At 34 years old, David Jay, founder of the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), is perhaps one of the most prominent faces of asexuality advocacy. As the world’s first and largest community of asexual people, AVEN is both a groundbreaking and helpful educational resource for asexuals, or Aces. For those unfamiliar, people who identify as asexual have never felt sexual attraction toward anyone, and recent research conducted by Dr. Anthony Bogaert at Brock University in Canada estimates that 1 percent of the global population is asexual. In other words, more likely than not, someone you know is Ace.
After coming out as asexual in college, David’s hard work and sense of humor (evident in slogans like “Asexuality: Not Just for Amoebas Anymore”) has helped to fundamentally change the public’s perception of asexuality, challenging myths that asexual people are sexually repressed, secretly gay or traumatized from childhood.
In this Q&A, Playboy’s resident sexologist Debra W. Soh talks to David about the process of coming out as asexual, advice he has for those navigating relationships in which one person is asexual and how asexuality is being broached in sex-ed curricula.
You realized that you were asexual at the age of 14, a time during which your peers would be comparing notes about who is “hot” versus who is not. What was the coming out process like when you were in college?
Coming out in college was a challenge. I’d finally come to accept myself as asexual, but no one else had heard of it and many people didn’t know what to make of me. At first, the local LGBTQ club was a little put off: They were invested in fighting for sexual liberation—and weren’t certain where I fit.
It didn’t take long for us to agree that sexual liberation includes discovering and celebrating the level of sexuality that you want, and once I’d put in the work to prove myself, they became my strongest allies. Nowadays, that relationship between LGBTQ and Ace communities is stronger than ever and it’s important in terms of facing the negative stereotypes that are starting to form about asexual people.
We don’t get bashed the way other queer people do, but people think it’s their job to ‘fix’ us.
Asexual Visibility and Education Network
What would you say to someone who is similarly contemplating coming out as asexual?
Don’t sweat the definitions. The word “asexual” is a tool or a label. Pick it up if it makes sense, put it down if it doesn’t and tweak it if that makes it more useful. The point is to figure out yourself, not to conform to someone else’s definition of asexuality.
It’s almost always hard. You’re going to feel lonely—everyone does—and you’re going to be afraid that that feeling will never go away (everyone’s afraid of that too), but don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t get to feel intimacy just because you don’t follow their script of what it’s supposed to look like. You get to write your own script, and that’s a beautiful thing.
Can you explain the story behind how a slice of cake became a symbol of asexuality and what it means to the Ace community?
The moment when new people show up to the community has always been a little sacred for us; it’s when people realize that they’re not alone. Cake started as a symbol of welcome: Someone would join the community and post their story, and people would come in and post a little image of cake. Since then, it’s expanded, and has become a little like the rainbow, though these days the Ace flag gets used much more.
What is your definition of “asexy”?
To be asexy is to be off-script in a way that feels really good. To connect with someone in a way that isn’t necessarily what’s stereotypically romantic or stereotypically sexy, but feels strongly and genuinely true to who you are and what your relationship is. If it’s my relationship with myself, me staying home and reading a book I really like could be super asexy. If that’s my friend [or] if it’s my partner and [me], us getting a tour of public infrastructure New York and geeking out about it, that could be super asexy. Stuff like that.
What advice do you have for sexual people who may be dating or in relationships with asexual people, and vice versa?
Two things: The first thing, know how to break script. So, there is a script for what relationships are supposed to look like and for the things we’re supposed to do if we’re a good boyfriend, girlfriend or partner. And in all relationships, especially relationships involving Aces, the things people actually want in that script don’t line up. And there’s something really magical about realizing that neither you, nor your partner, want to play out that role in the way that it’s supposed to be played out.
The second thing I would say is, don’t just talk about sex; talk about touch. When you talk about sex, you’re talking about a thing that [generally speaking,] one person wants and another person doesn’t want. Having a conversation about how two people want to explore and experience touch, that’s often a much more fruitful conversation.
What are the most common misconceptions about asexuality these days?
There’s a misconception that not wanting sex somehow makes you less interested in or capable of intimacy in general. When people hear “asexual,” they imagine someone who never wants to leave the house, let alone form the kinds of messy and gorgeous relationships that most of us feel drawn to. People think that we’re broken, even that we’re somehow less than human. We don’t get bashed the way that other queer people do, but a lot of people out there think it’s their job to “fix” us without our consent.
Tell us about how New York City, where you live, will be implementing asexual-inclusive sex education into its curriculum.
Working both with the Department of [Education] and private organizations, we’ve been providing training on Ace inclusion to health educators, basically saying, “Look, you’re going to have Ace students in your classroom and understanding how to structure the education in a way that fits them is a part of the role of a good educator.” And we’ve gotten really positive response to those trainings, so […] these resources are being made available to educators.
We’re not yet at the point where we are integrated into the textbooks that are given because that requires coordination with the publishers, but we’re moving toward that.
What can our society do to be more inclusive of asexual people?
We need to un-Velcro the concepts of sexuality and intimacy. A lot of the discrimination and biases Aces face is people assuming that if we are not experiencing sexual attraction, we aren’t interested in forming any kind of emotional experience for a relationship, and that’s untrue. […] But if you can understand that you can have a full experience of sexuality without intimacy, and you can have a full experience of emotional intimacy without sexuality, it allows for a much richer and more diverse—and also potentially more confusing—set of experiences all of us can explore.
Debra W. Soh is a sex writer and sexual neuroscientist at York University in Toronto. She has written for Harper’s, The Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, The Los Angeles Times, The Globe and Mail and many others. Follow her on Twitter: @debra_soh.