Everything You Need to Know About Asexuality (But Didn't Want to Ask)

Not everyone wants to have sex—and that's okay.
What is Asexual
Photo: Alexandr Dubynin | Getty Images
Dina Cheney - The Knot Contributor.
Dina Cheney
Dina Cheney - The Knot Contributor.
Dina Cheney
The Knot Contributor
  • Dina writes for The Knot Worldwide, specializing in food, travel and relationships.
  • With more than 20 years of experience in service journalism, she also pens articles and recipes for publications, such as Good Housekeeping, Parents, SELF, Health, Men’s Health, Men’s Journal, Prevention, Fine Cooking, Weight Watchers and Diabetic Living.
  • Dina graduated from Columbia College, Columbia University and The Institute of Cul...
Updated Jun 30, 2023

Sex, from steamy movie scenes to friends spilling dating details, plays a sizable role in our culture. Yet not everyone feels lust. In fact, asexual people—known as "aces" (from the phonetic first part of the word asexual)—don't harbor any or much sexual desire. But what actually is the asexual spectrum? If you're unfamiliar with this particular hue of the LGBTQIA+ rainbow, you're not alone.

To deliver the details on what is asexuality, we turned to three experts: Julie Sondra Decker, an activist known for her work on asexuality, is the author of The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality. Anthony F. Bogaert, Ph.D. is a psychology professor at Brock University in Canada, where his teaching focuses primarily on human sexuality. And Amanda Pasciucco, Ph.D. is an AASECT-certified sex therapist.

What Does It Mean to Be Asexual?

Asexuality is a sexual orientation like gay, straight or bisexual, explains Decker. "It generally describes people who are sexually attracted to no one."

Instead of thinking of asexual people as having no sexual orientation, perceive them as having a "sexual orientation of no," she adds.

If you're still scratching your head, Decker suggests imagining a multiple-choice test: To the question, "What kind of partner are you attracted to?" an asexual person would choose the option, "D. None of the above." That being said, some asexual people may still experience some level of sexual desire—just not necessarily connected to other people.

The Asexuality Spectrum

Asexuality isn't black and white—it's a spectrum and where individuals fall (and what that personally means for them) will vary. And regardless of where people land, they may or may not actually have sex.

"The asexuality spectrum includes less normative experiences of sexual attraction," summarizes Decker, who describes three types within the spectrum:

  • Asexual: Many who use this term without any modifiers are saying they don't experience any sexual attraction.
  • Graysexual, Gray-A or Gray Asexual: These people fall between asexual and not asexual. For them, sexual attraction isn't very strong or occurs less often.
  • Demisexual: These people don't feel sexual attraction until or unless they're very familiar with the other person and have developed other positive feelings first. "A demisexual person doesn't feel sexual attraction without prerequisites and can't predict whether it will happen," says Decker. "Since a demisexual person might be attracted to three people in their entire life, they relate much more to the asexual experience."

How Do Asexual People ("Aces") Identify?

"So many people with more popular orientations assume certain feelings come as a package deal—but for us, that's not a guarantee," explains Decker. That's why some aces use a whole host of terms and distinguishers to help them understand and communicate their desires. These include:

  • Romantic orientation: Sexual attraction is separate from romantic attraction, Decker explains. While some asexual people feel romantic attraction, others do not. (The latter group is referred to as "aromantic.") Those who feel romantic attraction may identify by the gender of their desired potential romantic partner: heteroromantic, homoromantic, biromantic or panromantic.
  • Libido: Since sex drive is not the same as sexual attraction, some may prefer to say whether or not they have a sex drive.
  • Sex preference: Some may identify as sex favorable or positive; sex indifferent or neutral; or sex averse, repulsed or negative, says Decker.
  • Other touch preferences: Some may declare whether they feel sensual attraction and wish to cuddle or kiss.
  • Types of relationships: Some like to be part of polyamorous arrangements or follow a lifestyle of ethical nonmonogamy.
  • Response of another: Wanting feelings reciprocated is known as "reciprosexual," while not desiring reciprocated feelings is known as "akoisexual."

Can Asexual People Be in Romantic Relationships?

Since many aces feel romantic attraction, they may choose to be in romantic relationships, explains Decker. That said, because sex is so heavily associated with romance and is sometimes considered to be what separates romance from friendship, this can be tricky. "Some ace people worry they don't have the right to be in a relationship if they're not going to have sex," she says.

While some asexual people are okay with sex or may even want it despite not being sexually attracted to their partner, it's much more common for them to struggle if they date someone who does want a sexual relationship with them, Decker elaborates. Ideally, they can find a partner who can compromise or who shares a similar level of interest in sex.

How Do You Know If You Are Asexual?

There's no simple test to determine asexuality, but Decker recommends asking yourself if any of the following statements resonate:

  • You don't relate to seeing sex as a motivator.
  • You can't really see yourself having sex.
  • You don't have any urges or excitement for (or fantasies about) others.
  • You didn't find your sexual experiences intrinsically compelling.
  • You don't really know what people mean when they say, "sexual attraction."

"Take inventory of your feelings regarding arousal levels," adds Dr. Pasciucco. "When you see someone across the room, can you feel drawn to them? If yes, you probably are not ace."

The bottom line? According to Dr. Bogaert, if you're an adult who's lacked sexual attraction to others for a long time (e.g., since adolescence), this would be a good indication you're asexual."

How to Be an Ally to Aces

When it comes to being an ally to the asexual community, Dr. Bogaert is sure to highlight the following: "Recognize that lots of variability exists in people's sexuality," he says, "and welcome people who are different than you."

From there, keep the following in mind:

  • If someone comes out to you, thank them for their honesty and listen. Don't interrogate them or doubt their experience.
  • Don't "out" people if you don't have their explicit permission.
  • Try not to perceive sexual relationships as a necessary doorway to maturity or adult life.
  • Don't see aces as scared, stunted or necessarily suffering.
  • Stand up for asexual inclusion even in the absence of asexual people.
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