What is it?
Asexuality is best defined as a lack of sexual desire, which is different from celibacy or abstinence (where a person experiences the desire to have sex but chooses not to.) There are many common misconceptions about asexuality and people who identify as asexual. To address a few, asexuality is not a mental health disorder, nor is it a result of old age or a side effect of any kind of medicine. It is not a phase, but an orientation the same as others on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Additionally, while people who identify as asexual may have no desire to have sex, many still experience romantic attraction. Even within the label of asexual, there is a range of different orientations people may identify with, both romantically and sexually, from romantic sex-positive to aromantic sex-repulsed and everything in between.
In the general population, only an estimated 1% of people identify as asexual. Because of that, there is little awareness of the orientation. The first study on asexuality wasn’t even published until the 1980s, but since then, awareness has been steadily increasing as well as the presence of online communities to connect people who identify as asexual, as well as people who want to learn more about it. Since there are a relatively small number of asexual people, many find themselves in mixed relationships with a “sexual” partner. These relationships require compromise and understanding between both partners, knowing yourself, and being able to communicate your own preferences and boundaries. Knowing the difference between romantic and sexual attraction can help with this.
Orientation and Attraction
When talking about asexuality, romantic and sexual attraction are often referred to separately. Romantic attraction referring only to the desire to have a romantic relationship with another person and sexual attraction, referring only to the desire to have sex with another person. This is sometimes referred to as the “split attraction model.” By understanding both these sides of yourself, it is easier to express what you desire from a relationship as well as allowing you to find out more about yourself. For instance, someone who has no desire to have sex but wants a romantic relationship with someone of the opposite sex may identify as heteroromantic asexual.
There are many ways romantic and sexual orientations can be combined to create a label that someone will feel comfortable with, and will describe how they feel and how comfortable they are with giving and receiving pleasure in sex. Some people who identify as asexual are happy to compromise with the right partner and find ways to enjoy sex while others are distressed at the thought of having sex but still feel strong romantic attraction. To break it down -
Heteroromantic: romantic attraction to people of the same gender
Homoromantic: romantic attraction to people of the opposite gender
Biromantic: romantic attraction to people of multiple or any gender
Panromantic: romantic attraction to people without gender being a factor
Aromantic: lack of romantic attraction, although they may still experience sexual attraction
Sex-Favorable: Enjoys sex and is willing to compromise with a partner to find ways to receive and give pleasure.
Sex-Neutral (or indifferent): Neutral or indifferent toward sex, may be willing to compromise with a partner to give or receive pleasure but doesn’t find it intimate or fulfilling
Sex-Adverse: Does not enjoy sex and is generally unwilling to compromise with a partner.
Sex-Repulsed: Does not enjoy sex and is distressed at the thought of it, completely unwilling to compromise with a partner.
In addition to these, some people who identify as asexual also experience arousal or “libido” as it is often referred to. This is not necessarily a desire to have sex but could be related to hormone variations due to the menstrual cycle or erections at certain times of the day. Some people who identify asexual will still masturbate but have no desire to have sex with another person. People who do not experience any arousal are referred to as non-libidoist asexuals.
In a relationship, especially a mixed relationship, the most important thing is communicating with each other and finding compromises that fulfill both your needs. Once you understand how you feel, and what your boundaries are, it’s easier to communicate those to a partner and reach a compromise. However, while compromise is important, respecting yours and your partner’s boundaries is even more so. Is a person is sex-repulsed or even sex-adverse, they may have no interest in compromising on sex, and that is ok. Mixed relationships can and do work, but the key is communication and mutual respect.
Sometimes the hardest part, however, is beginning the conversation. If a person is just starting to identify as asexual, they may not have a clear idea of how they identify within the asexual spectrum, making it even harder to explain how they feel. Being as honest as possible upfront, however, is always a good policy. While it can be hard to tell a partner who you know or suspect is sexual that you are asexual, it is always better to be clear about your feelings and needs upfront. Ultimately, dating is about finding someone who is compatible with you and who respects you. If your asexuality is a deal-breaker for them, it’s better to know sooner rather than later. Remember, while compromise is essential, you must respect each other’s boundaries in order to have a safe, healthy relationship.
On the other hand, it can also be difficult to hear that your partner is asexual. If your partner tells you that they identify as asexual, it is important to remember that romantic attraction does not equal sexual attraction. The way they feel about you romantically may have nothing to do with their lack of sexual desire. They may also be willing to compromise and still give pleasure without receiving or compromise in another way they are comfortable with. Communication is vital here, and talking with your partner and learning their boundaries is important to reach a compromise that makes both of you feel safe and fulfilled.
If you are wondering if you should identify as asexual, that is not something anyone else can tell you or that you can find on a website. It comes down to how you personally feel, asexuality is not a phase or something that is “wrong” with someone, is it an orientation just like the rest of the LGTBQ+ spectrum, and just like the rest of the spectrum, it exists on a scale. Exploring your sexuality is a deeply personal thing, and it isn’t something that you can get wrong. There is nothing wrong with identifying one way then changing your mind as you change or learn more about yourself.