We’re just beginning to understand asexuality, but it isn’t anything new.
Kayla Fields was the school prude of Bedford North Lawrence High School. She dated a handful of boys who pursued her, but the relationships never lasted more than a week. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to be in a relationship, she just cared more about watching The Powerpuff Girls than experimenting with French kissing.
After graduation, Fields tested the sexual waters. She made out with a middle-aged man who attacked her neck like a vampire, fooled around with her best friend’s boyfriend’s best friend and sexted with a girl she met online. It all felt forced. She wasn’t swimming; Fields was drowning.
At first, she thought she was a lesbian. That didn’t make sense, she reasoned, because women didn’t excite her sexually either. She had to be bisexual. At least, that’s what Fields told her disapproving mom. There was no other explanation for what Fields was feeling. Or rather, what she wasn’t feeling.
“Why do I hate sex?” she Googled shortly after coming out as bisexual. “Why am I anxious when people talk about it?”
A few clicks later, Fields found herself scanning through forums on the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN). Suddenly, it all made sense. Fields wasn’t heterosexual. She wasn’t homosexual or bisexual either. In fact, according to AVEN, she wasn’t sexually attracted to anyone — she was asexual.
The crystalizing moment was soon clouded by self-doubt. “Am I going to be alone forever?” Fields thought. “I don’t know anyone who identifies as asexual.”
Before AVEN launched in 2001, asexuality was relatively unheard of. Like Fields, many confused individuals turned to the Internet for answers and stumbled into the comforting arms of the virtual community. Since its inception, AVEN has helped tens of thousands of isolated people around the world discover their elusive sexual orientation together.
Immersed in a network of hundreds of thousands of like-minded people, Fields realized she wasn’t an anomaly. She swallowed the lump in her throat, and removed her cloak of invisibility.
In 2013, the same year that Fields joined AVEN, asexuality was no longer considered a sexual dysfunction. While stripped of medial bias, lingering myths continue to reject asexuality from joining heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality as the “fourth sex.” Today, more asexuals like Fields are emerging from the shadows to fight for their visibility.
Discovering the fourth sex
Bleeding red, Indiana is an unlikely heartland for sexual research. But it was in the small town of Bloomington where Dr. Alfred Kinsey became one of the first researchers to discover asexuality. At the time, the father of sexology didn’t know what to make of it.
The Kinsey Scale, published in the 1948 and 1953 Kinsey Reports, rated sexuality on a seven-point scale. Zero was exclusively heterosexual, six was exclusively homosexual, and a separate category “X” was used to describe those with “no socio-sexual contact or reaction.”
The report’s titillating statistics on other American sexual behaviors, like homosexuality, overshadowed group “X,” keeping the minority in the dark and away from the sexual revolution. Following research sporadically mentioned asexuality, but it would be another 65 years before the orientation was purposefully investigated.
Three years after AVEN launched, Dr. Anthony F. Bogaert, a psychology professor at Brock University, sparked national attention and media coverage on asexuality. Using preexisting data from a 1994 study, the Canadian suggested that one in 100 people identifies as asexual, and that they share a handful of traits, including height, weight, low socio-economic status and a high degree of religiousness.
“Bogaert’s  study makes no sense at all,” said Dr. Nicole Prause, CEO of Liberos. According to Prause and Dr. Cynthia Graham, the groundbreaking work had several limitations. Subjects were identified as asexual if they agreed with the statement: “I have never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all.” That was the Canadian’s biggest mistake — emphasizing desire over identity and behavior.
To correct Bogaert’s flaw in his initial paper, Prause and Graham conducted a more comprehensive study where the field of research began — the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction. This time, the researchers were prepared to analyze the elusive group “X.” Using self-reports, they distinguished characteristics between the sexual and non-sexual to better understand the uncharted orientation,
“Asexuality is interesting as an extreme end of the spectrum [of asexuality}],” Prause said. “We can’t understand the phenomenon until we can explain both ends.”
The results rejected Bogaert’s on almost all counts. Asexuals aren’t less educated than sexuals, nor do they differ in number of lifetime partners. The most unforeseen inconsistency is that some aces engage in sexual activity, which suggests the libido is separate from sexual attraction.
