Sexuality exists on a continuum, and not within a dichotomy of heterosexual and homosexual. Thus, there are many different types of sexual orientation. Sexual orientation describes a person’s preferences for whom they find emotionally, romantically, and sexually attractive. One type of sexual orientation is asexuality, or the lack of sexual attraction to individuals of any gender.
For example, someone might identify as straight but have slight homosexual tendencies. Many societies are largely heteronormative, meaning that society assumes other people’s biological sex correlates with their gender identity. A common misconception made by heteronormativity is that people are attracted to member of the other sex. These expectations arise from people conjecturing their own beliefs and desires on the entire group. There are many different ways in which people can express and experience sexuality, including straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and asexual.
The asexuality flag.
What is Asexuality?
Asexuality is a sexual identity that is defined as the lack of attraction either emotionally or erotically to persons of any gender. According to the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, people who are asexual have the same emotional needs as all other people and are still able to commit to and thrive in close personal relationships. People who are asexual may still experience attraction, but may not feel the need to express their attraction sexually. Instead the attraction can take on other forms of pleasure, other than sexual arousal.1 As asexuality has gained more acceptance from society it has become a recognized sexual orientation and has become increasingly more known about.2 Asexuality can be placed within the broader continuum of sexuality, but the term itself can be categorized as containing varying degrees of sexuality. The ambiguity of the term itself and the lack of public knowledge about the topic have led to many misconceptions about asexuality. Asexuality affects 0.6% of females and 0.9% of males in the United States.3 It is difficult to determine the exact prevalence, however, because sexuality can be defined in terms of either behavior or identity. One may consider themselves to be asexual because they do not feel sexual attraction, but still engages in sexual activities.2 Sexual identity is defined by the individual, and thus it is possible that behavior can contradict the definition.
Two types of asexuality are demisexuality and grey-A. A demisexual person does not experience sexual attraction unless they form a strong emotional connection with someone.4 Grey-A sexuality has a less discrete definition. People who identify as being grey-A may experience the following:
- Very limited sexual attraction
- Sexual attraction, but a low sexual desire
- Sexual attraction and drive, but weaker versions of the two causing no desires to act upon them
- Desire to have sex, but only under limited and specific circumstances3
- Sexual fantasies, but not about themselves— perhaps with unknown characters5
Asexual people tend to have fewer sexual partners and engage in less sexual activity than non-asexual individuals. Many asexual people choose to practice celibacy.3 Asexuality refutes the assumption that the desire for sexual intimacy is a biological trait. For decades the asexual population and its allies have been fighting against this assumption by campaigning for the acceptance of more sexual orientations.
There are several misconceptions pertaining to asexuality that are important to clarify or show to be untrue.
1. Asexuality is a sexual dysfunction
Before the sexual revolution of the 1960s, some doctors and psychiatrists would incorrectly diagnose asexual people with sexual aversion disorder. However, in order to have sexual aversion disorder, a person must experience “significant distress” when involved in a sexual situation.6 Asexuals do not generally suffer from anxiety. Simply stated, they are just not that interested in sex! While an asexual person may lack attraction or desire for sex, their physiological sexual response is often not of concern.
2. Asexuality is the same as celibacy/abstinence
Celibacy, or refraining from sex, is a choice, while asexuality is a sexual orientation.3 People who choose to be celibate can still experience sexual desire for their preferred sex, but they choose to refrain from pursuing that desire. Asexuals often do not explicitly choose to refrain from sex; rather, they do not feel the desire to partake in sexual interaction.
3. Asexuality is the same as homosexuality
Although some asexual people wish to form a companionship with the same sex, asexuality and homosexuality are two separate sexual orientations. Homosexual people are romantically and sexually attracted to members of the same gender. In contrast, asexual people lack the desire to engage sexually with any sex.
4. Asexuality is the same as aromanticism
A common misconception is labeling an aromantic individual as asexual, or vice versa. A person who is aromantic experiences little to no romantic attraction towards other people.7 Aromantics tend to find themselves content with platonic relationships and friendships. Romantic attraction is different from sexual attraction. Romantic attraction relates to the emotional aspects of attraction, including interest in forming a relationship. Sexual attraction deals with physical, sexual desires towards others.7 Aromantics may experience sexual attraction. Asexuals may experience romantic attraction. Thus, it is even possible to have differing romantic and sexual attractions. For example, an individual may find enjoyment from relationships with only women, but still enjoy sexual activity with men. Similarly to asexuality, aromaticism is part of a person’s identity and not a choice.7
The aromantic flag
Although asexual people do not experience sexual desires, many still form intimate relationships with other people. People who identify as asexual may therefore separate love and sex. A demisexual person, for example, may be able to emotionally connect with others without the desires to have sex. Some asexual people prefer only to date other asexual individuals. However, it is also possible for asexual people and non-asexual people to have healthy, loving relationships.
