Asexuality and the Paradox of LDS Chastity
by Brooke Andreasen
Like many students attending BYU, I was raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I learned the gospel in church, and I did my best to live the way I was taught was right. Some of it was easy to follow and some was more challenging, but the easiest for me by far was the law of chastity. People acted like it was a struggle to avoid sexual thoughts and activity, but that’s never something I had a desire for.
Apparently, there’s a word for that—asexual—someone who experiences little to no sexual attraction. Among asexual individuals there’s a wide spectrum of libido and participating in sex or experiencing romantic attraction doesn’t invalidate someone’s asexuality, but that’s a topic for another day. The important thing was in the self-discovery of my asexuality, I was happy. Not only did I know more about myself, but God had made me in a way that aligned with what I had been taught were His commandments. Surely that was a good thing.
It took a few years to work up the courage to come out to my parents but when I did, they received the news with disappointment and denial instead of the love and acceptance I needed. I was too young to know; I'd feel sexual attraction one day if I waited long enough. Asexuality wasn’t even a real thing—at least that’s what they told me. That rejection hit me hard. I hid my asexuality in shame for years. I dated around a bit, but feeling too scared to explain my experience with attraction made it difficult to form a connection. I felt unappreciated and misunderstood, and that only continued when I went to BYU.
Day one of moving into my freshman dorm, my roommates all sat down in a circle and grilled each other on their ‘types.’ I experience romantic attraction, but my lack of sexual attraction makes it hard for me to have a ‘type.’ When I tried to explain this, I was mocked and looked at like some alien thing. My experience with attraction isolated me from the Provo dating scene. I felt completely shut off from what I had been told was an essential part of campus culture.
A few weeks later, I was a bit zoned out in my eternal families class when I heard my professor say ‘asexual.’ I jolted to attention, only to hear him go over a few sad powerpoint slides sharing his opinions on how asexual people can and should still get married because marriage and having children is essential to salvation. I’m not saying asexual people can’t or shouldn’t get married, but marriage is a highly individual choice and it is no one’s place to prescribe it as a lifestyle for everyone, especially not with the threat of loss of salvation.
College life continued and I kept feeling pushed out of BYU culture because of my sexuality. It made no sense to me. They said keeping the law of chastity was good but whenever asexuality was brought up in a religious context it was with the intent to illegitimize the identity and insist that sex was something we would and should want some day. Sexuality is often a taboo topic on campus and everyone is assumed to be straight, so I had a hard time finding people who shared my feelings and experience.
Then I ran into a childhood friend. We hadn’t connected in years, but we ended up going thrifting together. She mentioned she was looking for a black ring because she wanted to show her asexual pride. (A black ring worn on the middle finger of the right hand is a symbol of asexuality.) I can’t imagine the courage it took her to bring up non-heterosexuality in this place where it is so often frowned upon, but that comment changed my life. “You’re ace too?” I was so happy to share that I understood, that we had this experience in common. I finally felt a connection to someone. I wasn’t broken, I wasn’t wrong, and I didn’t have to force myself into a lifestyle that went against my identity.
Connecting with that one friend really helped me start to form a supportive community composed of individuals of diverse sexualities, gender identities, and backgrounds. We were there to validate each other's identities when BYU culture told us we should force ourselves into inauthentic positions. I celebrate ace week—asexual awareness week, the week before Halloween—every year with them. I still have a hard time feeling belonging and understanding from most of BYU but having even a few people who support me has made all the difference for my mental health and well-being.
Something that has been blatantly lacking from BYU for a while now is understanding and compassion for people who exist outside the bounds of amatonormativity. We need to do better at being a safe space for our friends who fall under the polyamorous, asexual, and aromantic umbrellas, as well as any individual who does not fit within the highly restrictive cisheteronormative expectations imposed by the university. Give them the space to exist and not feel judged or pressured to change—and avoid the hypocrisy of condemning these people when Christ Himself would have loved them first.