What is Asexuality?
Asexuality is a sexual orientation characterized by a persistent lack of sexual attraction toward any gender. According to a paper by sexuality researcher Dr. Anthony Bogaert, at least 1% of people are asexual. Asexual people are sometimes called "aces".
Why is it Important to Address Asexuality in Sex Ed?
You almost certainly have a student who is asexual and doesn't even know that asexuality is an orientation. All they ever hear about is straight, gay, and bi, so they struggle to fit themselves into one of those boxes. They may feel confused. They may feel broken. You are in a unique position to help those students discover who they are.
You likely have a student that knows that they are asexual and doesn't see themselves represented in a standard sex ed curriculum. If they feel left out or feel that their identity is erased or "doesn't matter", they may stop paying attention to the lessons, even to the parts that will be directly relevant to their lives.
Asexual students often feel lost and alone or "broken". Their peers may be expressing a newfound interest in sex and they may look around and see the sex-charged culture we live in, and this may cause them to feel out of place or ostracized or like there's something "missing" in their lives. Ignoring asexuality in a sex ed course will only serve to reinforce the message that they're broken or don't belong. They may engage in harmful behaviors in an attempt to "fit in" or as a way to "fix themselves". They may be pressured into taking part in sexual activities that are unwanted or unwelcome because they feel that's what they're "supposed" to do.
At the same time, talking about asexuality will help other students understand that asexuality is a real, legitimate sexual orientation, which may help to lessen the bullying that many asexual students face.
How to Approach Asexuality
Make it clear that asexuality exists, that it is a real, "normal" sexual orientation, and that there is nothing "wrong" with people who are asexual. As part of that, be sure to mention asexuality along with other sexual orientations. If you list sexual orientations, include asexuality. If you have a glossary sheet or vocabulary assignment, include "asexual" as one of the terms. Integrate asexuality throughout the curriculum, where appropriate.
Treat it with respect. Don't joke about it or make dismissive or insulting remarks about it. If any students make derisive comments about asexuality, be sure to let them know that those kinds of comments can be offensive and are inappropriate.
Avoid universal statements, like "Everyone will want to have sex when they're older" or "When you hit puberty, you will start to develop feelings for other people." Instead, say things like "Most people will want to have sex when they're older, but not everyone" or "When you hit puberty, you probably will start to develop feelings for other people, but if you don't, that's okay, too." Slight changes in wording can make all the difference. Using less absolute language makes room for asexual people.
Make it clear that not everyone wants sex or enjoys sex. That message is very important for asexual students to hear, and it can be valuable for some non-asexual students, too. Much of the conversation about sex, including in sex ed courses, is based on the assumption of universal interest and universal enjoyment of sex. For someone who does not want sex or does not like sex, that kind of language can be alienating or even harmful.
Mention that asexuality is not the same as abstinence or celibacy. Abstinence is the choice to deliberately refrain from sexual activity. People of any sexual orientation can practice abstinence. Asexuality is a sexual orientation. Asexual people do not experience sexual attraction, which often (though not always) means that they are less likely to be interested in sexual activity. Additionally, don't portray asexuality as somehow morally superior. Asexuality is a sexual orientation, it is not a purity pledge or moral stand.
Explain that there is a difference between romantic attraction and sexual attraction. The feeling of romantic attraction is often described as "I would like to date that person", while the feeling of sexual attraction is often described as "I would like to have sex with that person". For many people, romantic orientation and sexual orientation are directed toward the same gender or genders. For instance, some people are both heteroromantic and heterosexual. However, these orientations are not always aligned. It is possible for a person to be a homoromantic bisexual, where they only experience romantic attraction to their own gender, but experience sexual attraction to more than one gender.
This distinction between romantic attraction and sexual attraction is often valuable for asexual people. Many asexual people do experience romantic attraction, despite not experiencing sexual attraction. Words like "heteroromantic", "homoromantic", "panromantic", and so on, allow an asexual person to describe their feelings more completely.
Some people may describe themselves as "aromantic", which is the romantic orientation characterized by a persistent lack of romantic attraction toward any gender. It is analogous to asexuality, but the two concepts are not equivalent. It is possible for a person of any sexual orientation to be aromantic, and many asexual people are not aromantic.
Recognize that your students are not "too young" to know that they are asexual. "You're too young" is one of the most common dismissive statements people make toward asexual people. You might think that maybe puberty hasn't taken hold yet, that maybe they'll change their mind in a few years. And maybe you're right. However, it's not your place to say. That sort of comment is never helpful. If the student is not asexual, they'll figure it out in a few years anyway, and if the student is asexual, they will resent that comment and the self-doubt it creates for years. Furthermore, consider other students around the same age. Would you tell a heterosexual student that they should wait a few years before coming out as straight, just in case they haven't discovered that they're really bisexual after all? And when you were that age, did you have some sense of your sexual orientation? The student knows who they are and how they feel more than you possibly can, so trust that they have thought about it and are not "too young" to know that they are asexual.
When discussing or researching asexuality, the following identities are likely to come up. While not asexuality in the strictest sense, they are often considered to be closely related. These identities, along with asexuality, comprise what is called the ace spectrum. It is important to recognize them and to understand that they are just as valid as asexuality is.
Gray-Asexuality is a term that covers a range of experiences that are similar to asexuality, but where the person does not feel the asexual label fits them. For instance, a person may call themselves gray-asexual if they rarely experience sexual attraction or are unsure if they have.
Demisexuality is where someone never feels sexual attraction until they have formed an emotional bond with another person. This is not the same as refusing to have sex unless the person is in love. It is a description of attraction, and not about what someone does or is willing to do. Additionally, the emotional bond may not be based on love.