I’ve made mention several times on Twitter, Facebook, and right here on The Archive that I am an out-and-proud Asexual. But recently, I’ve noticed people within my circle of friends and family discussing the topic of asexuality more or even coming out to me as falling under the asexual spectrum (yes, asexuality is a spectrum; we’ll get into that).
So, I felt like it was my duty to talk about asexuality; not just among friends, but publicly so that all of those curious about it could understand it better. After all, one of the biggest problems plaguing the asexual community is a lack of visibility that leads other to claim that it “doesn’t exist” or that we’re just “secretly gay” or “trying to be special.”
Now, to be clear, this isn’t going to be a perfect resource. I may be asexual myself, but I’m not an authority on sexual orientation (if such a thing can be said to exist). To that end, this is going to be a HIGHLY simplified collection FAQs and debunked misconceptions tinged by my own experiences. If you want to learn more, I deeply ask you to check out The Asexual Visibility and Education Network for more information. So, with all veneers of expertise removed, let’s begin.
Attraction Vs. Desire Vs. Activity
One of the larger misconceptions is that asexuality is just a fancy name for what others would call celibacy. Another is that asexuality is just an excuse to justify a weak libido. These couldn’t be further from the truth.
Asexuality, low-to-no libido, and celibacy together demonstrate the disconnect between sexual attraction, sexual desire, and sexual activity respectfully. It’s often difficult for most asexuals or “aces” to explain the concept of sexual attraction since – surprise – we don’t experience it and it’s kinda hard to explain something that you don’t have a frame of reference for.
The simplest explanation I can muster is this: An ace can still be sexually aroused (genitals are stupid and can be turned on by just about anything) and many are still willing to engage in intercourse (until evolution allows humans to reproduce through parthenogenesis, babies need to come from somewhere). However, they simply don’t find others sexually attractive. We can certainly identify people as “cute,” “beautiful,” or sometimes even “sexy,” but sexual attraction may as well not exist to us.
This separates asexuality from the aforementioned low libido – a loss of sex drive and sexual desire that can be countered with medical treatments – and celibacy – the active choice to abstain from sexual activity for various reasons. So when in doubt remember this: if there’s no sexual attraction, it’s asexuality. If there’s attraction but no drive or desire, it’s low libido. If there is attraction and desire but you actively choose not to, it’s celibacy. The important point to take home here is that, whatever you identify as, it’s your identity and it’s valid.
Sex-Positive, Sex-Neutral, and Sex-Repulsed Aces
As briefly mentioned above, many aces still engage in sex or sexual acts. However, not all of them do and not all of them enjoy it or enjoy it to the same extent. This is why the asexual spectrum and the distinction of grey-asexuality or “gray-a” is so important. Different aces may, and likely will, have varying feelings towards sex.
Sex-positive aces regard sex as an enjoyable experience and may even encourage openness about sexuality. However, they still don’t find themselves sexually attracted to anyone. When interacting with a sex-positive ace, please note that their sexual identity is still valid and the fact that they find sex enjoyable doesn’t make them less of an ace. Remember; there’s a difference between attraction, desire, and action.
Sex-neutral aces – the camp that I belong to – tend to treat sex as a tertiary thought. We aren’t exactly opposed to the idea of sex and many of us will gladly engage if it means pleasing a lover or wanting to start a family. However, we aren’t exactly crazy about the idea and probably won’t break our necks to get some. The same considerations paid to sex-positive aces above should be given to sex-neutral ones. Again, attraction is not desire is not action (is that getting through yet?).
Sex-repulsed aces are genuinely disinterested or even disgusted by sex and/or sexual activity. In some cases, just the mere mention of sex makes them incredibly uncomfortable. Bare this in mind when interacting with sex-repulsed aces and respect their comfort zone. This also means not treating them – or any ace, for that matter – as emotionally or psychologically broken. There doesn’t necessarily need to be some kind of trauma to be repulsed by sex. Sometimes, people just find sex undesirable for any number of reasons (speaking personally, I usually just find sex too funny or too clinical to be enjoyable).
I can’t in good conscience talk about the asexual spectrum without giving at least a brief mention its most often underrepresented section; the demisexuals.
Demisexuality falls under and is a very important part of the asexual spectrum. It describes a person who CAN develop a sexual attraction towards a person, but only after a deep, emotional connection has been formed. This makes it one of the most difficult orientations in the asexual spectrum to explain to people and, by extension, one that catches a lot of criticism – even from fellow aces.
But, it’s important to note that demisexuals ARE part of the asexual spectrum. They don’t experience sexual attraction in the same way as other sexual orientations would and need to be respected and welcomed. They aren’t outsiders; they’re human and kin.
How To Respect An Ace
I know I’ve beating the “attraction/desire/action” drum this whole time, but it seems so difficult to convey the importance of it to some people. These folks and I have a valid and legitimate orientation – a very specific way that we prefer to interact with our lovers in order to feel comfortable and secure. This doesn’t mean that we are broken or seeking attention and it’s not a moral or ethical choice like some people consider celibacy to be; it’s just the way we are and we all need to respect that.
Also, just as you should ANY sexual orientation, we ask that you respect our boundaries. If one of us tells you that sex or talking about sex makes us uncomfortable, please stop. If we don’t want to have sex with you, please understand that it’s not a negative judgment of you but us trying to maintain a comfortable sexual environment.
Ultimately, we aces are just like everyone else. And like everyone else, we just want to feel happy and comfortable in our own way.