Jessica Craig’s first long-term relationship started like many modern relationships do – an online dating app.
“We met on Tinder actually, which personally I thought was never going to happen,” she told Global News.
The app, which relies heavily on pictures, didn’t work exceptionally well for the 27-year-old animal care professional.
“Being asexual, I don’t look at somebody’s photo or look at somebody face and be like, ‘I’m attracted to them.’
“I need to get to know the person first and have kind of that emotional connection, which is more like demisexual on the ace spectrum. So I didn’t really think it would work at all.”
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Asexual – or “Ace” – is a term used to describe someone who does not experience sexual attraction towards people of any gender. On the other end of the sexual attraction scale are allosexuals – those who feel sexual attraction to people of any gender.
Greysexuals and demisexuals fall somewhere in between. Greysexuals experience a small degree of sexual attraction, while demisexuals experience sexual attraction only after a strong emotional bond has been established.
Similarly, aromantic is a term used for individuals who are not romantically attracted to romantic relationships. The prefixes of allo-, grey- and demi- can be used along that spectrum, as well.
Not wanting to misrepresent herself and lead anyone on, Craig was upfront about her sexual orientation.
“I felt very much like I’m telling everybody this and they’re going to say, ‘No.’ I expected people to say, ‘I don’t want that. See you later.’ And I told myself that was fine. But there was a couple of times it happened and it hurt.”
Nine months later, Craig is very grateful for her partner’s understanding and inquisitive reception.
“It’s still a learning curve for both of us because I’m Ace and she’s not,” Craig said.
“It’s really heartwarming and comforting to know that the person that I’m with is willing to put in the effort to kind of work through it and talk it out, and we both can learn from each other about each other.
“It feels very one in a million. I never thought I’d find somebody like that.”
Growing up Ace
Rowan Wiebe grew up a self-described tomboy in Calgary, Alta.
Like children of other evangelical families, Wiebe faced pressure to date boys while in high school, especially from their mother.
“She was really pressuring me to date, frankly, anybody,” Wiebe said.
“One of the guys I was friends with ended up having a crush on me and tried to date me. I literally have one of the stuffed animals he gave me, ’bout 15 years ago now,” they recalled.
“She was just so excited that a boy was showing interest in me, and I was like, ‘But, no. Like, no. I’m friends with him. That’s not how this works.’”
Being a tomboy who hung out primarily with boys, Wiebe was often the subject of ire from girls at school.
“There were a couple of times where there were girls who were incredibly jealous of me existing. And it’s like, ‘Listen, I’m not a threat. I’m not after your man. Trust me, I’ve seen his basement.’”
Wiebe is able to look back with humour at growing up in an religious community that stressed pre-marital chastity.
“I grew up in purity culture – so it’s the whole, don’t have sex or you’re going to, like, get AIDS and die, kind of thing. (Parents) were just terrified of us, I don’t know, slipping on a banana peel and having sex,” they said.
“It was this sea of teenagers that was just burning with lust. And I’m like, ‘Man, I’m nailing this!’”
When they were 18 years old, Wiebe read a news article that changed their perspective on their sexuality.
“I ended up reading about asexuality in a BBC article,” they recounted. “It was a couple who were just in a sex-free relationship.
“And I was like, ‘Oh, that sounds nice. That just sounds nice.’
“And it took a couple of days for that to sink in of, like, ‘Oh, yeah, no, that’s me.’”
At a time when their peers were first acting on their hormones, Wiebe finally had answers about why they weren’t doing the same.
“I’m just like, ‘Oh, you can just not want to sleep with people. That’s great!’”
Realizing one’s asexuality at the start of adulthood is rare, and Wiebe counts themselves lucky to have figured it out so early.
“There’s lots of aces and aros who figure stuff out later. They have years of disastrous relationships behind them before they figure stuff out,” Wiebe said.
Two decades ago, a recently-out Evan Kayne was staying with a friend in Toronto during Pride celebrations. His friend had a small bachelor apartment.
