What is asexual? Asexuality is a sexual identity often left undiscussed, so it is shrouded in quite a few misconceptions. That’s just not on. We’ve got the answers to those burning questions you may have but you’re not sure where to look – or who to ask – for more information. Allyship is very important. Killing Kittens are here to debunk some myths about asexuality.
But, first, a definition…
What is Asexual?
Asexual is a term used by and to describe people who experience little to no sexual attraction. Although there may be fluctuations, this will be the prevailing state: having a period of low libido does not make you asexual, for instance. That being said, asexuality is different for everyone who identifies in this way. Many asexuals see their sexuality as part of a spectrum, ranging from allosexual (a term used to describe individuals who experience sexual attraction) to completely asexual. Some may sit in the middle of it, or some may be closer to one side. Asexual people may refer to themselves as a-spec or just ace.
Defining any sexuality is difficult, because we know how complicated and individual it can be. Another way to look at asexuality is: that ace people typically don’t pursue sexual relationships with others. However, that isn’t to say that ace people hate sex. That is incorrect.
When the topic of asexuality gets brought up, many of us can get confused by the very notion. How could someone have little – or no – sexual desire, when sexual desire is something so many of us experience? Asexuality is often greeted with a bombardment of personal and unwarranted questions. Constantly having to defend and prove yourself as an asexual person can be tiring. Likewise, this can be exhausting for anyone who identifies as LGBTQIA+, people who are, on the whole, much more likely to be on the receiving end of questions about their sexuality and gender identity than cisgender, heterosexual individuals.
It’s safe to say that the letter ‘A’ is not going away. Educating yourself is one of the best ways to be an ally, so it’s time to debunk some of the prevailing myths around what asexuality is and what it means for people who define in this way.
Misconception One: Asexual People Hate Sex
Sex is not for everyone. This much is true. But, defining asexual people as “those who hate sex” is harmful, not to mention incorrect. There is often an unhelpful conflation between asexual identity and something else: sex aversion. This is best defined as an unwillingness to engage in and/or an avoidance of sexual activity. To clear it up, not all asexual people are sex averse. And being sex averse doesn’t mean you hate sex. It just means the thought of it seems unappealing, which could be for a number of reasons. It’s also worth noting that if your lack of interest in sex does not cause you distress, then it isn’t a disorder.
Every asexual has a different opinion on sex, and that opinion can be positive, negative or neutral and can fluctuate and change over time.
Misconception Two: Asexual People Don’t Seek Romantic Connection
Again – this is more conflation. Sex is not romance. Romance is a whole different sphere of experience altogether. Aromantic is a lack of romantic attraction towards anyone, or someone who doesn’t typically pursue romance. Asexual and aromantic aren’t the same thing, but nor are they mutually exclusive. Ace people could identify with both of these labels, or perhaps just one of them.
Misconception Three: Asexual People are Celibate
Some people believe that asexuality is just an extreme form of abstinence, and may ask: why would you put a sexuality label on that? Well, the answer is that asexuality is not a choice, it is a sexual orientation. Celibacy is a conscious choice to not have sex, which can be undertaken by people of any sexual orientation for a vast number of possible different reasons. No matter the reason, religion or something else entirely, celibacy is a decision, a pledge or a promise. Asexuality is not a choice, however, and is still valid as an identity whether the ace individual decides to engage in sex or not.
Misconception Four: Asexuality is a New Thing
Asexuality is not new. And it hasn’t been brought about by the internet.
Though a-spec history is sparse and a little harder to pin down than some of its LGBTQIA+ counterparts, there is historical evidence that tells us that asexuality – or a similar term – has been mentioned in academia since the 19th Century. Specifically, the earliest recorded mention of asexuality was by Hungarian doctor Karl-Maria Kertbeny; in 1896, he attempted to coin monosexual – which he described as someone who has “sexual satisfaction only with themselves”. Interestingly, this term was coined alongside homosexual and heterosexual which we use today. Now, in 2022, monosexual is generally used for someone who feels sexual attraction towards one gender.
Nevertheless, Karl was onto something, and he set in motion the exploration of asexuality in academic, social and artistic circles. Asexuality has been through lots of phases, and it may not have always been referred to as such, but it has been here for a long time and there are lots of people who use it to describe their sexual identity.
Misconception Five: Not Many People Identify as Asexual
Asexuality isn’t as rare as you – or the people around you – may think. In fact, asexuals are believed to make up around 1% of the population, according to a study performed in 2004. It goes without saying that this figure may be even highernow. After all, attitudes are shifting and people are able to talk about this aspect of their lives more openly.
Misconception Six: Asexuality is Caused by Trauma
This is a very complex misconception. Trauma certainly has the capacity to change people. But, people’s feelings and identities can change or be formed even when trauma isn’t involved. While some asexual people have trauma histories, sexual trauma does not cause asexuality. The conflation of any sexuality other than heterosexuality with some kind of trauma, deviance or perversion is a narrative deeply rooted in patriarchy and only functions to uphold the white, cisgender, heterosexual hegemony. It is a narrative that has been used to demonise, other and discriminate and it has no place in modern discourse.
Misconception Seven: Asexuality is Fixed
Sexuality doesn’t like to sit still. You should by no means feel stuck or trapped by a label. It’s OK to change or feel differently, whether that change happens gradually over a lifetime or if it switches from day to day. Finding a label that suits you best can be a challenge, especially if you feel you have to fit rigidly within the confines of the dictionary definition of the label. It’s OK to see your sexual identity as flux, fluid and ever-changing. On the other hand, having a label isn’t everything. After all, LGBQTIA+ identification is by no means just about finding a label that fits you – however well. It’s about finding people who understand you, and learning to better understand yourself. It’s about discovering community, and living a full and authentic life outside of the restrictive cisgendered and heterosexual norms.
Want to be an ally to a-spec people? We’ve got some more definitions:
Gray Asexual (sometimes referred to as graysexual): in between asexual and allosexual (i.e. people who experience sexual attraction); being asexual and able to experience, or have previously experienced sexual attraction.
Sexuality is diverse and different for everyone. Our sexual identities are intrinsically and innately linked to who we are and how we relate to the world. However, asexual people can sometimes have a hard time relating to other people in this ever-so-allosexual world, not feeling that they are authentically seen and understood for who they are. Now you may have a clearer understanding of what asexuality is and the tools to help others understand, too.
Piper Huxley (she/her) is a transgender woman currently living in the south of England. She studied English Literature and Theatre Studies at the University of Reading. Now, Piper is a full-time content writer and creator. Her passions include starting projects that she will never finish, listening to some trashy indie record or staring at her pile of unread books – which seems to be mysteriously growing…