No, 14 was not “too young to know” | asexuality

Whenever I talk about coming out at 14, there’s always a common theme in responses, and I’ve seen others have this too – surely 14 is too young to know you’re asexual?

When people say this, what they’re referring to is the idea that you shouldn’t “be sexual” at 14, you shouldn’t be having those sorts of ideas or relationships at that age. This stems from multiple misunderstandings.

The first of these misunderstandings is something that comes through a lot in our society when we talk about changing how we teach sex ed, and I believe it stems from the general taboo of sex in our society – the idea that young people aren’t already learning about sex at that age or that they aren’t already on their way to forming such relationships. We know that this simply isn’t true.

Our school halls are filled with innuendos, elbow nudges and rating others out of ten. Our society is fundamentally built on relationships, on finding our “other half” (newsflash, you are already whole), on one-night stands and pulling in clubs. We call babies ‘ladies’ men’ or say they’ll ‘get all the boys’. Sex and attraction, at the very least aesthetic, is normalised from day one – and not only that, but we grow up without high quality sex education to actually comprehend it.

I never had crushes as a kid. I didn’t pine after the boy in the playground that everyone else did, the classic football lad with blue eyes. I didn’t understand why so many of the girls spent time looking at pictures of Zac Efron and taking quizzes about which random celebrity boy they’d end up with. Eventually I forced myself to believe I was gay, and then when I realised I didn’t like girls either, I thought I was broken. There is more to sexual attraction than simple lust – although that plays a part too.

And another misunderstanding here is that you have to have sex, or even have had a romantic relationship, before you can decide you’re asexual. This is fundamentally untrue – firstly, this feeds the idea that all asexuals don’t have sex, and more than that, we don’t ever expect straight people to have had sex to “confirm” their sexuality, to identify as straight before they hit the age of consent.

And so, I think I was perfectly within my rights to know at 14. I had people say it wouldn’t stick – whether that be due to my age, or just because of the age-old “you haven’t met the right person yet” that comes with saying you’re asexual at almost any age – but it has.

But I think something I want to stress is that it wouldn’t have mattered if I had ended up being wrong. There is nothing wrong with using a label that you believe fits you, and then finding that it doesn’t.

Saying all of this, though, it’s important that I recognise my simple privilege in realising who I was so young, even if I get a lot of judgement around it. I talked in my recent “reintroduction to my coming out story” about discovering the term on Tumblr – and I know many examples of people who also experienced this, and I don’t doubt that this continues – and although it may be shifting to Twitter and Instagram now too in this age of infographics and carrds, it shouldn’t be the job of social media to educate.

Young people should be aware of the wide spectrum of sexuality younger. That’s not pushing an ideology on them, it’s simply informing them. When we teach sex ed, we can’t talk about LGBTQIA+ identities as if no-one in that class could be part of the community any longer, we can’t imply that it’s something out of reach.

And although it’s still not pushed enough, we do teach young people it’s okay for them not to have sex until they’re ready – but we don’t teach that it’s something they may never want.

Why Sex Education Season 2 is so important to me

After the hilarious but poignant and relevant first season of Sex Education last year, it’s no surprise that a second season was made, and after finishing it in less than 24 hours I had never felt quite so represented.

The vivid colours and Welsh landscape shots make Sex Education seem almost innocuous to start with, but this show is home to diversity and comical reality, the type that makes shame melt away with the realisation that you’re not alone. I loved the first season, and I was so excited about some new episodes. I love the characters, I love the storylines, I love the slightly weird combo of American and English school culture.

But being asexual, I always thought that I would be alone in not having representation on the show. It didn’t upset me as such – I’ve been misrepresented and/or missing from the media for as long as I remember. I didn’t even know the term existed until I was 14, when I was beginning to feel like a misfit (which I am, in several ways, but that’s not the point). I never would have had the realisation if it wasn’t for Tumblr, which seemed to be the age-old site for discovering who you were back when I was an early teenager.

But it shouldn’t have to be. Asexuality is represented more through more mainstream social media like Twitter and Instagram now, including through hashtags such as #ThisIsWhatAsexualityLooksLike, but traditional media still severely misses the mark.

So when Florence turned up in the fourth episode, I felt a sense of hope and fear all in the same moment, because what little asexual representation I’ve seen over the years has been completely inaccurate. I assumed Otis and his mum would shrug her off and just tell her she wasn’t ready, that she hasn’t met the right person yet, that she was just a late developer. Most of us have heard it all. When she spoke to Otis, I rolled my eyes a bit – I was right.

But what was more important was when she spoke to Jean. When Florence softly said she felt broken, I was immediately transported back to 2014. This was a phrase that I said over and over again until I scrolled upon that random blog post. Even more importantly, Jean explained it without probing her like a science experiment or acting like Florence was some sort of strange phenomenon. The mention that some of us still want romantic relationships nearly had me in tears. Then, I could look at Otis’ reaction and see it was on purpose to display what we typically get told.

I can’t think of many shows more current to young people that so many are actually watching than Sex Education, and if one single teenager (or adult, because the lack of representation means many don’t know of it till they are much older) discovers that they aren’t broken, that they don’t have to force themselves to feel what they don’t, then that will be enough for me. And aside from that – the education it may provide to everyone else, the potential for tolerance and knowledge, is huge. I am so grateful.

In the final episode of the season, Florence says that learning to accept herself has changed her life. I can attest how true that statement is, and I only wish that I had this show when I was still struggling to understand myself, because the realisation wasn’t the end of my journey.

This season also had some great representation of trauma and anxiety that I really appreciated, as well as a disabled character (played by a disabled actor!). There aren’t many marks that Sex Education misses, and I’m already impatiently waiting for another season.