What Is Asexuality?
Asexuality is a difficult sexual orientation to understand and can be even harder to explain. If you are questioning whether you may be asexual, if you’ve recently had a loved one come out to you and you want to learn more, or if you are asexual and need a way to describe your sexuality to others, we hope this will be a helpful resource for you that will answer the question what is asexuality?
For more in depth discussions and explanations, listen to our episode all about asexuality.
We are not experts. We are just a few podcasters who have been involved in the asexual community for a few years and who have first-hand experience with the sexuality as an aromantic asexual girl (Sarah) and a demisexual girl (Kayla). But this does not mean that our experiences are universal for all asexual people. Just because something is true for us — Sarah not wanting kids, for instance — doesn’t mean it’s true for all asexuals. But we’ll be answering the question what is asexuality in broad strokes here, so hopefully this won’t be an issue.
First, a Bit of Vocab
Asexuality: a sexual orientation (just like bisexuality, heterosexuality, etc.) defined by a lack of sexual attraction to any person of any gender. Sexual attraction is not the same as sexual desire or a person’s libido. Rather, it is who you are or are not attracted to. Often shortened to ace.
Asexual Spectrum/Asexual Umbrella: while asexuaity is a sexuality, it can also be seen as a spectrum. Sexualities that involve a lack or a lower amount of sexual attraction than “normal” are included in this spectrum or under the umbrella of asexuality. Often shortened to acespec.
Demisexuality: a sexuality under the asexual spectrum/umbrella. Demisexual people only experience sexual attraction once they are romantically attached or bonded to someone. Often shortened to demi.
Greysexual: a sexuality under the asexual spectrum/umbrella. Greysexual people only experience sexual attraction very rarely.
Allosexual: a person who experiences sexual attraction. Often shortened to allo.
The Split Model of Attraction
While not created by the asexual community, the Split Model of Attraction is very popular and well-known in the community, and can be extremely helpful when trying to understand what is asexuality?
Simply put, the model puts forth the idea that sexual attraction and romantic attraction are not the same thing. Romantic attraction is more of an emotional response. It may involve the desire for a romantic relationship with someone or participating in romantic activities with someone like going on a date, holding hands, spending your life together, etc. On the other hand, sexual attraction is more physical, involves the body, and involves sexual acts.
You may be confused by this distinction. Maybe you’re wondering how these attractions could be separate when you want to do both romantic and sexual things with a person. Don’t romantic and sexual feelings come together? Happen at the same time? For a lot people, yes.
For many asexual people, however, this is often not the case. For them, the lines between the two attractions are not so blurred. Though these people are asexual, they may feel romantic attraction to a certain gender or genders. So for these people, the line between romantic and sexual attraction is quite clear. Maybe they want to go on a date and be in a relationship with someone, but do not feel sexually attracted to them at all.
It is also possible that someone feels sexually attracted to certain people but is not romantically attracted to them. This person may identify as aromantic (or aro for short), which defines people who are not romantically attracted to anyone of any gender. This is very similar to asexuality, it just refers to romantic rather than sexual attraction. Though it is more rare, some people (such as our very own Sarah!) identify as aromantic and asexual. Aromantic asexuals (or aroaces) are actually a minority in the asexual community, so don’t assume that every ace person you meet is also aro!
The Split Model of Attraction does not just apply to the asexual community! A person might be homosexual (sexually attracted to people of the same gender) but biromantic (romantically attracted to people of two genders). Romantic attraction and sexual attraction exist for everyone, even for people whose attractions “match” (if you are both heterosexual and heteroromantic).
The Split Model of Attraction goes much deeper than what we’ve described here, but we don’t want to confuse you too much! If you’re interested in learning more about the other types of attraction (yes, there are more!), you can listen to our episode about the model or do some internet searching. There are a lot of amazing discussions about the model online!
Asexual people are plants
This is more of a misguided and hurtful joke than a misconception, but we still thought it was an important one to cover. Yes, the word asexual is also related to asexual reproduction. Like many other words in the English language, this one has multiple definitions.
For example, take the word crane:
Crane (noun): a type of bird
Crane (noun): a large machine used for moving things around
Crane (verb): to stretch one’s neck to get a better look at something
Our basic advice here is not to say “what, like a plant?” if someone comes out to you as ace. You may mean it as a joke, but it’s often very hurtful and it’s something that asexual people hear a lot.
