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Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex

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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 we can all learn about desire and identity by using an ace lens to see the world

What exactly is sexual attraction and what is it like to go through the world not experiencing it? What does asexuality reveal about consent, about compromise, about the structures of society? This exceedingly accessible guide to asexuality shows that the issues that aces face—confusion around sexual activity, the intersection of sexuality and identity, navigating different needs in relationships—are conflicts that all of us need to address as we move through the world.

Through interviews, cultural criticism, and memoir, ACE invites all readers to consider big-picture issues through the lens of asexuality, because every place that sexuality touches our world, asexuality does too.

Journalist Angela Chen uses her own journey of self-discovery as an asexual person to unpretentiously educate and vulnerably connect with readers, effortlessly weaving analysis of sexuality and societally imposed norms with interviews of ace people. Among those included are the woman who had blood tests done because she was convinced that "not wanting sex" was a sign of serious illness, and the man who grew up in an evangelical household and did everything "right," only to realize after marriage that his experience of sexuality had never been the same as that of others. Also represented are disabled aces, aces of color, non-gender-conforming aces questioning whether their asexuality is a reaction against stereotypes, and aces who don't want romantic relationships asking how our society can make room for them.

210 pages, Hardcover

First published September 15, 2020

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About the author

Angela Chen

1 book204 followers
Angela Chen is a science journalist, editor, and the author of Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex, which was named one of the Best Books of 2020 by NPR, Electric Literature, and Them.

Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Wall Street Journal, Vox Media's The Verge, and MIT Technology Review. My reporting and essays have also appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Aeon Magazine, Paris Review, Chronicle of Higher Education, Lapham's Quarterly, National Geographic, Smithsonian, and more. She is a contributing editor at Catapult Magazine and also offers private editing services.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,134 reviews
Profile Image for Gabby.
1,170 reviews25.4k followers
September 25, 2021
This book is so important to me, especially because I'm someone who identifies as asexual. It's not something I talk about super often cause I'm still figuring it out if I'm being honest, but it is books like these that mean so much to me because it helps me feel so normal and so seen. It's just so comforting to know I'm not alone in feeling this way, and I think asexuality is something a lot of people don't understand or they don't even think it's real, or they think there's something wrong with you, and I just really appreciate the discussion and research that went into this book. I especially love the discussion about how feminism plays into asexuality, it's something I never really thought of before. And as a white asexual person, I also never really considered the unique struggles that come with being asexual if you are a person of color or trans.

This is a really interesting quote about feminism and asexuality: “It seems that the message is ‘we have liberated our sexuality, therefore we must now celebrate it and have as much sex as we want,’” says Jo, an ace policy worker in Australia. “Except ‘as much sex as we want’ is always lots of sex and not no sex, because then we are oppressed, or possibly repressed, and we’re either not being our true authentic selves, or we haven’t discovered this crucial side of ourselves that is our sexuality in relation to other people, or we haven’t grown up properly or awakened yet.”

I also have never related more to this quote here: “I like it when people give me attention! I like being interesting! And these are all things that our societal narrative attaches to sex,” Selena says. For allos, sex is so natural an explanation for behavior that other reasons, such as wanting to dress creatively for its own sake and wanting to be seen just to be seen, can be hard to fathom. “I’m like ‘I want you to stare at me, but I don’t want you to fuck me, and they have nothing to do with each other,’” Selena continues. “And then allos are so funny because they just insist that those have everything to do with each other.”

Like seriously, I want to dress nice for myself and look good for myself, and sur maybe sometimes I want attention but that doesn't mean I want sex, and those can be two different things and I've never seen someone verbalize this, so I really appreciate that.

I hope to read more asexual nonfiction books in the future, and I hope to see more asexual representation in media, because as this author points out, the asexuality community is so small and unheard of to a lot of people and the more representation we get out there, the more awareness it brings and it could really help some people who might be feeling so alone and strange and not know there's a whole community of people in the world who feel the same way they do. 💜

If you are asexual or if you just want to learn more about it, I highly recommend giving this a read. It is very informative and educational and so important.
Profile Image for Bookishrealm.
1,778 reviews4,485 followers
January 31, 2021
Wow, wow, wow...I'm not even sure where to begin. I'd like to preface this review with the fact that I don't know if I identify as ace. There's still a lot of things about me that I'm trying to figure out. With that being said, if there are any ownvoices reviews of this book I would recommend listening to their voices and perspectives on the topics covered in this book. Angela Chen does state in the forward that it is not her intention to represent or speak for the experiences of everyone who identifies as ace, but to bring light to how compulsory sexuality impacts society.

To be honest I often dread writing reviews for books like this because there's so much that I want to discuss, but so much that I have to leave out for the sake of a concise review. I was initially drawn to Ace because of my own lack of knowledge regarding asexuality. As discussed by Chen, a lot of us are taught that asexuality is the equivalent of being sex repulsed and while some individuals do have that experience, it is dangerous to make the assumption and apply it to an entire group. Ace was an intense experience for me as a reader. As a reviewer most people know that I’m intrigued by any book that makes a huge impact or opens up doors for me to learn something new. However, this book was different. It literally changed the way in which I’ve been framing my entire perceptions of sex, desire, romantic/intimate relationships, the sexualizing of politics, and more. I’ve had questions about how I even view sex and relationships and this book clarified a lot of the ways in which I’ve handled past relationships and sexual encounters. Understand that this book is more than the “dumping of information” in relation to asexuality. It is a book that utilizes the history of asexuality to frame how our entire society functions.

