Asexuality is a sexuality in which a person does not experience typical sexual attraction for others or an innate desire to become involved with a partner(s) sexually.10 In short, an asexual person does not have a sexual desire toward another person.10 Approximately 1% of the current US population identify as asexual, and may use the term “ace” or “aces” to describe their sexuality.11 It has likely been around for many years, but the formal definition is new and evolving.
What Is Asexuality?
Asexuality includes a lack of sexual attraction to others or a low interest in sexual activity. A person who identifies as asexual does not have sexual feelings or a desire to engage in sex with another person. However, this does not mean that they lack attraction. Despite the absence of interest in sex, aces may still feel romantically, intellectually, and/or emotionally attracted to people of one or more genders.3 Asexuality is a sexual orientation and is different from celibacy, or the conscious choice to abstain from sex.4
It is possible and completely normal for sexual orientation to change over time.9 Many people will be attracted to different identities throughout their lives; change if and who they chose to have sex with; and alter the labels they use to describe their sexual orientation.
The Asexual Spectrum
The Asexual Spectrum is broad and can encompass close to 150 different types of asexuality.3 Using the “Split Attraction Model” (SAM) outlined by GLAAD, asexuality can be split into two different groups–romantic attraction and sexual attraction.6 When combined, these two groups help illustrate who you’re attracted to and how you’re attracted to them.
People can have different levels of sexual and romantic attraction, ranging from experiencing no feelings at all (asexual and aromantic ) to experiencing feelings under certain circumstances. As a result, it is helpful to have the SAM, so others can better understand their own experiences, identify where they fit on the spectrum, and find some support within the ace community.
Under the “Sexual Orientation” side of the “Split Attraction Model,” there is Asexual, Gray-A, Demisexual, and Sexual. A person who identifies in the Gray-A area of the spectrum lies somewhere between asexual and sexual. Other terms that can be used to describe this sexuality include “graysexual,” “semi-sexual,” “sexual-ish,” and “asexual-ish.”3
A person who is demisexual does not experience sexual attraction unless they form a close emotional connection with another person. This is more commonly seen in, but not exclusive to, romantic relationships. Gray-A and demisexual are different, because demisexual is a highly specific sexual orientation. Gray-A is more unspecified, and can include anyone in between the spectrum of asexual and sexual.
Finally, a person who experiences true sexual attraction is on the “sexual” end of the orientation scale. Types of asexuality are numerous and nuanced, and are used to explain how one becomes attracted to another person.3
Common Misconceptions About Asexuality
There are various misconceptions regarding asexuality, but most are not grounded in actual evidence. Asexuality and attraction are fluid and can change over time. For example, someone may not experience feelings of sexual attraction at first, but could experience a shift later on. It’s important to know about these aspects of asexuality in order to better understand it.
Common misconceptions about asexuality include:
Asexuality Is the Same as Celibacy & Abstinence
As explained earlier, asexuality is a sexual orientation and is defined by a lack of desire or interest in sex. This is different from celibacy and abstinence. Abstinence is the conscious decision to not have penetrative sex. On the other hand, celibacy is a vow to not have sex for a certain period of time.7 With both celibacy and abstinence, people experience sexual attraction, but make the choice not to act on it.11
Asexuality Is a Mental or Medical Disorder
Until 2014, a lack of sexual desire was considered a mental disorder. However, it is now known that this is not the case.8 Asexuality is not the same as a medical issue that affects sex drive or a problem that needs to be fixed. It is normal for humans to have varying degrees of sexual desire. Furthermore, sexuality is also not a sexual dysfunction (a desire disorder, an arousal disorder, an orgasm disorder, or a pain disorder.).9
Asexual People Never Have Sex
Asexual people do have sex–the term asexuality refers to sexual orientation and attraction, not about action. Asexual people may have sex to please themselves, to please a partner, to conceive a child, to try it out, for the physical intimacy of it, among other reasons. Since we are dealing with a spectrum here, there are also some asexual individuals who will not have a sex drive or any desire for sex at all.
People Only Become Ace After Being Rejected or Abused
Asexuality is a sexual orientation and not a choice. When individuals experience abuse, rejection, or have a fear of sexual relationships, the response is not defined in the same way as asexuality. Of course, trauma can be confusing and bring up questions about sexual orientation, identity, and desire. However, by working with a therapist, the trauma can be processed and many of these questions can be worked through, and the therapist can distinguish a trauma response from a medical issue and from sexual orientation.6
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How Does Asexuality Work in Relationships?
Through open communication, asexuality can work in a relationship. Communication will help both partners explore their expectations in the relationship in an open and honest way. If one partner has a much higher sex drive than the other, it may be valuable to articulate one another’s sexual boundaries and/or discuss the possibility of an open relationship.
Other Types of Attraction
Individuals who are asexual don’t experience sexual attraction–but, this is actually only one of many types of attraction. Besides sexual attraction, there are five other categories of attraction, each of which can be further broken down and defined.4
The five other types of attraction include:
- Romantic attraction: an attraction that makes people desire romantic contact with a person or persons. The romantic orientation is part of the asexual spectrum and includes:
- Heteroromantic: a person romantically attracted to someone of the opposite sex or gender
- Homoromantic: a person romantically attracted to someone of the same sex or gender
- Biromantic: a person romantically attracted to two sexes or genders
- Panromantic: a person who is romantically attracted to others, but is not limited by the other’s sex or gender, is panromantic.
- Aromantic: a person who experiences little or no romantic attraction to others; they are often satisfied with friendships or other non-romantic relationships, is aromantic.3
- Aesthetic attraction: occurs when someone appreciates the appearance or beauty of another person without the need or desire for physical, sexual, or romantic interaction4
- Emotional attraction: the desire to get to know someone, often because of their personality or intellect4
- Sensual or physical attraction: the desire to interact with someone in a physical, non-sexual way, through hugging, touching, or cuddling4
- Platonic attraction: the desire to be in a close intimate relationship with someone in a non-romantic and non-sexual manner11
How to Know If You’re Asexual
There’s no asexual test or quiz that will help you determine if you’re asexual or not. However, it may help to ask yourself some deeper questions about sex and relationships, in order to better understand your orientation.
The following are some questions to ask yourself if you aren’t sure how you identify:
- Have you ever felt pressured to have sex as a way to “fit in”?
- Is sex important to you?
- Have you ever gone without sex for months or years?
- Do you experience sexual attraction?
- How do you show affection? Is sex a part of that?
These questions are meant to get you thinking about sexuality, and help you start evaluating your thoughts and feelings about desire. If they bring up more questions or confusion, it might be beneficial to talk to a trained and compassionate therapist.
How to Talk to Your Loved Ones About Asexuality
Deciding to talk to others about your asexuality is a personal decision, and you don’t have to tell or explain yourself to anyone. Some may prefer to keep this part of themselves private. For others, being open about their sexuality helps them live more authentically.
If you decide to open up to your loved ones, be prepared to answer loads of questions–not only about your personal identity, but also about asexuality. When or if you’re ready, try opening up to someone who you know will accept you no matter what first. Keep in mind, this is a coming-out journey, and you may benefit from the support of a trusted friend or therapist throughout the process.
Final Thoughts on Asexuality
There is a spectrum of asexuality and it can often seem confusing. It is possible for an asexual person to date, fall in love, get married, and have children. If you have continued questions about asexuality, it may be valuable to speak with an affirming therapist.