Demystifying Asexuality

aSexualEver found yourself wondering how to introduce a new sex act to your partner, or how to have orgasms that really hit the spot? If so, you’ve come to the right place! The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health will be publishing a monthly question and answer series for all your sex and sexuality-related inquiries. From sex toys to fantasies to safer sex, we’ll be doling out advice to keep your bedroom romps fresh and your inner sex kitten purring.


I think I might be asexual, but I’m not sure. Can you explain a bit about asexuality?



Just in time for Asexuality Awareness Week, this month’s article is geared toward demystifying this lesser-known and often misunderstood sexual orientation. Often talked about in the context of microbes and high school biology, asexuality in humans is in fact a wholly real and legitimate sexual identity, defined as a lack of sexual attraction toward other people.

Modern media, hormones, and even the existence of this column itself tends to suggest that sexual attraction is inherent to everyone, and the idea of pursuing a romantic relationship that may never include midday quickies or late night fondling is often laughed at. This kind of misinformation about asexuality only breeds bias and prejudice against those who are asexual, while making it difficult for individuals to speak freely about their lack of desire. Asexuality challenges a lot of people’s preconceived beliefs about human nature, and like other sexual minorities, people who are asexual may face reactions that range from general disbelief to more harmful actions, such as corrective rape.

Our hope here is that this article will answer some of your questions, guide you in how to examine yourself, and help educate the world at large with regard to this often undiscussed topic.

How do I know if I’m asexual?

It goes without saying that the only person who can answer this question is you. However, coming to a conclusion can be understandably difficult. Aside from the usual trials that may come with determining a label for one’s sexual identity, “asexuality” has the added complication of being a definition through negation, which isn’t the most helpful when you’re not sure what’s being negated.

People who are asexual come to understand their sexual identity in a variety of ways.  Here are some questions that may help you navigate your sexuality explorations:

  • What activities and behaviors do you associate with romance? Is sex one of them? Are you interested in romance at all?

  • Do you think about sex at all? How do you think about sex? Do you understand sex through more medical and/or anthropological terms, or do you think of sex as erotic?

  • Do you fantasize? Are your fantasies sexual?

  • How do you feel when people around you discuss sex? Do you feel discomfort or angst, or do you feel a vague sense of detachment? Is the experience akin to listening to people talk about a sport you don’t play – while you may understand the mechanics of the game, you’re not actually interested?

  • Do you feel that other people think about sex differently from you?

  • How do you evaluate other peoples’ attractiveness? Are you more prone to think of someone as “pretty” and/or “cute” as opposed to “hot” and/or “sexy”? Have you ever looked at someone and thought, “I’d hit that”?

If I’m asexual, does this mean I’m sexually dysfunctional?

Absolutely not. While there are definitely people who do not enjoy or seek partnered sexual activity due to sexual trauma, sexual shame, and/or medical concerns, this is not the case for people who are asexual. Asexuality is a naturally occurring sexual identity, and at present, there is no research that supports the idea that asexuality is the result of hormonal imbalances or trauma. Just like any other sexual orientation/identity, asexuality is not necessarily something that needs explanation; rather, it simply is, and therefore should be respected and validated.

Isn’t asexuality basically celibacy/abstinence?

Asexuality is different from both celibacy and sexual abstinence, which describe behaviors rather than a sexual identity.

Do people who are asexual still form romantic relationships?

Yes! Asexuality is merely the lack of sexual desire, and doesn’t mean you can’t dream of a Prince or Princess Charming to love. It’s important to remember that the lack of sexual activity does not negate or diminish the love and intimacy shared by people; just as sex can exist without love, love can exist without sex.  Many people who are ace-identifying form totally fulfilling romantic relationships, and just as with any romantic relationship, people who are asexual may go on to marry and have children, should such things be of interest to them. What goes on – or doesn’t –  between the sheets is only one facet of a relationship!

Do people who are asexual still experience arousal?

Can you still get it up? Absolutely – asexuality does not necessarily entail a low libido, and it doesn’t mean that sensation in the genitals is cut off completely. This means that some people on the asexual spectrum do experience sexual arousal, it just may be separate from a desire to engage in partnered sex. Becoming aroused can be due to a number of factors, including the body’s physiological response to sexual stimuli, such as erotica or being touched, because asexuality is a sexuality as opposed to a nerve disorder. Some people who are asexual do still masturbate and find pleasure in their bodies. This may be as a result of bodily arousal, for practical purposes, such as to help with concentration or sleep (a throbbing hard-on can distract from a lot of things), or simply because self-love feels good.

Do people who are asexual ever have sex?

Whether or not you have sex as someone who is asexual is wholly dependent upon you and your desires. However, it’s certainly the case that some people who are asexual do engage in sexual activity, which they may enjoy and find happiness due to a desire to pleasure their partner, as opposed to feeling sexual desire and/or attraction. When considering this, it’s important to keep in mind that informed, affirmative consent should be the prerequisite to all sexual activity. Work to make sure that your asexual partner/s are actively consenting to whatever sexual activity they are about to/are/will be engaging in, without pressure, emotional coercion, or physical force.

You mention the “ace umbrella.” What do you mean by this?

Asexuality exists on a spectrum, and the term encompasses a vast variety of behaviors, emotions, and beliefs.  Within the “ace umbrella,” some of these identities include demisexuality, which is when an individual does not experience sexual attraction unless there is first a strong emotional connection, and aromanticism, which is a lack of romantic attraction. Grey-asexuality is another common term; it is a catch-all term that describes any number of behavior and feelings, including but not limited to: people with low libidos; people who don’t usually experience sexual attraction but sometimes do; people who don’t usually desire sex but sometimes do; and those who sometimes experience sexual attraction and desire, but not strongly enough to want to act on such feelings.

Is it possible to be asexual but have sex/gender preferences in a partner?

Yes, most certainly!  Asexuality exists alongside a variety of sexual identities, sometimes in conjunction with them. Asexual people can also identify as straight, gay, lesbian, queer, etc., with these labels describing their romantic attractions. Some terms for these romantic attractions include hetero-romantic, homo-romantic, bi-romantic, and pan-romantic.

Where can I find more information about asexuality?

I recommend that you take a look at the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about asexuality in the United States and providing support to those who are are may be asexual. AVEN is a great resource for those who are seeking an of asexual community. You can find links to asexuality blogs, community sites, and even personals sites on the AVEN Links page.

Another amazing resource is the Asexuality Archive, which includes scores of informative articles about asexuality that are geared toward helping people who are asexual understand and navigate their sexual identities.

Finally, I want to stress that if you are asexual, you are not alone. Approximately 1 percent of the population identifies as asexual; the number is likely greater for all those under the ace umbrella. Being asexual is just one facet of human identity. With improved understanding, you can move past any difficulties you face in your asexuality, and begin exploring all the other facets that make relationships of any kind rewarding.