Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex

Late last year, I was excited to learn about Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex by Angela Chen. I know at least two people who identify as asexual, and although I’m happily married, I’ve long known that I’m not quite allosexual. This book offers answers about what it means to be asexual, how diverse the asexual spectrum is, and what our society’s sexual norms mean on a greater scale. I read it in honor of Pride Month, in part because the A in LGBTQIA+ is so often overlooked and misunderstood.

Ace by Angela Chen
AudienceAdult
GenreNonfiction: Sexuality
Number of Pages210
Format I ReadHardcover
Original Publication DateSeptember 15, 2020

Official Summary

An engaging exploration of what it means to be asexual in a world that’s obsessed with sexual attraction, and what the ace perspective can teach all of us about desire and identity.

What exactly is sexual attraction and what is it like to go through life not experiencing it? What does asexuality reveal about gender roles, about romance and consent, and the pressures of society? This accessible examination of asexuality shows that the issues that aces face—confusion around sexual activity, the intersection of sexuality and identity, navigating different needs in relationships—are the same conflicts that nearly all of us will experience. Through a blend of reporting, cultural criticism, and memoir, Ace addresses the misconceptions around the “A” of LGBTQIA and invites everyone to rethink pleasure and intimacy.

Journalist Angela Chen creates her path to understanding her own asexuality with the perspectives of a diverse group of asexual people. Vulnerable and honest, these stories include a woman who had blood tests done because she was convinced that “not wanting sex” was a sign of serious illness, and a man who grew up in a religious household and did everything “right,” only to realize after marriage that his experience of sexuality had never been the same as that of others. Disabled aces, aces of color, gender-nonconforming aces, and aces who both do and don’t want romantic relationships all share their experiences navigating a society in which a lack of sexual attraction is considered abnormal. Chen’s careful cultural analysis explores how societal norms limit understanding of sex and relationships and celebrates the breadth of sexuality and queerness.

Review

Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex is the first book I’ve read about asexuality. While there are other books out there on this subject, there is definitely room for more, both in nonfiction and in fiction starring ace characters. This book does a wonderful job of describing what it means to be asexual, especially in such a sex-focused world.

First, Angela Chen talks about her own journey in understanding her identity. It took her until she was in her 20s to recognize herself as ace, and for many ace-spectrum people, it can take some time to reach that self-identification. She then talks about the spectrum of asexuality—because it is indeed a spectrum—ranging from people who are sex repulsed to those who are okay with having sex even if they don’t particularly crave it. There is also a difference between asexuality and aromanticism, a topic discussed in more detail later in the book. Fundamentally, aces don’t feel sexual attraction to others. They may find others aesthetically pleasing or be romantically attracted to people, but sexual attraction isn’t really part of it.

One of the things I love most about Ace is how the author dives into the ways our culture and society affect asexual people. Our world is hyper-fixated on sex and assumes that all people want to have sex. This book looks at how asexuality can be especially difficult for men, since masculinity is so closely tied with sex. Feminism and being politically liberal or progressive can also be correlated with sexual liberation and the sex positive movement. How can someone identify as a feminist and/or politically left when they’re asexual? Where do they fit in? Ace also looks at asexuality and religion and the difficult intersection between being ace and being disabled.

Another theme that stood out to me is the concept of romantic love and how that plays into asexuality. It’s important to note that sex does not equal romantic interest or love. People can be asexual, aromantic, both, or neither. Plenty of asexual people do experience romantic attraction and crave romantic relationships. This also gets into the topic of asexual people who date or marry allosexual people: How do they achieve a sexual balance in which each partner is happy? Although asexual people don’t experience sexual attraction, many aces do have sex. For many, this can be from a desire to form or maintain a bond with their partner. Personally, I would love to see a full book about navigating a long-term relationship between someone who is asexual and someone who is allosexual.

Ace ends with a call for more representation and awareness of asexual people. Asexuality should be taught in sex education classes. Therapists should recognize asexuality as a legitimate identity, not a problem to be fixed. Media should show more asexual people and portray them in a positive light, as happy and fulfilled individuals. I fully agree.

Final Thoughts

Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex is a highly informative book, especially for people who don’t know much about asexuality. It would serve as a great starting point for people within the ace spectrum or for people in relationships with someone who is ace. Personally, I would love to see more books that dive deeper into specific subsections of asexuality, and will look out for additional resources about asexuality.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

About the Author

Angela Chen - credit Sylvie Rosokoff

Credit: Sylvie Rosokoff

Angela Chen is a journalist and writer in New York City. Her reporting and criticism have appeared in the Wall Street JournalAtlanticGuardianParis ReviewElectric LiteratureCatapult, and elsewhere. Chen is a member of the ace community and has spoken about asexuality at academic conferences and events including World Pride. Find her on Twitter @chengela or at angelachen.org.

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