Understanding and Defining Asexuality

Happy older couple outsideIn a world saturated with sexual imagery, appeals to the effects of sexual attraction, and arguments about the way sex affects society, it is difficult for some people to believe that not everyone harbors an interest in sex or feels sexual attraction. But asexuality undermines common beliefs that sexual feelings are universal. While there have always been people who felt little or no sexual desire or attraction to others, the concept of asexuality is relatively new.

Is Asexuality a Sexual Orientation?
It’s easy to confuse asexuality with celibacy or discomfort with sex, but asexuality is distinctly different. While celibacy may be a choice or a result of life circumstances, asexuality is driven by a lack of sexual attraction. People who are uncomfortable with or intimidated by sex generally still feel sexual attraction, even if they are unable to act on it. Asexual people, however, are not interested in sexual relationships with other people. They may still form long-term commitments and get married, but these relationships are typically built around mutual respect and affection rather than sexual attraction.

Asexual people frequently are faced with intrusive questions about why they are uninterested in sex, and some people point to the fact asexual people may later identify as a different orientation or may begin identifying as asexual after engaging in sexual relationships. Asexuality advocacy groups, however, point out that this does not mean that asexuality is not a distinct orientation. Heterosexual people occasionally engage in homosexual relationships, and some people change their sexual orientation later in life. Asexuality seems to function like other orientations, and people who identify as asexual emphasize the importance of respecting asexuality as an orientation, not a mental “disorder,” temporary choice, or product of sexual trauma.

The Path to Asexuality
There is a lot of sexual pressure in our culture. Many asexual people begin to identify as asexual only after having romantic relationships and sexual experiences. Sometimes asexual people have sex to please partners they care about, perhaps because of social pressure or because they haven’t yet learned to consider their own desires. The common denominator among asexual people, however, is no desire for sexual relationships.

This does not mean that asexual people aren’t affectionate or that they can’t engage in romantic relationships. Some asexual people show affection to their partners by massaging them, kissing them, holding hands, or participating in other nonsexual physical practices.

Asexual people who discover their orientation while involved in a romantic relationship often have a difficult road to navigate. There are a variety of ways to deal with disparities in sexual interest, and while some relationships end due to asexuality, partners sometimes agree to arrangements that allow both members of a couple to express their sexuality in a way that is comfortable for them.

Differences in Feelings and Expression
Asexual is not a type of person, just as heterosexual and homosexual people don’t represent specific “types.” The expression of asexuality varies greatly from person to person. Many asexual people experience strong attractions to others and enjoy spending time with specific partners. However, their attractions aren’t fulfilled by sexual interactions. Others experience regular sexual arousal, but feel no need to act on that arousal. Some asexual people find sex extremely off-putting, while others are simply disinterested.

References:

  1. Gordon, O. (2012, November 11). The moment I realized I was asexual. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/9651265/The-moment-I-realised-I-was-asexual.html
  2. Overview. (n.d.). The Asexual Visibility and Education Network. Retrieved from http://www.asexuality.org/home/overview.html

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  • christine p

    christine p

    January 26th, 2013 at 11:16 AM

    Who would someone need to see if you thought that they were experiencing feelings of asexuality? And how do you know that this is acrtually what it is and not a symptom of something else, like depression or maybe even certain medications that one might already be taking?

  • Jess

    Jess

    August 7th, 2019 at 11:06 AM

    I know I’m like 6 years too late, but – from what I know they’re usually not seeing a therapist for asexuality. Rather, asexual people see a therapist for reasons unrelated to sexuality. Most therapists will ask questions about a client’s relationships, dating, and sexual history as part of getting the person’s history in general. Usually if there are few or no relationships a therapist will ask about any difficulties the client is having. That’s where asexuality typically comes up. Unlike with depressed clients, asexual clients typically don’t feel unhappy about not having sex, and they won’t be interested in sex even when they’re interested in other things.

  • Brett

    Brett

    January 27th, 2013 at 5:29 AM

    I guess there are some people who could have a relationship with someone who is asexual, that love conquers all and all that, but I am sure that this is not for me. And besides I know that there are a lot of people who would never be happy living like this and who would seek sexual fulfillment from others and then that opens up a whole new can of worms for the relationship to manage.