One of the greatest takeaways of this book is the importance of language and having the right vocabulary to describe our experiences. Chen is very adamant in conveying that this does not mean that we police language, but we think about how compulsory sexuality has altered our understanding of how humans interact with each other. For example, Chen emphasizes that words like “romance” and “intimacy” are aligned with individuals who engage in some form of a sexual relationship, negating the idea that romance and intimacy can happen between friends. It negates the possibility of falling in love with friends or having an intimate encounter with people that aren’t sexual in nature. It takes away the idea that heartbreak can be a result of breaking up with a friend. Chen even digs further in making sure readers understand the difference between words like sexual attraction and sexual drive. The two terms are used interchangeably allowing people to believe that those who are on the ace spectrum can’t have the physical desire to have sex. I won’t lie and say that this wasn’t a mind blowing distinction for me. Understanding that it is possible to feel the physical need to release sexual tension without attributing this specific desire to any one person completely undid everything that I thought I understood about myself.

While I could go on and on about the amazing content within in this book, I do realize that this a review and not a paper. Some other interesting topics that Chen addresses in this book include how sex has been politicized, intersectionality as it pertains to those who identify across many marginalized groups as well as being ace (i.e. being Black and ace, being disabled and ace), the role religion plays in compulsory sex, the experiences for men who identify as ace, the relationship between the medical field and asexuality, the gold star ace, and asexuality and consent. In all of this Chen reiterates the importance of communication (this is why it’s so important to have the right vocabulary/words to be able to describe our experiences). Overall, this was such a powerful read. Chen writes in a fluid and accessible way that it’s a good entry point for those who don’t have a strong understanding of what it means to identify as asexual. Because there is a lot of information, I can easily see some individuals becoming overwhelmed. I would definitely recommend taking it slow. This is easily one of the most important books that I’ve read in my lifetime and I recommend that everyone pick it up.
Profile Image for Heather K (dentist in my spare time).
3,830 reviews5,503 followers
May 1, 2020
I'm always striving to grow as a person and expand my knowledge base, and the one area of queer spectrum that I probably need the most education in is asexuality. I've read nearly two dozen romance books with asexual characters, but I've never read a non-fiction book about asexuality until now.

As someone who is far removed from the asexual world, I was really interested to learn more about asexuality from a more nuanced perspective. And I was really impressed by how Angela Chen approached the topic. Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex is a dense, diverse, queer, feminist, and interesting book on asexuality and it's cultural, personal, and historical significance.

I had never considered some of Angela Chen's talking points before. For example, she goes into details about how feminism and asexuality intersect, and how the focus on sexual liberation and therefore the heightened emphasis on more sex and more partners somehow became linked to being more "feminist" in many people's minds.

She also going into detail about the complicated relationships between physical and mental disabilities and asexuality, and about race and age in the asexual community. There was a lot to unpack.

I enjoyed how the author wove in personal stories from multiple sources, including herself. I also liked how she explored concepts that I find personally challenging to understand, like romantic love vs platonic love when attraction isn't involved.

Though I found the story to be very interesting, I also found it to be dense and a bit clunky to get through. I read it between other books, at times unable to put it down and at other times struggling to keep my attention, which might just be a product of reading a non-fiction, more didactic type of story. However, overall, it was a very rewarding read for me, and I think it greatly furthered my understanding of the nuances of asexuality.

A great read for those who are asexual or those who just want to learn more about asexuality, I would highly recommend Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex.

*Copy provided in exchange for an honest review*

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Profile Image for Katie Colson.
603 reviews5,226 followers
March 10, 2022
This book put so many things into perspective for me. Things I didn't realize about my own ace experience. When Chen said that most asexual women go through a period of identifying as gay because they don't feel sexual attraction toward men. Only to realize later on that they don't have sexual attraction toward women either and were just never handed another option to consider. That hit me real hard. The fact that I've been searching and searching for this 'thing' everybody talks about. That I've been waiting to ✨get it✨. But when I step back, I realize allosexual people don't have to try. It just is for them and it just isn't for me. I shouldn't have had to force myself to go on dates I never cared about. Or try to have sex so many times just to be repulsed every time but hoping I was just doing it wrong or was bad at it in some way. I wish this book had existed when I was in high school and college and had been presented as something acceptable to read. This book is going to change so many people's lives. Just to feel represented in this way is a huge thing for me and I so appreciate Angela Chen and her work.

Two quotes that really got me...

"Straight people are rarely treated like they're close-minded for knowing their sexual orientation, but aces are assumed to be unsure and always on the brink of finding the person who will change everything."

"I like it when people give me attention! I like being interesting! And these are all things that our societal narrative attaches to sex, For allos, sex is so natural an explanation for behavior that other reasons, such as wanting to dress creatively for its own sake and wanting to be seen just to be seen, can be hard to fathom. I'm like 'I want you to stare at me, but I don't want you to fuck me, and they have nothing to do with each other. And then allos are so funny because they insist that they have everything to do with each other."
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,401 reviews8,127 followers
October 31, 2020
So appreciated this highly readable and thought-provoking book about asexuality. Angela Chen writes in an understandable and intelligent way about the nuanced and non-homogenous forms of asexuality, focusing on how we live in a society that glorifies sexual desire as default. I loved the many clear examples she provided of society’s over-fixation on sex and its treatment of sexual attraction as the norm. She includes a variety of ace voices that span intersections related to religion, sexual orientation, race, and more. Chen keeps this book interesting by writing about how asexuality intertwines with so many pressing societal topics, such as masculine gender roles, the rise of feminism and how being into kink or polyamory is often automatically (mis)equated with radical politics, and the importance of including ace folx in disability spaces and disabled folx in ace spaces. As someone who identifies as a relational anarchist, I loved the sections on the over-valuing of romance and amatonormativity. Here is a quote from that section:

“The ubiquity of romantic subplots, even in books that aren’t romance novels, suggest that only stories with romance can involve big emotions and that romance is automatically more interesting than almost all the other stands of human experience. What if books focused more on the emotions that are generated from friendship, ambition, family, work? What if that intensity were just as elevated?”

