It was there, staring at him from the screen.
Glowing with the backlight, burning into his retinas.
“JARVIS, what am I looking at?” Tony asks cautiously, scrolling down over the image on his StarkPad with his finger, and then back up to eye it suspiciously some more.
“It appears to be a Facebook page dedicated to Asexual individuals sir,” JARVIS replies dutifully. “Specifically, a post about Autochorissexuality and its definition.”
“Right,” Tony drawls out slowly, disbelief clear in his voice. “Why has it come up on my Facebook newsfeed?”
“The post was recently liked by Doctor Banner sir.”
“And is this actually a thing?” Tony asks, scrolling down again to open the comments. “I thought asexuality was just where you hate sex so much you’re repulsed by it?”
“Asexuality is actually a spectrum sir, of which sex-repulsion is only one part.”
“Huh. So what is Asexuality then? Is it the same thing as Ace? Everyone in the comments is using that word.”
“They are indeed the same thing sir; Ace is simply the abbreviated version of Asexual. As for its definition, it is widely agreed to mean lack of sexual attraction to others.”
Tony looks towards the nearest camera with a frown and stands up from his work bench to stalk over to the tatty, stained workshop couch. Throwing himself down on to it with a huff, he taps on the Facebook group’s name and opens the page.
“If I’m reading this right,” he mutters several minutes later, rubbing his oil stained fingers on the old rag thrown over the couch arm, “asexuality and sex actually have very little to do with each other.”
“You can thoroughly enjoy sex and still be asexual.”
“Individuals who experience such commonly self-label themselves as sex-positive sir.”
“And this autochorissexual thing is where there’s a- what did it say? A disconnect between oneself and a sexual target or object of arousal?”
“That is correct sir.”
“So if you, I dunno, like watching hot gay porn but find the prospect of having sex yourself kinda boring, that’s still asexualism?”
“I believe that would be defined as sex-indifferent autochoriosexuality sir.”
“What about kinks? How does that work?”
“I’m sure you’re well aware that many kinks are not inherently sexual sir. And many sex-positive asexuals still enjoy indulging theirs and their partner’s kinks in the bedroom regardless of their orientation.”
“Oh.” Tony says simply, swallowing back a lump of uncomfortable realisation.
He stares blankly at the still-open Facebook page for several long seconds.
“Jay?” he asks eventually, shuffling self-consciously, “How normal is this? Like, how common are asexuals?”
“Approximately 1% of the world’s population are believed to be asexual sir.”
“What? A whole percent?” he stutters surprised, sitting up in shock. “That’s 75,000,000 people! There’s less people living in the whole of France! Hell, it’s more than twice the population of Canada!”
“Asexuality is indeed more common than most people realise.”
“Then why the hell does no-one talk about it?” he mutters angrily, scrubbing his hand back through his greasy hair. And then, more resignedly, “Oh who am I kidding; American sexual education beyond sucks. No wonder no-one knows.”
Chucking his pad to one side, he huffs loudly again and rolls to his feet. Patting Dum-E’s arm fondly as he passes, he strides over to the workshop’s main holodeck and waves his arms upwards to bring up the two main displays.
“Experiment time Jay,” he announces with a clap of his hands. “Pull up -lets say a dozen to scale full-body photos of people. Of any age over 18, any race, colour, gender, occupation or nationality.”
The request images burst to life before him, tinted slightly blue by the light of the hologram.
“Now then JARVIS, which ones would you say are the most hot? Which are the sexiest?”
“Based upon the symmetry of the facial features, general body build and their age, from the perspective of an average white American male, I believe this two individuals would be considered most appealing.”
The two indicated photos become highlighted with white light.
“Now you see, that’s exactly my point! You had to analyse their facial features mathematically and stuff to make that decision!”
“Well I am essentially a computer programme sir. A hyper-advanced one, but coding and programming none-the less.”
“Yeah, but you reacted like an asexual would right? You don’t experience sexual attraction, so you went for a best guess answer instead. Guessed what other people would find attractive and went with that.”
“I judged them aesthetically sir, yes.”
“JARVIS,” Tony says slowly, scrubbing his hand down over his face. “That’s exactly what I’ve been doing my entire life.”
“Pepper!” Tony blurts out, stumbling into the Tower’s penthouse excitedly, “You haven’t seen Bruce have you? He’s not in his lab and I found out a thing and I think he might know more than I do so I need to find him and ask him!”
