Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex (Paperback)
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An engaging exploration of what it means to be asexual in a world that’s obsessed with sexual attraction, and what the ace perspective can teach all of us about desire and identity.
What exactly is sexual attraction and what is it like to go through life not experiencing it? What does asexuality reveal about gender roles, about romance and consent, and the pressures of society? This accessible examination of asexuality shows that the issues that aces face—confusion around sexual activity, the intersection of sexuality and identity, navigating different needs in relationships—are the same conflicts that nearly all of us will experience. Through a blend of reporting, cultural criticism, and memoir, Ace addresses the misconceptions around the “A” of LGBTQIA and invites everyone to rethink pleasure and intimacy.
Journalist Angela Chen creates her path to understanding her own asexuality with the perspectives of a diverse group of asexual people. Vulnerable and honest, these stories include a woman who had blood tests done because she was convinced that “not wanting sex” was a sign of serious illness, and a man who grew up in a religious household and did everything “right,” only to realize after marriage that his experience of sexuality had never been the same as that of others. Disabled aces, aces of color, gender-nonconforming aces, and aces who both do and don’t want romantic relationships all share their experiences navigating a society in which a lack of sexual attraction is considered abnormal. Chen’s careful cultural analysis explores how societal norms limit understanding of sex and relationships and celebrates the breadth of sexuality and queerness.
About the Author
Angela Chen is a journalist and writer in New York City. Her reporting and criticism have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Atlantic, Guardian, Paris Review, Electric Literature, Catapult, and elsewhere. Chen is a member of the ace community and has spoken about asexuality at academic conferences and events including World Pride. Find her on Twitter @chengela or at angelachen.org.
“[Ace] is a [thoughtful] combination of reportage, cultural criticism and memoir, and the writing attempts the difficult balance between proof and emotion. [Most striking is] Chen’s honesty, the sentences of intimate reflection that appear in the margins of her argument throughout.”
—The New York Times
“Ace is a fantastic starting point for dismantling harmful sexual narratives and reimagining human connection as a broader, more equitable, enjoyable and free experience.”
“The book allows us to imagine how much more we could get from our relationships if we were able to free ourselves from restrictive ideas of what we’re supposed to feel and do.”
—Rhaina Cohen, NPR
“Highly informative and readable.”
“One guarantee: Your mind will be blown by this book.”
“Chen sets a thoughtful, rigorous, personally generous tone for what will hopefully be an expanding area of study.”
“This book isn’t just about asexuality and that’s what makes it such a vital read; it’s about society, and society’s rules and norms and expectations around sex, sexuality, and all forms of relationships. It’s so good and I want every person on earth to read it.”
—Sarah Nielsen, them
“Chen’s careful cultural analysis explores how societal norms limit understanding of sex and relationships and celebrates the breadth of sexuality and queerness.”
“In her penetrating yet wittily kind voice, she describes many different visions of a sexually liberated society, if we could all just pay closer attention. She both imagines and demands a world through which each individual can move on their own terms, where any expression of orientation or attraction or desire can be as simple—as accepted and acceptable and easy and profound and taken at face value and understood—as ‘You’re my person.’”
—Women’s Review of Books
"Asexual and aromantic people are often dismissed or erased from the spectrum of queerness. Angela Chen’s book is key to the fight against that erasure.... [An] accessible guide to asexuality."
“A necessary and thoughtful book that accessibly communicates a wide array of ace experiences.”
“Chen has produced a thoughtful look at what it means not to experience sexual attraction.”
“Precision of language . . . is at the fore of Ace, a text that offers a nuanced exploration of sexual identities and a celebration of other types of intimacies beyond the confines of compulsory sexuality.”
“Asexual people have always existed, but they have long gone unacknowledged. Even Alfred Kinsey, when developing his scale for sexual orientation, called asexual people Group X and excluded them from the spectrum. Journalist Chen interviewed nearly 100 asexual people—or “aces”—to fill in this historical gap and present various aspects of the asexual experience in scientific and cultural context. For example, Chen points to how the definition of hypoactive sexual desire disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the American Psychiatric Association's current compendium of psychological conditions, reinforces the idea that low sexual desire is something that needs to be cured. Although asexuality is often described as a lack of sexual attraction, Chen argues that 'we must consider that negative space can be more than an absent image.‘”
—Karen Kwon, Scientific American
“This excellent book successfully challenges many of society’s entrenched ideas around sex and desire. Reading it should be mandatory for all.”
“A great starting point for anyone who wants to discover more about this identity, for both those who have a feeling they could be ace and those who do not. It does a great job of providing context, real life examples, and points of consideration about this topic.”
“Ace is an excellent introduction to asexuality and its place on the wider spectrum of human sexuality. It is a mandatory read for anyone affected by sex and sexuality, which is, of course, everyone.”
—Feminism in India
“A long overdue addition to the catalog of sexuality writing and resources. Chen thoughtfully positions asexuality not as its own unique category or identity but as one more point on the vast, diverse spectrum of human sexual identities. A must-read for everyone: ace, allo, or anywhere in between.”
—Lux Alptraum, author of Faking It: The Lies Women Tell About Sex—and the Truths They Reveal
“Through painstaking research and her considerable skill as a storyteller, Angela Chen brings needed attention and nuance to an often overlooked spectrum of asexual experiences, encouraging readers to consider what exists and what is possible in terms of human connection, consent, understanding, and acceptance. A book that makes room for questions even as it illuminates, Ace should be viewed as a landmark work on culture and sexuality.”
—Nicole Chung, author of All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir
“Accessible and eloquently written, Ace sensitively and accurately spotlights an interconnected series of outsider experiences. Few asexual-spectrum narratives so authentically and diversely capture the truths, the quirks, the tragedies, and the triumphs of our lives without alienating non-ace readers or appealing only to one subset of the ace population. Ace creates an inclusive tapestry of validating and eye-opening narratives that will give some readers an experience they may have never had before: seeing our ‘anomalous’ perspectives and emotions given the sensitive examination and validation we’ve always been denied.”
—Julie Sondra Decker, author of The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality
“Chen’s tenacious search for the precise language to describe her experiences is deeply moving and relatable. This book will inspire you to interrogate every assumption you’ve made about yourself, your sexuality, and your relationships. Ace is a revelation. We can’t stop thinking about it.”
—Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, authors of Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close
“Ace is nothing less than a cultural feat. It’s a powerful book that interweaves reporting and research about asexuality in ways that will remain with readers long after they’ve turned the last page. Ace announces a new dawn, one in which asexual people are voicing their experiences without fear or shame. They’re here, simply living and demystifying misconceptions in the process.”
—Evette Dionne, editor in chief of Bitch Media and author of Lifting As We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box