Navigating through this sexualised world is hard for almost everybody. Now imagine being surrounded by sex 24/7 without the ability to emotionally engage. You try to fake it, but you can’t make it. You are for real but they call you a bluffer. Sex is said to be overrated, but one is always judged based on their sexuality. Cue depression and worse. Read what Moyosore ‘Moyo’ Briggs tells us about her experiences as an ace.
words & self-portraits: MOYOSORE BRIGGS
As I write this, I’m knee-deep in an identity crisis and my sexuality is one of the root causes. See, I identify as asexual (ace for short), asexuality being the lack of sexual attraction towards any and all genders.
Recently I haven’t been experiencing any sexual attraction as per usual, but I have been very sexually active — in hindsight, I’ve always been sexually active, but recently more so than usual. Which has put me in a very uncomfortable space. People who know I identify as asexual laugh at my situation, making jokes and comments along the lines of ‘What sort of fake asexual are you?‘ and now I find myself back in 16-year-old me’s shoes wondering once again, am I really asexual? The answer is yes and it will always be yes.
You see, asexuality, like everything in life, is a spectrum, and it’s different for every single person that identifies as ace. This is my journey as a young asexual woman and it’s been an incredibly bumpy ride — it still is, but I’m sure some other aces out there can relate to some of my experiences.
In my case, I don’t like the idea of sex in general, but I still engage in it. I know, I’m a hypocrite, but let me explain.
Going back to the definition of asexuality, it’s a sexual orientation characterised by the lack of sexual attraction toward any gender. Lack of sexual attraction. Now, just because I’m asexual, it doesn’t mean I don’t experience any form of attraction at all. I experience romantic attraction, in fact quite strongly — it usually manifests as overwhelmingly intense crushes on cisgender men and women. This is what makes me bi-romantic and not bisexual. I’ll explain that in a sec. Asexuality is not abstinence and it is not a synonym for celibacy. It is also not a choice. You’re born asexual, but for a lot of us, it just takes a long time to know that’s what you are because where I come from, it’s not something that’s talked about, ever. It’s not talked about in the media, not in conversations with friends or anywhere else. This is because being asexual is rare, only 1% of the entire population identify as asexual. 1% of 75 million people in the world. People also don’t believe it’s a real thing, hence the allegations of it being the same as to celibacy or it being a choice. In a society that’s built on sex and the monetisation of sex as a product, it’s very hard for people to believe that there are other people who do not want to engage in it or have any part in it. I’ve had people tell me (I’m sure other asexuals can relate):
1. You just haven’t met the right person.
2. You probably aren’t being fucked right.
3. I can change your mind.
4. Have you never been horny before?
5. You have sex, so you can’t be asexual.
The list goes on and on. None of these people are right, and I had to learn that the hard way. It’s good to explore your sexuality, especially as a young person, but you should never let other people’s words be the reason for that.
A lot of people are unaware of the fact that romantic and sexual orientations/attractions are not the same in any way, neither are they synonymous. But because we have been brought up in such a heteronormative society, where we are mainly exposed to heterosexuals who also identify as heteroromantic, we assume that if you’re in love with someone, that means you automatically must want to have sex with them. That is the normalised thing but it is simply not always the case, especially with asexuals.
Now, although asexuality is characterised by the total lack of sexual attraction, there are two sub-identities within asexuality do experience very limited sexual attraction, those being grey-asexuals and demi-sexuals. Grey-asexuals are individuals who experience sexual attraction very rarely; they’re characterised as people who ‘experience sexual attraction on rare occasions, only under specific circumstances, or of an intensity so low that it can be ignored.’ Demi-sexuals, on the other hand, are individuals who only experience sexual attraction after a strong emotional bond is formed. This is where my identity crisis comes in to play; my asexuality has always bordered between grey-ace and demi-ace. This is mostly because my romantic orientation is biromantic, in other words I identify as someone who is romantically attracted to two or more genders.
I’ve had a number of crushes growing up and I’ve been in love a couple of times, but I have never been sexually attracted to any of my crushes or partners. I myself do not like sex at all or even the idea of intercourse. It took years to become comfortable with the idea of kissing and to this day I still find it a little gross — no offense to the people who dig it. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m repulsed by sex, repulsed being a term used by some asexuals to show that they find sex disgusting — for some this means they are repulsed by the idea of engaging in sex and for others they’re simply repulsed by the idea of sex in general. In my case, I don’t like the idea of sex in general, but I still engage in it. I know, I’m a hypocrite, but let me explain.
