Here’s how to understand the asexual spectrum.
It’s likely you’ve heard the term asexual, whether you understand the true meaning and definition, or not. That’s because there is still a huge misunderstanding around asexuality. This is largely due to misinformation, stereotypes, myths and lack of asexual visibility.
There is no one single way to be asexual, and asexual people – also known as aces – can all have completely different experiences. Sexuality is a spectrum, and asexual is an umbrella term for a number of sexual orientations and identities. Asexuality has nothing to do with celibacy or sexual repression, and is a perfectly valid sexual orientation.
What does asexual mean?
An asexual person is someone who does not experience sexual attraction. Sexual attraction is the emotional response sexual people feel when they find another person sexually appealing. Sexual attraction normally involves the desire to have sexual contact with that person. Someone who experiences sexual attraction is allosexual.
‘Virtually everyone has some people they don’t find sexually attractive. For asexual people, everyone falls into that category,’ explains Michael Doré, a member of Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) project team and who sits on the board of directors.
Being asexual is not a choice
Just like bisexual, pansexual, lesbian, gay or heterosexual, asexuality is a sexual orientation. And like any other sexual orientation, asexuality is not a choice.
Asexuality is not the same as celibacy
Many people mistakenly conflate asexuality with opting out of sex. ‘We distinguish asexuality from celibacy or abstinence in that the latter are choices not to have sex. Some asexual people do have sex in fact: orientation is not the same as behaviour,’ Doré explains.
Being asexual is totally normal
We know gender and sexuality exist on a spectrum, and are not binary (eg male and female, or gay and straight). Asexuality is a part of that spectrum of sexual diversity and is a natural sexual orientation.
Some people find it hard to comprehend that asexuality is real, and instead believe the myth that asexual people are repressing their true sexuality, whether that’s gay, lesbian, bisexual or any identity along the LGBTQ+ spectrum. ‘Not everyone experiences sexual attraction, and it’s a perfectly valid and healthy part of the sexual spectrum,’ Doré says.
Asexuality is a part of the spectrum of sexual diversity and is a natural sexual orientation.
Using a national probability sample of 18,000 people, a study by Anthony Bogaert published in the Journal of Sex Research, estimated that around 650,000 people in the UK (1 per cent of the population) are asexual.
While we don’t really know what causes asexuality, the same can be said for every other sexual orientation, and as Doré points out, experts aren’t sure ‘causality is even the appropriate notion to be using when it comes to sexuality’. He adds, ‘What we do know is that it’s nothing to be worried about: asexual people can live perfectly happy and fulfilling lives, just like anyone of any other orientation, whether or not they have a partner.’
Asexual people and romantic attraction
An asexual person doesn’t experience sexual attraction, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t attracted to other people romantically. Some asexuals do experience romantic attraction, and may identify with any of the following terms:
- Heteroromantic– being romantically attracted to someone of the ‘opposite gender’
- Homoromantic– being romantically attracted to someone of the ‘same gender’
- Biromantic– being romantically attracted to people of more than one gender
- Panromantic– being romantically attracted to people, regardless of gender
- Aromantic– experiencing little or no romantic attraction to others
‘Some asexual people want romantic relationships, and some prefer to be on their own. As well as romantic attraction, asexual people just like anyone else can find people aesthetically attractive – a bit like an oil painting! – without triggering any sexual desire,’ Doré adds.
As well as romantic attraction, asexual people can also:
- Want an emotional connection with someone – this is called emotional attraction.
- Want to touch, hug or cuddle someone – this is known as physical attraction.
- Be attracted to someone’s looks or appearance – this is aesthetic attraction.
These types of attraction are all separate from sexual attraction.
The asexual spectrum
Asexuality is defined as the total lack of sexual attraction, but because sexuality isn’t black and white, many people may identify somewhere along the asexual spectrum. The term ace is widely used to include every identity under the asexual umbrella.
Grey-asexuals, greysexuals, or grey-as are people who don’t necessarily fit the strict definition of asexuality as they still experience sexual attraction – albeit in ‘lower doses’ than most other people, as Doré puts it.
Asexuality is defined as the total lack of sexual attraction, but sexuality isn’t black and white.
Demisexuals will only experience sexual attraction if they have a romantic bond with a person. This does not mean demisexuals are attracted to every single person they have an emotional connection with.
‘Grey-a and demisexual people often fall through the cracks – sometimes feeling excluded from the asexual community, as ‘not asexual enough’,” Doré says.
Sexually fluid people may find the way they experience sexual attraction will differ over time. ‘That’s why we find it important to make the point that sexuality is a spectrum, and feeling attraction isn’t an on-off switch,’ he adds.
The asexual flag is black for asexuality, grey for grey/demisexuality, white for sexyuality and purple for community
The asexual flag consists of four coloured stripes, black at the top to represent asexuality, grey to represent greysexuality/demisexuality and white to represent sexuality in the middle, and purple at the bottom (this symbolises community). The flag was created in 2010 after a vote was put to the asexual community.
Asexual people and masturbation
It’s a common misconception that asexual people don’t have a sex drive or experience sexual desire. The truth is, just like everyone else, asexual people vary in terms of their libido. ‘Some have low or non-existent libidos, and some have quite ordinary or even higher than average,’ Doré explains.
It’s a common misconception that asexual people don’t have a sex drive or experience sexual desire.
The difference is, that sex drive, sexual desire or libido isn’t directed at anyone. Asexual people can experience all of these things, just without sexual attraction to someone else.
This means that while some asexual people don’t masturbate, others do. ‘They often describe it as akin to scratching an itch,’ he adds.