What Is Asexuality?

October 21st 2015

Laura Donovan

October 19 to 25 is Asexuality Awareness Week, which seems like a good time to ask: How do you define asexuality?

What is asexuality?

The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), which is the main online space for the asexual community, defines an asexual as "someone who does not experience sexual attraction. Unlike celibacy, which people choose, asexuality is an intrinsic part of who we are." AVEN said that being asexual does not make one's life better or worse than that of people who experience sexual attraction. It merely means asexuals face a "different set of challenges than most sexual people."

Common misconceptions about asexuality

One in 100 people are asexual, and the majority of asexuals are female, according to a 2004 study in the Journal of Sex Research. And it's possible that some people don't realize they are asexual.

Because asexuality isn't as common as other forms of sexuality, there are many misconceptions about what it means. A common one: Asexuals deliberately avoid relationships. This is not true: Research shows that many asexuals remain single, but many seek out relationships. It's just that asexuals don't want sexual activity in their relationships.

According to AVEN, there are varying degrees of sexual desire among asexuals. There's "considerable diversity among the asexual community; each asexual person experiences things like relationships, attraction, and arousal somewhat differently."

In 2012, Maxtremist Films highlighted some of the misconceptions surrounding asexuality in a documentary. In the video below, one asexual talked about her own experiences and struggles with asexuality, which she said is hard for outsiders to understand.

"I have no sex drive," Shannon Kelly, a self-described asexual, said. "I still want to be in relationships, but there's no desire for sex. I still want the emotional closeness that comes with a relationship, being able to talk to someone, share secrets, but I don't have any sexual urge. I don't want to be with them in a physical way."

Kelly said it's unfair to ask a gay person if his/her sexuality is a choice and added that asexuality should be treated the same way.

The film also observed that romance, love, and sexual attraction are pervasive in film and TV. While it's good to see more shows and movies include various forms of sexuality, such as gay, lesbian, and bisexual lifestyles, the focus on sexuality in general can imply that asexuality is "unnatural," the documentary asserted.

Mark Carrigan, a sociologist with the University of Warwick, told the BBC in 2012 that people who question or pass judgment on asexuality do not understand it. Society is also more sexualized now than it was several decades ago, which makes asexuality seem even more peculiar to outsiders:

"It's more about marginalization because people genuinely don't understand asexuality. Fifty or 60 years ago, would anyone have actually felt the need to define themselves as asexual, or would society have just accepted them not engaging in sexual behavior? I think there has been quite a profound change. The 'sexual revolution' has been a hugely valuable change in how we deal with sex and how we think about it as a society. Research has left me with a sense that there is a degree of over-sexualization in society, the fact that people just don't get asexuality."

There's also the tendency to reduce asexuality to a "phase," a misconception that has been unfairly applied to gays, lesbians, and bisexuals as well. Anwen Hayward, an asexual young woman who spoke with the Telegraph three years ago, has encountered this attitude. Trivializing and casting doubt on someone's sexuality is harmful, particularly for asexuals, since their community is already so small.

"'You’ll grow out of it, it’s just a hormonal thing, you never know until you try, how do you know, you just haven’t found what you like yet…' are all very common things to be told,'" she said.

If you think you may be asexual or someone you know may be asexual and would like more information on asexuality, visit the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) wesbite.