  • Liam

    Liam

    January 28th, 2013 at 3:51 AM

    I think that this is the point where those of us who do enjoy a healthy sexual relationship with someone else needs to just step back and take into account that there are others who do not need or enjoy sex the same way that we do, but that there doesn’t have to necessarily be that there is something wrong with that. It’s just a different lifestyle- why should I be critical if I don’t even know what it’s all about or how they got there? To each his own- if they are happy or content with it, then so be it.

  • Deborah

    Deborah

    January 28th, 2013 at 10:08 AM

    So many people out there try to come to terms that homosexuality is not a disorder but something some people are…a sexuality present a whole new sets of minority community that will bear the brunt of people’s ignorance in the future…but at least I hope with more knowledge of the subject people will come out with their win and desire and not be troubled due to others’ ignorance!

  • Elsbeth

    Elsbeth

    January 28th, 2013 at 10:42 AM

    ” partners sometimes agree to arrangements that allow both members of a couple to express their sexuality in a way that is comfortable for them.”

    Other than open relationships, I’m not sure what this means. Can you (or anyone) shed light on this?

  • Margaret

    Margaret

    July 12th, 2016 at 8:29 PM

    Elsbeth, asexual partners sometimes come to an agreement with sex with their partners. It’s not necessarily that asexual a don’t have sex, some do and some don’t. The main phrase that is used is “attraction, not action” to describe that your sexuality is more about how you feel attraction and not what you do. Because asexuals can also feel a sex drive (again, some do and some don’t), it’s not unusual for them to be in active sexual relationships.

  • Frederick

    Frederick

    January 28th, 2013 at 10:49 AM

    This is extremely interesting to me and something I hadn’t really considered before. I didn’t realize that some people just weren’t sexually attracted to other people. Of course, I start wondering Why. I suppose in the end it doesn’t really matter. I guess as long as asexuality doesn’t bother the person or people involved, it can be totally fine. I guess this really is a situation of “know thyself.”

  • Bergie

    Bergie

    January 29th, 2013 at 4:46 PM

    I was asexual for many, many years- just had other things on my mind and no interest in sex. Just as healthy now as I was then, nothing wrong or weird about it… Feels perfectly natural to those whoop experience it… Honestly, its easier to relate to people…

  • Jublin

    Jublin

    March 1st, 2013 at 7:50 PM

    Bergie, you are one Lucky person! I suffer from extreme hyper sexuality, and Yes it is so much harder to relate to people (in my case, really roundish or funny women) because of just how easy it is to get stimulated & have that voyeuristic look on ones eyes. I can’t do well in school, get a girlfriend (I’m too afraid), focus on anything if I see the slightest stimulating skin or hear certain sexual phrases, I’m a 20-year-old virgin & it’s an absolute internal furnace that rarely quits. I’m always afraid that girls will think I’m a shallow nutcase. I would take a desire/arousal eliminating drug in 5 seconds if one came on the market. I’m hoping it’ll be invented (if not already). Society is so anti-sex that it is surprising that there even is some negative reaction to the few asexual people like yourself there are. If anything, that should be seen as positive. You are very very forunate to be free of the flames. So many people, especially women, have such a negative view about sex in and of itself in seeing it as base or artificial even though it is profound and fundamentally good. Maybe someday the ladies will freekin relax.

  • Garry M

    Garry M

    January 28th, 2013 at 10:51 AM

    I just think that’s kind of sad that some people don’t want to use their God given sexuality. Sexuality should be celebrated not denied. I know this article said asexuality is not a disorder, but are you sure? It seems like they are missing out on a lot.

  • h nancy

    h nancy

    January 28th, 2013 at 10:55 AM

    I have a feeling I probably wouldn’t be married for too much longer if I decided I was asexual. I feel really badly for people who find themselves in that position.

  • daniel

    daniel

    January 28th, 2013 at 3:34 PM

    @Garry M: also not to forget are the benefits of sex and a healthy sexual relationship. It has physical, emotional and mental benefits. Being asexual means these people are missing out on all of that too.

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