When it comes to issues of sexuality and sexual preference, Hollywood is frequently decried for the mistakes it makes. There are numerous books and documentaries about how gay and lesbian people have been unfairly and inaccurately depicted for decades in television and film, sometimes to appease the mainstream audience and sometimes simply due to cluelessness or prejudice on behalf of the creators. But on the subject of asexuality, television may actually be doing a pretty good job. Danielle Corcione writes about this in an intriguing piece for Esquire entitled “How Television Is Leading The Asexual Revolution.” Asexual people, or “aces,” are those who do not experience sexual attraction to others, regardless of gender. There is an important distinction to be made between sexual desire and romantic feelings. Asexual does not necessarily mean aromantic, though the two can overlap.
Currently, television’s best example of an out-in-the-open asexual character is Todd, the stubbly, easygoing sidekick of the title character on Netflix’s animated BoJack Horseman. Aaron Paul, who voices the character, was quick to declare Todd “the first asexual character in television.” Corcione questions that particular assertion, citing earlier examples, but acknowledges that Todd reflects positively on the increasingly visible asexual community. The article reveals that the writers of BoJack Horseman have been careful to depict Todd in a sensitive, responsible way. The writers have resisted the urge to have the character hook up with his friend Emily (Abbi Jacobson), despite numerous opportunities to do so. Emily’s acceptance of Todd and his lack of sexual desire is also deemed a TV milestone.
More problematic, or at least more complicated, is the case of another prominent asexual character in the TV landscape: Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) of CBS’ mega-popular, long-running The Big Bang Theory. For several seasons, Sheldon appeared to experience no sexual desire whatsoever, and many fans assumed him to be asexual. The writers on Big Bang contradicted that theory, however, by having Sheldon finally sleep with his partner of many years, Amy (Mayim Bialik). Some feel that this points to a widespread belief that asexuality is somehow a problem in need of correction. But Big Bang fans need not despair over the apparent sellout. “Although Sheldon and Amy had sex, his identity doesn’t suddenly change,” Corcione writes. “Just like sexuality, asexuality is also a spectrum.”