“I think my daughter may be asexual. She thinks that platonic and familial affection is ok, but sex, kissing, and hugging of any other kind is disgusting to her. She had a boyfriend out of peer pressure and kissed him. She said she felt nothing and that it was pretty gross. She hasn’t been sexually abused and has said that she isn’t interested in girls (we have a really open relationship). I mentioned asexuality to her and she got offended. Where do I go from here? She feels so alone.”

Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Kara Kratcha

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Kara Says: 
Hey there! This is a tough one. I think before I can advise you on what action to take here, it’s important to understand why a young woman might feel threatened or offended by the idea that she might be asexual. While I can’t speak for all school-aged women, I know that when I was in high school, I felt that a lot of my social value came from the illusion that I was a person with whom boys could potentially have sex. I say “illusion” because I wasn’t sexually active and wasn’t particularly interested in becoming so, but that didn’t matter as long as those around me viewed me as an attractive sexual possibility. If my potential as a sexual object were to be cut off with a label like “asexual,” I thought, then most of what made me interesting to boys, whose attention I wanted (though I wouldn’t have admitted it), would have disappeared. So although I knew about asexuality in high school, I didn’t identify as ace* personally or publicly until about halfway through college, at which point catching boys’ attention had become much less important to me.
So much of what we understand as “attraction” actually means “sexual attraction.” If a woman makes herself sexually unavailable by claiming asexuality as an identity, she might start to feel less attractive. Men might pay less attention to her when they find that she is not even potentially attracted to them (this is, of course, part of the same misogyny that all women experience). Obviously, that kind of misogynistic thinking is all nonsense, but it’s very real. If your daughter is open to having the conversation (and please remember that consent isn’t just for sexual relationships and situations—ask if she wants to talk about sexuality and attraction and pay attention to the answer, because she might not want to talk about this, no matter how close you are), talk to her about different forms of attraction. Aesthetic, sensual, and intellectual attraction are some other valid and valuable ways to experience relationships with other people. You could perhaps ask your daughter what attracts her to people and what kind of relationships she would ideally form with the important people in her life. Finding companionship can be difficult for asexual people, but being able to articulate what you want can be wildly helpful.
Even with the language and imagination to consider how asexual relationships could form for your daughter, she might think that being and calling herself asexual could be really isolating. A lot of asexual people do feel isolated. Representation of asexual people in media is very, very difficult to come by. Finding other aces can also be difficult because it’s such a small and invisible group. Luckily, the ace blogging community is lively and welcoming. Google “Carnival of Aces” and check out the website “The Asexual Agenda” to get a taste of that digital space and find more nuanced information and discussion than what you’ll find on the AVEN front page. Also, I’m not sure how old your daughter is or how much she cares about fandom, but there’s a lot of fan fiction out there that imagines existing characters (particularly the BBC’s modern adaptation of Sherlock Holmes) as ace. Lots of people find it helpful to read about people and characters who are asexual rather than just reading dry definitions of a little-known sexual identity.
Finally, it’s possible that your daughter doesn’t want to be labeled asexual because she isn’t asexual. She could be sex repulsed and allosexual, grey-ace, demisexual, or something else entirely. Maybe she doesn’t like the idea of having a label for her sexuality at all. I think there’s something to be said for using “questioning” as your forever-label; it leaves open so many possibilities! Even as a parent (or maybe especially as a parent), you can’t force someone to identify with a word, even if that word seems to accurately describe their sexuality and even if they end up identifying with that word later. Leaving the word asexual aside for now and instead talking about your daughter’s specific experiences of attraction and relationships is probably your best course of action right now.
You’ve done some excellent parenting so far by letting your daughter know that asexuality even exists. Definitely strive to keep learning together. Let your daughter know that she doesn’t have to do anything she doesn’t want to do, no matter how she identifies. Show her that you support her for her, not her labels. Make yourself available to talk, but don’t push it. This whole sexuality thing is complicated, and your daughter doesn’t need to sort it all out right now.
Yours,
Kara
*“Ace” is to “asexual” as “gay” is to homosexual.”

Related reading: Defining: Asexuality

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Kara Kratcha studies English literature at a university in New York City. She recently applied to library school and tells everyone that she’s an aspiring librarian, but really she’s always wanted to be an advice columnist. (Kara would like to thank Everyone Is Gay for making hir dream come true.) If she had to pick a label, she would probably go with “genderfluid polyamorous demiromantic grey-ace,” but usually she just kind of shrugs. Right now (like, probably literally right now) Kara is working on hir senior thesis on representations of asexuality in Sherlock fan fiction. You can find more of hir work at movingdayreview.com.

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