…Because interrupting the narrative to turn it into Asexuality 101 is not always a good idea.
It may be easier to implement these ideas if you’ve also read my asexual character development question list. You can also get more ideas from reading and answering those questions.
Note: Most of these ideas will also work for gray-asexual and demisexual characters, because they tend to have a lot of experiences in common with asexuals.
Say it outright.
The only way to be 100% certain is for the character to identify themself as asexual in the story’s text. Everything else I suggest here, at most, can only hint in that direction. If you intend to actually represent asexuality in your story and not just imply it, you must state it explicitly at some point. Otherwise, you’re just doing the asexual equivalent of queerbaiting (acebaiting?), which is infuriating because asexual people have almost no fictional representation in the first place.
Your characters might use the word “asexual,” or they might say something else that means the same thing. When doing this, remember that there is a difference between being asexual and being celibate.
- "I’m asexual."
- "I’ve never been sexually attracted to anyone."
- "I do not lust after other people."
- "I’m not attracted to anyone, and never have been."
- "I don’t have any urge for carnal pleasures."
Drop hints about it in dialogue.
Think about your character’s attitude toward sex. Are they sex-repulsed, sex-indifferent or sex-enjoying? When they think about sex in general, do they find it boring, gross, annoying, creepy, amusing, weird, or just meh? Most asexual people do not enjoy sex or seek it out, but they aren’t outright afraid of it either. When you write dialogue, think about your asexual character’s opinions, feelings, and expectations about sexuality, and look for opportunities to suggest that they’re not on the same wavelength as everybody else.
- “I’m not interested in anybody.”
- “I’m not planning on getting married.”
- “Dating is overrated.”
- “I hate it when movies have sex scenes.”
- "Wait, people actually find it hard to be celibate?"
You can also subtly suggest that a character is asexual by writing them as oblivious to or disturbed by innuendo, dirty jokes, flirting, and/or conversations about sex. Some asexual people have a hard time picking up on these things, or will assume everything is platonic unless it’s explicitly spelled out as sexual. Others might be so repulsed by sex that they don’t even like hearing about it. And then again, some asexuals find the subject hilarious or interesting, and will be very explicit or detached when talking about it, to the point of making non-asexual people feel awkward.
Develop an asexual backstory, and mention it in the text.
Think about the ways that your character was affected by growing up asexual, and how their youth may have differed from other people’s. Maybe they always winced and turned away at kissing scenes in movies. Maybe they couldn’t be bothered to date anyone in high school. Maybe they tried having sex, just to see what all the fuss was about, but regretted it or were disappointed. Maybe they spent years wondering what was wrong with them because they didn’t like sex. If the character is old enough, think about how asexuality may have affected their dating life in the past. If your character knows they’re asexual, you should also think about the experiences that led them to realize it.
Adjust the way that the asexual character speaks.
If your character uses words and concepts that are rarely heard outside the asexual community, it’s a big fat sign that they identify as asexual, or are at least very familiar with asexuality. The asexual community thinks about love, attraction and relationships in a different way than mainstream culture does, and our language reflects that. I’ve compiled a nice glossary of words and concepts that your asexual character may use in conversation. You can also try dropping references to asexual culture, such as a black ring on the right middle finger, or the colors of the asexual flag. (I advise staying away from the cake jokes, though.)
Some asexual people avoid describing other people as “hot” or “sexy,” because those words may imply sexual attraction.
Show how asexuality affects the character’s romantic and/or sexual relationships (or lack thereof).
Some scenarios that asexual characters may encounter:
- They are virgins well into their 20s, or even later.
- They have sex, but find the experience underwhelming, disgusting or disturbing.
- Their relationships become strained because their partner wants sex but they don’t.
- They avoid dating entirely because the prospect of having sex with someone makes them uncomfortable.
- They feel like they have to fake being sexually attracted to someone.
- They’re afraid their partner will leave them for someone more interested in sex.
- They can’t find a partner because they don’t want to have sex.
