Asexuality refers to a sexual orientation that can be characterized by a lack of sexual attraction to others or little to no interest in sexual activity. The definition varies from person to person based on how they approach sexual intimacy.
What Is Asexuality?
Asexuality is a type of sexual orientation, similar to homosexuality, heterosexuality, and bisexuality, which allows people to experience a lack of sexual interest or completely no sexual attraction, rather than simply a lack of sexual experience. Sexual attraction refers to finding someone sexually attractive and having the desire to be involved in sexual intimacy with them. A 2010 research paper 1 suggests that asexuality is best conceptualized as a lack of sexual attraction. “The definition of asexuality focuses on sexual attraction, sexual behavior, and lack of sexual orientation or sexual excitation”, the study added. Some people describe it as a sexual orientation while others may define it as an absence of sexual orientation. People who experience little to no sexual attraction are called ‘Asexual’ or ‘Ace’. Asexuality is considered to be an umbrella term that exists on several significant spectrums, including:
- Graysexual or gray romantic
Research 2 says that asexual people are usually identified as cisgender, transgender, and non-binary by others. Thus, every asexual person experiences their asexuality differently including their desire for relationships, arousal, and attraction. Some asexual people can have little interest to be involved in sexual activities as they may feel sexual attraction. However, they have the same emotional needs as non-asexual people and desire to build emotionally intimate relationships with others. A 2010 study 3 found that asexual people often get attracted to the same sex or other sexes while they may experience certain things differently such as:
- Experiencing arousal
- Falling in love
- Having orgasms
- Getting married
- Having children
A 2007 research paper 4 claims that asexual people significantly have less desire for sex with a partner, lower sexual arousal, and lower sexual excitation but don’t differ consistently from non-asexuals in their sexual inhibition scores or their desire to masturbate. Research 5 says that approximately 1% of United States residents are reported to be asexual.
The concept of asexuality is not similar to abstaining from sex for philosophical or religious reasons. In such instances, sexual desire may occur but not be acted upon. According to a recent 2020 study 6 , it is not uncommon for asexual people to feel romantic attraction without the desire to act on those attractions sexually. Though the unrelated romantic and sexual attraction is not limited to asexual people. Asexuals often experience other forms of attractions that are not of sexual nature, such as:
- Aesthetic attraction that refers to being attracted to someone based on their physical appearance.
- Romantic attraction that refers to the desire for a romantic relationship with someone.
- Emotional attraction that refers to the desire for an emotional connection with someone.
- Sensual attraction that refers to the desire to touch, hold or cuddle someone.
- Platonic attraction that refers to the desire of being friends with someone.
Similar to homosexuality or bisexuality, this sexual orientation involves no underlying cause. It is not associated with genetics or the impact of any kind of trauma or psychological issue. A 2007 research paper suggests that asexuality raises questions concerning the role of “personal distress” in defining sexual desire problems. This study explains that there are certain important predictors of this kind of sexual orientation in both men and women including:
- Socioeconomic status
- Race or ethnicity
- Menarche age
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Signs Someone Is Asexual
Asexuality is a sexual orientation in which people have a lack of sexual interest. But many asexual people experience a little sexual desire or attraction with some other characteristics. An individual’s asexuality is not something that one can observe immediately due to the lack of understanding of the concept. Here are some of the characteristics that can help you to identify if you or someone else is asexual or not:
- Experiencing little to no desire to involve in sexual intimacy with someone, including their own romantic partner
- Involving in sexual activity without enjoying it
- Involving in sexual intimacy without initiating it
- Despite finding someone conventionally attractive, they don’t experience any kind of sexual attraction
- Having a difficult time in identifying other’s sexual orientations
- Experiencing little to no desire in any romantic relationship
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Asexuality Vs. Celibacy And Abstinence
The concept of asexuality is different from celibacy and abstinence. Celibacy refers to the state of abstaining from marriage or sexual relationships, while abstinence refers to the state when one isn’t involved in any sexual activity. A celibate or abstinent person takes the conscious decision not to participate in sexual activity despite experiencing sexual attraction. Meanwhile, asexual people have a specific sexual orientation in which they experience a lack of sexual interest. A 2017 research paper 7 suggests that it is not associated with a sexual aversion disorder or a hypoactive sexual desire disorder. Certain medical conditions can cause anxiety towards sexual contact as social pressure may make asexual people conscious and anxious about their sexual orientation.
