Asexuality, briefly defined, means having (little to) no sexual attraction. Asexuality exists on a spectrum, because sexual attraction is notoriously hard to define, and people who feel they might experience sexual attraction in some limited way are still allowed to identify as asexual. We call it the ace spectrum for short, and use “ace” in the name of our organization to more inclusively refer to the entire spectrum.
- What is asexuality?
- Why do ace survivors need resources specifically for them?
- How do you know your asexuality isn’t repression?
- How do you know your asexuality isn’t from sexual abuse, or part of a mental illness?
- How do you know you’re asexual if you’ve never had sex? What if you just haven’t found the right person yet?
- Additional Resources
An asexual person is someone who does not experience sexual attraction. Colloquially referred to as “aces,” this group makes up approximately one percent of the human population. Just like with other sexual orientations, no definite cause has been pinpointed. Being asexual is not something you can choose; it’s something you simply are.
Asexuality exists on a spectrum the way that other sexualities do. Many aces identify somewhere in the gray area, which is referred to as the ace spectrum. Gray-asexuals may feel sexual attraction under very rare and specific circumstances, or they may feel sexual attraction but never have a desire to act on it. An example of a gray-asexual would be someone who recalls feeling attracted to a friend at one time, but they generally do not experience sexual attraction.
A subset of gray-asexuality is demisexuality, which occurs when a person only feels sexual attraction after forming a very strong, emotional bond. The bond they need for sexual attraction may take several years to form. In many cases, the demisexual person can be dating someone for a long time and never feel sexually attracted to them. When explaining demisexuality to sexual people, they often mistake it for a choice instead of an innate orientation. Demisexuality is not a choice; it is simply a lack of primary sexual attraction.
Surviving a sexual trauma is hard enough, but being ace can add another layer of complications. Ace survivors face different issues than other survivors. For example, some ace survivors have their sexual orientation called into question because of the violence they’ve endured. Many survivor related resources focus on sexual healing in a way ace survivors find alienating. Ace-centered resources can help ace survivors navigate the intersections of their trauma and their identity without alienating them.
Repression is founded in self-hatred. As a whole, asexuals are more likely to hate themselves for lacking sexual attraction. If asexuals were simply repressed sexual beings, they wouldn’t be going to doctors to figure out why they lack attraction. People don’t try to fix their sexuality when they’re supposedly repressing it.
It’s worth noting that the idea of repression is founded in Freudian psychology, which has been widely discredited as unscientific because it makes unfalsifiable claims. It’s unfair to accuse someone of “just being repressed” because there is no way for that person to prove you wrong—but there is also no way for anyone to prove that right. Yet many people take it as a given that asexual people must be repressed, because they think it is not possible to be asexual.
Sometimes, people who believe that go on to commit sexual violence against asexual people, in a misguided attempt to “awaken” their “latent” sexuality. Please understand that you could be talking to a survivor of such violence, and if you are, suggesting that they might be repressed instead of asexual is especially harmful.
Dr. Lori Brotto, of the University of British Columbia, conducted a study in 2010 that found asexuals have a rate of mental illness and sexual assault comparable with the general population. This suggests that asexuality isn’t caused by mental illness and/or abuse.
It is a myth that all survivors of sexual abuse lose their attraction to other people. Survivors often continue to feel attracted to the same types of people that they were attracted to before, although they may find that attraction newly triggering, or develop a traumatic aversion to sexual acts. People who assume asexuality must be from sexual abuse often misunderstand asexuality, and think that it means an aversion to or fear of sex (which they assume comes from trauma). There is nothing wrong with having an aversion to sex (many asexual people do, whether or not they are also survivors), but that is not the same thing as asexuality. Many people who are not asexual have an aversion to sex, and plenty of ace people do not. And while sexual trauma often does cause such an aversion, not every ace-spectrum survivor develops one. Even when it does happen, it is not always a blanket aversion to all sex acts. For some ace survivors with trauma-related aversion to sex, only certain specific sex-related things (positions, types of sex, or things others might say or do during it) will trigger them. All of this makes it fairly clear that asexuality cannot be assumed to be caused by sexual abuse.
Even if an asexual person who is also a survivor of sexual abuse or has a mental illness does think that their abuse or illness may have contributed to or caused their asexuality—as they are frequently told must be the case—then that does not invalidate their asexual identity. Isolating a cause would not mean that they feel any differently, or would have any interest in being sexually attracted to people if they could somehow change. Most asexual people are happy that way; we only tend to try to “fix” ourselves because we are so often told that we are somehow “broken.”
♠ How do you know you’re asexual if you’ve never had sex? What if you just haven’t found the right person yet?
Asexual people know their orientation the same way that straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or pansexual people know their orientation: they just realize it. People don’t need to have sex to know if they’re attracted to someone.
For certain people sexuality can be dynamic. Sometimes people do find a person who makes them feel a certain way they never imagined feeling. Others have unchanging orientations throughout their lifetime. It can be hurtful to suggest to somebody that they “haven’t found the right person yet,” or suggest they may change because it invalidates their identity. When someone says they have a certain sexual orientation and/or gender identity, it can be hurtful for others to say they don’t believe it. People generally know themselves better than anyone else—meaning you are likely not an expert on the identity of another person.
Below is a list of recommended educational resources about asexuality (or the asexual spectrum) that you may be interested in.
- The Invisible Orientation by Julie Sondra Decker
- Asexuality Archive
- What is Asexuality?
- The Asexuality Series on Matthew’s Place by our own writer, Stormy O’Brink
- The Huffington Post’s series on asexuality
- Taking the Cake: An Illustrated Primer on Asexuality (zine)
- Confessions of a Demisexual by Arf
- Essays by Julie Sondra Decker: