Dear Alice,

I would like to see your site at least mention asexuality (just once!). I submitted a question on this about a month ago which was not answered.

Dear Reader,

Thank you for asking about asexuality! Asexuality is often overlooked in research and can be wrongly simplified to celibacy or even labeled as a medical condition, both of which are extremely harmful to asexual communities. In a hypersexualized society, asexual experiences are often disregarded, even though asexuality is a valid and rich identity. People who are asexual are considered by many to be part of LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, asexual) communities. Asexuality is, by definition, the absence of sexual attraction to anyone. That said, asexual people (sometimes referred to as aces) have a range of different experiences, including various types of relationships with people of all genders.

Sexual attraction can be difficult to define, but it generally boils down to seeing opportunities for sexual activities as "inviting." This is different from having sexual desires, which can include masturbation or sexual fantasies. Sexual attraction can also be seen as a way to turn desires into real action. While broadly speaking, aces don't experience sexual attraction, they may still have sexual desires, with many reporting that they aren't centered around a particular individual. 

Just like other identities, whether or not people experience sexual attraction exists on a spectrum. The term for people who do experience sexual attraction is allosexual. Many people aren't familiar with this term because it's considered to be the default. Thinking of the spectrum of those who do experience sexual attraction and those who don't, some people hold identities between allosexual and asexual. This spectrum between allosexual and asexual encompasses those who may only experience sexual attraction in very specific circumstances and still consider themselves to be part of asexual communities. Some of these commonly referred to identities include gray asexuality and demisexuality. Those who identify as gray asexuals (sometimes called gray aces or gray-As) only experience sexual attraction on occasion. Some may experience it only in certain situations, very rarely, or have other feelings that they don't identify as being sexual. Demisexual people may experience sexual attraction, but only after a strong emotional bond has been formed. 

While many people use their sexual identity (gay, straight, pansexual, etc.) to refer to both their sexual and romantic orientations, they aren't always all-encompassing. A person who is asexual may also experience romantic attraction, even if they don't experience sexual attraction. For many aces, asexuality only relates to sexual attraction and doesn't necessarily define a person's romantic attraction. Asexual people can be romantically interested in people of any gender. Some people may also identify as aromantic (or aro). They may not experience romantic attraction, though they may experience sexual attraction. A person's different attractions are sometimes referred to using the split attraction model (SAM). Under the SAM, someone's romantic and sexual orientation aren't necessarily the same. For example, if a person who identifies as a man experiences no sexual attraction but feels romantic attraction towards someone who identifies as a woman, they may describe themselves as a heteroromantic asexual person. This can be applied to people of all genders and sexual/romantic attractions! Some ace people identify as both asexual and aromantic, and refer to themselves as asexual/aromantic or ace/aro.

Aces may choose to be in relationships. As with any relationship, these relationships will look different for every person, depending on their preferences, as well as their partner's. Some asexual people choose to have sex, either because they enjoy it or to benefit their partners, while others choose not to engage in sexual activities. Some ace people may also choose to be in queerplatonic relationships. These are relationships that are platonic in nature but have a much deeper emotional bond than would traditionally occur in a friendship. 

Because asexuality is often left out of conversations about sexual identity, it can be hard for folks to identify themselves as being asexual. Some people will have strong feelings against having sex, and know definitively that it isn't for them. Others may try sex and then realize later that they aren't interested in having it again. Others still may enjoy the experience of sex even if they aren't sexually attracted to the person they're having sex with. Like other sexual identities, asexual communities have lots of nuance, and what asexuality looks like for one person may not look the same for another. 

Take care,

Last updated Nov 12, 2021
Originally published Feb 22, 2008