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What Does Asexual Mean? The Guide to Sexuality

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As our society becomes more progressive in terms of sexuality and various orientations, highly trained medical professionals are learning much more about the preferences of people. There are often a lot of misconceptions about these new theories and categories, and one of the more confusing concepts is that of asexuality. Some people tend to confuse asexuality with celibacy or abstinence, but asexuality is a sexual orientation, just like being gay or straight. 

Asexuality exists on a spectrum and therefore has a lot of diversity in people’s experiences and desires for relationships, attraction, and arousal. It’s estimated that only 1 percent of the population is asexual, but experts agree this number is most likely much higher. 

What Is Asexuality? 

Just like homosexuality, bisexuality, and heterosexuality, asexuality is a sexual orientation. Asexuals may be referred to as ace or aces for short, like homosexuals being referred to as gay or heterosexuals as straight. Asexual is an umbrella term and exists on a spectrum, so it describes a variety of ways in which a person may identify. 

While most asexual people have little interest in having sexual relations, they may experience romantic attractions. Others may not have these feelings. Despite these differences, asexual people still have the same emotional needs as other people. Asexual people may be attracted to members of the same sex, the opposite sex, or both. Every asexual person will have a different experience with their orientation but can still be capable of:

  • Romantic attraction: the desire to have a romantic relationship with another person
  • Aesthetic attraction: being attracted to another person based solely on how they look
  • Physical attraction: the desire to touch, hold or cuddle another person
  • Platonic attraction: wanting to be friends with someone 
  • Emotional attraction: the desire for an emotional connection with another person

The Different Spectrums of Asexuality 

In the most current initialism of LGBTQIAP+, the  A represents asexual spectrum or a-spec as it’s commonly known. 

The asexual spectrum itself has two separate orientations: sexual orientation and romantic orientation. While asexual people will have the same emotional needs as everyone else, the ways in which they fulfill their needs may vary widely. Some aces will prefer close friendships as opposed to intimate relationships. Some will experience arousal, while some may masturbate as opposed to seeking out sex with another person. 

There are some asexual people that do not want to engage in sexual contact, while others may experience feeling “sex-neutral.” In some cases, an ace will engage in sexual contact, despite having no desire, in order to gain an emotional connection with someone. These are some of the common identities that fall under the asexual or aromantic spectrums:

  • Aromantic: This romantic orientation, which is different from sexual orientation, means that a person experiences little or no romantic attraction to others. They typically prefer close friendships and other non-romantic relationships in their lives. Many aromantic people seek out and form queerplatonic partnerships. These relationships are platonic in nature but will also have the same levels of commitment as romantic relationships. Some people in these relationships choose to live together and even have children together.

  • Demisexual or demiromantic: This sexual orientation is where people only experience sexual attraction to people that they have a very close emotional connection. While demisexuals do experience more traditional feelings of sexual attraction and desires, it’s only after an emotional bond has been formed. This works off the idea of primary attraction and secondary attraction.

    Primary attraction is an attraction to a person based on first impressions, such as appearance or smell. Secondary attraction is the attraction to a person that develops naturally over time and forms out of the relationship someone has with another person. Demisexuals and demi romantics do not experience primary attraction but do experience secondary attraction.
  • Reciprosexual or recipromantic: This describes people that do not experience sexual or romantic attraction to someone until they know that the other person is attracted to them.

  • Akoisexual or akoiromantic: This identity has had several name changes over the years but describes people that experience sexual or romantic attraction, but the attraction fades in the event that it’s reciprocated.

  • Aceflux or aroflux: Someone with this sexual or romantic orientation will fluctuate along the spectrum between asexual and sexual, and aromanitc and romantic. Some people may always stay within the asexual or aromantic spectrum, but others may occasionally fall outside of it.

  • Graysexual or grayromantic: People that identify somewhere between sexual and asexual are known as graysexual or grayromantic. This list includes, but is not limited to, people who:

  • Experience romantic attraction occasionally
  • Only experience sexual attraction sometimes
  • Experience sexual attraction but have a very low sex drive
  • Desire and enjoy sexual or romantic relationships but only under very specific circumstances 

Is Asexuality Another Word for Celibacy or Abstinence? 

