cute, I thought that was the attraction people were talking about,” Papanicolaou said. “I never got that sexual component though, and it took me a long time to realize that everybody assumed it was there, and I assumed it was there. It just wasn’t.”
Besides defining their sexuality for themselves, asexuals sometimes also struggle with explaining to their parents that their orientation is a distinct sexual identity.
“I tried to come out to my mom a few times,” Papanicolaou said. “She’s thinking, ‘Oh, well, Alex is straight,’ but there’s an asterisk and a bunch of modifiers next to that.”
Freshman student Sydney Sims said that it is difficult to achieve validation among her peers.
“Once, [a classmate] gave me the whole ‘You just haven’t had sex yet, so you wouldn’t know’ thing,” Sims said.
“But I’m like, ‘Why would I have sex when I don’t want to have sex with anyone?’”
Another contributing factor to the general public’s ignorance of asexuality is a lack of representation in the media. With so many movies and TV shows pushing sex-driven scenes with the intention of bringing in more viewers, some asexuals find it difficult to consume media on a regular basis.
“It’s always like a constant reminder that you’re different,” Buford said. “That can get annoying whenever you’re just trying not to think about it for a second.”
Asexuals have differing tolerance of discussing or being exposed to sexual content. While they do not experience sexual attraction themselves, some do not mind seeing it in the media.
“I am for taking the stigma off of sex, but there’s a difference between making it normalized and making it the norm,” Sims said. “That’s where it gets unhealthy, because then you get people who are like, ‘You’re asexual. You can’t be in a relationship because sex is clearly necessary if you look at this media.’”
Some still develop romantic feelings for others, while some do not. A lack of romantic attraction is called aromanticism and is not dependent on sexual identity. Buford said that determining his romantic orientation has been more difficult than defining his sexuality.
“The way our society defines romance has to do with sex,” Buford said. “So when that aspect is absent, it can be kind of hard to figure out if you still experience romantic attraction or feelings.”
Papanicolaou added that reconsidering one’s orientation can cause one to rethink how they view platonic relationships.
“A lot of people like to say that platonic is being romantic with someone, except you don’t want to have sex with them,” Papanicolaou said. “But when you start to separate sex and romance, that doesn’t make sense anymore. Platonic is a very strong emotional feeling that could be similar to romantic, but it’s just a really fervent friendship.”
The asexual community in Athens strives to promote awareness and eventually gain more validation from the general public. But above all they wish to be viewed not as abnormalities or outliers, but as real people.
“It’s kind of a personal thing,” Sims said. “It’s just who I am, and that’s all there is to it.”