“The agreement was that if we split up and I come back later in the evening back to his place and he’s picked up somebody, I’ll grab my night bag by the door and then go and stay at the baths because it’s a cheap place to stay,” Kayne said.
That night, it turns out Kayne, an Indigenous demisexual writer who currently calls Calgary home, had to take the baths option.
“It’s hot. I’m tired. It’s late. So I get a room, go and shower, try to come back to my room. And as I’m leaving the shower, this one guy sort of leans back as if to say, ‘Stay,’” Kayne recalls.
“And I just pushed him out of the way and I went to my room, because I was just thinking, ‘I’m tired. I just want to go and sleep somewhere. Leave me alone.’”
In the past two decades, Kayne has learned the importance of communication in dealing with romantic encounters or overtures from other gay men.
“Frequently you’ll be on a first date with somebody and the person will think, ‘Oh, this person is just playing shy or playing hard to get.’ And it’s just: ‘No, I don’t want to jump into the sack with you on the first date.’
“I’m not wired for casual encounters. And trying to get them to understand that has been difficult, you know, because they assume their experience is your experience.”
But that doesn’t mean going on a date with someone who identifies as asexual won’t go anywhere.
“With a lot of asexuals, that’s often how they do find long term relationships: they find somebody where there’s no sexual component to their relationship, but this person (they’re seeing) understands the asexual, has a close emotional bond with them,” Kayne said. “And it’s deeply platonic and they are not willing to give that up for other people.”
But that doesn’t mean sex is completely off the table for Kayne.
“I’ve had sex. I’ve enjoyed sex with people who I got to know. I’ve been in several long-term relationships,” he said. “It’s the emotional connection which I find more valuable than the sex, where you are just comfortable to be in this place and this time with this other person, and be vulnerable as who you are.”
Sex on TV
Edmontonian Erin Kew is asexual and biromantic: she can be romantically attracted to people of either gender.
“When you don’t have sexual attraction, gender kind of stops being a thing.”
But watching gratuitous sex scenes on television shows – scenes that seem to have little connection with the plot of the show – isn’t compelling viewing for her.
“I watched like most of Game of Thrones and every topless sex scene with my elderly aunt and cousin in the room. It was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, she’s topless again,’” Kew said.
“It got to the point where I was ridiculing it because it was like, ‘Oh my God, why is she topless?’ every other scene.”
Kayne said if a sex scene is done well and works within the plot, he enjoys watching it.
“There’s even been some funny scenes like the sex scene with Emma Thompson and Jeff Goldblum in The Tall Guy,” Kayne noted.
“You didn’t really see much of them. But what you got to see them is them finally getting together. And then they had such passionate sex that they demolished the apartment.
“And it’s funny.”
“Ooh, you get to see Scarlett Johansson semi-naked. Ooh, you get to see Chris Hemsworth. Okay. That one, I will admit Chris Hemsworth, especially the new Thor preview, I’m going like, ‘Oh, hello.’”
The asexual people Global News spoke with were able to appreciate the aesthetic beauty of people around them. Celebrity crushes are perhaps more rare, but not impossible.
“Part of it is based on portrayal on the screen. At some length, it’s a portrayal with Thor, it’s a portrayal of somebody who cares,” Kayne said.
But it was while watching Euphoria when the hypersexualized nature of society came into sharp contrast for Kew.
Kayne likened sex scenes as advertisements to see a movie or television star nude or semi-nude.
In the pilot episode, teenagers are depicted as having sexually-explicit conversations in person and via text, lying about their age on hookup apps, and even having revenge sex as means to prove their worth.
“One of the talking points about (Euphoria) was the effect of porn on Generation Z and to some extent it’s reaching millennials as well,” Kew said. “That is a part of the hypersexuality in society and people have these expectations of ‘This is what it’s supposed to be.’”
Kew said a sense of healthy sexuality isn’t well understood societally.
“The fact that we have this show and it mirrors our hypersexual society so well tells me this is not just like a one orientation problem – this is an everyone’s problem.”
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