Despite dire predictions from those who believe marriage should be an exclusively heterosexual institution, the sky didn't begin to fall in when the marriage equality bill convincingly passed its first reading in parliament. In order to capitalise on this mood of open-mindedness sweeping the nation, perhaps the time is right for members of other sexual minority groups to redouble their efforts to raise awareness levels as they continue their bid for acceptance within the community.
People who are asexual - that is, do not experience sexual attraction to others - have long had something of a low profile. Yet momentum is slowly developing. Five years ago when I wrote No sex please, we're asexual for the Herald on Sunday there were only a dozen people on the mailing list of Asexuality Aotearoa. Now it's believed more than 154 people from New Zealand participate on the US-based Asexual Visibility and Education Network website Yet, in light of estimates that 1 per cent of the population is likely to be asexual, that figure is clearly but the tip of the iceberg.
In 2007 I sought comment from New Zealand's most well known asexual, Booker prizewinning author Keri Hulme who believes the profile of asexuality needs to be raised "[p]rimarily for the sake of young asexual people who may not be aware that they aren't sick or ruinously different - just wonderfully rare." Hulme identifies as an "aromantic asexual" - that is, she is not romantically attracted to others.
Myths about asexuality abound. It is not a disorder that needs treatment or curing. It is not the same as abstinence or celibacy. It is not "caused" by sexual abuse. Asexual people are not freaks of nature. And, contrary to popular belief, people are not asexual just because they haven't met the right person yet.
Asexual people often feel like misunderstood outsiders in our sex-obsessed society. Yet it's unsurprising that confusion reigns in the general population. Asexuality is far from straightforward. According to asexualawarenessweek.com, "Behavio[u]r does not necessarily mirror orientation. Asexual people still choose to engage in sexual activities for a variety of reasons and that does not make them any less asexual." And some of them just like group hugs as explained in Sexless orgies sate desire for cuddles.
New Zealand's asexual community has been campaigning to achieve recognition of asexuality as a separate sexual orientation alongside heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality. Asexuality Aotearoa considers its particular brand of sexuality to be just as valid and distinctive as the aforementioned. To complicate matters, an asexual person may also be hetero-romantic, homo-romantic or bi-romantic. One study found that 33 per cent of asexual people were in long-term relationships.
Almost 700 reader comments on The Observer piece Among the asexuals revealed a high degree of interest and curiosity about what it means to be asexual. Some respondents pitied asexual people while others variously considered asexuality to be "liberating", "overly complicated" and "a convenient box".
My own favourite quip about asexuality appeared on a T-shirt that read: "Just lie back and think of England. Yeah right."