“Tony! Tony!” Pepper laughs, putting her hands on his shoulders fondly. “Slow down honey; you’re nearly unintelligible!”
“Yeah, but Bruce! I need big green!” he rambles on.
“Have you asked JARVIS?” she questions with a raised eyebrow.
“Well duh, first thing I did. He’s not in the tower.”
“So if he’s not in the Tower and Jarvis doesn’t know, how likely is it that’ll I’ll know where he is instead?”
Tony pauses and cocks his head with a sheepish grin and shrug of his shoulders.
“Yeah, good point. Sorry I just got excited.”
“So I saw,” Pepper mutters dryly. “What about? I’m not going to have to call in an engineering repair team again am I? Please say there won’t be mass dry cleaning bill again?”
“No no no,” Tony reassures hurriedly, “nothing like that. No, I worked out something about myself?”
“Oh? Another journey of self-discovery? Do tell; I’m hoping you’ll have learnt what normal sleeping hours are this time.”
“Other kind of sleeping actually,” Tony grins, ignoring Pepper’s automatic TMI-Tony grimace. “I worked out why everyone is obsessed with sex and I’m not!”
Pepper looks at him blankly.
“You?” she starts slowly, disbelief clear in her voice. “Not obsessed with sex!? You!? On what planet?”
“I may have just realised I’ve been massively over compensating for my entire life.”
“Tony,” Pepper says carefully, “I’m not sure I understand honey.”
Suddenly nervous, he swallows hard and clenches his fists, turning his head to stare down past Pepper’s vibrantly red high-heels.
“Erm. I think I’m asexual.”
“Asexual,” Pepper repeats.
“Yeah I- I-“ He pauses and sighs, “Look, I was fifteen and at college with a load of rowdy frat boys. Everyone one was totally obsessed with sex and sleeping with each other all the time, even the other mousey nerds like myself. And I could never work out what was so great about it. Why were the other guys always going on and on and on about how nice some girl’s tits were? Why were tall girls with smooth legs so interesting? Was it because I was gay? Are men with muscles and toned abs more interesting that curves and hips? No? So what was wrong with me?”
“Oh god Tony!” Pepper exclaims, realisation dawning in her eyes, her left hand rising to rest over her mouth.
“I didn’t get it,” he shrugs, “Everyone was always girls girls girls, and I just wanted to solder and weld in peace. Draw blueprints and code and not have to worry about sex and relationships and intimacy. The whole concept was just boring. And then some guy gave me some dirty mags and it was interesting, if in an abstract way. So I started trying to fit in. But I still didn’t get it, so I overcompensated.”
“And you never stopped overcompensating,” Pepper sighs sympathetically.
“I thought that’s what guys were supposed to do; sleep around and loudly proclaim how enjoyable it is. I didn’t want anyone to think I was abnormal. Well, any more than I obviously already am. And then people just seemed impressed by me, so I figured I must be doing it right.”
“Tony, you idiot,” Pepper laments affectionately, pulling him into a hug. “is this why you always make a big deal out of questions about your preferences in women?”
Tony chuckles ruefully into Pepper’s shoulder.
“Honestly, I don’t have the faintest clue what makes someone more attractive than someone else. I mean, I get the general idea of aesthetics? Like, she’s skinnier and has more delicate features than she does, so she’s probably considered better looking right? But the whole zero to ten scale thing makes no sense!”
“Let me guess,” Pepper states dryly. “You’re scale only runs from one to three.”
“Yeah actually,” Tony frowns, lifting his head and leaning back a little. “That’s a good way of explaining it. Probably not hot, I don’t know, probably hot. One two three. How’d you know that?”
“I do talk to Bruce sometimes you know love,” she smirks, “I presume you realised he’s demisexual and that’s why you were looking for him?”
“Err… What’s demisexual?”
“Right then.” Pepper smiles, “Time for me to teach you something for a change. Come on, let’s go shower and I can direct JARVIS to some resources for you.”
“A non-sexy shower right?” Tony asks cautiously. “I really would just like to bask in the hot water and get this oil off.”
“There’ll be no sexy-anything until after we’ve had a long chat about your boundaries Tones.”
“Awesome! Or should I say Ace?”
“You’re incorrigible. Into the shower with you Mr Stark!”
“Gladly, Miss Potts.”