An Introduction to Asexuality
You might be hearing more about asexuality as asexual individuals are gaining recognition in society; in fact, Asexual Awareness Week is from October 19th – 25th. But many people have misconceptions about this sexual orientation, or just haven’t heard about it at all. In this series, I give an introduction to asexuality, asexual perspectives, and problems that asexuals face.
The Asexual Umbrella
Asexuality is a sexual orientation; a label meaning that someone does not experience sexual attraction, though it can have diverse definitions based on the particular individual. For example, some asexuals define their orientations as not being interested in sex, while others feel that sexual interest is irrelevant to their interactions with people.
Asexuality has several related identities. Gray asexuality is when someone identifies strongly with asexuality, but experiences sexual attraction infrequently, ambiguously, confusingly, with a low intensity, or without the desire to act on it—there are many possibilities. Demisexuality is when someone only experiences sexual attraction after forming a close emotional bond with someone. All of these identities fall under the asexual umbrella or asexual spectrum, as some like to conceptualise it.
Just like with other orientations, there can be a lot of questioning and self-reflection involved in coming to an asexual identity. Tobias, 15, said that “at first, I denied it. Maybe I wasn’t used to the idea of sex. I feel as though I do have some sort of a sex drive, but it comes and goes,” adding that “I knew that there is a huge spectrum and I was overwhelmed by the fact that I fell in between the walls of this sexuality.”
Many asexual spectrum people learn about their sexuality through the Internet. UmmeKulsoom, 21, discovered it through an asexual spectrum character in the webcomic Girls With Slingshots. She says, “I identified with [the character’s] reluctance to get into a sexual relationship and once the label was introduced and I was able to do my own research, I just knew that the label applied to me.”
What Asexuality Isn’t
Asexuality is not always the same as having a low libido or being uninterested in sex or being celibate. While some “aces,” as they’re called for short, may define their identities that way, it doesn’t mean everyone with a low libido or who is uninterested in sex is automatically asexual, and it doesn’t mean that asexuals necessarily have a medical problem that “causes” their asexuality. It is also different from actively making the choice to be abstinent from sex. Asexuality is a distinct sexual orientation.
Demisexuality is not the same as only wanting to have sex with someone with whom one has an emotional connection. While many people strongly prefer to have sex only with people they are emotionally close with, demisexuals are unable to feel sexual attraction without an emotional connection. They may, however, choose to have sex regardless of sexual attraction just like anyone else.
Asexual people have diverse life experiences and backgrounds. In the next article, I’ll discuss their attitudes towards sex, society, and other identities they may have.