Being asexual, or ‘ace’, means different things to different people. Broadly speaking, someone who’s asexual experiences little to no sexual attraction. There are, however, many ways within the Ace community to identify, and it’s important not to make assumptions about someone who is asexual.
Asexuality is an umbrella term involving many varied identities and labels. Yep, like all identities, it exists on a spectrum. But before we explore what asexuality is, it’s important to discuss the many things it gets incorrectly labelled as, and which it categorically isn’t.
Asexuality is the inability to find a partner.
Nope. In fact, many ace people find themselves in happy, healthy relationships of many types. Some people assume that asexual people will feel sexual attraction or desire when they meet the ‘right’ person, however there are many ways to be in a relationship, believe it or not, sex is not the be-all-and-end-all.
There are also many different ways you may be attracted to a person. You may experience sensual or physical attraction, platonic attraction, emotional attraction, or aesthetic attraction. It’s possible for Aces to experience any or all of these attractions, and others may indeed experience sexual attraction in certain circumstances.
One example of a relationship that may exist within the asexual community is a queerplatonic one. This term originated in the asexual and aromantic communities and refers to a very close non-romantic relationship, according to Asexual Visibility & Education Network (AVEN). Anybody can have a queerplatonic relationship, no matter their sexual or romantic orientation and the people in said relationship are just as committed as those in a romantic relationship.
If you’re asexual, you’re not ‘interested’ in any gender.
Not necessarily. An asexual person could be romantically attracted to people of the same gender, another gender, or people of multiple genders. These relationships can be with other asexual people, or with people who aren’t asexual.
Aces commonly use hetero-, homo-, bi-, and pan- in front of the word romantic to describe who they experience their own definition of attraction to. For example, a person who is hetero-romantic might be attracted to people of a different sex or gender, but not necessarily in a sexual way.
Asexuality is the same as celibacy or abstinence.
Incorrect. There is a very significant and important distinction to make between the two, and that is choice. Celibacy and abstinence are choices. Asexuality is not.
For instance, some people decide to abstain from sex until they get married, or may decide to “take a break” from sex during difficult periods in life. The key word? Decide.
Celibacy and abstinence are behavioural decisions, whereas Asexuality pertains to how you innately feel.
Being asexual means never having sex
In terms of myths and misunderstandings in the Ace community, this one is the magnum opus. Let’s make this simple, succinct and clear. Some asexual people do have sex, and enjoy it too. Asexuality doesn’t always mean someone doesn’t enjoy sex. It just means they don’t experience sexual attraction, a subtle but important distinction to make.
Plenty of people who aren’t asexual may have a low libido or might not desire sex. Similarly, many asexual people still have a libido and might experience sexual desire, but it may be void of sexual attraction. In other words, you might not look at someone and feel the need to have sex with them, but you might still want to have sex. Many asexual people masturbate, others might only experience sexual attraction in very limited circumstances. Someone who is demisexual - which some say falls under the asexual umbrella - experiences sexual attraction only when they have a deep connection to a person. Thus, they might only feel sexually attracted to people they have deep romantic relationships with.
Greysexual people (another term under the Ace umbrella) rarely experience sexual attraction, or they experience it with a very low intensity. As AVEN explains, greysexuality is often seen as a midpoint between sexuality and asexuality.
There are many reasons why an asexual person might want to have sex: to satisfy their libido, to conceive children, to make their partner happy, to experience the physical pleasure of sex, to show and receive affection, or for the sensual pleasure of sex including touching and cuddling.
Asexuality is a medical problem
Absolutely not. Hold the ambulance on this one.
Some asexual people worry that there’s something medically awry in their bodies if they aren’t feeling the same intense sexual attraction their peers may be, yet asexuality is unequivocally not something that “needs to be fixed”. It isn’t necessarily genetic, the result of trauma, or ‘caused’ by anything at all. It isn’t the same thing as experiencing a fear of intimacy, loss of libido, sexual repression, sexual aversion, or sexual dysfunction; anyone can develop one or more of these conditions, regardless of their sexual orientation.
As with homosexuality, heterosexuality or bisexuality, there’s no underlying “cause” of asexuality. It’s just the way someone is.
How do I know if I’m asexual?
There’s no magic eight ball to answer this question. Ultimately, only you get to decide whether you identify as asexual or not.
For some people, their capacity for attraction is fluid and changes over time. This is completely normal. Just because an asexual person felt sexual attraction before doesn’t erase their identity now. It’s still valid. Similarly, some people might identify as asexual and later feel that they experience sexual attraction often. This doesn’t mean that they were never asexual, or that they were wrong to identify as asexual. It can simply be that their sexual orientation changed over time.
It may help to think about what sexual attraction means to you and if you experience said attraction.
Some of the following questions may also help you in thinking about how your desires may align with common asexual characteristics:
- Is sex important to you?
- Do you enjoy showing affection and does sex factor into that for you?
- How do you feel about the concept of sex in general?
- Do you see attractive people and feel the want or need to have sex with them?
- Are you interested in sex because it is “what’s expected” of you?
Only a few identifiers and labels from under the Ace umbrella have been mentioned here and only you can decide to use any terms that you are comfortable with. Remember, the way you define your sexuality, orientation, or identity is up to you.