Understanding the Asexual Spectrum and the Beauty Within It

Tim Gunn, Emily Brontë, Isaac Newton, Paula Poundstone, Morrissey, Edward Gorey, Nikola Tesla, Cavetown, J.M. Barrie, Salvador Dalí, Frédéric Chopin, and SpongeBob… It seems like a list of random people and, well, a sea sponge. However, what they all have in common is the fact that they are, were, or are assumed to have been asexual. 

So, even though it seems like a new concept, asexuality is probably as old as humanity. There have always been accounts of people refraining from sex, and we can argue that it wasn’t imposed celibacy in all cases. According to Anthony Bogaert, the author of Understanding Asexuality, asexuals constitute 1% of the human population; it might not seem like a lot until you do your math and realize that there are almost 8 billion people on Earth.

However, asexuality has long been ignored or even dismissed, and today, it’s also known as the invisible orientation.

Asexuality is a spectrum. In general, it refers to people with little to no sexual attraction. However, humans are complicated creatures, and they are difficult to label. Asexuals, or Aces, can have various approaches to sex and romantic relationships; it also has nothing to do with libido. So, even if someone masturbates, has sex with their partner, or experiments with new sex toys, you can’t assume they lie or are confused about their sexuality. They simply experience it differently.

Still pathologized, misunderstood, or entirely overlooked, asexual voices are finally getting louder, demanding education and representation. So, what do we want everybody to know?

What Does Asexuality Mean?

At its core, asexuality means little to no sexual attraction. It is not the same as abstinence or celibacy, which is a choice to abstain from sex to delay or avoid sexual activity for any number of reasons; you can choose to live in celibacy while being heterosexual, homosexual, or whatever you identify with, but you can’t choose to be asexual.

Asexuality is a spectrum, so there is a lot of variance in what it means to be Ace. Some people might identify as aromantic, meaning they don’t experience romantic attraction, while others may still experience romantic attraction but not sexual attraction. Additionally, there can be different levels of intensity for asexual people’s attractions. For example, someone may feel a very mild form of attraction, or they may feel nothing at all.

Asexuality is not about a lack of interest in sex. Asexual people can and do enjoy sex; it just doesn’t have the same appeal or importance to them as it does for most other people.

blue sex toys

The Variety of Asexual Spectrum

Asexuality is an umbrella term that includes a wide spectrum of sub-identities. Even though we do name several identities as well as approaches to sex, we realize that people can still identify with a variety of things in-between.

The most commonly distinguished ways for asexuals to identify themselves include:

  • Demisexuals: experience sexual attraction only when they form a strong emotional connection with another person.
  • Gray asexuals: identify themselves somewhere between asexual and sexual.

Within the asexual community, we also talk about different attitudes toward sex:

  • Sex-favorable asexuals are willing to try sex with their partners and might enjoy it in a variety of ways. Usually, they are oriented toward giving rather than receiving.
  • Sex-indifferent asexuals don’t enjoy sex, even on an emotional level, but are willing to compromise once in a while as they aren’t repulsed thinking about it.
  • Sex-averse/sex-repulsed asexuals feel mostly negative emotions when thinking about sex, even when it comes to someone they love. They aren’t willing to compromise.

However, it’s worth noting that societal and cultural attitudes toward sex and sexuality (sex-positive, sex-negative, or sex-neutral) are not without influence on how we all perceive it, whether you’re asexual or not. 

Are Asexuals Queer?

Contrary to what many people believe, the A in the LGBTQIA+ initialism stands for asexuals, not allies. As such, yes, asexuals are part of the pride community, and, as we aren’t heterosexuals, we are considered queer.

According to the article Alice Olivia Scarlett wrote for Stonewall, the omission or even rejection of Aces stems from the fact that “we are a society obsessed with sex. For individuals who have had to fight for their right to have sex with the people they want to, the idea of not wanting to use that privilege might seem ridiculous, dismissive even.” She adds that “far more sinister is the argument that ace people face no discrimination for their identity and have so much straight-passing privilege that they have no right to force their way into a community designed as a safe space for those who genuinely need it.”

Lack of Sexual Attraction =/= Lack of Romantic Attraction

Sexual orientation is not the same as romantic orientation. A lot of people, both allosexual (non-asexual) and asexual, think that if you’re not sexually attracted to someone, then you must automatically be aromantic and vice versa. However, that’s not how it works.

Asexuality and aromanticism are two independent spectra. Just like with sexuality, there are a lot of gray areas when it comes to romantic attraction. For example, someone may identify as biromantic, meaning they experience romantic attraction to people of two different genders while still being asexual. Or someone may be aromantic and allosexual, meaning they experience sexual attraction but not romantic attraction.

There’s a lot of confusion because the terms ‘sex’ and ‘romance’ are often used interchangeably as if they’re one and the same. However, they’re not. Sex is a physical act, while romance is an emotional bond. It’s perfectly possible to have sex without being romantic and vice versa.

bedside vibrating purple egg

The Discrimination Against Asexuals

Sadly, too many people still think that being asexual refers to an illness, either mental or physical. In reality, it’s neither. Asexuality is not a disorder and shouldn’t be treated as such. But we’re far from achieving this.

Asexuals struggle with gaslighting, erasure, medical prejudice, and even corrective rape. Freud wasn’t the first and the last to claim that satisfying sexual life is necessary to be in love or even stay healthy and fulfilled. Asexuality was pathologized in the 1980 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as sexual dysfunction. For comparison, homosexuality was removed from it in 1973, and asexuals needed to wait until 2013 (!).

Years later, asexuals all around the world are still most likely to be treated with therapies and drugs, which is often compared to the brutal conversion therapy endured by homosexual and transgender people.

Life of an Asexual Is Not Worse or Less Fulfilling

As it’s stated on the website of AVEN (The Asexual Visibility & Education Network), “asexuality does not make our lives any worse or better; we just face a different set of needs and challenges than most sexual people do.”

Asexuality should not be seen as something that needs to be fixed. Aces are perfectly fine and capable of leading happy, fulfilling lives – it’s just their priorities that are different.

Final Thoughts – What Asexuals Want You To Know

Asexuality is real, and so is the asexual spectrum. If you know someone who identifies as Ace, believe them. Asexuality is not a phase, and it’s not something that can be cured.

Even though asexuality is still hidden in the shadows, we are slowly but surely gaining visibility. In order to speed up the process, it’s vital that we educate ourselves and others about what asexuality is and what it isn’t.

Aces want you to know that:

  • Asexuality is a valid orientation.
  • Asexuality is not a choice.
  • Asexuality is not a mental illness.
  • Asexuality is not a phase.
  • Asexuality is not linked to celibacy or abstinence.
  • Asexuality is not curable.
  • Asexual people can fall in love.
  • Asexual people can have sex.
  • Asexual people are not weird or broken.
  • Asexual people are not predisposed to any specific romantic orientation.
  • Asexuality is a spectrum, and there is a lot of variation within the ace community.

If you want to learn more about asexuality, The Asexual Visibility & Education Network (AVEN) is a great place to start.

And if you’re questioning your own sexuality, that’s okay, too. There’s no rush to figure it all out; take your time and explore what works for you. And, if you need support, there are plenty of places to find it, both online and offline.

Written by Natalia Kołkowska


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