An asexual person, definitionally, is a person who does not experience sexual attraction to others. But asexuality (or “ace” for short) is a sexual orientation often left by the wayside when trying to understand human sexuality.
While we are all inherently sexual beings (meaning it is within human nature to have sexuality), not every person has sexual attraction; they do not experience a desire for sex with other people and, in some cases, attraction toward other people in any way.
It's complicated, and while it deserves the same amount of conversation and public awareness as any other sexuality, it is difficult to explain sexuality in black-and-white terms because everyone experiences things differently. While we cannot pinpoint every asexual person’s identity to a T, we have attempted to make the larger aspects of the sexuality digestible in an effort to inform. (If any information is missing, we apologize.)
Here is a simplified explainer on asexuality for the curious, questioning, and confused.
In a nutshell, what does it mean to be asexual?
According to the Asexual Visibility and Education Network: “Unlike celibacy, which is a choice to abstain from sexual activity, asexuality is an intrinsic part of who we are, just like other sexual orientations. Asexual people have the same emotional needs as everybody else and are just as capable of forming intimate relationships.”
The sexual orientation includes about 1 percent of the population, though it is beginning to be a popular sector of study for psychologists and sex researchers. We might see expanding percentages in the future, but only time will tell.
“An asexual person does not experience sexual attraction—they are not drawn to people sexually and do not desire to act upon attraction to others in a sexual way,” AVEN states.
Sam, 32, who came out as ace two years ago, defined her asexuality to Brides: “Say there is a spectrum where at one end is a person who adores having sex and at the other there is a person who is completely uninterested in or even revulsed by sex. An asexual is someone who falls on the spectrum toward that latter end,” she says. “There are people in the middle too; some "gray aces" (like me) feel sexual attraction but are generally uninterested or sex-neutral. For example, I find a number of people sexually attractive, I get aroused even, but actually performing sex is take-or-leave for me.”
It means different things to different people.
As Sam says, there is a wide range of ways people who consider themselves asexual label themselves. (It is certainly not some cut-and-dried form of sexual identity you can push onto the whole of the ace community.) Not every asexual person is the same.
This is typically known as a gray scale. Some ace people are completely against sex. For others it’s not off the table. James, 29, who identifies as ace, tells Brides, “For me, it means that while I'm not at all sex-repulsed [anecdotally, a high percentage of the asexual community seems to be sex-repulsed], I don't particularly desire sex. It's not something I regularly think about nor fantasize about, but it's also not something I go to great lengths to avoid. I'm open to it, but I never particularly have any desire to engage in it.”
There are different gradations of asexuality. For some it means a total lack of interest in sex of any kind. Others may have no sexual attraction to other people but do experience libido. “If my partner has a high libido, and we have sex often and regularly for a period of time, I do have what I'd consider libido for a short period (days) after we stop having sex. But it's not necessarily associated with sex or sexuality, more just pent-up nervous energy,” James explains. “I get the same way when I've had really good cycling rides for a while, and then my bike breaks, and I can't ride for a few days. While many asexuals masturbate, I generally don't, if only because it's not an activity that often comes to mind.”
Asexual doesn’t mean unromantic.
We often confuse the desire for sex with the desire for romance. Just because a person is ace doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t enjoy romance or have romantic feelings. There is a lot of misinformation (and lack of information) around asexuality in general. A few people we spoke to in the community mentioned a lack of resources surrounding the topic, making it difficult to comprehend their own feelings and identities. (Several people cited Tumblr as one of their main places of discovery.)
There are differences between sexual attraction, sexual desire, romantic attraction, and romantic desire. All of these things are interconnected but don’t always overlap for every person. James describes himself as romantic to a fault. “I've been in a monogamous relationship with my current partner for three years, and while it has been difficult at times for both of us, communication has made all the difference. I have to communicate that my lack of sexual desire has nothing to do with her, and that I still actively desire her as a romantic partner.”
While he says it takes many discussions about feelings and emotions, they’re working to make it last.
Kryss Shane, MSW, LSW, LMSW, an LGBT+ expert, and sex and relationship expert explains, “These individuals are often misunderstood as being cold or unfeeling, when, in fact, they are as warm, caring, and loving as anyone else. They too often desire intimacy with their loved one, however, the intimacy they crave is psychological and emotional, it is not based in a desire or need to engage in sexual activities.”
In sum, asexuality is another form of sexual identity that deserves attention, research, empathy, and compassion.
No matter who you are, where you live, who you love or don’t love, who you want to have sex with or don’t want to have sex with; whatever your race, religion, or background: You are not alone.