Asexuals make up 1% of the world’s population, one fucking percent. Growing up I didn’t even know what asexuality was — heck, I didn’t hear about it for the first 16 years of my life. I grew up surrounded by horny heterosexuals and even hornier closeted bi- and homosexuals. I grew up with my family telling me (and they still say this), ‘One day you’ll get married to a good husband and have children and a family of your own.‘ I grew up with sex on TV and sex in everyday conversation. I grew up with boys in secondary school who would make vulgar comments about the girls in their classes. Boys who would, without consent, grope/feel me up through my uniform, because they knew I was too weak-willed to report them or speak up. Needless to say, I grew up in an extremely uncomfortable, hypersexual space. On top of all this, I also grew up Roman Catholic, so you know I was fucked. Funnily enough, I still identify as Catholic, the one thing I haven’t been able to shake off completely. I was raised and conditioned to believe that only penises go in vaginas, that sex is bad and dirty, but it’s a good kinda dirt. It was kind of like a do or die thing, heterosexual or die, and I feel as though, if I had known other asexuals around the time I began exploring my sexuality, I probably would not be sexually active now.
I had sex for the first time at 16. I don’t like to say I lost my virginity, because virginity is a social construct. I spent my entire secondary school experience as pure as a Catholic girl could be. Honestly, I did. I didn’t have my first kiss until the very end of secondary school, but oddly enough I spent my entire school experience being called a slut, hoe, whore, even before I had held hands with a boy. That’s how you know teenagers are fucking evil, but I digress. The only reason I decided to have sex, was because everyone told me it was fucking amazing: my friends, television, movies, creepy men. I had just left secondary school, I’d had two serious boyfriends since finishing and I wanted in on it. I already knew there was something different about me. I’d had a few rare crushes throughout secondary school, but I was never sexually attracted to them. I always thought this was because I never got to be intimate with them, I thought the sexual attraction would come after. It wasn’t until my first boyfriend, with whom I also had my first kiss, that I realised I really was different.
I’ve had a number of crushes growing up and I’ve been in love a couple of times,
but I have never been sexually attracted to any of my crushes or partners.
I realised that kissing was disgusting to me, which was my first major asexual flag. The dry humping (teehee) felt like a chore, like a waste of time, something I just had to do (this feeling would later send me on the spiral of sexual activity I’m still on). I never enjoyed any of the sexual acts, but because it was my first boyfriend, I felt I had to do these things — I mean that’s what all the fan fiction said. I ended the relationship before we could have sex. This isn’t to say the relationship wasn’t great — it’s still my favourite relationship I’ve ever been in — but I’ve only ever been in two serious relationships, sooo … anyhow! After ending the relationship, I was still 15 about to turn 16, and I was extremely confused as to why I didn’t enjoy making out. This is where the creepy boys my age came in. The kind of boys (and men) who tell lesbians that ‘you’re probably a lesbian because you haven’t met the right man‘. I haven’t come across these types in a long time, mostly because I stay far away from them, but 15-year-old me was naive enough to believe them when they told me ‘you probably just haven’t met the right person‘, ‘you haven’t been fucked right‘, ‘you haven’t fucked the right person yet‘. These boys and men would follow me into the peak years when I first began to identify as asexual, still saying those exact words when I told them that I’m asexual. With all this nonsense in my head and still reeling from the confusion, I fell head over heels in love with a slightly older cis boy and ended up in a relationship that was somewhat long-distance. The times we saw each other we would only make out. In retrospect, the kissing was not fun, but I was so madly in love I convinced myself it was the greatest thing in the world. This relationship was in fact terrible, full of a lot of emotional manipulation and emotional abuse. We broke up more than once and I’ve been single since the final break up.
Still suffering from heartbreak and mental distress of that relationship, I decided it was time to get some. I was 16, depressed and very confused about my sexuality. I liked boys and I loved girls, but there was just something missing. Then around this time I befriended a young man, who is still one of my best friends to this day. We became extremely close over the course of a year and, although I wasn’t sexually attracted to him, our emotional connection was so strong I decided he was the right person for me to have sex with for the first time. This sexual relationship would carry on for years, until today, but although I love him very much, I’m still not sexually attracted to him.
The sex was and still is, comfortable, a safe space, and most of all it made me feel normal. I’ve grown a lot since then, but at the time feeling normal with regard to my sexuality was a big deal. I just didn’t want to be asexual. Around this time and in the following years, I would continue to explore my sexuality. Despite being fully aware that I was asexual by this point, I was in a world of denial. I still have days like that today, very rarely, moments of weakness. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety, always been the outsider, so the thought of being asexual just seemed like one more curse upon my head. Why me? Why couldn’t I just be like everyone else?