Is Asexuality A Choice?
Research says, “Unlike celibacy, which is a choice, asexuality is a type of sexual orientation without any kind of sexual desire.” Two primary philosophies work regarding this concept.
- The first philosophy 8 describes asexuality as any other sexual orientation such as heterosexuality or homosexuality. A 2008 research paper 3 claims that the community of LGBTQ+ considers asexuality as their own sexual orientation.
- The second philosophy 9 defines asexual people as psychologically abnormal due to their little to no interest in any sexual intimacy. This philosophy compares asexuality with other sexual disorders like low libido levels or hypoactive sexual desire disorder.
This concept requires more research to explain what causes an individual to have a sexual orientation. However, it is extremely important to respect every person’s sexual identity.
Spectrums Of Asexuality
Asexuality is considered to be a combination of different spectrums. Most of the asexual spectrums include two orientations such as sexual and romantic. The asexual spectrums include:
Aromantic is considered to be a romantic asexual orientation. Though most people interconnect aromantic and sexual orientation, these two spectrums are not similar to each other. Research suggests that people who experience little to no romantic attraction toward others are known as aromantic. Aromantic people mostly prefer close friendships or non-romantic relationships with others.
Demisexuality refers to sexual attraction only to someone a person is emotionally connected with. After establishing a strong and emotional connection with someone, demisexual people often experience sexual or romantic attraction. A 2015 research 10 explains, “Romantic attraction may also directly affect the longitudinal stability of reporting sexual attraction for demisexuals.”
Graysexuality is quite similar to the concept of demisexuality. Graysexual people are mostly addressed as gray romantics. Studies 11 have shown certain sexual and asexual characteristics of graysexual people such as:
- Experiencing romantic attractions sometimes
- Experiencing sexual attractions sometimes
- Experiencing sexual attractions but having a very low sex drive
- Desiring and enjoying romantic or sexual relationships but only in particular circumstances
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A study has defined queerplatonic relationships as a type of non-romantic committed relationship. Here, asexual people form an intense and emotional connection with someone which is beyond the subjective cultural norms of acceptable levels of intimacy and/or behaviors between friends.
How It Works In A Relationship
Asexual people can experience romantic attraction toward others and can have romantic relationships. In certain major instances, a person’s asexuality can affect their relationships, while it may not be a serious factor for others. When it comes to sexual orientation, it is extremely important for asexual people to discuss their boundaries with their partners. One needs to respect their asexual partner’s preferences or boundaries around sex. Everyone has the right to feel safe and be healthy within their relationship without any kind of physical and emotional coercion. Many asexual people may feel comfortable with some physical or even sexual intimacy while others may not. Communication is the only key to avoid any kind of conflict regarding this.
Myths And Misconceptions
Some common myths and misconceptions regarding asexuality include:
1. Asexuality is similar to celibacy
Asexuality is extremely different from the concept of celibacy. Celibate people choose to abstain from sexual activity not necessarily because they are not attracted to others. Some people choose to be celibate due to religious and personal beliefs. Asexuality is not a choice rather a sexual orientation.
2. Asexuals don’t experience romantic feelings
Many asexuals feel romantic attractions toward others and maintain short or long-term romantic relationships. However, they don’t experience any sexual attraction and an aversion to sex or depictions of sex.
3. Asexual people don’t engage in sexual activity
Some asexual people do involve in sexual activities to please their romantic partner or to have children.
4. People become asexual after being rejected sexually
Asexuality is not a matter of choice that allows people to choose to be asexual. It is considered to be an emotionally harmful and persistent myth. After involving in one or two sexual intimacy or activity, some people identify themselves as asexual, while others may realize it from an early age.