Sexual intercourse is only one component of relationships, and therefore it is possible to form strong, intimate relationships without sex. In fact, without the distraction of sex, many asexual people find that they get to know their partners on a deeper level, dedicating more time to participating in shared interests. It is therefore possible for asexual people to be in healthy relationships with a partner. Communication in these relationships is particularly important, because asexual individuals may choose to still practice sexual behaviors. They can physiologically engage in these behaviors despite feeling no sexual attraction. However, some asexual people choose not to engage in these behaviors. People can choose to either be celibate and abstain from sex or practice sexual behavior even though they may not enjoy it. They may do this to conform to society’s own expectations or as a self-evaluation to better understand their own sexuality. Asexual people may wonder why they are different from others who do experience attraction. They may try to engage in sexual behavior in order to evaluate their own lack of attraction.5 This experimentation may result in them being able to better place themselves along the continuum of sexuality and identify themselves within the realm of asexuality.
Identifying as an Asexual Person
Asexuality has previously been absent from the conversation on sexuality due to both discrimination and lack of knowledge on the topic. Compared to other orientations, including homosexuality, most people do not understand asexuality very well. In fact, many people are unaware of its existence. It can be difficult for asexual people who are coming to terms with their sexuality to find their identity in a highly sexualized world. In order to support those who are realizing that they are asexual, it is important to be understanding of their confusion and struggles with their sexual identity. Helping them understand that there is nothing wrong with them and that sexuality can be expressed in many ways can allow them to feel more comfortable with themselves.
One who is realizing their own asexuality should understand that although they may be confused or uncertain about what they are feeling, they do not need to feel ashamed. Some people may discriminate against those they do not understand, so one who is realizing that they identify with asexuality should make use of resources, such as hotlines, to give themselves an outlet and to feel accepted. While asexuality is not as well-known as other sexual orientations, due to recent activism and the increasing acceptance of other sexualities, asexual people have been better able to educate others on their unique sexuality. Those who identify as being asexual can feel better about expressing their own sexuality. Society’s increase in knowledge about this orientation will lead to greater acceptance of this orientation as an essential part of the continuum of sexuality.
Asexuality and Mental Health
Asexuality challenges the perception that sex is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle.5 Because of society’s tendency to assume that wanting to have sex is “normal,” it has been suggested that asexuality is caused by a mental disorder. Some have postulated that asexuality is a disorder that exists together with other mental disorders, such as depression. However, there is no evidence that asexuality is either correlated with or caused by depression. The asexual population has been found to have a higher-than-average prevalence of disorders that cause difficulties during social interaction, such as Asperger’s syndrome. Depression and anxiety can be common within the asexual community, but this may be due to the stigma, discrimination, and marginalizing often directed at those within sexual minority groups. Asexuality has been suggested as being an extreme facet of hypoactive sexual desire disorder, in which individuals who have experienced sexual attraction before become unable to experience it again and therefore feel distressed. However, asexuality is a sexual orientation, not a disorder. Because many asexual people experience a lifelong lack of sexual attraction, and are not distressed by their asexuality, it is not considered to be a disorder; it is simply an alternative attitude towards sex.8
Asexuality is a sexual orientation that fits within the same continuum as heterosexuality and homosexuality. However, its unique qualities make it a separate sexual identity. Individuals who experience asexuality may still lead full lives and even have relationships. Unlike sexual disorders, asexuality does not cause distress and is simply an alternate orientation.
- “Overview”. Asexuality.org. Web. 28 February 2017
- Bogaert, Anthony F.. “Understanding Asexuality. Lanham” Rowman & Littlefield.
- Baumle, Amanda K. and Poston, Dudley L.. “Patterns of asexuality in the United States.” Demographic Research.
- Anonymous. “Gray-A / Grey-A.” AVENwiki.
- Lori A. Brotto PhD, Morag A. Yule M.A. and Boris B. Gorzalka PhD. “Asexuality: An Extreme Variant of Sexual Desire Disorder?.” The Journal of Sexual Medicine.
- DePaulo, Bella. “ASEXUALS: Who Are They and Why Are They Important?.” Living Single.
- “Aromantic”. AVENwiki. Wiki.asexuality.org. Web. 28 February 2017
- Carrigan, Mark, Kristina Gupta, and Todd G. Morrison, eds. “Asexuality and Sexual Normativity: An Anthology.” London and New York: Routledge.
Last Updated: 13 March 2017.