Not to be confused with being genderless, nor with biological asexuality (which refers to organisms that do not reproduce sexually), asexuality, in the most basic sense of the term, is defined as a sexual orientation where a person doesn't experience sexual attraction towards anyone.
It's similar to how a heterosexual person does not experience sexual attraction to their own gender, but applied to everyone, but the concept of asexuality is not quite as black and white as it may seem at first. Asexuality is also an umbrella term for people that fall between asexuality and other orientations.
RomanticismRomanticism and sexuality are two distinct—if parallel—spectrums. Some people use the split attraction model for themselves, with labels such as homoromantic asexual being used. However it should be noted that homo/hetero/bisexual/etc labels do not refer solely to sexual attraction; etymologically, the "sex" part referred to gender, which it was considered synonymous with. Labelling homosexuality as being inherently sexual comes loaded with baggage, so please don't.
Asexuals don't feel sexual attraction, but not all asexuals are Aromantic. For an alloromantic asexual, romance isn't a problem, and many are comfortable with cuddling and kissing to express their feelings—they may be part of a Chastity Couple or even wind up in a happily Sexless Marriage. Some asexuals are sex-favorable (see the below section) and don't mind having sex with their partner despite not finding them sexually attractive. Meanwhile, there are also aromantic allosexual people, who may be part of a Friends with Benefits arrangement. An aromantic asexual can still have other types of relationships, like Platonic Life-Partners, that fill a similar role in their lives, or even go along with a relationship where the romantic feelings are mostly one-sided.
Polls suggest that there are more alloromantic asexuals than aromantic ones (aroaces), though aroaces still make up an important proportion of asexuals and are by no means a tiny minority in the a-spec community.
Contrary to popular belief, not all asexuals hate sex. While it is not uncommon for asexuals to be repulsed at the thought of having sex or to have a negative view towards sexuality in general, others may be okay with it, and even have an active sex life. This is something that is quite confusing to many people: straight people only make love to the opposite sex, and gay people to the same sex, because that's what they're attracted to, so asexuals, who are attracted to neither, should have sex with no-one, right? But it's not that simple, as there are many reasons to have sex with someone you're not sexually attracted to. One asexual slogan states that orientation is defined by "attraction, not action".
Asexuals tend to be grouped in one of three categories: sex-favorable, sex-neutral, and sex-repulsed:
- Sex-favorable asexuals view sex as a fun, pleasant thing to do. While they may not think their partner is sexually attractive, the act itself still feels good to them. A popular analogy is food: "I'm not hungry, but I can still eat to enjoy the taste." Likewise, someone who doesn't actively crave caffeine might still enjoy the flavor of coffee, tea, or soda. This does not make them any less asexual: asexuality is defined by one's inability to experience sexual attraction, not by lack of enjoyment of sex.
- Sex-neutral asexuals (sometimes called sex-indifferent) don't particularly care about sex. While they may not find intercourse unpleasant, they tend to not be particularly enthusiastic about it. When they have sex, it may not be because they specifically want it, but rather because they want to make their partner happy (in the same way that a guy might sit through a Chick Flick with his girlfriend even though it doesn't interest him), or for other reasons such as to have children.
- Sex-repulsed asexuals (sometimes called sex-averse) are disgusted at the thought of engaging in sexual activity. Whether it be because of personal trauma, or simply finding the acts and substances involved Squicky (among other possible reasons), they really would rather not be doing it with anyone. Some sex-repulsed aces may be repulsed by sexual imagery as well, which can be problematic considering how modern culture tends to be drenched in sex.
Of course, an asexual's degree of sex-favorability may fluctuate depending on context, mood, or other factors. For example, being okay with having sex with one's partner, but finding the thought of casual sex repulsive.
Sex-favorability or repulsion should not be confused with the concepts of sex-positivity or negativity: the former refers to how one feels about engaging in sex personally, while the latter refers to one's views on the morality of sex in general. For example, some sex-repulsed asexuals may be sex-positive overall, thinking that sex can be a beautiful thing to be celebrated as long as it doesn't involve them personally, while a sex-favorable ace could enjoy the act itself, but hold the sex-negative view that it should strictly be done for the sake of procreation with a married partner.
Most asexuals actually do masturbate and enjoy doing so, as physiological arousal is considered to be distinct from sexual attraction, and these people can still be either neutral or repulsed by the idea of having sex with another person regardless. For them, the libido is an undirected physical urge, like sneezing, using the bathroom, or scratching an itch. Asexuals who watch pornography or have sexual fantasies may focus more on the acts being performed and the sensations they cause, rather than on how "hot" the people involved are. Some may also fantasize from a third-person perspective, putting themselves as a passive observer rather than imagining actually participating in the fantasy; these people may use the label "aegosexual" to describe themselves. That said, abstention from pornography and masturbation is also not uncommon among asexuals, especially sex-repulsed ones.