5. Asexual people are psychologically abnormal
Asexuality is not related to any type of psychological disorder and people don’t become asexual after being sexually abused. A person’s history cannot exclusively determine his/her sexual orientation. Such factors may shape some parts of an individual’s identity but not their entire sexual orientation.
Helping Your Loved Ones Understand Asexuality
Asexuality is a type of sexual orientation similar to homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual. Asexual people experience little to no interest in involving with any sexual activity. They may feel romantic attraction without any desire to act on those feelings. It is extremely important for asexual people to come out to their loved ones and explain their unique sexual orientation in a detailed way. It is completely upon the person to decide who they want to come out to.
Similarly, people including a non-asexual romantic partner should not force an asexual person to disclose their identity and sexual orientation. If someone prefers to keep their asexuality private, others should honor that decision. A non-judgemental conversation can be extremely helpful to understand how one would respond if a loved one asked them about their orientation. Moreover, talking to a therapist may also be beneficial.
Asexuality At A Glance
- Asexuality is a type of sexual orientation where people experience a lack of sexual interest or little to no sexual attraction.
- In the United States, 1% of residents are reported to be asexual.
- An asexual person can experience romantic attraction toward others without any sexual desire to act on those feelings.
- The asexual spectrum includes several significant orientations such as aromantic, demisexual, graysexual, and queerplatonic.
- Asexuality is not a matter of choice and is not associated with any kind of psychological disorder.
- The concept of asexuality is different from celibacy and abstinence.
- Brotto, L. A., Knudson, G., Inskip, J., Rhodes, K., & Erskine, Y. (2010). Asexuality: a mixed-methods approach. Archives of sexual behavior, 39(3), 599–618. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-008-9434-x [↩]
- Rothblum, E. D., Krueger, E. A., Kittle, K. R., & Meyer, I. H. (2020). Asexual and Non-Asexual Respondents from a U.S. Population-Based Study of Sexual Minorities. Archives of sexual behavior, 49(2), 757–767. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-019-01485-0 [↩]
- Scherrer K. S. (2008). Coming to an Asexual Identity: Negotiating Identity, Negotiating Desire. Sexualities, 11(5), 621–641. https://doi.org/10.1177/1363460708094269 [↩][↩]
- Prause, N., & Graham, C. A. (2007). Asexuality: classification and characterization. Archives of sexual behavior, 36(3), 341–356. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-006-9142-3 [↩]
- Bogaert A. F. (2004). Asexuality: prevalence and associated factors in a national probability sample. Journal of sex research, 41(3), 279–287. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224490409552235 [↩]
- Antonsen, A. N., Zdaniuk, B., Yule, M., & Brotto, L. A. (2020). Ace and Aro: Understanding Differences in Romantic Attractions Among Persons Identifying as Asexual. Archives of sexual behavior, 49(5), 1615–1630. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-019-01600-1 [↩]
- Brotto, L. A., & Yule, M. (2017). Asexuality: Sexual Orientation, Paraphilia, Sexual Dysfunction, or None of the Above?. Archives of sexual behavior, 46(3), 619–627. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-016-0802-7 [↩]
- Swami, V., Laughton, R., Grover, S., & Furnham, A. (2019). Asexuality is inversely associated with positive body image in British adults. Heliyon, 5(9), e02452. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2019.e02452 [↩]
- Brotto, L. A., Yule, M. A., & Gorzalka, B. B. (2015). Asexuality: an extreme variant of sexual desire disorder?. The journal of sexual medicine, 12(3), 646–660. https://doi.org/10.1111/jsm.12806 [↩]
- Cranney S. (2016). The Temporal Stability of Lack of Sexual Attraction Across Young Adulthood. Archives of sexual behavior, 45(3), 743–749. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-015-0583-4 [↩]
- Brown, N. B., Peragine, D., VanderLaan, D. P., Kingstone, A., & Brotto, L. A. (2021). Cognitive processing of sexual cues in asexual individuals and heterosexual women with desire/arousal difficulties. PloS one, 16(5), e0251074. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0251074 [↩]