Something that also affected me accepting my asexuality was one of the causes of my depression: my self-hate and self-loathing, which came along with years of body-shaming from peers and family. The other day I was watching an interview of the actress Barbie Ferreira who stars in Euphoria and what she was saying strongly resonated within me: ‘It’s hard to be a sexual being when people don’t see you as one.‘ I felt this with my entire soul. Despite not enjoying sex and not being sexually attracted to people, I have sex just so I can tell myself that I can, that I’ve ‘got it’. ‘It’ being the ability to sexually attract other people, even though I’m not attracted to them. Growing up and having people make fun of my body and my looks negatively impacted my life in a major way — people still do it to this day, but I’ve got thicker skin now and I know myself a little better. Back then, I was trying to figure out my sexuality while knowing that people clearly weren’t attracted to me or if they were, it was the wrong people — boys with straying hands who dind’t know what consent was. That thought just made me feel so small, I didn’t even think I was a sexual being — how could I be one, when no-one saw me that way anyway? This made me crave attention, sexual attention, the good and the bad. I just wanted to be seen.
As the years have gone by, I’ve gotten to know myself a little better, and learned how to use my depression in my art, in my photography. I discovered my style and new parts of myself. I began to get the attention I craved so much. I got attention from men and women, beautiful and unattractive. But what the fuck was I supposed to do with it? There was no guidebook and no-one to tell me what was right or wrong, no-one to say ‘Just take it in your stride, don’t let it consume you.‘ Instead it was like, ‘Shit, you finally got the attention, now you’ve got to give the people what they want.‘ This was something I would only come to realise in the past year: that I don’t have sex because I want to, I do it because it’s what everyone else wants. Which is so fucking unhealthy and pretty stupid, but it’s so hard to unlearn these negative habits and behaviours. I’m sure there are other aces out there who have sex even though they don’t want to but because society says we should. We live in this incredibly hyperfuckingsexual society, where people say things like ‘having sex is human nature‘ or ‘sex is as important as eating or drinking‘. When you’ve grown up on these things and it’s been fed to you, you are conditioned to believe it.
I could turn them down, say no, explain my sexuality, but then there’s the fear that if I do not have sex with this person that I claim to be interested in, I could lose them.
Something that haunts me till this day is that growing up, I never learnt how to say no, and this was something that stemmed from all the sexual harassment I experienced in secondary school. When boys would treat my body like their playground and I never spoke up. I remember a day, I was in the cafeteria and this boy grabbed my ass while I stood in line at the water fountain. I did nothing — in my mind ignoring them meant it didn’t happen — and I remember him saying to another boy as they walked away, like it was yesterday, ‘… and she won’t say anything.‘ That moment seared itself into my memory and would be the catalyst for my inability to say no. So here I am years later, trying to navigate my sexuality, finally being seen, and I still do not know how to say no. This has put me in so many situations, some I’ve even forgotten — shout-out to depression memory loss. I know I’m not the only woman to experience this. A lot of people are not taught to say no, just to be quiet and let the moment pass. I’m finally learning to say no in my sexual life, but in my everyday life, I still can’t. I still let people convince me to go to that party, eat this meal, go on that date, give that guy a chance. But I’m working on it, I promise.
Growing up with all this conditioning, wanting so badly to be seen, experiencing sexual harassment, all moulded my persona and my personality into an extremely sexualised one. I became overtly obsessed with sex and sex culture. I’ve only just recently unconditioned myself from the majority of the things I was obsessed with. Sex fascinated me so much, because it’s something that everyone in the world does, but somehow I’m part of the 1% it has no direct effect on. Knowing this made me want what I was born not to have and because of this, sex became almost like another form of self-harm for me. I’m doing something I know benefits me in no way and takes so much from me, takes my time, my energy, my essence. It’s been a perfect way to self-harm, with people I like and people I don’t even remember. I wanted to have autonomy over myself and my body and experience a fake empowerment by having sex even though I have no reason to and it just affected me mentally. I was forcing myself to be someone that I’m not, going against my literal nature.
Something I do find interesting, though, is that people see me and they see this girl who makes jokes about sex, who discusses sex comfortably, and they automatically assume that I’m either heterosexual or bisexual. I’m biromantic, so they’re not far off, but they are still wrong. There isn’t a face to asexuality and no-one should just assume someone’s sexuality or gender. The way someone dresses or the way that they talk about sex has absolutely nothing to do with their sexuality or their gender. I constantly have people telling me: ‘Oh, I would never have expected you to be asexual‘, which confuses me. What is it about me? Is it my cowboy hat? Which begs the question: what does someone who’s asexual look like? You can’t look like a sexuality. You can exhibit certain stereotypical traits, but you most definitely cannot look like a sexuality.
