Discussions about sexual orientation are often focused on sexual attraction toward a specific gender. However, there are some people who feel little to no sexual attraction to anyone, regardless of the type of gender. This is where the discussion of the asexuality (which is its own sexual orientation) spectrum begins.
While approximately 1% of the population identifies as asexual (or as “an ace”), it’s likely that many more people have similar thoughts and feelings. It’s important to note that asexuality isn’t the same thing as abstinence or celibacy, where a conscious decision is at play. So, what does it mean to be asexual? It’s feeling no (or very little) attraction sexually to anyone at all, even if someone is or has been sexually active in the past.
If you don’t feel sexually attracted to others, you’re not alone. There’s a lot to understand about what the asexuality spectrum really means, and we’re breaking it all down here.
Defining the Asexuality Spectrum
Not everyone on the asexuality spectrum will have the same feelings or experiences. Just because an ace person isn’t sexually attracted to a specific gender doesn’t mean they don’t have the same wants, needs, or desires as everyone else. They still might crave or seek out emotional connections and intimate relationships. They may want to (or do) fall in love, feel aroused at times, have self-pleasure and have orgasms, have sex, and even get married and have families.
Asexuality can often be misunderstood as sexual interest/arousal disorder. The difference between the two is that asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction and sexual interest/arousal disorder is the lack of sexual desire.
Asexuality is a spectrum, and there are several different types of asexual people. Ace-spectrum people may be any of the following.
For a sex-negative asexual person, sex seems unpalatable or even disgusting. While asexuals who are sex-repulsed might not believe sexual activity is morally wrong, they do find it to be extremely unpleasant.
A sex-neutral asexual person can feel indifferent to sexual activity. They don’t have any strong positive or negative feelings about sex, and may not think about it much at all.
While sex-positive aces don’t experience sexual attraction, the feelings they have about sex and sexual things are generally favorable. They may see sex as a normal, healthy part of life. Some sex-positive asexuals may even choose to have sexual relationships.
Sexual orientation describes how you experience sexual attraction. It specifically refers to feelings of sexual desire. While asexuality is a sexual orientation, different types of asexuals experience it in different ways.
As discussed, the term asexual describes someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction to others. Some people who are asexual may still experience sexual desire, while others may not have any sexual feelings at all.
Sometimes referred to as “grey aces” or “gray-a,” people who are greysexual are primarily asexual. However, they may enjoy sexual behavior under very specific circumstances, or they might experience sexual interest on rare occasions.
People who identify as demisexual will only feel sexual attraction once they have a strong emotional connection to someone else. Although people who are demisexual are on the asexual spectrum, they’re more likely to engage in sex than people who are asexual or greysexual.
Asexuality is different from abstinence, where someone chooses to not have sex regardless of their sexual urges. An asexual is not necessarily someone who has never engaged in sex. Asexual individuals don’t feel sexual attraction towards people of any gender and it is also considered a type of sexual orientation. It is important to clarify that asexuality is not a medical or mental condition or diagnosis. It is a sexual orientation in the same way that homosexuality, bisexuality, and pansexuality are.
While asexuals might not experience sexual attraction, they may still have romantic connections with others. In fact, approximately 74% of asexuals say they experience romantic attraction. The asexuality spectrum is broad, and feelings about sex and romance can vary greatly from person to person.
Sometimes referred to as “aroaces” or just “aro,” aromantic describes those who don’t have any (or very little) feelings of romantic attraction. An aromantic asexual is more likely to avoid sex than some other asexual types. They simply may not feel any need to connect on that level, either physically or emotionally.
As the name implies, greyromantic asexuality falls into a grey area. While they don’t usually feel any sort of romantic interest, someone who’s greyromantic may have romantic feelings for another person at some point in their lives.
People who are demiromantic can have romantic feelings towards others, but they’re not able to develop them until after they’ve become very close to someone. Some people who identify as demisexual also identify as demiromantic.
When people are bisexual, they experience sexual attraction to both males and females. Being biromantic is similar, but it refers to romantic feelings.
When someone only has romantic feelings for people of the opposite gender, heteroromantic attraction and heterosexuality often go hand in hand. However, people who are asexual may also identify as heteroromantic.
Someone who’s homoromantic exclusively feels romantic desire for people of the same gender. Asexuals of any gender can experience homoromantic attraction.
Someone who is panromantic has romantic, emotional feelings and connections to all people, regardless of gender. For panromantic people, gender has no influence over romantic attraction.
While there are similarities between polyromantic and panromantic attraction, people who are polyromantic can have a romantic attraction to many (though not necessarily all) genders. Their attraction doesn’t always include sexual attraction, though.
The Bottom Line
When discussing asexuality, it’s important to remember that not all asexual people have the same experiences with sex and romance. Some may choose to have sex even though they don’t feel sexual attraction. Others may have no interest in sex or romantic relationships at all.
There are many asexual types and not everyone who identifies as asexual experiences their sexuality in the same way.
People who feel little to no sexual attraction don’t have to follow any specific rules or meet any specific criteria about the emotional, sexual, or spiritual connections and relationships they have in life. Asexuality is both a spectrum and a sexual orientation, and identifying as asexual may help some people form a healthier view of themselves.
Asexuality is not a condition, and there’s no “treatment” you need if you’re questioning your sexuality or how you identify. However, heteronormative views are common in the United States. They can be a contributing factor to the discrimination and abuse felt by so many people who don’t express “traditional” (as established by our society) sexual orientation, sexual identity, and/or gender roles.
“Asexuality is not something that needs treatment or intervention. If a person is looking for support and affirmation in regards to their sexuality and/or sexual orientation then therapy can be really helpful.”
For anyone who doesn’t align with society’s expectations of things like gender identity and sexual orientation, the rates of mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and self-harm are staggering. Specifically regarding ace-spectrum people, the little research that has been done shows that ace-spectrum youth are likely to experience higher rates of anxiety and depression than even the LGBTQIA+ community (which is already drastically higher than the cisgender population).
If you’re sexuality or gender questioning and you need help, it’s available. Talkspace offers online therapy and has therapists who are skilled, trained, and experienced in affirmative therapy, which was designed specifically to treat the mental health needs of minority populations. Find a LGBTQIA+ therapist today.
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