“It surprised me that people would masturbate and not have a sex drive,” Prause said. “We have such a long historic relationship between sex drive and masturbation.”
About once a month, Fields masturbates to porn. When she gets bored of watching people have sex, she finishes to whatever is on TV. It’s not mind-blowing, she explains, because rubbing one out is more like itching a scratch. “I have a libido and my body can get aroused like anyone else’s,” she said. “I just don’t have the feeling to sleep with anyone or get taken care of.”
Prause and Bogaert’s research challenged the American Psychiatric Association’s classification of sexual disorders. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-4) lumped asexuality under Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder, preventing the orientation from ever being recognized as the fourth sex. But asexuality isn’t a sexual dysfunction, the sexologists argued, because aces don’t experience “marked distress” and “interpersonal difficult” because of a lack of “sexual fantasies and desire for sexual activity.”
In 2008, AVEN seized the opportunity to reclassify HSDD in an updated version of the manual. The goal was to help draft a new definition for the dysfunction that didn’t pathologize asexuality. Five years later, marginalized individuals all over the world celebrated a step towards visibility. Asexuality officially embarked on the road to societal acceptance, but the destination laid miles ahead.
More than an amoeba
Fields clocks in for work at 7:53 p.m. Five days a week, she mops up oil and takes out the trash. It’s not a glamorous job, but she’s fine with it. She needs the money to support her mom, and paying for medication out of pocket is expensive.
When she graduated from Ivy Tech, Fields never imagined herself working as a janitor at Cook Polymore Technology. She’s not miserable, though. Not yet, she says. But sweeping the floor isn’t what she went to school for.
“When I tell people my dream job they give me a look like my grandma died or something,” Fields said.
She wants to be a full time artist, but that’s hard to achieve in a state where the employment isn’t great. If it weren’t for her family, she’d leave Indiana. But for now, her mom needs her in Bedford to help her cope with her mental illness. While she adjusts to new medicine, Fields takes care of the house and pays the bills.
“We’re just trying to survive everyday,” Fields said.
Like any roommates, Fields and her mom inevitably quarrel from time to time. “She’s a religious Christian and I have more of a pagan perspective,” Fields said. “I definitely don’t agree with her beliefs.”
The first time Fields came out as bisexual, it was hard for her mom to understand. The second time she came out as asexual, her mom was more accepting.
“I don’t think she understands asexuality, but to her it’s better than identifying as lesbian,” Fields said. “It’s easier to grasp because I’m not into people sexually, so she views it as less abrasive and less against her beliefs.”
Fields identifies as grey-demi romantic asexual. “Grey romantic means that someone can experience romantic attraction, but on rare occasion,” she explained. “I also identify as demi romantic, because in order to make a romantic relationship stick I have to have a strong bond with somebody.”
Looks are definitely a bonus, but that’s not what makes Fields’ heart thump. It’s the personality that does it, but that’s hard to convey on a dating website. Nevertheless, she flipped through profiles in search of a glasses wearing, dead baby joke telling, Rick and Morty watching asexual partner. Ideally, one who is also into BDSM.
“For a lot of people, BDSM is like a sexual power exchange,” Fields said. “But when asexuals are into BDSM, it’s more like we arouse our minds.”
Three years ago, Fields hit the jackpot. She found an asexual girl who was also kinky. After a year of Facebook messaging and texting, Anna Hastings surprised Fields at her college graduation. They spent the weekend celebrating their one-year anniversary traipsing around Bedford with arms locked.
“Anna is a very romantic person,” Fields said. “I don’t mind doing romantic things for her because she makes me feel comfortable.”
Although they’re both on BDSM dating sites, Fields says they won’t necessarily engage in it. Just knowing someone was into the same things as her was thrilling. “Most of my life is online because there aren’t that many asexuals to talk to,” Fields said. “It was exciting knowing I wasn’t alone and actually meeting someone face to face.”
Explaining her asexuality got difficult when her male coworkers found out she was in a relationship. If Fields didn’t want to have sex with them but was dating a girl, she must be a lesbian. “Yeah I’m into girls,” Fields said. “But not the way you’re into girls.” Still, they thought she was lying. It became exasperating to talk about.
