Asexuality is almost completely absent from the romance genre. Characters without a sexual drive are either delicate young girls who haven’t found their dominant billionaire or closeted homosexuals. Asexuality is a sexual orientation that – when it is addressed in romance at all – is addressed as something to be cured. Asexual people are no more likely to be touch adverse than the general population. They have the same need for human relationships as anyone else. Asexual people may even be sexually active, if it is a choice they’ve made. Asexuality is not defined by a lack of sexual activity but by a lack of sexual desire. In the romance genre, a failure to be a sexual person is often a flaw the character must overcome to achieve their HEA. I have known people born asexual and I often thought what a difficult path that must be. In a culture as drenched in sexual repression and expression as America, sex seems to be everywhere.
In the early 90’s I primarily reviewed same sex romance and erotica of all combinations. Erotic romance was moving from plantation / captivity novels into mainstream genre fiction but reviewers were slow to catch up. It was sometimes difficult to explain that yes, you read and reviewed erotica. No, you were not a sex worker, not that there was anything wrong with that. I was always uncomfortable when others judged mainstream romance on a scale of how much sexual content was in the storyline. As a McDLT reader I like my hot reads hot and my cool reads cool. I was a sex skimmer unless the purpose of the book was sex. Sexual objectification (such as Fabio and man-titty) always left me cold. I had my late night reads and my afternoon bus reads and never the twain did meet.
After a series of surgeries and medications I became asexual. All my books are afternoon bus reads now. I wondered if reading as an asexual would change my love of the romance genre. It did, but not in the direction I expected. I still love romance. If anything, I read more than before because I no longer read erotica. Take the flush factor out and erotica is painfully dull. I find myself drawn to very traditional novels. I don’t know if that’s because my emotional reading needs have changed. I’ve always been a heavy consumer of category and gothic so it’s hard to say. It’s something I’m still working out, as well as how privilege feeds into the genre reading experience. Strip Takenouchi Yutaka and dump him in my living room. He’ll be perfectly safe because these days I’m reading romance for the articles.