Overall I would highly recommend this book to those who want to learn more about asexuality. I will say that I am not asexual and I’ve been intrigued reading many five-star and highly positive reviews of this book from ace folx on Goodreads, as well as seeing a few one-star and more negative reviews of this book. So perhaps tune into that discourse too. One small yet important thing I didn’t love includes how toward the beginning of the book, there were a few times when Chen alluded to “attractive” people in society, and from my recollection those couple of times focused almost exclusively on white celebrities (and even if that had been because of something a friend or someone in real life said, that could have been pointed out). When the author mentions her romantic partner Noah, she refers to him as a straight white male who went to private school and took/takes vacations in France, yet didn’t really analyze that privilege or how it’s made him more able to act as a support system. I didn’t get the point of raising those dominant identities without critically interrogating them given how she does a nice job of doing that throughout the rest of the book. Anyway, I’ll end the review with another fabulous quote regarding amatonormativity:

“Offering legal and social benefits only to the romantically attached suggests that the mere presence of romantic feeling elevates the care and deserves special protections, even though friendship and other forms of care, which can come with less obligation, can include more love, more feely given. Therefore, the legal and social privileges of marriage should be extended to all mutually consenting adults who wish for them.”
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,855 reviews1,885 followers
February 2, 2022
I RECEIVED A DRC OF THIS BOOK FROM BEACON PRESS VIA EDELWEISS+. THANK YOU.

My Review:
This is the most eye-opening read of 2020. "The map is not the territory" is a truism I'd stopped short of applying to sexual attraction. Behavior, yes, but not attraction, that "energy {aces} have no idea what {allos} are talking about." Attraction is an energy; I'm so deep in its gravity well, see the world so completely through its lens, that I'm blankly surprised that others don't. Author Chen continues my seventh-decade growth spurt.

Aces! Allos! Things I'd sorta-kinda heard about a while ago, maybe, but had zero context for. This is fascinating.
The ace world is not an obligation. Nobody needs to identify, nobody is trapped, nobody needs to stay forever and pledge allegiance. The words are gifts. If you know which terms to search, you know how to find others who might have something to teach.

As an old queer gent, one whose queerness goes beyond being vanilla-gay, I've been in the place of ace and aro people, being judged and branded as abnormal within a community that is itself branded as abnormal by outsiders. The principal issue is, if we are made invisible, or mainstreamed as we now call it, those of us in actual danger of our lives (in intolerant countries like Dagestan and Nigeria) do not realize there is a large and thriving world where we're simply ourselves, not monstrous or dangerous or Other:
Normal is often treated as a moral judgment, when it is often simply a statistical matter. The question of what everyone else is doing is less important than the question of what works for the two people in the actual relationship. It matters that everyone’s needs are carefully considered and respected, not that everyone is doing the same thing.
–and–
“It seems that the message is ‘we have liberated our sexuality, therefore we must now celebrate it and have as much sex as we want,’” says Jo, an ace policy worker in Australia. “Except ‘as much sex as we want’ is always lots of sex and not no sex, because then we are oppressed, or possibly repressed, and we’re either not being our true authentic selves, or we haven’t discovered this crucial side of ourselves that is our sexuality in relation to other people, or we haven’t grown up properly or awakened yet.”

I wanted lots of sex most of my life; I'm old enough now that the Urge is muted, and doesn't bedevil my every thought. I have a partner whose presence in my world is a cause for joy and celebration. He's a gift. And also mixed race, three and a half decades younger than me, and just starting what I hope will be a long and happy career as a chef. I won't be there to see his full-on selfhood; I will be in his full-on selfhood because our relationship has formed each of us as we are now. I'm a whole lot nicer with him than I was without him.

We're neither ace nor aro; we're Othered by the nature of our connection. And, like Author Chen's subject, intergenerational love is not visible or, when revealed, well thought of. He's an adult, was when we met, but there lingers about an old man and a young man the disagreeable whiff of pedophilia. People I consider dear and close friends simply clam up and/or change the subject when I talk about him, have never ever one time asked how he's doing on the front lines of the plague's workers (whom do you imagine makes the delivery food you're eating?), where if he was a she they'd be solicitous and interested.

As bitter as that sounds, the pain of it is old and familiar, as it has always been this way. It's simply a fact that Author Chen presents in a slightly different light, one that shines as bright on bedrock homophobia as it does on prejudices more visible:
Picture whiteness as a neutral backdrop, a white wall. It is easier to paint a white wall light blue than it is to paint a dark green wall light blue. The dominant media is filled with images of many types of white people; white people, for the most part, have the freedom to be anything they like. People of color need to scrub away the dark green—racial stereotypes and expectations—before determining whether we are really ace.

For white read straight; and then examine y'all's consciences.

The basic argument Author Chen makes in this deeply felt, thoroughly researched book is, to me at least, one that includes me at every level:
Relationships should always be a game of mix and match, not a puzzle that you have to perfectly snap into, or a Jenga tower that will collapse as soon as you try to wiggle one block out of place. Customizability is the best part, yet most people try so hard to make their relationship stick to its premade form, a one-size-fits-all shape. Many people don’t take advantage of their own freedom.

All the fascinating stuff about people not like me aside, I read this book to hear that phrase, the simple formulation that explains me to myself. I haven't been on Earth this long not to realize when I'm being spoken to. There is nothing whatsoever in this that is any way a threat to you, your relationship, and the life you've built. Why, then, are so many of you demonizing and rejecting people who are simply doing exactly what you're doing...finding, building, living a relationship to their authentic selves and to others?

Author Chen's words are direct and simple, her subject wildly important, and her conclusions elegantly simple. I challenge you to challenge yourself in this unpleasant moment of our shared history, with viruses and unrest and human ugliness pounding our sleepy complacent senses of self, to stretch out and incorporate more ways of being into your head and your life.