Fields knows asexuality will eventually be accepted in society, just like homosexuality. It will quietly be normalized, she says, because asexuals don’t do anything scandalous with their bodies that would attract attention. They don’t make big waves. Not yet, anyway.
Asexuality in the media
In a society that chants “sex sells,” asexuality is seldom seen in the entertainment industry. This poor representation delegitimizes asexuality and reflects a lack of general public understanding of the orientation. And without characters or narratives to relate to in mainstream media, aces feel even more isolated and rejected from society.
When aces are represented in popular shows, they’re usually depicted as broken. In the case of BBC’s Sherlock, actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays detective Sherlock Holmes, explained that the protagonist is only asexual because his sex drive was suppressed. “Cold showers, dead bodies, that’ll do it for you,” Cumberbatch told Elle UK Magazine.
Fields says she’s never been a huge fan of Sherlock, but not because it isn’t a well written show. “They make Sherlock almost seem like he’s socially unequipped, like being ace is the butt of a joke.”
In the Big Bang Theory, asexual character Sheldon Cooper is portrayed as a brilliant theoretical physicist who lacks empathy. The majority of the sitcom’s humor revolves around Sheldon’s lack of social skills and odd character traits. Like Sherlock, asexuality is represented in the TV series as a peculiar consequence of behavior, rather than a celebrated orientation.
In 2015, Archie Comics writer Chip Zdarsky confirmed what all asexuals wanted to believe — Jughead Jones is asexual. Since the crown wearing character first appeared in Pep Comics in1941, Jughead was known for his love affair with food and general disinterest in pursuing any kind of romantic relationship.
Last year the CW announced it would air a TV adaptation of the Archie Comics, giving optimistic asexuals a chance of positive representation. However, in Episode 6 of Riverdale, Jughead surprised viewers by kissing Betty. With one spit swap, he betrayed his community.
Like most aces, Fields was infuriated. Her chance for a better media representation was shot. But not all hope was lost. Before coming out as ace, Fields also dabbled with her asexuality.
“It makes sense that he doesn’t automatically know he’s ace,” Fields said. “Most people don’t recognize they’re different until high school.”
Many asexuals turned to Twitter to express their disdain for Jughead’s development. To quell the uproar, show runner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa explained that Riverdale characters are just discovering their sexuality in season one. With nothing set in stone, Fields is hopeful the show will come to represent her orientation and catalyze future positive depictions.
“Asexual people had to pretty much scream at the industry to represent them,” she said. “But we’re starting to scratch the surface, especially more than when I first identified.”
An ace of hearts
It was hot and their pale skin was about to crisp. They forgot to wear sunblock on their outing to the Harry Potter themed amusement park, so Fields bought two black umbrellas from a gift shop. Under the shade, they laid in the grass and gazed at each other.
“You’re cute,” Hastings said.
Her cheeks blushed in response. “It wasn’t overly romantic,” Fields sad. “It was a really cool healthy dose of romance.”
Last month, Fields took off four days of work to visit her girlfriend in Gainesville. A year passed since she last saw Hastings, and it was Fields’ turn to make the trek. It was their second anniversary, after all.
Over the weekend, they sipped enough pumpkin juice and butterbeer to make them sick. They rode a dragon rollercoaster, and Hastings was terrified. Fields screamed so much that she drooled. They walked through Hogsmead and Diagon Alley holding hands so they wouldn’t get lost. And if they did, they’d find each other. They did it once before.
Hastings is getting ready to move to Bloomington this summer to be closer to Fields. They’re nervous, but in a good way. After two years, they’ll be close enough to work on their bonding. In Florida, they slept in the same bed, but they didn’t cuddle. Fields wants to take it slow. She needs more time.
As patient as Hastings has been, sometimes Fields worries that she doesn’t feel appreciated.
“Do you feel loved?” Fields asked.
“Yes,” Hastings said.
Even if Fields never experiences romantic feelings for her girlfriend, just being around each other is enough.
Arielle is an Assistant Editor at The Tab. Ex-fat camp counselor. Objectively cute.
Arielle is an editorial fellow at 70 Faces Media and runs @whoregasmic, a sex news and memes blog on Instagram.