Asexuality vs. Celibacy
Okay, so if asexual people don’t feel sexual attraction, then how is this any different from celibacy? The basic difference here involves choice. Celibacy requires an active choice, the choice to not have sex. Attraction and sexual orientation, on the other hand, is not a choice. A person may choose whether or not to label themselves as asexual, but they do not have a choice when it comes to whether they feel sexual attraction or not.
sexual attraction vs sex drive and libido
As we mentioned before, sexual attraction is not the same as someone’s sex drive or their libido. Someone’s sex drive is just that — their drive to have sex. If someone has a high sex drive or libido, they may enjoy sex a lot and want to do it a lot. Someone with a low sex drive may think sex is just okay and doesn’t feel the need to engage in it often.
This is not the same as sexual attraction or asexuality. Asexuality and other sexualities deal with which people you are or are not attracted to, not your desire or interest in sex in general. One is focused on your relationships and interaction with other people, the other is more about your interests.
Hypoactive sexual Desire disorder
Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD) is currently in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The DSM is a tool used by psychiatrists and therapists to diagnose patients with mental disorders. HSDD is characterized as a lack or absence of sexual fantasies or desire for sexual activity that causes distress for a person. Unfortunately, HSDD is often conflated with asexuality. Even if they are not distressed by this lack, some asexual people are told they have HSDD and have medications pushed upon them to “fix” their lack of sexual attraction.
HSDD is hotly debated in the asexual community. The important thing to know here is that they are not the same thing. It is not conducive or helpful to tell someone who comes out to you as asexual that they may have HSDD. This issue is similar to, though not the same as, homosexuality being labeled as a psychological disorder in the past and this turning into conversion therapy. Telling an asexual person that they have a disorder can be extremely harmful to them, just as it would be harmful to tell a gay person that their sexuality is a disorder.
asexual people having sex
We’ve been talking a lot about how asexual people do not experience sexual attraction, so it may be a bit of a plot twist to learn that some asexual people do have sex.
It’s important to remember that sex is an action. It is an activity that you can do with one or more people. In the same way that shaking someone’s hand or giving someone a hug is a physical action, so is sex. Just because someone doesn’t feel sexual attraction doesn’t mean they don’t have the physical capability to have sex.
In most cases, the bodies of asexual people work the same way and experience sex the same way as anyone else. Sex can still feel good and be pleasurable. Because of this, some asexual people are willing or even eager to have sex, while others do not.
Once again, this all comes down to a spectrum. Some asexual people are sex-repulsed, meaning they don’t want to think about sex, talk about sex, or participate in it. Others might be more sex-positive, which means they may be willing to have sex. They may be apathetic about having sex, or they may want it.
A sex-positive asexual person may be in a romantic relationship and so choose to have sex because they are okay with it and their partner wants to. Some may have sex because it just feels nice, or because they want kids. There are so many reasons any person, including an asexual person, might choose to have sex.
Remember: sex is an action. Just because someone is not sexually attracted to someone else doesn’t mean they can’t have sex. Just as two straight people could have sex with one another without being attracted to each other, an asexual person can have sex.
asexual people and kids
As we alluded to above, one reason that an asexual person may choose to have sex is to have a child. But having sex isn’t the only way to have a child. Just like anyone else, an asexual person who wants a child can adopt, use artificial insemination, etc. It’s the 21st century, and there are a lot of ways to become a parent!
Because of this, it’s important not to say to an asexual person, “oh, that’s so sad, now you can’t have kids." Not only is it offensive to tell someone that their sexuality makes their life sad, it’s just not true. Not being sexually attracted to others does not necessarily equal not wanting kids, so don’t assume it does!
dating and partnerships
It is often assumed that since asexual people don’t experience sexual attraction and may not want to have sex, they can’t date or will be alone forever. But as we talked about before, there’s a difference between romantic and sexual attraction, so an asexual person may still be very interested in dating!
But if an asexual person is not interested in a romantic relationship, they could participate in something called a Queer Platonic Relationship (or QPR). A QPR can be described as a friendship on another level — it functions like a romantic and sexual relationship, but without the romance and sex.
But if there’s no romance or sex, how is it different than a normal friendship? Well, let’s think about the differences between a friendship and a relationship. If you decided to move to a different part of the country or world, this is probably something you would talk about extensively with your partner. Would they move with you? Would you date long distance? There would be a lot of logistics to figure out. But would you have this same conversation with your friend? Would you have to have a formal discussion about whether you would stay friends if you didn’t live near each other?
Like a romantic relationship, QPRs have more of this formality. People in QPRs may live together, and may choose to get married (for a variety of reasons, like health and financial benefits).