Build back better isn't, or needn't be, an empty slogan.
Profile Image for Tiffany .
74 reviews71 followers
June 9, 2021
3 stars

I really didn't want to write this review. I feel like some kind of traitor to the ace community for rating this anything lower than 5 stars, since it has so many glowing reviews. And it did have a lot of merit – I love how stories of POC and disabled ace people were featured.

However. Some aspects of this book... upset me. Probably because I am a small naive child. But I felt like I wasn't the intended audience of this book. It felt geared toward allosexual allies to spread awareness of the ace community more than it felt actually written for asexual people themselves, and I think aro or romantic asexual people who want a less conventional relationship than I do would be a better fit for this book than I was.

To clear things up: I am an asexual person who experiences romantic attraction, and not only that, but I want a rom-com worthy relationship with all the cheesy romantic trappings, except sex, which I am not open to at all and of which the very concept scares me. I didn't see myself in this book at all. Far from it – this book made me question if I am actually asexual since I want an extremely romantic relationship, and it also made me question if I actually experience romantic attraction since I'm not open to sex at all. This book literally made me cry three times, and books almost never make me cry.

Now, I'll summarize exactly what I did and didn't like:

What I did like:
- As I said, stories of POC and disabled ace people are showcased, focusing on the intersection of their various identities, which was quite enlightening.

- It was mostly very well written and easy to read. My only issue with the writing is how contradictory some of it seemed, which I'll mention in the what I didn't like section.

- I read it in only like 6 days, which is amazingly fast for me.

-I think the book as a whole had extremely good intentions and all the complaints I have are all unintentional on the author's part.

What I didn't like:

-The chapter on romantic attraction seemed off. The author says toward the end of the chapter that she is by no means saying that romantic and platonic attraction is the same thing, but throughout the chapter that seems like what she's implying, and throughout the whole book, romantic attraction seems kind of erased and portrayed as secondary and less important. Personally, I think there's more of a clear boundary between romantic and platonic attraction than the author makes it seem. It made romance seem less romantic and more technical, and I am such an innocent hopeless romantic child that that bothered me.

- Every single romantic couple mentioned in the book has had sex at some point, either on a regular basis, as part of some compromise (now the very word compromise scares me because of this book), or they used to do it in the past and later decided they didn't want to. It makes it seem like a queer-platonic relationship is the only option if you don't want to ever have sex. So I guess I'm going to be single forever then if having sex at some point is necesary to be in a romantic relationship.

- It is implied toward the end of the book that if ace people are accepted in society, the label asexual will be completely unnecessary and can then be done away with. I don't think that's what the author actually meant, but at any rate, that part didn't make any sense to me and made me upset for no good reason because I am extremely attached to the label asexual

-The writing in general is pretty contradictory in some places, as the last several points somewhat illustrate.

In summary, I have no idea what to think of this book. I went into it fully expecting to love it, not have multiple mental breakdowns over it.

Would I recommend it? Hmm, actually I think I probably would, believe it or not. It has a lot of good points in it, and it probably wouldn't upset most people anywhere near as much as it upset me. Besides, most people have rated it very highly. However, another book on the topic that I personally liked better and would recommend more is The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality.
Profile Image for Henk.
796 reviews
September 14, 2022
A fascinating and serious work on a topic that very much is invisible in our modern, hypersexualised world. Very interesting and thought provoking on all the diversity in the moniker asexual
Wanting sex should not be a requirement of health or humanity.

Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex is a very thoughtful, respectful work that made me think hard about my preconceptions about human sexuality.

Allosexual - not being asexual is a concept that comes up at the front of the book, which gave me a different perspective on what most people would see as the default state of humans. Interspersed in the general observations there are personal stories and also personal discoveries made by author Angela Chen:
It sounds illogical now, and like incredible naivete, but for me, desire for love and desire for sex had always been one and the same, an unbreakable link.

Definitions at the start of the book play a large role in general, and at times this might strike a casual reader as somewhat bewildering. But examples like the one below make the concepts more clear:
A definition that emphasized sexual attraction rather than behavior could distinguish asexuality from celibacy and also make it a natural fit with the logic of other sexual orientations.
At times even a fun approach is taken:
Repeat after me: sexual attraction is not sex drive.

To use a food metaphor: a person can feel physiological hunger, which would be like sex drive, without craving a specific dish, which would be more like sexual attraction.


Statistics on this invisible phenomena in media are interesting in general: 63% of ace being women and 11% men (remainder being non-binary), due to higher societal pressure on men to be sexually active/aggressive in order to be "normal".

Chen uses a lot of lenses and perspective to zoom in on the topic in all its diversity, which I really liked and gave a feeling of sincere interest in asexuality, beyond her own perspective.
Examples include:
For him, being twenty-two and gay and not having a lot of sex is embarrassing
Intersectionality, with for instance bodily disabilities or being from a certain racial background also feature prominently.
Overall I found this an enlightening and carefully thought out book on a subject I knew little about upfront. Chen renders the diverse perspectives on asexuality in an assured and methodic way, without losing the eye for the personal. Just very good non-fiction in summary.

Quotes:
Perhaps my attitude can best be summarized by anti-racist Alexandra Brodsky, who told journalist Rebecca Traister that she hears from women who believe that “not having a super-exciting, super-positive sex life is in some ways a political failure”.

Chris took the idea that women should be free to pursue sex and turned it into the idea that women aren’t free unless they have sex - with him.

The idea that there always exists some secret sexual self to liberate only makes sense if you believe that we are all the same deep down - that everyone wants the same things, only some of us don’t know yet that we get off on being flogged.

The question of how and when sexual liberation had become not simply the centerpiece but the entire sum of liberation in general never came up.

When the desires don’t fit the labels, it is often the labels that should be adjusted or discarded, not the desires.

Loving another person should never mean forfeiting bodily autonomy.

