Guest Written by Erica Smith, M.Ed., an award winning, nationally recognized sex educator with 21 years of experience. Erica is the creator of Purity Culture Dropout, a sexuality education program for folks who were raised in purity culture and who are seeking the queer inclusive, shame free, trauma informed, medically accurate, and comprehensive sex education they need.

You’ve probably been hearing the term “asexuality” more in recent years, and maybe you’re wondering what it means or even wondering if it’s something that applies to you personally. There’s a simple definition to asexuality- generally, someone who is asexual doesn’t experience sexual attraction, which is defined as finding a person sexually appealing and therefore wanting to have sex with them. But however simple that definition may be, there’s actually a lot more to asexuality because it is experienced differently by different people. It’s not a one-size-fits all label, so let’s break it down a bit.

Some folks who are asexual don’t experience any sexual attraction specifically, but may still experience other types of attraction such as romantic (wanting a romantic relationship with someone), platonic (wanting to be intimate friends with someone), or physical attraction (wanting to be physically close with someone but not in a sexual way).

While it’s true that some asexual people have little to no sex drive or desire, this isn’t how everyone experiences their asexuality.

Some asexual people may experience sexual attraction, but only in very specific circumstances. For example, experiencing sexual attraction to someone once a deep emotional connection has been formed (we call this specific type of asexuality, demisexuality).

Asexuality doesn’t necessarily mean that people don’t enjoy sex or masturbation- just that they don’t experience much sexual attraction to other people. Some asexual folks still have a libido (what we commonly think of as a “sex drive” and the need to experience sexual release) and may experience sexual desire. So therefore they may choose to masturbate or have sex!

While it’s true that some asexual people have little to no sex drive or desire, this isn’t how everyone experiences their asexuality. There are a lot of reasons asexual folks may choose to have sex even if they don’t experience much or any sexual attraction. Those reasons can include: they enjoy sex sometimes once it’s initiated, they care about pleasing their partner who wants to have sex, they want to participate in a pregnancy, they like giving and receiving affection, or they enjoy the physical release of sex.

Plenty of asexual people are in romantic or sexual relationships, but may not feel that sex is an especially important aspect of a relationship or a priority. Asexuals can even partner with allosexuals (people who experience sexual attraction to others) as long as everyone can communicate well about their needs and have those needs met in the partnership!

Asexual people may not feel that sex is an especially important aspect of a relationship.

Have you ever heard the term greysexuality or grey ace? Some folks consider asexuality a spectrum (like so many other aspects of asexuality)! If experiencing no sexual attraction is on one end of the spectrum and experiencing a lot of sexual attraction is on the other end, greysexuality would fall about in the middle.

Perhaps you’ve heard the term ace? That’s just shorthand for asexual, and some people prefer that term. So maybe you’re wondering if you are asexual? Like any other sexual identity label (such as queer, straight, pan, bi, etc.), only you can decide if the label fits you. Does it feel right to you? Does what you’re reading here describe your experience? Then perhaps you are asexual- no one else can determine that for you.

A lot of folks really worry about choosing the “correct” label to name their experience of sexual desire or attraction. While labels can make us feel like we belong, help us make sense of things, and are a useful shorthand for describing our experiences to the world, I urge you to not put too much stress on yourself to find the “right” label.

The ways we as humans experience sexuality are vast, and chances are that the labels we commonly use can't accurately describe everyone’s experience. Remember that you are the expert on your own experience, and maybe you don’t feel like there’s a word out there that exactly describes you. That’s ok, and your experience is still valid! Also remember that we don’t have to pick a label and stick with it forever. Maybe asexual is a label that encapsulates your experience now, but won’t always. That’s also totally fine- our experience of our sexuality can evolve and change, and expecting folks to always identify with a label that fits them at one particular time just isn’t realistic!

If someone comes out to you as asexual, it’s important to not invalidate their experience. Please avoid saying things like “that’s not a real thing,” or “oh so you’re just abstinent?” The choice to not have sex (abstinence) is not the same thing as asexuality. Instead, a great response is “Can you tell me more about what that means for you personally?” Because remember- people experience asexuality in a variety of ways.

Remember that we don’t have to pick a label and stick with it forever.

You may meet someone who still wants to have a romantic or sexual relationship with you while identifying as asexual. It’s best to ask individuals how they experience asexuality rather than to make assumptions. Also don’t assume that asexual people are judging you or others for how they experience sexuality or the choices they make. Asexuals can still be sex positive!

Sex positivity is the attitude that sexuality is a healthy and normal part of being human, and that it’s ok for consenting adults to make their own choices as long as no one is being hurt or coerced. You don’t have to be having sex or experience sexual attraction in order to be sex positive!

If you do think you are asexual, demisexual, greysexual, or anything in between- remember that these are perfectly fine things to be, and that your experience doesn’t have to exactly mirror anyone else’s in order to be real. Stay curious about how you experience attraction and stay true to yourself. There is no shame in being asexual, however it may look for you.

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Further Readings:

What People Are Getting Wrong About Asexuality (A Lot): USA Today
6 Ways to Be an Ally to Asexual People: Stonewall
Asexuality- The Ascent of the 'Invisible' Sexual Orientation: BBC News