CNN Photos

Asexuals tell their stories

Photographer Laia Abril had long been shooting projects about gender and sexuality when she stumbled into a concept she'd never before heard of: asexuality – people who feel no sexual attraction to others.

"Nobody knows about asexuality," said Abril, who is based in Barcelona, Spain. "I've been researching a lot; I had never heard of them before."

Her own skepticism and lack of knowledge intrigued her, she said.

"Is this real? Are these people fine? Is there any problem?" she remembers thinking. "I like to face these prejudices."

The 28-year-old began to look online for asexual people who would be willing to appear in photographs. She e-mailed "hundreds and hundreds" of people, she said, and found 11 willing to tell their stories and sit before her camera.

They ranged in age from 19 to 82. They lived in the United Kingdom, Italy, France, China and elsewhere. They identified themselves as aromantics, gray-romantics, heteroromantics and other terms tied to where they saw themselves on the spectrum of asexuality.

Some had married because they were expected to, not because they wanted to. Some identified as asexual and still sought romance, even hoping to find long-term partners and raise children. Some longed for a boyfriend or girlfriend, while others had mostly given up on the idea.

But did they ever want a sexual relationship? Never, they told Abril.

"When they are romantic and they want to have a romantic partner, they have problems," Abril said. "It's not easy to find a romantic partner who doesn't want to have sex with you."

Another complication: Unless they spoke explicitly about it, Abril said, most people would never know they were asexual. Some asexual people she photographed considered themselves to be shy but maintained a few close relationships. Others had busy social lives with wide circles of friends.

"The lack of sexuality was hard to show in that way. They look ‘normal,’ they act ‘normal,’ " she said.

To tell their stories, Abril interviewed each person, shot portraits and worked with a team to create an online multimedia project about their perspectives. It gave the subjects an opportunity to explain their experiences and reveal how they see themselves, she said.

"Some were very lucky and they found out about asexuality very early in their lives. Knowing that asexuality is a real thing, it's a relief," Abril said. "Most of the people, they pass years and years without knowing what was going on. They thought, 'Maybe I'm gay?'… Some people thought, 'There's something wrong with me.' They always feel broke."

For those who've found an identity and community in asexuality, the struggle isn't acceptance, Abril said. It's visibility and awareness.

"The biggest problem is that people don't know what (asexuality) means," Abril said. Mainstream society doesn't "have strong prejudices; they just think it's a lie or not possible."

Just by revealing the way asexual people see themselves, Abril said she's helping to change the world for those struggling to understand their own sexuality – or lack of it.

"For a photographer, it's very exciting," she said. "Once you have visibility, you can start talking about prejudices.

"They will struggle, as we all struggle, as our lives change. But they won't spend years thinking they were broke. There will be people who will help them to accept themselves. They will feel less lonely."

- Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN