Life without lust: confessions of asexuals

By Phan Duong   November 9, 2021 | 11:18 pm PT
Khanh Linh, 27, is tall and attractive, but has chosen to be single because she does not like sex.

"I have no interest in or need for sex, so I decided not to try it," she says.

This is not because she experienced some kind of sexual trauma in the past: Linh is asexual, a group that makes up about 1 percent of the world's population.

Professor Anthony Bogaert, a psychologist and human sexuality expert at Brock University in Canada, says asexual people are not attracted to other people.

They can be divided into two categories, he adds: those who have no sexual desire at all and those who have some degree of sexual desire but do not direct this desire directly at others and instead masturbate.

Khanh Linh in a photo shoot taken 5 years ago in HCMC. Photo courtesy of Linh

Khanh Linh in a photo shoot taken 5 years ago in HCMC. Photo courtesy of Linh

Linh realized at a very early age she had no interest in sex, but did not know the concept of asexual until she went abroad to study a few years ago.

"I'm relieved I can finally label myself," she says.

Cat Hat Tuan of the northern Vinh Phuc Province also took a long time to truly understand himself. While in school, he was confused about his orientation after discovering he had feelings for a male friend and thought "I must be gay".

Unlike his friends, he felt lost when someone spoke about sex.

"It was not until 2015 that I got to know about the asexual community and learn that my appropriate label was homoromantic asexual, meaning I have no sexual desire but was still emotionally attracted to men".

Hoang Tung, 23, an English teacher in Saigon, says he is both asexual and aromantic.

From a very young age Tung has identified himself as asexual. Most of his friends started to like the opposite sex while in seventh or eighth grade and talked about the people they secretly loved, while he realized that he was not interested in these things.

"When my friends talk about masturbation, sex or talk about girls, I just feel disgusted".

Most asexuals face social stigma. In online community groups, where members often share their coming out experiences, many say they are ridiculed.

Some people look down on them for not knowing how to love and avoiding marriage and even claim they label themselves asexual merely to gain support from the LGBT community.

Some are accused of using asexuality as an "excuse" to remain single, while others are sexually harassed in public.

"I want to freely share what I feel with everyone, but some people say, 'You won't know if you haven't tried it,'" Linh says.

Tuan is teased by friends as being "physically weak" and "impotent".

Because he found it too difficult to explain, he told his parents he was "gay".

When Tung confided to his close friends while in 10th grade, they told him: "There are no asexual people in the world. Sex is a part of life and human nature".

The strong reactions scared Tung away from broaching the topic again, but the damage was done already: his friends told the others in class, who began to make fun of him.

Now, whenever he is with a group of male friends, he has to pretend he also likes discussing about girls and sex.

When someone in his family asks him about a girlfriend, he avoids answering them.

"But the idea of starting a relationship has never crossed my mind".

He says when he was in college he met up with an old friend one time for coffee and they reminisced about sad and happy stories from high school. When it was his turn, Tung did not know what to say. That night, after returning to the dormitory, he ran into the hallway and "couldn't stop crying" since he had kept his feelings pent up for too long.

A 2012 study by another Brock University psychology professor, Gordon Hodson, found asexual people were viewed more negatively than homosexuals.

A 2015 study on asexual people published by Dominique Canning, a PhD candidate at the University of Michigan in the U.S. said asexuality is misunderstood and despised by the LGBT community.

They might have little or no sex drive, but many asexual people nevertheless want to find love and even marry.

Linh used to be a model in Saigon and an intern in a law firm, and men were attracted by her looks and personality.

One time she was attracted by the affection and care a man showed toward her, and accepted to go out with him on a date.

But right at the beginning she made it clear she was asexual and was not interested in having sex.

"My ex-boyfriend agreed to my condition, but did not believe it. He thought I was just saying so and will change my mind later on."

After three relationships, she realized that even if a man loved her and agreed with her wishes, sex and children would be inevitable in a marriage. So she decided to be single. Outside of work, she finds joy in reading books, drawing, dancing, and other activities.

The discovery that he was asexual changed Tuan's life. While in his third year at university, he moved from polytechnic to the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Hanoi to major in social work.

He currently works at a medical center in the city and actively participates in an online group named Asexual in Vietnam, which has over 23,000 followers on Facebook.

Meanwhile, Tung is not too sure about what to tell his family even as the frequency of questions about his romantic life increases by the day.

"I have never been self-conscious about my sexual orientation because I was born with it, just like people are born with hands and feet."

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