What Is Asexuality? Understanding Sexuality And Identity

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated April 24, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: If you’re an LGBTQ+ youth or young adult in crisis, reach out to The Trevor Project hotline by calling 1-866-488-7386 or texting “START” to 678-678. You can also use their online chat.

While sexual attraction and sexuality are often conflated, there is a discernible difference between the two. Sexual attraction is often defined by the desire for intimate sexual contact with another. The term "sexuality" refers to a person's identity concerning the gender or genders they are attracted to, as well as the level of their sexual attraction. 

The distinction between sexual attraction and sexuality may be especially prevalent regarding asexuality. LGBTQIA+ is an ever-evolving acronym representing the extensive community of people who don't identify as heterosexual, straight, or cisgender. The "A" in LGBTIQA+ stands for "Asexual".Learning more about asexuality may offer a more significant insight into what the asexual community can look like.  

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What is asexuality?

Asexuality is a sexual orientation characterized by a persistent lack of sexual attraction toward any gender. However, it can also be an umbrella term for subset sexualities or unique identities. Asexuality is often misunderstood and stigmatized. While a lack of interest in sex often classifies asexuality, many asexual or "ace" people desire emotionally intimate relationships. There is no one way to define asexuality, and being asexual can have unique significance to each person.

There are many misconceptions surrounding the ace community. Myths like "asexuality can't exist" or "sexual attraction is a natural part of every adult relationship" may be passed around in communities. In addition, strangers might believe that an asexual person does not or cannot experience intimacy in a romantic or sensual sense. 

The Trevor Project, an LGBTQIA+ advocacy organization, explains that asexual people, or "aces," often identify somewhere on a spectrum that includes their emotional, spiritual, and romantic attraction to other people. The organization goes on to explain that love does not equal sex. Sexuality exists on a large spectrum, and many happy, healthy relationships do not involve sex. 

Sub-categories of asexuality 

In addition to existing on a spectrum, asexuality may be considered an umbrella term that encompasses several sexualities, like the following: 

  • Demisexual: People who only experience sexual attraction once they form a solid emotional or romantic connection with another person
  • Grey-Asexual: People who identify somewhere between sexual and asexual
  • Ace-Flux: Those who feel their levels of sexual attraction fluctuate throughout a certain period, potentially feeling sexual attraction at times

An asexual individual may also be aromantic, which means not being able to experience romantic attraction toward someone else. However, some aromantic people are not asexual. 

Note that some adults who identify as asexual may participate in or enjoy sex or sexual contact. While many asexual people lack sexual attraction or desire, sexual desire may not be connected to physical enjoyment or a willingness to participate in sex for other reasons. 

A person identifying as asexual may use terms like homoromantic, biromantic, heteroromantic, or panromantic to explain their romantic orientation. For example, someone who is homoromantic might only experience romantic attraction to those of the same gender while still being asexual. 

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How can I tell if I am asexual?

People of any gender, age, or background can identify as asexual. For some people, sexuality exists on a spectrum. Your sexuality is unique and can be defined in any way that makes you feel seen and comfortable. 

According to a 2019 survey published by UCLA, 1.7% of adults identify as asexual. If you feel as though you may identify as asexual, it could be beneficial to ask yourself a few questions, such as the following: 

  • Have I ever felt alienated during conversations about sex with friends? 
  • Do I pretend to feel sexual attraction to "fit in" with others? 
  • Have I ever felt that my ability to experience attraction doesn't exist? 
  • Have I felt bored and unsatisfied during sex? 
  • Have I felt unsatisfied trying to "spice up" my sex life with a partner? 
  • Have I ever considered celibacy or abstinence because they seemed preferable?
  • Do I avoid sex scenes in TV shows, films, and books? 
  • Do I feel I don't identify with any other sexuality? 
  • Have I ever felt unbothered by not having sex for months or years at a time? 
  • Do I feel like I'm partaking in sex just to please my partner? 
  • Do I feel like I'd rather participate in any activity other than sex? 
  • Do I feel annoyed by the amount of sexual advertising or media I see?
  • Have I been told by past partners that I don't seem interested in them sexually? 

If you answered "yes" to some or all of these questions, you might be asexual. However, it can be beneficial to note that asexuality can exist on a spectrum. If you want to explore your sexuality further, it might be valuable to speak to a licensed professional like a therapist to use coping skills designed for self-reflection.  

Counseling options 

Asexuality is personal and defined by the individual identifying with the label. Contrary to the myths often surrounding asexuality, identifying as ace is normal, natural, and valid. 

If you feel uncertain about your sexuality or are struggling to find acceptance from family, friends, or community, it may help to speak with a therapist. Many online therapy services offer the option to connect with a therapist in the LGBTQIA+ community if you'd like to speak to someone you connect with. Through platforms like BetterHelp, you can express your goals for therapy while signing up and choose between phone, video, or chat sessions, depending on your preference. 

Additionally, online therapy offers the capability of participating in therapy from anywhere. Based on current research, online therapy is equally as effective as in-person therapy. In addition to therapy, several trusted resources are available online for those looking to learn more about asexuality, such as The Trevor Project or the Human Rights Campaign.

Takeaway

Asexuality is one of many sexualities that people might identify with. Under the asexual umbrella are other sexualities like demisexuality, grey-asexuality, and ace-flux. If you'd like to explore your identity in detail and find ways to manage uncertainty about sexuality, you may benefit from reaching out to an LGBTQ+ counselor for guidance and compassionate support.
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