It’s better to accept the questions without demanding answers

Compulsory sexuality is not freedom, because compulsory anything is the opposite of freedom.
Profile Image for Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé.
Author 3 books3,224 followers
June 20, 2022
I wish I had this book as a teenager - amazing discussions about the intersections of race, sexuality and desire. I would love to read another non-fiction book like this with a focus on black girlhood/womanhood and asexuality.
Profile Image for Maia.
Author 27 books1,942 followers
March 31, 2021
This is a short and engaging work of nonfiction which examines the impacts of compulsive sexuality and sexual norms. Angela Chen interviewed hundreds of people who identify within the ace spectrum, from other writers and researchers to podcasters to college students. I was particularly glad to read the chapters digging into the intersection of asexuality with disability, and the intersection of asexuality with race. The end theme of the book is simple: all of us would be more free to pursue our genuine desires if we strip away the assumptions around sex and relationships, and decide what it is we actually want, even if that doesn't looks like what society expects.
Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
1,894 reviews3,112 followers
March 14, 2021
I really think everyone should read this book, regardless of whether they identify on the asexual spectrum, from the more stereotypical sex-repulsed ace to those who are open to sex with a partner, or even occasionally experience sexual attraction and desire. There is a lot more going on here than we realize.

Ace is an incisive, nuanced work of nonfiction that explores not only the breadth of asexual experience and identity, but also complicates the way we think and talk about issues of consent, and the pressures we place on people to conform to some nebulous "normalcy" in sexual behavior and desire. It will probably cause you to take a good look at your own experience of sexuality and Chen offers language for evaluating things that often go unspoken, unnoticed. It also shows how culturally, we tend to center sex and romantic relationships to a degree that may actually be harmful to some people. Additionally, this takes an intersectional approach, highlighting how assumptions based in race or gender can make it difficult for ace people to acknowledge their identity. It's an interesting, thought-provoking book and I'm glad I picked it up.
Profile Image for Lily Herman.
543 reviews555 followers
July 11, 2020
Wow. Wow, wow, wow. What a book. I legitimately don't even know where to begin. I feel like my mind expanded to twice its size over the course of reading this.

Ace isn't simply about the asexual community; it's as much about how our we view desire, romance, sex, sexuality, and cultural "necessities" like marriage—and how we should question everything that's considered innate to our nature. This book is absolutely for those who want to learn more about asexuality and our societal norms and pressures around sex, but I'd argue that for that reason, everyone needs to read it.

I also appreciated how Chen laced intersectionality into her work, including looking at how identities like race, disability, religion, geography, class, education, and gender are inherently interwoven with sexuality and sexual orientation. Additionally, it was equally important that she pointed out at the get-go that her writing would be somewhat narrowed to more Western, educated, and middle- or high-income populations given the nature of who has access to material on asexuality as well as the time and resources to do that internal work.

This is definitely a denser and more academic read, so I recommend breaking it up a little bit. But I think it should be required reading for everybody.
Profile Image for Mara.
1,460 reviews3,541 followers
March 28, 2021
This was an incredibly illuminating exploration of asexuality, both on its own terms but also in contrast to allosexuality. I really enjoyed to exploration of how different asexual people come to understand this part of their identity, why our culture puts so much emphasis on the presence of sexual desire as a key component of partnerships, and different expressions of asexual identity. Highly recommend if you are like me and were looking for something to explain asexual experience in a clear and cogent nonfiction narrative
Profile Image for CaseyTheCanadianLesbrarian.
1,102 reviews1,321 followers
September 29, 2022
An accessible and thought-provoking book that shares ace perspectives on feminist politics, disability, race, consent, relationships, and more. I thought the mix of Chen's personal story, those of other aces she interviewed, and her more academic writing on the topics worked really well. I learned a lot and found a lot of food for thought.

The observations that hit me the hardest were those about progressive feminist attitudes to sexual practices, expectations of consent and sex in relationships, and about rape culture vs. feminist responses that rape us violence, not sex. (Likely the sections on race and disability didn't stand out as much to me because I'm white and able-bodied).

On sex and feminism:
"If having sex were merely cool, this would have bothered me little. However, sex had also become feminist, and this I cared about. Through a subtle series of twists, like in a game of telephone, sex for liberal women has become more than a way to enjoy ourselves or even prove that we are desirable. Conspicuous consumption of sex has become a way to perform feminist politics."

She emphasizes how an ace perspective asserts that "I don't want to" is always more than adequate as a reason to not have sex, especially in long term relationships. She also writes about how consent can be viewed on a spectrum rather than a simple yes or no.

Rape and sex as binaries -- with the assumption that sex is always "good" or not harmful in comparison -- is better seen as a spectrum too, she writes, given the experiences of aces with sexual encounters that fit in neither category. This discussion reminded me of another book I recently read, Girlhood by Melissa Febos, which also discusses the slippery nature of consent and the concept of "empty consent."

The short section where she discusses aro and ace representation in books was the weakest, imho, but obviously the area of LGBTQ2IA rep in books is an area I have expertise in so it's easy to criticize. I will say her dismissal of SFF as potential sites for affirming aro and ace representation really bugged me, especially as she gave no rationalization and then soon after included an interview with an SFF ace writer!!

The audiobook was fine, but I occasionally had difficulty knowing if a sentence was a direct quotation from an interviewee or Chen's own voice, so that was a bit confusing.
Profile Image for Robin.
110 reviews4 followers
October 23, 2020
So at the beginning this book made me feel defensive and I almost stopped reading when she was like "First let's define being allosexual!" and starts going on about how allos just SEE SOMEONE like AT A BAR and they want to have sex with them!!! So weird!!! In a lot of ace discourse I've seen a lot of weird assumptions made about the indiscriminate horniness of allos, when having lower sex drives, responsive sex drives, not feeling sexual attraction until you get to know someone, not wanting sex outside a loving relationship, etc. Have always been part of the normal allo continuum.. There just is a huge range of sexual variation that's normal, and I think making assumptions about what it means to be allo to prove your aceness is problematic. But, she kind of addresses the fact that the same feelings might lead one person to ID as ace and another to ID as allo and there's probably a reason each of these people gravitate towards their respective label and that gravitation means something in itself... To which I say, ok, that's fair.

