In 2017, Samar became friends with a boy in Damascus University and grew infatuated with him while they were studying architecture, as their relationship deepened, she decided to tell him that she felt quite ambiguous about sexual relations.
She told him: "I feel an aversion towards the physical aspects of relationships and I like being a virgin but I can’t explain why,“ to which he replied: “You probably suffer from frigidity and you need to visit a doctor and have yourself checked."
The young man continued to assure her that sex was easy and enjoyable and not as disgusting as she imagined, but she was strict and decided to stay away from him because he felt that love that does not translate into sex is impossible for him.
Samar, who could not explain her condition to her boyfriend decided to figure out her condition herself but she wasn’t even sure what to type into the search engine.
She wrote down her feelings. She started with sexual abstinence, but the answers were unsatisfactory. She wrote "asceticism and celibacy," but she was not religious, so she learned that her situation was completely different from asceticism. Samar didn’t give up and decided to conduct her research in English which is how she discovered the term “asexuality” and hundreds of articles on the subject which she felt described her state.
When she looked up the term in Arabic she discovered a Facebook page of the same tem, which included a group of non Arabs. She joined them immediately and ran to her mother, to tell her: ”I finally found where I belong! I am an asexual and we make up 1% of the world.“ to which her mother responded “You are all sick”, this silenced Samar who stopped speaking to anyone about her sexuality.
In 1896, the term “asexuality" was introduced by German sexologist & physician Magnus Hirschfeld in his book “Sappho and Socrates.” In 2001, a young American, David Jay created the first AVEN website for asexuals who he defines as people who do not experience sexual attraction.
According to research published by Canadian psychologist Anthony Bogaert in 2006, asexuals represent 1% of the world's population, with a population of about 7.6 billion people, there are roughly 76 million asexuals today.
Some may think asexuals have certain belief systems that force them not to have sex but the reality is that is an actual orientation that people are born with.
Samar remembers when she began to display signs of asexuality in 2009, she reached puberty when she was 13 years old and her body was becoming increasingly womanly especially since her body is quite full, her friends’ conversations turned to boys, which did not excite her in the least and she could not figure out why.
Samar did not feel a genuine desire for the opposite sex, despite her constant attempts. At first, she thought she was sick and needed to visit a doctor. She told her mother who teased her saying “you’re a little girl and that all this will come with time.”
Seven years later, the parents' interventions began and pressure increased for her to marry despite her constant refusal.
"My mother spoke to my relatives to convince me” But all this did not change her feelings of revulsion towards marriage and sex.
After realizing that she was asexual she confronted her parents, especially her father with her orientation and her inability to have sexual relations and that traditional marriages would not work. "Anyone who wants to marry wants to have a family and have children. I will not be able to do so except against my will because I am asexual and I confirmed after consulting my doctor”
Today, Samar is 22 years old. She graduated from the Faculty of Architecture and is now with a person who accepts her sexual orientation. They want to get married and adopt children and inform the public about asexuality through translating and writing works on the subject, since there is very little in Arabic on the subject.
Some may think asexuals have certain belief systems that force them not to have sex but the reality is that is an actual orientation that people are born with. Sexual impotence and sexual dysfunction should not be confused with asexuality.
Romantic asexuality is being able to be attracted to someone emotionally and wanting to be near them but having no desire for sexual contact or a sexual relationship. Graysexuality is when a person feels sexual desire rarely and only in certain circumstances.
Asexuals are of two types: those who experience sexual desire but not sexual attraction reverting to porn and masturbation and those that do not experience sexual desire or attraction in any way.
What is the Arabic speaking asexual community like?
In late April 2017, Algerian Nabil Allal discovered that he was asexual after a long and debilitating internal conflict. He quickly realized that there are no articles or definitions in Arabic on the Internet on the subject he decided to create a page for Arab asexuals and to speak out on their behalf.
At the same time, young Iraqi Alaa Yassine was trying to communicate with Arab asexuals after she found herself identifying with the orientation after reading an article about it in English and decided to create an Asexual society in order to unite and also unify their demands, so she started a group on Facebook.
Through this she met Nabil Allal, and the two decided to form a team to speak for Arab asexuals including doctors, researchers and activists.
Nabil Allal says that the beginning was difficult because of the lack of resources on Asexuality and they had to prove asexuality was a normal orientation so they began to communicate with other asexuals worldwide and doctors from Arab countries to answer many of the questions they received on the page.
The general surgery specialist at the Benghazi Medical Center, Sondos Fathi says that asexuality is a normal sexual orientation and is not the result of a hormonal or psychological imbalance.