- They do find a partner who doesn’t mind having a sexless relationship.
- They choose to have sex for different reasons than most people do, and these reasons are not related to sexual attraction.
- They want to “wait until marriage” but are secretly dreading having sex after the wedding.
- Their relationship with their romantic partner is not taken seriously by other characters because it does not involve sex.
- They form a queerplatonic relationship instead of a romantic relationships.
- Their partner agrees to become celibate, or they work out a compromise on what kinds of sexual activities they’ll do together.
- They set up an open or polyamorous relationship so their partner gets sexual satisfaction elsewhere, while still remaining happily together.
- They seek medical treatment for not being as sexually interested as they think they’re supposed to be.
- They don’t think that they need birth control or STD protection because they are celibate.
I’m undoubtedly forgetting a lot more.
Make the character’s hobbies, lifestyle, goals, and entertainment choices reflect their asexuality.
Keep in mind that asexual people are diverse, and the ideas listed below do NOT apply to all, or even to the majority of asexual people in real life. But they can be good starting points for sparking discussions about asexuality in your story, or as additions to an asexual character who is otherwise well-rounded. They can also be good ways to foreshadow that a character is asexual.
The following are just a few examples of how asexuality can affect someone’s lifestyle:
- They choose to avoid media that contains graphic depictions of sex.
- They don’t have a porn collection.
- They avoid romantic movies, or movies with sex scenes in them.
- They avoid going to bars, nightclubs, strip clubs, raves, or other places with sexually charged atmospheres.
- They tend to avoid collecting art and music that have sexual content.
- They do not try to dress up so as to appear attractive to the opposite sex.
- They don’t enjoy hanging out with non-asexual friends who talk about sex or sexual attraction a lot.
- They avoid casual sex or one night stands entirely.
- They never want to get married.
- They expect to spend their future and old age single.
- They aren’t very interested in having sex, and need a strong reason before they’ll consider it.
Make other characters curious about the asexual character’s dating life or sexual orientation.
In real life, if a person between the ages of 16 and 50 goes for years without having or seeking a sexual relationship, people often get nosy. They may ask why the asexual person isn’t married yet, wonder if something is wrong, or even spread rumors about that person.
Asexual people are not heterosexual, and often do not fit in well with a culture of heteronormativity and compulsory sexuality. Think about how your asexual character’s words, attitudes and lifestyle will be perceived by other people, and what those people are likely to say and do in response.
Use another character as a foil.
By writing another character who differs from your asexual character in behavior, attitudes or sexual priorities, you can show just how distinct the asexual character really is. Consider putting the characters in similar situations and having them react differently, or making different choices. The foil character doesn’t need to be a super-horny, oversexed, socially aggressive extrovert; in fact, it’s often more effective to write a person of average libido and sexual activity, and who is portrayed as “normal” and typical by the narrative, because this highlights just how unusual and different asexuality is.
Be careful that you do not portray the foil character’s sexuality as a negative trait, or else you may risk putting slut-shaming, misogynistic or homophobic implications into your story. They can be a villain, but unless they engage in sexual coercion, rape or other Very Bad Sex Acts then their villainy should be unrelated to their sexuality.
Don’t your make foil character a rapist. Just…don’t do it. It’s very difficult to pull this off without making the overall tone of the story to be sex-negative, and it puts asexuality at odds with sexual violence while leaving little room for consensual, healthy sex.
Read blogs and websites written by asexual people.
You can get a lot of ideas by reading about how individual people experience asexuality. (If you ARE asexual, of course, you can draw on your own experiences.) Asexual bloggers talk about unusual or interesting things that happen to them as a result of being asexual, how asexuality affects their relationships with other people, what kinds of things they want, like or dislike because of asexuality, and more. Every person’s experiences are unique, and while they may not represent all asexual people, they are real and worth considering. Think about how you can adapt some of those experiences into a fictional context. There are many asexual bloggers on Tumblr.