Many asexuals consider asexuality to be a spectrum between "fully" asexual (never feel sexual attraction) and "fully" allosexualnote . Various terms exist to define people who are not fully asexual but fall within the spectrum:
Gray asexuality is an umbrella term that describes the 'gray area' between sexuality and asexuality and covers a various range of identities under the asexual spectrum. In general, they do not feel sexual attraction except under certain circumstances and/or toward certain individuals. They could simply be attracted to an unusual characteristic (physical or behavioral), or only want to engage in a very specific type of sex.
Demisexuality is a subset of gray asexuality, and specifically refers to people who only experience sexual attraction after a close emotional bond has formed, although the definition of 'emotional bond' varies from person to person. It does not refer to people who are picky about their sexual partners, or people who are "saving themselves for the right person": these people may experience sexual attraction, but choose not to act on it, while demisexuals don't feel ANY sexual attraction at all without a preexisting bond.
Gray-aces and demisexuals are considered asexual despite being able to experience sexual attraction, because they feel it so rarely that they are functionally asexual in most situations. For example, the idea of a Celeb Crush or Love at First Sight may feel completely alien to them, and they may find themselves Not Distracted by the Sexy even when viewing works that are Best Known for the Fanservice.
Many people who describe themselves this way, or could be described this way, have had multiple partners in their lives (some are even polyamorous). Asexuality is not a 100% accurate description for them, but understanding the concept of asexuality is necessary in understanding the concepts of demisexuality and gray asexuality.
Discrimination against asexuals
Asexuals face a variety of issues, some of which are shared with or similar to those faced by other LGBT+ identities. Discrimination against asexuals is referred to as "aphobia" or "acephobia". A study by the LGBT+ support organization The Trevor Project has found that asexual youth suffer from abnormally high rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide, similar to other queer identities.
- Medicalization: Although the viewpoint that homosexuals are mentally ill is becoming much less common, the same can't necessarily be said for asexuality. Many people still believe that asexuality is always caused by physical or mental illness, such as a hormone imbalance or PTSD from sexual abuse, and that a medical professional can turn asexuals "normal". One episode of House, for example, fell into this trap, with the titular doctor turning a supposedly asexual Chastity Couple allosexual (turns out the husband's sex drive was suppressed by a brain tumor, and that his asexual wife was only pretending to be asexual to avoid Incompatible Orientation). While there are disorders that can lower one's sex drive, asexuality is about not experiencing sexual attraction, with libido being a separate thing; as mentioned above, some asexuals do have a libido and may even be sexually active.
- Sexual harassment and corrective rape: Asexuals face a high rate of sexual harassment. Upon coming out to someone, many asexuals have reported being told something along the lines of "I can change that", from people who believe that they're good enough at sex to make them change their orientation. Tying into the medicalization of asexuality, this leads some people to try coercing asexuals into having sex, or even force themselves on them, under the belief that a good sexual experience will "unlock" the person's ability to feel sexual attraction.
- Erasure: Many people deny that asexuals exist at all or are a valid orientation. To them, asexuals may just be "late bloomers" or "haven't met the right one yet", and need to "grow up" or "find the right person". Alternatively, they believe that asexuals just choose to identify as such because "they can't get laid" and are using their orientation as an excuse to justify having given up on trying to find a sexual partner. That particular notion is particularly likely to focus on asexual men; asexual women are sometimes stereotyped that way too (albeit as "uptight prudes," while asexual men are smeared as "unmanly losers"), but they're also likely to be accused of drawing pointless attention to what's supposedly the female norm.
- Negative stereotypes: Asexuals are often stereotyped as cold and heartless. There's a reason for the existence of the No Love for the Wicked trope, where a person's inability to experience romantic or sexual attraction is treated as a sign that they're evil. Prudishness is another common stereotype, which ignores the fact that not all asexuals are repulsed by sex. Asexuals are also stereotyped as immature, due to the belief that "real grown-ups" must want or have sex: consider, for example, how often sex is used in media as a shorthand for a character becoming fully adult. Asexuals are also stereotyped as boring, due to the belief that sexuality is exciting and fun, so someone without one must live an uneventful life.
- Dehumanization: It is often said that "sex is what makes us human", that sexual attraction is an important part of the human experience. Therefore, people who do not feel sexual attraction are sometimes seen as "less of a human being". This has a big impact on asexual representation in fiction, where asexual-coded characters are often portrayed as non-human beings such as robots, aliens, or monsters.
- Exclusion from the LGBT+ community: It is not uncommon for people in the LGBT+ community to exclude asexuals. They may believe that "asexuality isn't real" or that asexuals are "not queer enough" or "not oppressed enough" to qualify as part of the community. Since asexuals (especially aromantic or heteroromantic ones) can pass as celibate straight people (or even as non-celibate ones, in the case of sex-favorable aces), some feel that they don't deserve to be included in the LGBT+ community. This liminal space of erasure and perceived straight privilege isn't unique to asexuals; bisexuals are also sometimes excluded using a similar argument.