An asexual person is someone who does not experience sexual attraction. Most individuals find there are certain people they are not sexually attracted to. For asexuals, this includes everybody!
Unlike celibacy, which is a lifestyle choice, asexuality is a sexual orientation – just like homosexuality, bisexuality, and heterosexuality. Celibacy is a conscious decision not to have sex, regardless of sexual desire. Many asexuals do not consider themselves celibate, as they are giving up no more in abstaining from sex than a gay person is by abstaining from sex with someone of a different gender or a straight person is by abstaining from sex with the same gender. Furthermore, some asexual people do choose to have sex, and therefore are certainly not celibate.
Some asexuals may be “repulsed” by sex, meaning they are personally averse to the idea of having sex themselves. Some are “indifferent”, meaning they do not mind having sex, despite experiencing no sexual attraction. The same variation exists in the non-asexual population: some sexual people are quite happy to have sex with someone they are not sexually attracted to, but for others this idea is unthinkable.
Asexuality is not anti-sexuality. While it’s true that many asexuals never have sex, this is not the same thing as having a sex-negative attitude. Attitudes towards sex and its role in culture differ from person to person, just like they do outside the asexual community. Few asexuals express negative attitudes towards sex, but sex-negative attitudes are also present among non-asexual people. Most asexuals are open-minded in their attitudes toward sex regardless of their personal feelings towards it. Many asexuals consider themselves sex-positive.
Just like anybody else, some asexual people desire relationships and some do not. An asexual person can find someone visually attractive (aesthetic attraction), be interested in someone romantically (romantic attraction) and fall in love, but these feelings do not have a sexual dimension.
For the majority of people, sex is regarded as what defines a romantic relationship, with love and sex being closely connected. On the whole asexuals don’t connect love and sex, since they don’t experience sexual attraction. Sex is just one way of expressing romantic love. Sex isn’t necessarily what separates love and friendship: some couples choose to be abstinent yet are romantically involved, and there are people who have sex whilst having no romantic connection. Just as sex can exist without love, love can exist without sex. Romantic love is an almost indescribable feeling and is felt and expressed in different ways by different people. No single way is right or more real than another.
Although asexuals do not experience sexual attraction, many do experience what is called romantic attraction in which most asexuals have a gender preference, or a romantic orientation. Some asexuals describe themselves as heteroromantic (romantically attracted to a different gender), homoromantic (romantically attracted to the same gender), or biromantic (romantically attracted to both men and women). Panromantic asexuals have no gender preference when it comes to romantic relationships, whereas aromantic asexuals are not romantically attracted to anyone, or do not wish to engage in romantic relationships.
Although it may be easier for asexual people to date each other, people can’t control whom they fall for and, due to the current obscurity of asexuality and the small and scattered nature of our community, it can be very hard for asexuals to find one another, let alone a compatible asexual partner. Therefore, at present, it is more common for asexuals to find themselves in relationships with non-asexuals. “Mixed” relationships can be tough for both partners, but they can work, provided they are based on good communication, mutual respect, and understanding.
There are a number of reasons why an asexual person might have sex. Some asexuals are in relationships with people who are not asexual and negotiate sex as part of their relationship. Some asexuals have sex because they enjoy the physical and emotional connections sex can provide. And some asexuals simply enjoy the pleasurable sensation of sex with another person. Sexuality is defined by how a person feels, not by their behavior.
Sexual orientation and sex drive are two separate things. Asexuals with a libido experience what is sometimes called an “undirected sex drive”. Whereas most people would ideally satisfy their libido through partnered sexual activity, for asexuals with a libido this is usually not the case, as they are not sexually attracted to anyone.
There has only been one scientific study on asexuality and arousal, and it was only with women. The researchers found that asexual women are just as capable of physiological arousal as non-asexual women, and that asexual women were healthily aware of what was going on in their bodies (Brotto and Yule, 2010
). Many asexuals experience sexual arousal. Some don’t, but then that’s true for some non-asexual people too. Although people can become aroused by finding someone sexually attractive there are many other factors that can contribute to arousal (for example: touch, or being exposed to sexual stimuli such as erotica).
There is little scientific study on asexuality, as yet, and we have no better understanding of what causes it than we do of other sexual orientations. At present, there is no evidence to suggest that asexuality is caused by hormone imbalances or a deficient sex drive. Although the majority of asexuals do not desire sex, this is largely due to the fact that they do not find anyone sexually attractive, rather than other factors such as hormone imbalances or a low/non-existent sex drive. There are asexuals who have an active sex drive but still do not feel compelled to engage in partnered sexual activity.
The majority of asexuals have not experienced trauma and do not suffer from mental illness. It is important to remember that trauma and mental illness also occur outside of the asexual community, and there is no data to support the existence of a connection between mental illness and a person’s sexual orientation. On the contrary, according to a recent study ((Brotto et al., 2010
), “There were not higher rates of psychopathology among asexuals” than among people in the general population.
Some asexuals have tried engaging in sexual relationships, some more than once, whereas others have felt no need to try sex to verify their feelings. Although some asexuals might choose to experiment sexually, the majority of asexuals just know they don’t want sex with anyone.
Many asexuals have heard this question before. It is similar to telling a straight person that they have not met the right person of the same-gender, or telling a gay person they just haven’t met the right person of a different gender.
Generally, straight people do not need to have sex with someone of a different gender to know they are straight, just as most gay people do not need to have sex with someone of the same gender to know they are gay. Similarly most asexuals are aware of their orientation without having sex first. There are those however who only conclude they are asexual after having sexual relationships. Any sexual orientation, including asexuality, is an individual experience and we all find out who we are in different ways.
In a world where sex and relationships are everywhere, life for someone who has no instinct for those things can be very isolating, lonely and distressing.
Many asexuals feel “broken” because they do not experience the same wants and desires as “everybody else”. Many asexuals are haunted by feelings of shame and face harassment from peers because they don’t fit in. Many asexuals lead unhappy lives by trying to be “normal”.
By raising awareness about asexuality we hope to let people know that they are not alone, and that their feelings towards sex are nothing to be ashamed of. We want people to know that asexuality is a valid sexual orientation and not something to be cured. We want to help people feel pride in who they are and to know there are others out there just like them.
If more people know about asexuality, then more asexuals can find each other and build communities and lasting relationships from which they can draw comfort and support.
Beyond the benefit that projects like AAW bring to the asexual community, asexual awareness can offer interesting insights to the rest of society about the nature of human sexuality and relationships. We hope to show that there are many other forms of love and relationships out there to enjoy!