Asexual people hear many reasons from others to explain asexuality away as something treatable. Asexuals of all ages are wrongly told that their sexuality is a temporary product of their age.
If you are asexual and below the age of 25, then you may have been told by someone that you can’t be asexual because you’re not old enough to have given your sex drive a chance to develop. Or, that you are too young to be able to make your mind up about things like sexual identity.
On the other hand, if you are asexual and over 50, then you may have been told at some point that you are lacking a sex drive or have become impotent because of old age. As far as some people seem to be concerned, anyone over 30 is probably tied up with having and raising children, career commitments and the general stressors of life, and this adequately explains their asexuality.
This would appear to give asexual people a small window between about 25 and 30 where their asexuality cannot be blamed on age!
Most people first experience feelings of sexual attraction somewhere in their pre-teen years, around the time that they are going through puberty. The onset and duration of puberty varies from person to person, but nearly all people have begun puberty by the time they are in their mid-teens (with a few exceptions for a number of medical conditions). Most people are aware that they are attracted to a different gender from their early teens onward, and a smaller group of people will be aware that they are attracted to the same gender, or multiple genders, around this age. If it is possible to know that you are sexually attracted to people around this age, it is also possible to know that you are not. While a few people may develop sexual attraction a bit later, most asexual people noticed that something was different about them from their early teens, when their peers started developing sexual attraction and having crushes, and they did not.
There are also people who feel that ‘children’ should not be interested in sex. These people feel that it is a moot point to say that you are asexual at the age of 15 or 17, or anytime before legal or cultural adulthood. This probably goes back to the traditional religious idea (in western societies) that sex is a sin, and that children should not be tainted by sin. This can also lead to people (sometimes parents) praising asexual teenagers for their lack of interest in sex, even as their peers tend to react in opposite ways. This can make life confusing for some asexual teenagers, especially when they realize that at some arbitrary age, such as 18 or 21, they are now expected to have a sex drive and be pursuing sexual partners and/or marriage. It might seem like an obvious point, but plenty of teenagers engage in sexual activity or sexual fantasy, regardless of religious and parental agendas.
This situation probably highlights the tension in our society between the traditional idea of sex as inherently sinful, and the more modern sex positive approach, which is sometimes mistaken to mean that people should have as much sex with as many people as they can, in order to be ‘sexually liberated’. This latter situation can mean that younger people often face a lot of peer pressure to sexually experiment. This can make them feel that they have to go along with situations that they may not be comfortable with, or risk social alienation. These contradictions are often confusing enough for those whose sexuality falls within ‘the norm’. They can be especially confusing for those who don’t experience sexual attraction or find themselves in other minority groups.
At the other end of the age spectrum, many middle aged or elderly people find that their asexual identity is not taken seriously because other people believe they are too old for sex. This response often confuses impotence, hormonal deficiencies, and/or menopause with a lack of sexual attraction. Even middle-aged people may be told that having children or stressful careers has caused their lack of sexual interest. While children, careers and old age can all interfere with someone’s sex life, asexuality is generally a lifelong experience that will be noticeable to the asexual person sometime around puberty. It is completely normal for the various stresses of life to cause fluctuations in an allosexual person’s sex drive, but being asexual is (usually) a permanent state regardless of what is happening in life.
People who object to asexuality on the basis of old age don’t seem to consider that the asexual identified person would probably remember having had sexual attraction earlier in life, if aging caused their asexuality. While for some people asexuality changes over time, or does develop later in life, there is plenty of evidence that asexuality and older age are two separate experiences. Not all older people are asexual, and not all asexuals are old.
Many older asexuals have only very recently discovered that other people share their sexuality, and have spent many years of their life feeling confused or alone with their sexuality. Many older asexual people wondered if something was ‘wrong’ with them or if one day their sexuality could be ‘fixed’. Without any other information, some asexual people end up trying to live allosexual lives and have relationships that fit into a heteronormative framework. For these people, discovering their asexual identity may be a lot more challenging than for a younger person who has not yet forged a life for themselves or taken on many commitments. For example, many older asexual people are in long term relationships with allosexual people and sometimes have children in these relationships. Finding out that they are asexual at this point in life can lead to many complications, particularly for long term partners who may not be happy at finding out that their spouse was never sexually attracted to them. For some, their partners and families may be supportive and happy to have an explanation for the asexual persons lack of sexual interest all these years. Other people may find themselves in more challenging circumstances where they feel obliged to keep their asexuality a secret to keep the peace. Some older asexual people also end up wondering if life would have been different had they known that nothing was wrong with them, so that they could have sought relationships with other asexual people, or not have had relationships at all. It is normal to feel a sense of grief over the lost opportunities and years of confusion. It is unfortunate that the past ignorance of our society cannot be changed. Hopefully with education and increased asexual visibility, less people will have to go through this experience in the future, and those who have experienced this can have additional support.
In summary, both younger and older people face challenges associated with asexuality that intersect with age. Younger people may struggle to have other people take them seriously, as well as having to deal with the challenges of peer pressure to start sexually experimenting. Older asexual people may also struggle to convince people that their asexuality has been a (usually) lifelong experience, and often face a more complicated coming out process. Both problems can be greatly assisted through greater public awareness and acceptance of asexuality, as well as a societal/cultural acceptance that human sexuality is naturally diverse and that this is ok.
Want to know more about how asexuality interacts with other parts of human experience? Read on to learn about asexuality and mental health conditions.