Aphantasia, Asexuality and Assumptions

I recently appeared on the Solidly Mediocre podcast with Quinn Rose, talking about UK education, aphantasia, and asexuality. https://solidlymediocre.simplecast.fm/
I also wanted to elaborate on some of the points I don’t think I phrased as well as possible, so this post will explain in more depth my thoughts on these topics.

Growing up, it is natural to assume that everyone is like you; that everyone thinks and feels like you do. This fundamental assumption is strong enough to make you overlook inconsistencies which are glaringly obvious in hindsight.

I first came across this when I read about, and realised I have, Aphantasia.
Aphantasia is the inability to form mental images or visualise, the lacking of a ‘mind’s eye’. I cannot call to mind the image of my mother’s face or beach scene, whereas I can hear Ode to Joy without it being played. This can be confusing to some people, ‘How can you recognise people?’ and ‘How do you dream?’ being common responses. But imagine how confusing it was for me to learn that some people actually count sheep they see in their mind, or actually see themselves in their ‘happy place’.
In hindsight, of course, it seems obvious that people can do these things, but it isn’t obvious at the time. You assume that people are like you; I can’t see mental images so you can’t see mental images either. Your brain passes over or rationalises things which conflict with that. It is like how your brain fills in the gaps of what you’re seeing, and (like optical illusions) your brain can get it wrong.

This experience then repeated itself when I learnt about Asexuality, which I have come to realise is my sexual orientation.
Asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction to other people. To reiterate, I have never felt sexual attraction towards someone.
It is important here to stress the different types of attraction. There is:

  • Sexual attraction: the feeling of desire for sexual contact with another person
  • Romantic attraction: the desire for the emotional intimacy with someone that comes with a romantic relationship
  • Aesthetic attraction: an appreciation for the beauty or appearance of another person
  • Sensual attraction: the desire for tactile, yet non-sexual, contact with someone
  • Emotional attraction: the desire to get to know someone, linked to personality not physicality.

Personally, I only lack the former. I am hetero-romantic, so I do experience romantic attraction. (This can be a sticking point as we rarely distinguish between Sexual and Romantic attractions.)
It is also important to note the differences between sexual attraction, sexual desire, and sex drive (my personal definitions, people’s individual understanding of these terms will obviously vary greatly):

  • Sexual attraction is ‘emotional’, it isn’t a response to rational thought, and is directed towards person (either in your personal life or a celebrity etc)
  • Sexual desire is the ‘rational’ desire to fulfil that attraction. For instance, someone who is celibate may feel attraction towards someone but not the desire to realise that attraction
  • Sex drive/Libido is the ‘physical’ desire to satisfy sexual urges, not directed at other people.

There are also other related sexual orientations like Grey-asexuality, only feeling sexual attraction rarely, and Demisexuality, only feeling sexual attraction to those you have formed strong emotional relationships with.
I have linked at the end to a website which deals with some misconceptions about asexuality in case you are interested.

As with aphantasia, the reason this is so difficult to talk clearly about is because we only have our own perspectives. I can’t feel the feelings you feel to determine whether they are the same feelings I feel or if they are feelings I don’t feel. It is only though a long period of introspection and... extrospection... that I came to realise that I lack the feelings I hear others talking about. Only now does it seem obvious, just like with aphantasia.

These are just two examples I strongly relate to of how wildly our perspectives and lives can vary without even realising, and I think it stresses the important message of not making assumptions that others are the same as you.

I would also like to thank Quinn for welcoming me onto her show, and anyone for taking the time to read/listen to what I have to say.

Nathan Day.