It’s quite common for people to assume that asexual people are going to die alone without ever having love in their life. This just isn’t true. As we just described, asexual people can have wonderful romantic and non-romantic partnerships. But it’s also important to remember that romantic love is not the only kind. Friendships and other platonic relationships are extremely important and bring with them a lot of fulfillment.
Sure, an asexual person, or any person for that matter, may never get married or be in love romantically, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t love their friends and family and value the relationships they have.
Things Not to Ask or Say to an Asexual Person
As you read over this section, you may begin thinking “well, what do you mean I can’t ask them this? I would feel comfortable answering this question. Why can’t I know this information?” Just because you may be comfortable talking about certain things doesn’t mean everyone is. Certain things may be especially uncomfortable for asexual people to talk about and it’s important to be aware of this.
At the end of the day, you are the one who knows this asexual person and has a relationship with them. If you are close with them and think they may be comfortable talking about these topics, then go ahead and ask. We would just advise that you proceed with caution, as many of these questions can be weird for anyone, asexual or not.
“How?! Sex is great! everyone loves it!”
We understand that asexuality can be very confusing to a lot of people, but saying things like this can be extremely alienating. If you’re having trouble imagining what being asexual would feel like, just imagine this: say you’re a straight man. As a straight man, you don’t feel attracted to other men. That’s exactly how asexual people feel, except that they also don’t feel attracted to women or any other gender either.
This can be extremely hard to wrap your head around, but try to be as understanding as possible! Don’t alienate anyone by telling them how much they’re missing out or how much everyone else loves sex.
“it’s just a phase”
Yes, sexuality is fluid. It’s true that some people do find that, over the course of their lives, the sexual orientation they choose to identify with changes. Even so, you should respect the sexual orientation that a person chooses to identify with at any given time. For many people, their sexuality will never change. There are many adults and elderly people who identify as asexual; it’s not something you just grow out of. Though it is always possible that someone’s sexuality will change, don’t count on it.
“You’ve just never had good sex” or “i can fix it”
Unfortunately, a huge problem that the asexual community faces is something called corrective rape. This involves someone sexually assaulting someone who identifies under the asexual umbrella because they think they can “fix” them or “turn” them. This does not work.
There is no way to change someone’s sexuality. Conversion therapy doesn’t work, and corrective rape doesn’t work. A person’s sexuality is their sexuality. Full stop.
“Do you Masturbate?”
This is probably something you really shouldn’t be asking anyone. It’s just a really private thing.
Still, this is a question that comes up extremely often for asexual people. It’s understandable for people to be curious about this — if you learn that someone doesn’t have any interest in sex you may be naturally curious if they participate in any other sexual activity. But just because you’re curious doesn’t mean you have to voice your thoughts. This is an extremely personal question and could easily make anyone of any sexuality, but especially ace umbrella folks, uncomfortable.
To ease your curiosity, yes, some asexual people do masturbate, just as some gay people masturbate and some straight people masturbate. Masturbating is not something that is inherently linked to sexuality. A straight person could masturbate once and decide they didn’t like it and an asexual person could do it all the time because they like how it feels.
Do asexuals belong in the lgbtqia+ community?
The short answer here is yes. Unfortunately, there are many people who would say no, even those who are within the LGBTQIA+ community. Many argue that asexual people do not face the same oppression as other queer people and so have no right to be part of the community.
But here’s the deal: how much a person has been oppressed is not a barrier for entry into queer communities. You do have a space and you do belong in the LGBTQIA+ community if you are not both straight and cisgendered. You may choose not to identify as part of the queer community, and that’s okay. It’s understandable if you are asexual and don’t feel comfortable in the community, but know that you are welcome.
It’s an uphill battle and an issue that the asexual community still faces, but the short answer is yes, asexual people do belong. For a more extensive conversation on this, you can listen to our episode about it.
So now what?
So now you have a basic understanding of what is asexuality. If you’re still confused, that’s completely fine and understandable. It’s a lot to take in. But doing your research is an important first step!
As is probably clear from this long post, there are a lot of different ways to experience asexual umbrella identities. If you’re still confused and have questions, ask the asexual person in your life, or even ask us here at Sounds Fake But Okay. Asking questions is a great thing, as long as you’re being genuine and thoughtful in the way you ask them. And of course there’s always your good friend Google, our massive page of resources, and our many episodes about asexuality.
If you came to this page because someone in your life came out to you as asexual, just remember they’re no different than the person you knew yesterday. Now you just know one more thing about them. If you are someone struggling with your identity and are unsure if you’re asexual, we’re here for you. We’ve been there, too. Understanding asexuality from any side can be a difficult journey, but the fact that you started is more than most can say. So thank you.