I have to admit it’s very hard to navigate being asexual and being biromantic. A lot of asexuals are also aromantic, meaning they do not experience romantic attraction. I experience romantic attraction: I’m romantically attracted to both men and women. As I write this I’m scrolling through tinder trying to find myself a girl, but it is extremely hard to navigate. I still fall in love, I have crushes, although very rarely and extremely far and wide. I have only ever had four crushes in my life. I do love but like I said before, in this heteronormative cis society, a lot of people assume that if you’re in love then you must be in lust, too. Which is just not the case and will never be the case for me. So although I ultimately wish to never have sex in my life again, it has been very difficult for me to quit it. For example, I might meet someone and like them as a person and see them as a romantic prospect. But now envision this: we’re alone in a room together, all I want to do is cuddle, but they want to fuck! Now I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. I could turn them down, say no, explain my sexuality (most of the time they already know), but then there’s the fear that if I do not have sex with this person that I claim to be interested in, I could lose them, because apparently sex is really important to non-asexuals. Non-asexuals let sex rule their lives and the decisions they make. I feel as though this is something only other asexuals can relate to, but we don’t place the same importance on sex as other sexualities. For me, it’s just something that everyone else does and I want to join in, because I don’t want to be left out.
I can understand most people assuming my sexuality. I do present as a hypersexual woman, but that’s just the way I’ve been conditioned and this conditioning runs very deep. So deep it almost feels real at times, and that’s why I question my asexuality or allow other people to question it. Big dilemma.
It always upsets me when people disregard my asexuality. Just because I do have sex doesn’t mean I’m not ace. There are layers to my asexuality. You who are reading, you know my story now, you know why I’m fucked up. But if someone doesn’t know me, if I say I’m asexual, but yes, I do have sex, they better believe that shit. For example, just because someone hasn’t come out as homosexual, and is still dating the opposite sex, that doesn’t mean they’re not homosexual. Aces are also different: some of us have sex because we’re depressed (me), some do it because they want to, some don’t do it at all and some don’t even fucking think about it and it goes on. We come in all mental states and sizes.
I say this because asexuality is the 1% sexuality, we’re disregarded in everyday life. Some people don’t believe it exists or even know it exists. I’ve experienced years of ridicule, people laughing in my face, people calling me a liar, just for saying I’m asexual and identifying as ace,. Some people think that I use it as an excuse just to get them off my back, but no, I’m not only saying it because you’re an asshole and you’re not my type. It’s extremely upsetting to have people completely disregard your sexuality and joke about it as if this isn’t your life they’re laughing at.
It is also extremely important for me to talk about this, not only because it’s such a rarity, but also because, growing up as a young woman in Nigeria, sexuality is not something that was ever addressed. Nigeria is an extremely conservative and religious country, where even people who consider themselves liberals have ‘limits’. I cannot come out to my family as asexual, despite them being liberal, but I can come out to you all and hopefully we can create a safe space for each other in which we feel comfortable enough to discuss our sexualities. I want young people to look within themselves: do the research, meet new people, try to understand yourself and how you feel. Start the conversation and continue to have it. I was not able to have the conversation at the start. I was stuck in my head, making mistakes and breaking my own heart. Now I am stuck in a cycle, but I will get out of it. And I wouldn’t want any other aces to end up in this sick sad world of mine. I am still trying to learn and unlearn a lot of things and I am to some degree thankful for all those shitty experiences, because without them I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’m still coming to terms everyday with the fact that I am asexual. Sometimes I catch myself thinking ‘Wow, so I’m never going to enjoy sex?‘ To me it still feels strange or even strangely funny sometimes. Even now there are times when I still wonder if anyone else feels this way. It is so important to have discussions about sexual identity, especially with regard to asexuality, because there are so many young one-percenters out there, who are asexual and have no idea, because no-one is talking about it. They just feel broken and confused, like I have felt so many times in my life.
A conversation I have a lot with two of my friends who are asexual is about that feeling of being broken and not normal. When you’re coming to terms with your asexuality in the beginning, a lot of the time you feel broken, like a human from the reject pile. It’s because you realise the differences and it just makes no sense to you. There is also no-one around who will tell you that you are whole and special.
Writing this has been extremely therapeutic for me: trying to put one’s sexuality into words when one doesn’t know that much about it is extremely difficult, but this has helped so much. I hope I didn’t bore you. I bet I confused you, but that’s life and sexuality — it’s all one big, confusing construct. It’s all about how you feel on the inside and at the end of the day, only you know who you are.