Heterosexuality has been the focus of media for the entire history of media. Up until recently, one could hardly ever notice any other sexual orientation, and if it was present then it was being used a joke in some way or another to parody reality or to exaggerate stereotypes. The movement started in the 70s with punk-rockers, and continued with candid representations of lesbians and vague references or jokes about homosexual males. Never was an asexual represented.
To recap, asexuality is not:
- Sexual repression or aversion
- Sexual dysfunction
- Loss of libido due to circumstance or age
- Fear of intimacy
- The inability to find a partner
It’s not far-fetched to believe that, because until the more recent 2010’s even homosexuality wasn’t becoming something in mainstream media. Even in 2017 actors and actresses in the spotlight fear coming out due to pressures and fear of rejection by their community, loss of employment, or being “pigeonholed” into roles.
While there were vague references to ace characters in media, it wasn’t until The Big Bang Theory that aces were really represented, albeit in a confusing and conflicting way. The character Sheldon Cooper was rumoured to be asexual and in a relationship with his longtime girlfriend.
It wasn’t until the writers spun that and had them consummate their relationship, which confused things. For those who watched the show, did you notice a change in the relationship? In his actions? In what he thought of his own sexuality? It’s important too to remember that asexuality is a spectrum, just like any other type of sexuality, so it’s no wonder that there might be experimentation or learning about oneself through experience. The point is, he still didn’t exhibit or feel any sexual attraction, despite engaging in sex.
Media Misconceptions about Asexuality
- Asexuality is a temporary condition only experienced by attractive, cisgenedered, caucasian women
- The women (in particular) are lying and/or somehow confused about their feelings and desires.
- Asexuality is a problem because it creates a barrier to allosexual people who want to engage in sexual relationships
In the TV series House, this idea is perpetuated, as an asexual couple comes to the hospital and there is a lot of curiousity about their orientations; mostly doubt and dismissal. As it turns out, the husband has a tumor that was inhibiting his sexual drive and the wife was faking it for the greater good. Disappointing as it is, this representation again throws a wrench into the thinking that asexuality is normal; it outwardly states that society doesn’t accept it as real, and in the end they were just broken or faking.
It’s an interesting situation because asexuals often feel broken anyways because they are not like the rest and are left feeling like they can’t give people what the want, and might even do emotional damage to themselves by trying. That’s not a positive message, and it’s even more negative to perpetuate that kind of image in the media. The fact of the matter is that asexuals can and do engage in healthy relationships (some celibate, some not) and they are completely valid in their feelings, their needs in relationships, and in their social needs. Sometimes it’s just not as easy to find.
Males and Asexuality
What makes it even more confusing or difficult, is that when it comes to ace characters in media, male characters are even less represented than their female counterparts. In addition to the above, the thought of a male being asexual completely blows the concept of masculinity and what it means to be man out of the water for mainstream populations. The idea that a “real man” is virile, attractive, sexually ready, and a-type just simply doesn’t fit with the idea of absence of sexual desire. So what does that make ace males think? Even more like they are broken and don’t fit into any of the currently viable moulds of society.
Admittedly in visual media this is the case, but writers find a bit more “safety” being able to write about their feelings and articulate it with words, instead of with images or acting. If you’ve ever noticed asexual characters (few as they are), they always are portrayed as being social awkward and introverted.
For any males reading this, can you think of a time when you joked with your mates about sex or pursuing some woman, or man? Chances are you have, and as a result you’ve been apart of perpetuating that stereotype that if you don’t do that, then you aren’t part of the group.
Aces Defining Themselves
As visibility increases and the discussion broadens in regards to asexuals and where they fit, an interesting video was published by the Portraits Collaboration, headed by Amy Liang showing asexuals and what they are like; every other humans.
The only thing missing from this video is more representations of males in the ace community. Sadly, when you look up statistics that are compiled by AVEN, males are hugely underrepresented and can be found between 1-9% of the asexual community. Of those, the last time I checked the majority were aromantic asexuals, and statistics about homoromantic asexuals was even less than 1%.
The Future Conversation
Where does all this leave us? Obviously asexuality is making a bit of a breakthrough in media, but it’s still under-represented. It’s better than before and at least at a minimum there is a conversation about it. For most, asexuals are now being invited to the table of discussion instead of being swept under the rug or being ignored. Thankfully, brave writers, such as those at Huffington Post, become trailblazers for the cause and setting the scene for further discussion and acceptance.
The future is with you and your ability to discuss and spread positive messages about asexuals and what they are about. This means talking to kids about different (and all) orientations, promoting awareness and participating in the conversation. Avoid joking about them being broken or not being right. Don’t spread hate and fear and make them feel ostracized. Don’t reject someone simply because they are different. Give people a chance and discover the different colours (most specifically purple, grey, and white) of humanity and what make us a diverse and fascinating mosaic.