Discussing the need for greater inclusion of the asexual experience in film And television
The conversation around understanding sexuality as a spectrum has gained significant mileage in the world we live in today. The LGBTQIA+ community has spearheaded several movements to raise awareness on what it means to be queer, what it means to have a fluid sexual identity and what it means to live in a world that makes painstaking efforts to uphold heteronormativity as an ideology. Heteronormativity is a cultural belief that heterosexuality is the only acceptable sexual orientation. Examining the nuances of sexuality, especially in modern mass media, has been fruitful for many, helping people come to terms with who they are and what they identify as. Asexuality, however, is far from the spotlight when conversations revolve around sex and sexuality.
“Asexual individuals may experience many forms of attraction, that can often be romantic, but they do not always have an intrinsic need to act on that attraction.”
How do we understand asexuality? What makes it so distinct from other sexual orientations? The Asexual Visibility and Education Network offers a comprehensive definition of asexuality – “An asexual person does not experience sexual attraction – they are not drawn to people sexually and do not desire to act upon attraction to others in a sexual way. Unlike celibacy, which is a choice to abstain from sexual activity, asexuality is an intrinsic part of who we are, just like other sexual orientations.” Asexual individuals may experience many forms of attraction, that can often be romantic, but they do not always have an intrinsic need to act on that attraction. Just because asexual people do not desire sex, it does not limit their emotional needs. Asexual individuals also seek partners for an emotional connection, a relationship that doesn’t always have to be romantic. Craving intimacy, closeness and communication are crucial in all kinds of relationships and are not limited to strictly sexual ones. Offering this distinction is key to understanding asexuality and what it means for a person to identify as asexual.
“People believe that asexuality is not a sexuality, when in fact it is just as significant as being heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual.”
There are several myths surrounding asexuality that seek to diminish the asexual experience. People believe that asexuality is not a sexuality, when in fact it is just as significant as being heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual. Other myths include terming asexual people as “anti-sex” or believing that asexuality is an illness. Asexuality visibility is incredibly important for more asexual individuals to make sense of their experience and their sexual identity.
There’s no denying the fact that the media we consume has an indelible impact on how we see ourselves. From the time we’re children, what we watch unfold on screen contributes to our self-image and helps us make sense of who we are in relation to the world around us. This is especially why representation on-screen matters so much – it offers every kind of individual a mirror, a way of understanding themselves through another person’s experience that resembles their own. For decades, members of the LGBTQIA+ community have protested the lack of representation in film and television and how this reflects society’s belief that heteronormativity is a value that must be espoused by everyone.
“The lack of representation of the asexual community in film and television renders them invisible and unseen.”
Film and television are not merely forms of entertainment to be consumed and forgotten, their cascading effects have the potential to change lives and inspire a revolution. The lack of representation of the asexual community in film and television renders them invisible and unseen. An article by Psychology Today elucidates the importance of representation and its long-lasting effects on one’s identity. “When people see representations of themselves in the media, this can foster a great sense of affirmation of their identity. Feeling affirmed with one’s sense of self can boost positive feelings of self-worth, which is quite different than feeling as if you are wrong or bad for being who you are. The message that can come from a society in which LGBTQ people are invisible, especially through the lens of the media, is that “you don’t exist and you don’t matter.”
“Speaking to Bol Magazine, Shruti, a 25-year-old female, who identifies as asexual, discusses her struggles because of insufficient representation: ‘I didn’t even know there was a possibility of a person being ‘asexual’. It’s only when I started doing research based on my personal feelings and emotions that I even chanced upon the word asexuality…’.”
Speaking to Bol Magazine, Shruti, a 25-year-old female, who identifies as asexual, discusses her struggles because of insufficient representation: “I didn’t even know there was a possibility of a person being ‘asexual’. It’s only when I started doing research based on my personal feelings and emotions that I even chanced upon the word asexuality. Previously I assumed only amoebas could be asexual and that sex was a crucial part of the human experience. In fact even in school, we learn that it is one of the most important physiological needs, according to Maslow. So yes representation would save us the trouble of having to go through the feeling of being weird, abnormal and not “human” enough.”
