FRIENDS WITHOUT BENEFITS
When Pragati Singh first came across the term ‘asexual’ in 2014, she instantly identified with the label. But as she scoured the internet for more information about why she didn’t feel the sexual attraction that everybody always seemed to be talking about, she began to define herself as ‘grey sexual’ instead. Once defined as a complete absence of sexual desire, asexuality is now understood as more nuanced, Professor Anthony F. Bogaert points out in his 2012 book Understanding Asexuality. Grey sexuality has come to stand for the spectrum between an average level of desire (if there is such a thing) and no desire at all, with people defining themselves as demisexual or semisexual or asexual-ish.
Singh found that there were many others like her, through online communities like AVEN
Now, Singh has launched a friend-finding service, called Platonicity, to help such folk make emotional connections. It’s currently run through Facebook, but Platonicity will soon be a mobile app. “It is a platform to find others in your area for short- or long-term friendships and community building,” says the 20-something Singh, who had until recently been using the alias ‘Grace’.
According to Dr Rajan Bhonsle, professor of sexual medicine at G.S. Medical College and KEM Hospital in Mumbai, 7 to 8 per cent of Indians are asexual. “It could be because of biological reasons, caused by a genetic or hormonal defect, or because of a conscious or unconscious suppression of sexual feelings. Or it could be for transcendental or spiritual reasons,” he says. Parents frequently bring their children to him when they refuse to marry, but he advises against treatment if their hormone tests are normal. “I see no reason for treatment unless the patient expresses a desire for it,” he says.
Two years ago, Singh found that there were many others like her through online communities such as AVEN, which she refers to as the go-to place for asexuals. India did not have a community for asexuals until she set up Indian Aces on Facebook in 2014, she says. “Messages from people in Gujarat or from Kolkata expressing their gratitude made me realise the significance of creating a group and spreading awareness.”
Conventional dating apps are next to useless for “people who are slightly off about how they want to conduct their sexual life”, she found. That’s why she asks first-time users of Platonicity about their romantic orientation as well as where they fall on the grey sexual spectrum—sex-favouring, sex-repulsed or sex-indifferent. Users are also encouraged to reveal personality disorders or physical disabilities.
Two days after she set up Platonicity, Singh received 300 entries from India and as far away as China, Zambia and Canada. And since she began hosting “offline meetups” across Delhi, Bengaluru and Mumbai over the past year, she’s discovered the community’s deep thirst for connection. “When I speak on public platforms, people come up to me saying they’ve been feeling this way all their lives,” she says. Now, they know they’re not alone.