When Caroline Elisabeth Cull was young, growing up in a Catholic home, she thought it was normal to not think about or desire sex.
“I just assumed everybody felt that way,” she says.
“It wasn’t until I left home and church that I realised just how different I was.”
Ms Cull, whose pronouns are she/they, identifies as greysexual and aromantic, which means she rarely feels sexual towards herself or others and doesn’t experience romantic attraction.
“A lot of people get confused when I tell them my love language is physical touch, because I prefer to be in platonic relationships. Basically PG-13,” she says.
“I think that’s why I am an activist and have been ever since I discovered asexuality. When I first officially joined the club in 2019, I noticed how small and under-appreciated the asexual community was.”
What is asexuality?
Asexual counsellor at Head Space Cyan Donatti says there are many different types of asexuality. Cyan uses the pronoun ‘Mx’, which is gender-neutral.
“Asexuality is your basic or core flavour, characterised by no experiences of sexual attraction, whilst demisexuality requires that emotional connection first before sexual attraction kinda appears or starts building up,” Mx Donatti says.
“My research that I’ve done … is conceptualising sexuality as a collection of identities rather than as a spectrum, which is quite a common discourse.
“The idea of it being on a spectrum means that it’s just a variant of asexuality which has experiences with sexual attraction and that feels kind of a little bit invalidating to be like ‘well you’re just a lesser form of this’.”
Mx Donatti runs early intervention therapy with young people, with a focus on identity development and supporting people who are either transitioning, coming out to family or navigating relationships.
“Usually when I do identity development and work with young people, it’s doing lots of reflections and thinking about all of the examples. Have you ever noticed yourself having sexual attraction? Does that make you uncomfortable or are you okay with that?” they say.
When asked about the main types of asexuality, Mx Donatti says asexual, demisexual and greysexual are the top three.
Chris Kennedy is another member of Asexuals of WA, which has more than 300 members on Facebook.
He says asexuality means different things to different people.
“It’s validation for what I feel and an experience that isn’t just restricted to me,” he says.
For Remy Marcel, who is also part of the group and uses xe/fae pronouns, the meaning is a little different again.
“I’m demisexual, a branch of asexuality, and to me it means not feeling sexual attraction to any gender unless I have a strong emotional bond with them,” Remi says.
Making the connection
For 27-year-old Ms Cull, who’s as an activist and filmmaker, life made more sense after discovering asexuality.
“I literally only found the term when I was 25 and as soon as I did, everything just clicked,” she says.
“It was the making up of fake boyfriends so guys at school would leave me alone, my absolute refusal to wear certain bras or swimsuits because I felt repulsed by the idea of being sexualised.”
When Ms Cull discovered Perth’s asexuality community, she felt at home. She says the community shared helpful information, including a type of asexuality classification system.
“Attraction models had already been broken down and a community of people I could talk to freely, was already formed. It felt like I had just been adopted into the most loving and welcoming of families,” she says.
Unlike Caroline, some discover their sexuality and gender identity later in life.
Julie Jordan, a member of ‘Asexuals of WA’, found out that she was asexual at 52 years old.
“My stepdaughter told me she thought I might be asexual and after looking it up I was shocked,” she says.
“I divorced her dad. We were together 10 years and I’ve never been happier.
“I was happy to find out I wasn’t broken or alone. There are many of us.”
Although the internet and social media have brought many asexual people together, it can be a dangerous place for online bullying or ‘trolling’.
Ms Cull, who has more than 12 thousand followers on Instagram, says misconceptions about asexuality can lead to hate comments.
Mx Donatti says misconceptions flying around the internet, and being spread offline, can be harmful to understanding the asexual community.
“The biggest misconception is that asexual people don’t engage in sexual behaviours and it kind of seems contradictory when you first talk about it. But just because you don’t experience sexual attraction doesn’t mean you don’t find these behaviours interesting or enjoyable,” they say.
Mx Donatti says many believe that asexuality is the same as celibacy. They says celibacy is a choice, asexuality is not.
“The prime example is if you picture people who are living in a nunnery or a church, they have chosen celibacy. They’ve actively chosen that and there’s nothing presenting them from going out and engaging in behaviours like that,” they say.
“You can have meaningful relationships … that aren’t built on sexual behaviours.”Cyan Donatti
Ms Cull says there are many misconceptions about asexuality.
“The biggest of them all is people assuming that there’s something wrong with you, or that you need to be fixed,” they say.
“I’m not broken, so what needs fixing?”
Mx Donatti says there’s issues with the way asexuality is – and isn’t – represented in the media.
“You always see that the characters and representations of asexuals are always made fun of, or the jokes are at their expense, and they’re usually fixed at some point by someone coming along,” says Mx Donatti.
“I guess it’s underrepresented because when we talk about hyper sexualisation, that’s also prevalent in queer spaces as well and for good reason.”
“We could argue that queer people’s sexuality was punished, dismissed and invalidated for so long that now there’s a push to be really sexual and are you able to be explicit with your attraction and are much freer to do these things.”
“I think sometimes there’s a little bit of a threat that asexuality challenges that idea.”
Mx Donatti says asexuality is often dismissed.
“Outside of queer spaces as well, it’s probably just poorly understood and even more so the idea of it just being a phase or dismissed or wider society being like ‘no you’ll just find the right person, or something will happen and you’ll change don’t worry’,” they say.
Ms Cull says there’s hardly any representation in mainstream media that people can latch on to and if there is, it’s hardly educational.
“I see it even in the LGBTQIA+ community. This hyper-sexualised expectation that you’re not really gay if you don’t want to have sex,” they say.
“Everybody is running their own race, and it’s unfortunate that the LGBTQIA+ community can be dismissive of that.”
How about dating?
Ms Cull says misunderstandings about the sexual orientation can make dating challenging.
“Dating apps are a labyrinth of people who swipe without checking your bio, and then either get angry that you won’t sleep with them or expect you to teach them their sexual health education,” they say.
For Ms Cull, she solely searches for people who are on the same spectrum and says people often either don’t understand or take their asexuality personally.
“I was dating a guy for a couple years before ending things, and found out recently that he had gotten angry, hearing that I had slept with somebody after our relationship ended but never did with him,” she says.
“During our relationship he constantly reassured me that it was fine not having sex, but now hearing that he is now upset kind of makes me anxious entering relationships.”
Ms Cull’s journey of discovering herself is often shared with her online community. She hopes it inspires hope.
“The way I officially found out was getting drunk after a bad date and googling ‘why sex bad’. So, if this is your way of discovering asexuality, you’re doing better than me.”
Acceptance is key
Mx Donatti recommends accepting others rather than question them.
The sexologist says all communities need to understand other people’s perspectives.
“At the Open Days at Curtin University, there used to be the Red Frogs brigade, so I am wondering around … and they were handing out condoms to everyone and I declined and told them ‘I don’t need that’,” they say.
“The person went on a little bit of a rant about how important condoms are and I was like ‘mate, I’m a sexologist I know how important condoms are, I’m just not doing anything that needs that’.”
“It’s just that kind of taking that half a step back and going ‘this person probably knows what they’re talking about in terms on their own sexual behaviours and sexual life.”
Ms Cull, who is an aspiring filmmaker, is working on a feature film to represent her community.
“Right now, I’m working on ‘Dear Luke Love Me’, which is the world’s first feature film with asexual representation,” says Ms Cull.
“I hope to soon get into some writer’s rooms and really create change in how LGBTQIA+ minorities are represented on screen.”
Carolines says understanding and accepting who they are, has been a gift.
“I’ve been so much more open about my sexuality … it felt like a weight had been lifted off of my back.”