The erasure of the asexual experience continues to pose a problem for everyone coming to terms with their sexual identities. The tendency of mass media to project a hyper-sexualised society can make people who don’t desire sex believe that there is something intrinsically wrong with them. In film and television, sex is often seen as the ultimate form of romantic expression. When it’s not associated with romance, it’s coded as a “release” and one of the only means of “letting go” and “having a good time”. Romantic and sexual fulfilment is often the ultimate goal in mainstream visual narratives, a way to finally find your place in the world. Years of this kind of messaging has left individuals feeling inadequate when they don’t have a romantic or sexual partner in their lives.
“For asexual people, especially, this constant bombardment of narratives that favour ‘finding a partner’ can leave them with a sense of dissonance.”
For asexual people, especially, this constant bombardment of narratives that favour ‘finding a partner’ can leave them with a sense of dissonance. Shruti adds, “Although the Ace experience is not as difficult as other members of the LGBTQIA+ community, we do have our struggles. And just in the case of any minority group, having good representation helps instil a sense of belonging and relief that you are not the only one feeling a particular way. Sex isn’t the end of the world. Just like it’s okay for people to be gay or bi, it’s okay for some to not want sex. It’s as simple as that.”
It’s important to note that not all asexual people are averse to sex, they simply do not have an intrinsic need for it. Some asexual people partake in sex, masturbate and are aroused but don’t actively seek a partner for sex. Other asexual people may not feel any arousal at all, both these categories exist and are equally valid experiences. Shruti continues, “I wish there were shows or movies that showed asexual acceptance and that it was possible to have a relationship and that being asexual does not mean you are “broken”. Heteronormativity is detrimental to everyone who doesn’t fall under its umbrella.”
“In recent years, one of the most memorable asexual characters has been Todd Chavez from the animated television show ‘BoJack Horseman.’ Todd’s character arc offers him the means to explore his sexuality and eventually come to terms with the fact that he’s asexual. ‘BoJack Horseman’ is sensitive in its portrayal of Todd’s asexuality and offers him the space to understand it and seek a community within which he feels welcome and represented.”
Queer characters have a much larger representation on-screen than asexual individuals. Some of the most critically acclaimed films and television shows over the last few decades have had empathetic, authentic portrayals of gay, lesbian and transgender characters. This is not to say that the representation of the LGBTQIA+ is as widespread as it should be, but it is still significantly larger than the representation offered exclusively to asexual characters. In recent years, one of the most memorable asexual characters has been Todd Chavez from the animated television show ‘BoJack Horseman.’ Todd’s character arc offers him the means to explore his sexuality and eventually come to terms with the fact that he’s asexual. ‘BoJack Horseman’ is sensitive in its portrayal of Todd’s asexuality and offers him the space to understand it and seek a community within which he feels welcome and represented. Todd is perhaps one of the only characters in recent memory who has openly come out as ace. Characters like Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock) and Dr. Spencer Reid (Criminal Minds) have sometimes displayed characteristics of being asexual but have never openly discussed sexuality. Often characters that are open about their disinterest in sex are seen as abnormal or strange, this kind of misrepresentation is what continues to be so damaging to asexual people.
“Social media has created an important space for asexual people to form a community and authentically discuss their experiences.”
Social media has created an important space for asexual people to form a community and authentically discuss their experiences. These discussions are paving the way for the normalisation of asexuality and starting conversations on the existence of asexuality and what it means for a person to be asexual. Such normalisation is key to encouraging film, television and other forms of mass media to have a greater representation of asexual characters and craft narratives that value their experiences. Nuanced portrayals of the asexual experience are crucial for audiences to be aware of asexuality and foster empathy towards the asexual experience. Most importantly, wider representation on the screen will greatly help asexual people learn how to be comfortable in their skin and disengage with the false notion that sexual desire is intrinsic to the human experience.
Raavya is a pop-culture nerd who lives and breathes books and cinema. An unrelenting feminist, she hopes to change regressive mindsets through the written word. This is her second article for Bol Magazine, read her article on contemporary feminism here.
Graphic by Hemashri Dhavala