Ever wonder what that A in LGBTQA+ spectrum stands for? Well, a few things actually, including: agender, aromantic, and... asexual. According to research, about one percent of the population identifies as asexual, so you may have heard the term used before. But do you really know what it means? Maybe. However, for the sake of this post, let's assume that you either don't know much about it or you want to expand your knowledge. Or, hell, maybe you're asexual and you aren't sure on the answer either.
At its broadest definition asexuality is a focus on romantic, aesthetic, spiritual, or physical intimacy rather than on sexual attraction or sexual intimacy. An asexual person is one who doesn't experience sexual attraction meaning that they are neither drawn to people in a sexual manner nor do they experience the desire to act upon an attraction to others in a sexual way. So, an asexual person sees Jason Momoa but they likely don't find him attractive, nor do they want to take him to bed. Note: asexuality is not the same thing as celibacy. A celibate person abstains from sex by choice whereas an asexual person is born being sex adverse.
Of course, asexuality isn't one size fits all. It's a complicated spectrum ranging from individuals who are repulsed by the idea of sex and refuse to be physically intimate with another person; to those who choose not to have sex but aren't disgusted by the idea; to those who have a sexual libido and may masturbate or even have sex with their partners because of the sense of connection that comes from the act. (And lots a levels in between.)
So, you might be wondering, what might a person who isn't interested in sex might get out of reading romance? After all, romance novels are notorious for covering topics of sex, sexual desire, sexual attraction, love, relationships, and more. One might assume that Romance might be the last genre that someone who doesn't experience any of those feelings, emotions, or desires would choose to read. Right? Not quite.
Asexuality--not experiencing sexual desire--is not the same thing as being Aromantic--which means that an individual does not experience romantic desire. Some people are both, of course, but many are either/or. Those who are asexual, but not aromantic, may read romance novels for the romantic relationship that develops between the main characters, enjoying the developing bonds of intimacy between characters while glossing over the sexual relationship like some of you gloss over the side plots in favor of hot sex scenes. You may not find an asexual person reading an erotic novel, but they may be fans of fade-to-blacks or closed door novels or romance novels where the relationship between the characters aren't the only plot--thriller, mysteries, or romantic suspense. Although, one asexual romance reader online noted that they liked reading romance novels because it was "the only time that I feel anything close to what I imagine being in love is like. It's like I'm borrowing what a relationship might be like for a short while." Another said, "when it comes to romance and sex scenes I'm mostly thinking: I'm so happy they got together."
Another point to consider (and we delved into this in my Too Taboo post, is that readers often search out things in books that entertain us but that we wouldn't want to experience in real life, and many asexuals view sex in their books, movies, and television shows as just that: entertainment. Asexuality is how a person experiences their own sexuality, but it might not have anything to do with what they enjoy reading or watching. "It's fascinating. You keep asking yourself if this is what love is like or if this is what fictional love is. It's a curious thing and strangely hypnotic. To be honest, after a while, you don't care about the semantics anymore," commented one asexual reader on a post entitled Why Do Asexual People Read Romance Novels?
But, again, asexuality is a spectrum and not all those under the asexual umbrella find themselves totally devoid of sexual desire and attraction. There are (at least) two types of asexuality in which individuals may derive more pleasure than others from reading romances novels: Greysexuals and autochorisexuals/aegosexuals.
Greysexuals are individuals who may feel mostly asexual, but can't entirely fit themselves into that base definition of asexuality. They may occasionally feel sexual attraction to another person or experience sexual desire, but it doesn't happen often enough to feel as though they fit in with their non-asexual counterparts. They may read through the asexual definition and think, "That's kind of me. But not quite." They know what sexual attraction and desire feel like, they just experience it so selectively, so reading a romance novel where characters experience those feelings/emotions isn't as foreign as trying to read a totally different language like it might be for some asexual individuals.
And autochorisexuals identify as asexual, in that they do not feel sexual attraction to a specific person, but they enjoy masturbating, are aroused by sexually explicit content, and/or have sexual fantasies. Some may masturbate, but feel repulsed about engaging in sex with another person. Others fantasize about sex, but envision people other than themselves and/or view it in third person as though they're watching it on television. Most fantasize about fictional characters rather than real people in their lives. Sounds like a match made in heaven for romance novels, doesn't it?
That said, there are plenty of asexual people who don't identify as greysexual or autochorisexual who still enjoy reading romances for their own personal reasons and this post doesn't even begin to encompass all asexual experiences. Glaad.org, an LGBTQA+ website, emphasizes that it's important not to make assumptions about an asexual person or their experience. This post makes no claim that all asexual perspectives read romance for any listed reason and this author understands that this post merely scrapes the very top of the barrel in terms of asexual experience. It's intention is simply to open a conversation and raise awareness of asexuals in the romance community.
In the end, everyone's asexual experience is their own, much like everyone seeks something different from their romance novels be it romance, sexual arousal, entertainment, good writing, exciting plots, and so on and so on. We don't all like the same type of men or women, or the same level of heat from our books, or the same type of writing style...but when it truly comes down to it, we're all really looking for the same thing at the end of the day: a good read and a happy ending.
For more questions on asexuality check out r/asexuality or glaad.org.