Don’t tell the television executives and mainstream media this, but not everyone wants sex. Imagine! And here we were thinking that the “A” in LGBTQIAP+ meant, “ally.” There are projected to be over a million asexual people across the world, yet the saturation they have in media can almost be counted on two hands.
But if you are a person who enjoys sex, how do you write someone who doesn’t? How do you understand that? Short version; think about someone you’re not attracted to. Now apply that to everyone. For the longer version, read on:
First of all, what is asexuality? Asexual in the case of talking sexual orientation means, “not sexually attracted.” There is a lot of stigma in media believing asexual people are not capable of sex, have romantic relationships (another thing to not tell the executives, romantic relationship and sexual relationship don’t mean the same thing to everyone), or are completely numb to emotion. None of these are true. With any orientation, asexuality is a spectrum. There are asexual people who date, or who enjoy sex, but they simply are not sexually attracted. So if your friend comes out to you as asexual this is the time to stop asking them to play “Fuck, Marry, Kill,” or to stop asking what celebrity they would bang. They will thank you.
If you want to write an asexual character, first you have to sit down and ask yourself, “Is this character asexual?” They are a person first, but if you want to write an asexual character you have to keep that in mind from the beginning of their creation. Did they ever figure out they were asexual, or are they still figuring it out? How much of the narrative is informed by sexuality? It’s like asking yourself if your character has to be straight.
If you think your character is asexual or reads as somewhere on the asexual spectrum, that’s great! But also make sure they don’t fall into common pitfalls of the asexual stereotypes. We’ll come to those later.
Asexual people do love hearing a character call themselves asexual. It’s refreshing anytime it’s heard and not only confirms their identity, but also gives validation to an asexual reading the story to see a character having agency over their sexuality.
If you do want to include a scene where they come out to someone as asexual, try to avoid shoehorning it in. Nothing can pull you out of a scene like a sudden reveal unless it’s framed properly. It can be serious, like trying to explain the orientation to a family member who isn’t quite getting it. It can be honest and vulnerable; like talking about a relationship that didn’t work because their partner felt offended that their ace (asexual) partner wasn’t attracted to them. Or it can be funny, like if they have LGBT+ friends who understand what their asexual friend means when they say, “you’re gay, you’re gay, and none of you know how to drive. But luckily you have an ace flying the plane.” If you go with the latter, do so sparingly. There’s nothing worse than dating yourself with cool kid lingo.
Writing an asexual in romantic situations can get tricky because a lot of people have trouble separating romance and sex. The two aren’t inherent; a lot of aces in romantic relationships don’t have sex. They go on dates, they kiss, they cuddle, they live their lives together, they are happy, but sexual situations are not always a part of their lives.
If you want to write an asexual sex scene, you can, but you have to understand it’s not about attraction or how “hot” their partner is. Asexual people sometimes have sex because it feels good, or sometimes they want to do it for their partner because it makes them happy and they get some pleasure out of seeing their partner enjoying it too.
There are a lot of big no-no’s when writing asexual people, and believe me, the moment an asexual person sees it, they will know.
Your asexual character’s story shouldn’t be about a virgin not realizing how good sex is because asexual people
- can have sex, and
- aren’t attracted to people sexually the way other people are.
When writing an asexual character you might want to stay away from science fiction settings where your only asexual characters are aliens or robots. This is a trend that has permeated media and has painted asexuals as “inhuman” (if you do want asexual robots or aliens, try to include a human who is also asexual-spectrum in your cast).
You have that neat idea for an asexual character, but are they an antagonist that is completely emotionless or hates love? Yeah, don’t do that. Asexual people are still people. They do love and have relationships, but just cut out the sex. I can count on more than two hands the number of characters coded asexual who are devoid of emotion or are framed as villains because they don’t care for “love.”
If you still aren’t sure on how to approach asexual characters, there are people who are willing to answer questions and help out. The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) has resources to sources on asexuality and a community who are eager to help people who want to understand the asexual experience.
by Danielle Kaheaku
Danielle is an award-winning screenwriter and editor, an active member of the HWA, SFWA, and RWA PAN, and the Training Director for the San Diego HWA. She holds both a BA in English from UHM and MA from SNHU, and is a freelance ghostwriter and editor, and has been published in both magazines and novel form, edited multiple anthologies, and produced two screenplays.