These three things are very often confused for one another but are not the same thing at all. If someone is celibate or abstains from sex, that means they have made a conscious decision to not engage in sexual activity despite experiencing sexual attraction. It is also important to note that asexuality is not the same thing as a hypoactive sexual desire disorder or sexual aversion disorder. 

These are mental-related medical conditions that are heavily associated with anxiety towards sexual conduct. While pressure from society may cause an asexual person to feel anxiety about sex in general, it is not the same thing. 

Asexuality is not to be confused with:

  • Abstinence based on religious beliefs 
  • Sexual repressions, aversions, or dysfunctions
  • Loss of sex drive due to age, illness, or other factors
  • A general fear of intimacy 

Is Being Asexual Just Having a Low Sex Drive? 

There are plenty of people who are not asexual that possess a low libido, or sex drive, and therefore may not desire sex. That does not mean this person should be considered asexual. Alternatively, there are many asexual people that have a libido and experience sexual desire, leading to masturbation or sexual conduct. 

Just because a person may have a low sex drive does not mean they qualify as asexual. Their libido levels may be affected by:

  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Anxiety, stress, and depression
  • Disease
  • Fatigue
  • History of sexual abuse
  • Life circumstance
  • Medication
  • Menopause
  • Quality of relationship
  • Religious beliefs
  • Sensory stimuli

How Do You Know If You Are Asexual? 

Sexuality can be extremely complicated, and putting labels on it is very challenging. Still, there are a few signs that you may be asexual if you routinely experience the following:

  • You know someone is attractive but are not attracted to them. While you are able to appreciate and admire the physical qualities of someone, you are not attracted to these qualities. You acknowledge the beauty but don’t get turned on.

  • You enjoy hugs and kisses but don’t enjoy going further. Some asexuals enjoy the sensations of touching and being touched. While hugs, massages, cuddling, and kissing may be on the table, there is a firm cutoff point for you and you don’t enjoy anything more intense.

  • You almost never develop crushes. Maybe you tend to be less concerned with the idea of relationships than the rest of your friends or aren’t looking to hook up with strangers at the bar. During the rare instance that you do develop on crush, it’s typically on someone you know fairly well and trust.

  • You zone out when people discuss sex. When friends start talking about sex, you tend to zone out and stop paying attention because the hype about sex seems overrated. Going months without sex isn’t difficult for you, and you don’t relate to the issues other people discuss relating to sex.

  • Sex scenes are boring. When watching movies or television, you find sex scenes to be boring and prefer to skip them. The interaction between characters through action and dialogue is much more interesting than the often gratuitous sex scenes. Additionally, sex, in general, may not cross your mind at all in your average daily life.

  • Getting married isn’t important. You are perfectly happy without being in a relationship and may not feel like you’ll ever fall in love and get married. You may not even be sure that you want those things as you are more concerned with your career, family, and friends. Romantic relationships and love are not high on your list of priorities and may not even make the list at all.

The Takeaway

There are many misconceptions about what it means to be asexual. While it can be difficult to nail down and define sexual and romantic orientations, there is plenty that we do know about asexuality.

Sexuality, in general, can be a very difficult thing to confront and understand. It’s very fluid and may change several times in a person’s life. There are many physical factors that contribute to how much a person is focused on sex, but there are more emotional ones. 

Anyone that has questions about their sexuality, in general, should seek out a therapist and discuss the potential issues that could be affecting them. You may be an asexual person or you could be dealing with mental health-related issues. Only a licensed therapist would be able to help you to discover the answer. 

Sources

  1. Sex Drive: Why It Is Important to Overall Health
  2. Asexuality: What it means to be asexual
  3. Explore the spectrum: Guide to finding your ace communit8 (glaad.org)
  4. 10 Signs You Are Asexual — Someone Who Does Not Experience Sexual Attraction (thoughtcatalog.com) 

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