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What it means to be Asexual and Nigerian

From the time Yinka was 16 years old, he already had a strong feeling that something was different. Even though a majority of his hormone-led secondary school friends had begun to brazenly explore their sexualities and the gratification that came from varying sexual activities, Yinka just wasn’t roused by the thought or desire to have sex.

Chalking it up to his strong religious background and dubbing it a phase that would eventually pass, it wasn’t until he turned 20 that he finally realized that this feeling might be perennial. 

“I hadn’t been molested or abused or had experienced any form of psychological damage. I did get erections in the mornings, but I couldn’t be bothered about masturbating. After rounds of masturbation – because it had been recommended – and failed attempts at sex, I slowly began accepting that while sex might be good, it just wasn’t my kind of good.”

While Yinka’s experience might seem foreign in a society where sex permeates nearly everything, it is not. For one thing, conversations surrounding sex in Nigeria is fraught with judgment largely owed to our deeply rooted religious beliefs, however, society is more attuned to the idea of actual sex or celibacy for religious purposes than asexuality. Why? Because many people still have a hard time wrapping their heads around the thought that anyone could possibly not be interested in sex. There has to be a problem. 

 

What is Asexuality? 

Discussions surrounding sexual identities has become a prevalent part of our society. With social media simultaneously expanding and contracting the worlds we live in, millennials are intrepid when it comes to conversations about sex, as sexual identities and expressions have become a colloquial language. One of such identities is asexuality. 

The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), defines asexuality as a sexual orientation in which a person – often referred to as an ace – experiences no sexual attraction or desire to participate in any form of sexual activity. A wide spectrum in of itself, asexuality features other sub-sexualities that cater to different experiences that still align with the general idea it is based upon. Someone who is graysexual for instance experiences sexual attraction rarely or only in specific circumstances or they might experience it without the accompanying sex drive. Demisexuals on the other hand, only experience sexual attraction is there is a strong emotional bond. Cutting across the distinction between those who experience sexual attraction and those who do not is the distinction between those who experience romantic attraction and those who do not, they are known as aromantic. 

Asexuality is typically defined as a lack of sexual attraction to another person. But sexual attraction is different than sex drive, the body's physiological response to sexual stimulus. Many aces still experience a libido. Aces might masturbate or engage in sex in particular contexts and for particular reasons, such as, to benefit a partner; to feel close to someone; to relax; to benefit their mental health, and so on.

 

Fitting Asexuality into the Larger Spectrum that is the LGBTQ+ Community

Another fundamental part of the discourse surrounding sexuality with specific reference to asexuality is where it fits in the wider puzzle that is the LGBTQ+ community. A 2014 survey conducted by AVEN tagged “The AVEN Community Census” which surveyed major sexual online communities, revealed that 17.9% of its asexual correspondents felt they were only welcome in the LGBTQ+ community because of another identity, and 14.1% didn’t feel welcomed or included in any way. 

Jan who identifies as asexual tells Love Matters Naija, “The LGBT community isn’t totally accepting of the asexual community,” when asked why she feels this way, she adds, “Some people think because some asexual people are hetero-passing, or heteroromantic, they suffer less discrimination and homophobia. This is untrue. Aphobia exists and should be spoken about more.”

Yinka agrees with this, “It’s more of acceptance on paper and the internet. But there is still this opinion that it can be cured with good sex. I mean, I already get that from the cishet community.”

 

Asexuality is not any of these things

Several misconceptions are trailing the asexual community from the assumption that it is a form of celibacy, to extreme beliefs that it is a direct result of sexual trauma. While definitions are meant to clearly state what something is, in the case of asexuality, listing out the things it’s not, seems like a more practical tool in dealing with ludicrous misconceptions. 

Author, Julie Sondra Decker sums it up perfectly in her book, The Invincible Orientation (2014):

Asexuality isn’t a complex. It’s not a sickness. It’s not an automatic sign of trauma. It’s not a behavior. It’s not the result of a decision. It’s not a chastity vow or an expression that we are ‘saving ourselves’. We aren’t by definition religious. We aren’t calling ourselves asexual as a statement of purity or moral superiority.

We’re not amoebas or plants. We aren’t automatically gender-confused, anti-gay, anti-straight, anti-any-sexual-orientation, anti-woman, anti-man, anti-any-gender or anti-sex. We aren’t automatically going through a phase, following a trend, or trying to rebel. We aren’t defined by prudishness. We aren’t calling ourselves asexual because we failed to find a suitable partner. We aren’t necessarily afraid of intimacy. And we aren’t asking for anyone to ‘fix’ us.

Jan also blames the most common assumption that asexuals just haven’t had “good sex” yet, for the “erasure of people in the spectrum.” Likening it to other types of sexual identities, she tells Love Matters, “It is silly because you don’t choose asexuality. It is not something you choose. It’s who you are.”

 

Ace Dating

Overcoming normative, existing relationship structures can be hard for an ace. With society reading relationships in a sex-based way where your relationship is questioned by the world and your partner when there’s no sex involved, dating and maintaining a relationship becomes tricky. 

Often times than none, aces don’t end up with other aces. Complex relationships are formed as aces form relationships with members of other sexual identities. And while celibacy might have an expiration date, with asexuality, the certainty is sometimes difficult for non-members of the community to handle. Some people who identify as asexual, find it easier to navigate these relationships based on other parts of the spectrum they fall says Jan who is also biromantic. However, a majority still struggle with the question of how much compromise is too much?

Yinka, who is in a committed relationship and often partakes in sexual activities to please his partner, admits that while his partner is supportive at the moment, there’s still an assumption that his sexuality is a “stumbling block that will go away with time,” which makes him uncomfortable. “I know I love him but it isn’t rewarding for me. And having to act pleased – when it comes to sex – just makes me tired.”

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