The United States is slowly getting more sex savvy, so you’ve probably heard the term “asexuality” pop up with friends or online. You think that you have a decent understanding of asexuality, but you’re still fuzzy on the topic. You’re also curious if it applies to you, or a loved one. So, what exactly is asexuality anyway? Let’s take a look.
What Asexuality Is.
Bogaert (2004) and other researchers estimate that about 1 out of 100 people (1%) are asexual, which is about 3 million people in the United States. With numbers so high, many people you know may be struggling with asexuality. So what exactly is asexuality? Essentially, asexuality is the complete absence of sexual desire and attraction. Regarding the latter, an asexual person does not find anyone attractive. He or she could intellectually acknowledge a person’s beauty, but the emotional component is gone. They’re not going to have butterflies in their stomach or blush when they are around their crush. In fact, a truly asexual person wouldn’t have a crush at all. If that’s how things are with attraction, how does sexual desire look?
Sexual desire and attraction are very similar, but still have some differences. For example, sexual desire can exist without someone else being around. Masturbation is a good example of this. Someone with asexuality wouldn’t find the need to masturbate, or to do anything sexual in general. It’s possible that the person may have done something sexual before, but the experiences usually leaves the person feeling indifferent. It’s that apathy that really makes a person asexual. Here are some additional signs of asexuality.
- No interest in dating for sex.
- No interest in pornography.
- If dating, the person focuses solely on the romantic component
What Asexuality Isn’t.
Now that we’ve talked about what asexuality is, let’s talk about what it isn’t. For starters, asexuality isn’t simply have a “low sex drive.” People vary greatly on their level of sexual desire; therefore, wanting to have sex once a month may feel minor compared to a person who wants sex once a day. However, only wanting to have sex once a month isn’t asexuality; desire still exists. Remember, asexuality is the complete lack for anything sexual. Imagine eating at a buffet, and being offered food afterwards. In a certain sense, asexuals are never “hungry.” Let’s look at other misconceptions of asexuality.
A person isn’t asexual solely due to sexual trauma. Though some survivors of sexual trauma may have an aversion to sex, this isn’t considered asexuality. An asexual person’s apathy is independent of external factors. Similarly, being averse to sex due to one’s religious background would also not count as asexuality. To summarize, here are things that asexuality isn’t.
- Having low sex drive
- A response to sexual trauma
- Deliberate abstinence
- A temporary lack of sexual desire
What Does Asexuality Look Like?
Reading all of this information at once can be a little confusing, so let’s make things easy by giving you some examples of what asexuality can like. Victoria is a 23 year-old white woman who identifies as asexual. She’s pretty extroverted and even has a boyfriend. However, she’s not interested in the sexual part of her relationship. After all, she’s asexual, not aromantic. Regardless, Victoria may do something to sexually please her boyfriend, but it’s never for her benefit. To clarify, she has tried sexual things on her own (i.e., masturbation), and has even requested sexual acts from her boyfriend (e.g., cunnilingus, digital stimulation, penal-vaginal intercourse). She reports being orgasmic, but not getting much out of the experience. She reports that her sexual initiation was mostly done out of curiosity. She wanted to better grasp what the big deal was all about. However, at the end of the day, Victoria is convinced that those sexual acts don’t really do anything for her; she’s convinced that she’s asexual. To be clear, she doesn’t have resentment and she doesn’t have shame regarding sex. She’s also not afraid to voice her opinion to her boyfriend about their sex life. Though she mainly does sexual activities for her boyfriend’s benefit, it’s only because she wants to. She recognizes that he has needs that don’t always match up with her needs. Part of being in a relationship is meeting your partner half way. People who self-report as asexual often still engage in sex with their partners. However, their desire for sex isn’t there. So, how would Victoria’s sex life look if she weren’t so interested in relationships? Let’s look at asexuality through the lens of someone uninterested in dating.
James is a 48 year-old black man who is uninterested in romantic relationships. He has a good relationship with his family, and sees plenty of healthy relationships within it. Plus, James is a pretty social guy who has made plenty of friends over the years. However, whether it’s women or men, James states that he has never found anyone attractive; therefore, he has never understood the point of dating. He did try it once when he was younger, but it ended due to a lack of sexual and romantic interest in his girlfriend. The break-up wasn’t terrible, however; because of it, James realized that he cared more about friendships than sex and romance. Supporting this belief, James has never been interested in pornography nor masturbating. People often don’t believe him when he says this. After all, it’s easy to think that there are certain things that we all like or do. Everyone drinks coffee, everyone eats meat, and everyone desires sex. However, when we take some time to think about it, we know that there are exceptions to the rule. Asexuality is simply another example of this. James, and plenty others, simply have no desire for sex.
Areas of Contention
Though we would like things to be simple and clean-cut, asexuality unfortunately isn’t like that. There are still some aspects of asexuality where experts disagree. A lot of controversy involves the engagement of sexual acts and their intended purpose. For instance, some researchers argue that a person can masturbate for pleasure or to relieve stress, yet still be considered asexual. Meanwhile, other experts counter-argue that masturbation is still a form of sexuality, despite it being solitary. Either way, what ultimately matters is how the individual personally identifies. In other words, a person can consider themselves asexual regardless of their masturbation practices. The defining criteria for asexuality isn’t completely rigid.
How to Find A Good Therapist for Asexuality
After reading so much about asexuality, you may want to do some personal exploration by talking to a therapist. This is a great idea; seeking therapy is almost always beneficial. However, if you’re looking for a therapist to discuss your potential asexuality, make sure you look out for certain things. Not all therapists are created equally, so you want to make sure that the one that you pick is well-versed in asexuality. Try to gauge their knowledge by asking questions like, “What are your thoughts on asexuality?”, “Have you done work with the asexual population?”, and “How do you define asexuality?” Therapy can be very vulnerable, so make sure your therapist is a safe, knowledgeable one.
As researchers learn more about asexuality, as do the average person. However, there are still a lot of misconceptions surrounding asexuality. Asexuality isn’t having a low sex drive or an aversion to sex. Instead, asexuality is the innate apathy regarding all sexual behaviors. The desire simply isn’t there. Also, it’s important to know that how you identify yourself is ultimately up to you. You can still consider yourself asexual and not follow the exact definition in this article. Now that you’ve read everything, you may have gained a better understanding for your sexuality, or at the very least, those around you.
Bogaert, A. F. (2004). Asexuality: Prevalence and associated factors in a national probability sample. Journal of Sex Research, 41(3), 279-287.