Words by Blythe Alspaugh | Photos by Jana Life
Asexuality is not abnormal, and those who identify can’t and shouldn’t be changed.
Blythe Alspaugh comes to terms with a secret she’s been holding in while embracing her sexuality.
*Editor’s note: Due to the nature of this story, some names have been changed.
It was a warm September day in 2012 when I lost my virginity.
I can still remember the crunch of the Honey Nut Cheerios I ate for breakfast, the heaviness of my eyelids in Seven Ideas that Shook the Universe, and the idea of enjoying the weekend’s clear skies and sunny weather with my friends. Most vividly, I remember Dan* murmuring that I “might be asexual after all” while he pulled on a pair of shorts, so he could go to the bathroom.
I first heard about asexuality seven months prior, during the gap year I took between high school and college. Unfamiliar with the term, I did a quick Google search, and the first result was a Wikipedia definition: “Asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction to anyone, or low or absent interest in sexual activity. It may be considered the lack of a sexual orientation, or one of the variations thereof, alongside heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality.”
It sounded a lot like how I felt about my sexuality and sexual attraction. Of the two short-lived relationships I had in high school, I shied away from anything physical—even kissing. At the time, I chalked it up to my fear and inexperience, but in the back of my head, I knew there was another reason why my stomach knotted up with nausea and unease. For a while, I thought I might be more attracted to girls than boys, but my research opened a new door for me. The further I stepped into that room, the more I identified as asexual. I hadn’t become truly vocal about it until I was in college, partially because it was a new environment where I could reinvent myself and partially because Kent State was more welcoming to the LGBTQ community than my hometown. People knew what I was talking about when I said I was asexual.
It didn’t stop some people from wearing the police hat, though. For every positive reaction I’d receive, I’d be met with two responses of “you just haven’t met the right person yet,” or the ever-popular and creepy, “I can change that.” But I let it go, figuring I could just ignore anyone who didn’t respect me enough to accept that I knew who I was, and I wasn’t ashamed of it.
My mentality, however, changed on that warm September day.
Dan had invited me to his room to watch a movie, and as someone who takes things literally, I didn’t pick up on any subtext.
As soon as the door shut, he started kissing me, and I froze up because I hadn’t been expecting it. I blocked out a lot of what happened. I don’t remember how he got me on the bed, or how he managed to undress us both and keep me down at the same time. I was in such a state of shock that I couldn’t think of how to get him to stop.
I remember trying to speak and being unable to make a sound because his forearm was pressed against my throat. I had to concentrate on breathing while I waited for it all to be over. What was maybe 10 or 15 minutes felt like hours, and when it finally ended, I couldn’t cover myself fast enough. He asked me how I enjoyed it—I shrugged my shoulders, and that’s when he told me that I “might be asexual after all,” and left the room.
I dressed quickly and left before it could get any worse.
I am not alone in my experience with asexuality and corrective rape. Reilly Smith, who identifies as transmasculine, asexual and panromantic, was sexually assaulted a few months into his relationship with a girlfriend, during Valentine’s Day weekend of 2012. Before that point, he had been upfront about his sexuality and had known his girlfriend for two years prior to the start of their relationship.
“Eventually, [she] decided that [she] was going to show me how all that stuff works,” Smith says. “She started going across my boundaries, and I ended up freezing up. By the time it was all over, she walked out of the room because I was being really quiet and unresponsive, and she thought that was rude.”
It boiled down to Smith’s girlfriend thinking everything had been fine because Smith had been silent the whole time. Smith remained in the relationship for another three months, ending it when he fully grasped the weight of what had happened and how it was unacceptable.
For Smith, part of the problem had been a lack of understanding what asexuality is and what it means to date an asexual person.
“Most people didn’t take it seriously, especially if I was dating them,” Smith says. “They took it as being more chaste or playing ‘hard to get’ [instead of] actually being asexual.”
There is a stigma that asexuality isn’t a real sexuality but rather a fixable mentality. Inappropriate phrases, like “I can change that,” devalue a person’s sexual identification and reinforce the concept of corrective rape.
Smith attributes these comments to people trying to be funny by making jokes. He’s often heard these crude remarks, especially during his freshman year of college and when he would date people who weren’t asexual.
“I think that feeds a lot into rape culture overall,” Smith says. “The implication of [those jokes] is that they’re going to continue, and you’re not going to be into it. It’s also an implication that your lack of orientation is a void to be filled… or that you are a blank space waiting for somebody else to fill in who you are and figure out who you are for you.”
In a society that glorifies sex as the end-all, be-all human experience, asexuality goes against the grain. For laughs, I had posted on Yik Yak that, as an asexual person, I don’t need sex because macaroni and cheese exists. Within an hour, I was met with anonymous users saying I was missing out on an essential, biological human need or that I wasn’t natural because I identified as asexual. I’ve had potential partners on dating apps tell me sex would be a positive, healthy experience for me, despite me happily and comfortably identifying as asexual. I’ve used the cheesecake example many times in explaining my sexuality: Many people love cheesecake, but I’ve never had a taste for it, and despite how much others think I will enjoy it, I don’t want to try it.
While I’ve spent hours defending my sexuality to some people, I am fortunate enough to have a strong support system of family and friends.
My parents have always been accepting people, asserting that they just want me to be happy and live the best life I can. When I first told my parents, I never outright said the phrase, “I’m asexual,” instead telling them that I had no interest in getting married or having children. Understandably so, it was a hard pill for my mom to swallow—she had been envisioning my wedding day and how smart my future children would be for as long as I can remember. Still, in the past few years, she has warmed up to it and now brags to anyone and everyone that my “children” are going to be best-selling books someday. My dad sees me the same as he always has, and he is happy that I’m happy. I now worry less about what anyone else thinks about my sexual orientation—or lack of one—because I have the acceptance and support of my parents, and that makes it a little easier.
Telling my family I had been raped four weeks into my freshman year was immensely more difficult, given I was more than 200 miles away with no chance of going home to see them. I broke the news to my sister first because I knew she could provide some insight on how to tell our parents what had happened to me. Her advice had been simple: There would never be a right time to tell them and saying it in person would be best, but what it boiled down to was what I was most comfortable with.
I ended up telling my parents that night. They reacted how I expected them to: My mom cried, and my dad was somber and quiet. Explaining why I had waited three years and five months to tell them was just as difficult as telling them about the assault in the first place. At the time it had happened, I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want to relive the incident over and over. I didn’t report it because, when the thought to do so occurred to me, I knew it would be Dan’s* word against my own, and I feared that it would make things worse for me. I had feared ridicule, above all things else, from my mom. What I got was her assertion that I could tell her anything, and that this didn’t change her opinion of me whatsoever. In that moment, I felt so much weight, which I hadn’t realized I had been carrying, lift off of me.
My best friend has also been a constant light in the darkness as I come to terms with my assault and how it ties in with my sexuality. He was one of the first people I confided in about my assault, and he never once blamed me or shamed me for it, like I feared others might. In a world where one in five women are sexually assaulted in college before they graduate, victims of rape are told that they are “asking for it” based on the length of their skirts or their alcohol consumption. Multiply the fear of hearing that “they were just trying to help you,” or “the only reason you think you’re asexual is because you were raped,” and it all equals up to me not wanting to open up that can of worms.
Through the support of my best friend and many of my other friends, I’m more open to talking about it.
My name is Blythe Alspaugh. I am a senior at Kent State University studying journalism. I am asexual. I was raped with the intent to “fix” my sexuality. I am not the sum of my assault, and I am not at fault for it. I am not abnormal or unnatural.
I am happy.