I thought a lot of her analysis was really interesting, and I loved reading about all the different ace experiences from her interviews. My partner is ace but they came to that conclusion away from the internet/community, so outside random posts floating around tumblr I haven't really been exposed to a lot of ace discourse.. She brought up a lot of stuff that I hadn't thought about before in exactly that light, so I'm glad I read the book from that perspective.

But. I really hated the sections about her own life. I don't know if I just didn't really like her as a person/her voice, but I found these sections really annoying. She spends a lot of time trying to justify to the reader that she's actually ace even though she likes having sex with her boyfriend, which like.. girl, no one is trying to tell you that you're not ace? I just think it's a weird choice to include in the book, especially at such great length. Like clearly SHE feels insecure about whether she's actually ace or not and is projecting on the reader... Also, her first boyfriend wanted to be polyamorous and it made her insecure and it's obvious that she still has a chip on her shoulder about it. I think open relationships of various sorts are a pretty common way that allo/ace couples deal with sexual mismatch when they choose to stay together, but she barely discusses it outside mentioning that some of her interview subjects chose to do that. She also makes a point of letting us know that she wouldn't date another ace person because she likes to feel sexually wanted even though she's kind of meh about actually wanting the sex. Like, ok girl, you do you.

So, my accurate star rating would be:

Academic/interview sections: 4/5 Well researched, worth reading.
Memoir sections: 1/5 This girl is profoundly annoying and sounds kind of vapid.
Profile Image for Panda Incognito.
2,682 reviews50 followers
March 11, 2021
This is an important book that is well worth reading, but it is also a headache. Angela Chen has a lot of insightful points regarding the experiences of people who do not experience sexual attraction, and she argues that our society should dismantle expectations of "compulsory sexuality," since people do not need to have or want sex in order to be healthy, have positive relationships, or lead fulfilling lives. However, even though this is all great, the book becomes convoluted very quickly, as Chen tries to label and describe every possible permutation of experience that someone could have.

Even though she argues that people need the vocabulary to describe their experiences, parts of this book are an overwhelming info-dump, and she alternatively puts people in boxes and then makes the boundaries of asexuality so porous that it hardly seems like a meaningful identifier. She is also eager to clear up misconceptions about what asexual people are not, while ignoring the asexual people are are those things. For example, she keeps reinforcing that asexuality is NOT politically or socially conservative, and that even though she has never been interested in "transgressive sex," she is still an amazing feminist and progressive liberal. Very well then, but what about the asexual people who are socially and/or politically conservative?

She couldn't care less about their experiences, because they don't fit into her hyper-focused narrative. She makes fantastic points about how damaging it is when progressives push particular forms of sexuality on people by relating these orientations or acts to their political leanings, and this is all great, but she made no effort to engage with the experiences of asexual people who do not share her ideological background, personal opinions, or politics.

Chen interviewed people from a wide range of racial backgrounds, but states at the beginning of the book that she limited her pool of interviewees to middle and upper class Americans who have socially and politically liberal views. With some subjects, it can be appropriate to define clear boundaries for who you will talk to, in order to produce a work that deeply investigates the experiences of a well-defined group. However, it appears that Chen simply excluded anyone who might disagree with her, so that she could make social arguments within an echo chamber of people who already share her fundamental presuppositions and will affirm all of her views.

Even though this book provides current social information about asexuality, and insight into how people began to articulate and form communities around this concept over time, this is more of a political screed than a social history, and it is extremely preachy. Chen is utterly persuaded of everything that she says, and even though human sexuality is one of the most controversial subjects that exists, she makes extreme and dogmatic statements about every element of it that she addresses.

This got very tiresome, and the book is also overwritten and sometimes poorly organized. Chen expects us to care about all of her thoughts, experiences, and processing related to her past relationships and how she formed her asexual identity, and even though some of the details that she shared were essential to her explaining her background and making key points, the memoir elements often became self-indulgent. She also shares way too much detail about some of her interviewees, and I began to skim a lot near the end, as she relayed people's entire life histories to make basic points that did not need so much surrounding filler.

Because there are so few resources about this subject, I am glad that I read this book, and I would encourage someone who is interested in learning more about asexuality to give it a try. This book shares a lot of interesting and worthwhile information, but it is also pretentious, dogmatic, and frequently overwhelming, so even though I am glad that I had the chance to read this and glean good information and perspectives from it, I would never want to wade through it again.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,024 followers
December 13, 2020
This is more of a scholarly look that contextualizes asexuality with historical and intersectional considerations (as well as the author’s own experiences). It centralize the ace experience making the others (referred to as allos) the outsiders "for once" - and also covers the difference between medical and psychological ace "diagnosis" or labeling, and also discusses the varieties of ace alongside how romance figures into the experience, or doesn't. Highly recommended to develop an understanding of one of the identities hidden in the + of lgbtq+.
Profile Image for Quinn.
316 reviews
July 12, 2020
I don’t even know where to start with my review, but just know this- the beautiful feeling of being seen, of being validated, is precious and happens so rarely for us ace folx so this is...everything.