She adds that sexual impotence and sexual dysfunction should not be confused with asexuality as it is neither a psychological nor pathological disease because asexuality does not lead to psychological disorders and many asexuals are very happy and proud of their identity despite societal pressure.
"The Arab community is full of myths about sex, absolute sanctification of marriage, procreation and non-acceptance of sexual minorities, for religious or social reasons," says Alaa Yassin
She stressed that the lack of awareness about asexuality has very serious consequences for asexuals because they grew up believing they are sexually impaired and so they go to seek treatment or attempt to get married thinking that marriage will change them which causes problems between couples whose sexuality is incompatible.
Nabil Allal says that the most serious problem for asexuals in Arab society is forced marriage. Many asexual girls are forced to marry and even asexual men are forced to explain their sexual orientation in society in general in the Arab world sexual virility is considered an integral component of masculinity, so asexuals in our society find themselves accused of abnormality and impotence being “unmanly”.
Alaa Yasin says that there are several categories of asexuality, including graysexuality romantic asexuality and non romantic asexuality.
Graysexuality, according to Sondos Fathi, is when a person feels sexual desire rarely and only in certain circumstances. It differs from demisexuality, a demisexual person does not feel sexual attraction until after forming an emotional bond with another person.
Romantic asexuality is being able to be attracted to someone emotionally and wanting to be near them but having no desire for sexual contact or a sexual relationship.
As for non romantic asexuals they do not seek love or desire.
Fathi explains that asexuals are of two types: those who experience sexual desire but not sexual attraction reverting to porn and masturbation and those that do not experience sexual desire or attraction in any way.
Nour Issa dreams of building an orphanage
Noor Issa, a 26-year-old photojournalist who lives in Mosul, describes himself as a greysexual who does not want children.
He discovered his orientation in September 2018, when he joined the Arab asexuals group on Facebook. He describes that moment as one of the happiest of his life because he had finally found a community of similar people.
Before discovering what his orientation was, Issa was writing articles on the importance of celibacy and non-reproduction, he had adopted those thoughts because he did not like sex and did not know why. He says: "Even if I had not discovered my orientation I was planning to stay single my whole life.
Although his family and friends accept his condition, he sometimes faces some bullying. Some of them accuse him of not being a real asexual but that he adopts this philosophy because of being influenced by books. However, Issa has reached a point where he does not care about the opinion of others.
Although he does not believe in reproduction, Issa does love children in addition to his ongoing efforts to establish an organization for the rights of asexuals in the Arab world.
Nabil Allal told Raseef22 that they are now able to form a team. Every person plays a specific practical role in the team whether searching for scientific resources, coordinating and participating in organizing new events and following up on the international community of asexuals, as well as trying to help those trying to figure out whether they are asexual or not.
He says there is a blatant disregard for asexuals in Arabic speaking media though there is coverage of other sexual minorities.
Allal emphasizes that over time, the community of Arab asexuals has become more and more courageous in confronting myths about asexuality as well being more open about their orientation.
The community is slowly taking steps out of the virtual realm, starting with the first Arabic book about asexuality written by Alal and Yassin, in which they write about the reality of being asexual and its problems.
The story of Abdul Rahman
20 year old Abdel Rahman is a romantic asexual living in Damascus. He discovered he was different in sixth grade, he told Raseef22 “in school the students would talk about sex and I thought it was unpleasant and it disgusted me”.
Two years ago, Abdul Rahman discovered the Facebook page and began to discover more about his orientation with the aid of his peers.
Being asexual is not surprising to him since he figured it out from a young age but sometimes he feels sad because he feels he will be lonely forever since he will never find an ideal partner since the choices for asexuals are quite limited.
Due to his sexual orientation, Abdul Rahman has become a burden on his friends. Everyone avoids him considering him eccentric, so he prefers to remain alone and does not discuss his orientation with anyone.
Abdul Rahman feels guilty towards his family, because he can not tell them the truth about his orientation and they are waiting for him to get married and have children at the nearest opportunity.
“It is really painful to know that someone is waiting for you to do something but then you surprise them with the fact that you will never have sex your entire life”
Abdel Rahman does not know how he will tell his family about his orientation so far, but he hopes to find a romantic asexual girl, marry and adopt children, so that he can make both his family and himself happy.
Alaa Yassine and Nabil Allal aspire to publish an expanded edition of the book that they have written, and to work on raising awareness by holding seminars and producing videos about asexuality.
The Arab asexuals team seeks to establish an organization for Arab asexuals as well as lobby for laws to protect asexuals from discrimination, forced marriage and marital rape, in addition to spreading awareness of asexuality in Arab societies through the launch of educational activities and events.