Hand this to all ace/aro spec folx, allo folx, and questioning friends-this explains it all far better than I ever could!
Profile Image for Silvia .
635 reviews1,370 followers
May 4, 2021
I don't often think/say that there are books that everyone should read but this is absolutely one of them, no matter how you identify
Profile Image for Jenna.
Author 1 book1,266 followers
June 6, 2021
i think everybody should read this book. full stop.

i've been interested in reading this since it came out last year, and i am so so glad i finally picked it up! this is such an excellent exploration of the ace identity and my favorite thing about it is that it isn't just one version of ace. this book looks at all kinds of aces - whether that's aroaces or aces in QPRs or trans aces, aces of color, aces who want to have sex and aces who don't, aces who want marriage and aces who wish they could have the benefits of marriage without getting married. it discusses things that i, an ace person, have never fully considered or thought about and it really made me reflect on both the norms of society as well as my own perspective of what it means to be asexual.

i loved that this book wasn't just one person's experience but rather a selection of interviews and commentary from a number of people — especially such prominent names in the ace community like yasmin and julie sondra decker, etc. not only did it make me realize just how many ace people are out there, but it also just added a depth to this book that hasn't been shown in other ace books.

for me, my favorite chapter was probably the section on aromanticism and platonic love vs romantic love. i am still (and forever will be) trying to understand my own sexuality and romantic tendencies, but i loved getting all these new perspectives. blew my mind to find out that kissing doesn't exist in all cultures and therefore some (many?) of our western sex practices are NOT UNIVERSAL! ha! i also really loved the section about marriage rights and how they should be expanded to included non-romantic partnerships because hello relateable.

i think reading books about asexuality have been so helpful to me and this is definitely one i will be buying to keep on my shelf forever because i already want to go back and read it again. i love feeling represented and i think everyone should read this not only because of the information about being ace but also because it's just well researched and damn well written.
Profile Image for Ashley.
2,552 reviews1,632 followers
November 24, 2020
Quick review (ha! possible for me?) for a book that's been holding up my review queue. This was an excellent book about what it means to be asexual, and how we think about sexuality in general. The best thing about it isn't the way it explains asexuality, or the ace identity (which is extremely varied! as is all sexuality and forms of identity) but the way that it takes that premise and then opens it further. Chen posits that by acknowledging asexuality and striving to understand it further, we also will have a better, more balanced view of the spectrum of sexual identity and desire.

Her basis for this is the idea of compulsory sexuality (which is akin to the idea of compulsory heterosexuality): The idea that the desire to have sex is a basic human impulse that everyone should have, is the norm, the standard, and everything else is by definition abnormal and thus wrong. She posits that a full range of human sexuality by definition would include people who do not want to have sex, all the way from the most sex-averse ace, to aces who sometimes engage in sex for various reasons, to people with "average" amounts of sexual desire, to someone who craves sexual activity more than the average person. Compulsory sexuality as a cultural basis for thinking about sex is inherently flawed and harmful.

The book is also sort of a mythbuster on what it means to be ace. As someone who is on the ace spectrum myself, I did get the feeling that this book was aimed not just at people like me but to all people, as a tool of awareness and education. It's equal parts diving into the variations present in the ace community (not all ace people are sex averse! not all aces are celibate! being ace is not a clinical problem that can be fixed with meds! etc.) and reframing the discussions about sexuality in general. It was a very good book. I confess I did get overwhelmed while reading it and feel like I need to read it again in order to really absorb some of it's ideas. This is also why I have taken forever to write this review!

Highly recommended for anyone, but especially people who are interested in human sexuality, and learning about asexuality from a source that is balanced and informed.

"It is cause for celebration whenever anyone is, to the best of their ability, making their own choices free from pressure—and also working to change the social and political structures that will let everyone else have that same sexual freedom, and freedom of other kinds, too.”

“The goal of ace liberation is simply the goal of true sexual and romantic freedom for everyone. A society that is welcoming to aces can never be compatible with rape culture; with misogyny, racism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia; with current hierarchies of romance and friendship; and with contractual notions of consent. It is a society that respects choice and highlights the pleasure that can be found everywhere in our lives. I believe that all this is possible.”


[4.5 stars]
Profile Image for Elizabeth (Plant Based Bride).
350 reviews2,941 followers
September 8, 2021
Ace was an incredibly informative read and a chance to dive deeper into an experience that isn’t my own. While there were bits here and there that felt like generalizing the allo community in a less than positive way, I imagine it’s difficult to exist in an allo-centric world as someone who feels they don’t belong or understand it.

I am grateful to come away with a deeper understanding of the diverse facets of the asexual experience and with several of my questions answered. Personal anecdotes were more frequent than I would have liked, and it was little repetitive at times, but I quite enjoyed the highlighting of the importance of deep friendships and other platonic relationships.

I would recommend this book as a quick read to learn more about asexuality, though of course seek out own-voices reviews for their perspective on the representation!

3.5 stars rounded up

Trigger/Content Warnings: acephobia, sexual assault, racism, transphobia

VIDEO REVIEW: https://youtu.be/Z6jPExstT1Y

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Profile Image for Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship.
1,095 reviews1,132 followers
December 5, 2021
3.5 stars

This is an interesting book that tackles a lot of topics related to asexuality in relatively few pages. There’s the question of what being asexual means: the asexual community describes it as not feeling sexual attraction in a physical way, but that doesn’t necessarily make people averse to having sex. There are several chapters on how different groups of people experience asexuality differently: men face intense social pressure to have sex and assumptions that they always want it, which is less true for women, unless like the author you’re worried about your feminist creds and feel like failure to have casual sex makes you insufficiently “liberated.” There’s a chapter on race, and how people feel differently about identifying as asexual when they tend to be stereotyped as hypersexual or not sexual at all. There’s an interesting chapter on disability, and how both the disabled and ace communities are wary of people being both, because disability activists have spent a lot of time pointing out that they’re not asexual while asexual activists have spent a lot of time pointing out that they’re not disabled. (Though, there’s a DSM entry—“hypoactive sexual desire disorder”—which is essentially asexuality, and whose criteria apparently about 10% of women would meet. Under pressure from the community, an “unless you identify as asexual” disclaimer was added, which as the author points out makes little sense.)

Also, there are topics that affect everybody viewed from an asexual perspective. Sexual consent becomes a complicated issue that can’t simply be boiled down to enthusiastic consent or nothing. There’s interesting material parsing out differences between love, romance, and sex, which our society tends to conflate—it was interesting reading this alongside Surpassing The Love Of Men (largely about romantic friendships not involving sex), as both books argue that our society is overly obsessed with sex, only validating non-familial relationships as truly meaningful if it is involved. Chen even has a term for this: “compulsory sexuality,” or the belief that everyone experiences lust unless there’s something wrong with them. But people can identify as asexual while still wanting romance, and in fact those urges aren’t always so much in lockstep for anyone as society often assumes.

I found this a very interesting and worthwhile read, raising lots of issues worthy of thought and consideration. However, it’s not a perfect book. Chen comes across as a bit of a stereotypical young person, assuming her own mundane experiences will be more interesting to others than they actually are, and seeming to worship at the alter of identity labels. (She’s also very eager to prove she’s not a prude, like “not a prude” is some kind of badge of honor.)

However, she does include an interview with a researcher expressing a different view, that the proliferation of labels, like “demisexual” (for people who only feel sexual attraction once they’re emotionally involved), can give rise to the false impression that this is an abnormal experience. “It’s a little dangerous,” says the researcher, who has found that most college students want a relationship while believing most others just want sex. “It’s buying into the hookup culture idea that everyone should feel one way, that everyone wants casual sex and if you don’t, it’s distinct enough that it’s part of your identity.” Indeed.

Chen does emphasize that people aren’t required to incorporate particular labels into their identity, and that how people experience sexuality can change over time. I suspect most people like her, who might not feel sexual attraction but are perfectly happy to have sex, would not consider this fundamental to their identity (evidently, most of the 10% of women mentioned above do not, or asexuality would be more visible than homosexuality), though in her case the label seems to bring something positive to her life. And maybe many of those 10% of women are out there feeling inadequate and would benefit from it too.

I also found myself arguing with Chen’s media criticism, though it’s not a terribly important part of the book: how is Lord Varys a positive representation of asexuality, for instance? He mutilates children, and anyway I suspect the writers just assumed all eunuchs to be necessarily asexual without putting much thought into it. Later, in making the valid point that our media overwhelmingly represents romance as the pinnacle of human existence, Chen just throws out a bunch of seemingly arbitrary, non-romance-related criteria and then says “find me a book that meets all that!”—I’m unclear why books that include sexual assault or that are sci-fi or fantasy should be excluded from consideration here. That said, while my media exposure is different from Chen’s, I absolutely agree with her general point that fiction overemphasizes romance and that asexual characters are vanishingly rare and positive portrayals even more so. I can only recall encountering two explicitly asexual characters in my reading: an unpleasant shut-in of a minor character in Eligible and the dry-as-dust narrator of Banner of the Damned, both featuring parched emotional lives. EDIT: I remembered a third, the monk from The Pillars of the Earth, who’s the most positive example in this paragraph. However, as with Varys, his asexuality seems like a cop-out of the “this character can’t have sex so let’s just say he doesn’t want it so we can move on” variety: Follett later wrote that as a non-religious 20th-century-dweller he just couldn’t get excited about a “faith vs. lust” inner struggle and so decided to short-circuit the whole thing.

Overall though, I did find the book worth a read. It could be useful for anyone interested in exploring their own feelings about sex and relationships, whether asexual, hypersexual or somewhere in between, or just for those interested in considering our society’s views on sex and romance in a new light.
Profile Image for Rhian Pritchard.
362 reviews68 followers
September 19, 2020
Finally, finally, finally, I have a book about asexuality that I could give to my parents. It covers asexuality 101, and so, so much more than that.

It is a relief to have such a thorough description and investigation of what asexuality can be. This book is brilliantly and necessarily intersectional, a breath of fresh air. It covers feminism, racism, ableism, and how all of these things and more intersect with compulsory sexuality. In fact I think I could give it to many of my allo allies, despite its density, and I think that not only would they find it absolutely fucking fascinating and eye opening, I think it would enrich their understanding of themselves and the way that sexuality interacts with culture and society from an entirely new perspective.

I tend to consider myself fairly connected to and well-versed in ace discourse. However, this book gave words and definitions to concepts that I have never been able to fully tease out or understand, let alone voice. A few years ago, I tried writing a novel that was based in a failed utopia - ironically, I couldn’t address the theme properly because to destroy a utopia you have to built it clearly enough to find its flaws, and I couldn’t imagine how to make a society that I would want to live in, let alone collapse it. It is only with this book that some of those tangled issues have been pulled out and laid flat, and the stage of beginning to think about possible solutions can begin. Possible futures.

This is such an incredibly thoughtful and lovely and optimistic book. It has opened my eyes to the many, many possibly ways to be ace, and to be happy, that I hope will one day be mainstream knowledge.
Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,563 reviews1,933 followers
January 11, 2023
Everybody said this was great and everybody was correct. Often looking at ways to improve life for a marginalized group actually shows you ways that everyone can benefit and Ace is a great example of seeing that in action. While Chen focuses on the specific issues that impact asexual people, she's also smart to look at how much bigger these issues are. Made me think a lot about romantic and platonic relationships. Glad I read it.
Profile Image for fer.
455 reviews82 followers
July 29, 2021
Uma leitura incrivel que vai ficar comigo por muito tempo. TODO MUNDO deveria ler esse livro!! Mesmo se tu nao tem curiosidade sobre assexualidade, mesmo se é um assunto que nunca nem passou pela sua cabeça. O livro fala muito sobre como a sociedade ve o sexo, a sexualidade e os relacionamento amorosos. Fala de feminismo, racismo, transfobia, capacitismo E MUITO MAIS!!! Uma das minhas melhores leituras do ano ctz
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