What Is Asexuality?
Human sexuality, or the way that people experience and express themselves sexually, exists on a spectrum. This means that people’s sexual identities and orientations are complex and not easily classified into distinct groups. Rather, they exist on a continuum or scale that spans from one endpoint to another.
When thinking of sexuality in this way, one might consider asexuality to be one endpoint of the sexuality spectrum, (though there is significant variation among individuals who identify as asexual as well, suggesting that this term encompasses multiple definitions).
In the most basic terms, asexuality is a word that describes people who do not experience sexual attraction or an interest in partnered sexual activity, though they may still be interested in masturbation. Graysexuality is a term used to describe individuals who feel that they fall somewhere between asexual and sexual. This may mean occasionally feeling romantic or sexual attraction to others, or experiencing demisexuality in which people only feel sexual attraction when a strong emotional bond has been formed.
Some researchers have defined asexuality as having “low or absent sexual desire or attractions, low or absent sexual behaviors, exclusively romantic non-sexual partnerships, or a combination of both absent sexual desires and behaviors” (Prause, 2007). However, this term may be used to describe a wide range of individuals who identify as asexual, and a person’s self-identification is the most important part of the definition. Asexuality is considered to be a sexual orientation just like bisexuality, homosexuality, and heterosexuality.
It is necessary to understand that asexuality differs from celibacy or sexual abstinence. Abstinence is a choice that people make to refrain from having sex. This choice is often motivated by personal, social, or religious beliefs. Nevertheless, abstinence is a sexual behavior (or lack thereof) that can change over time (e.g., many religious institutions encourage their members to abstain from sex until they are married). Conversely, as a sexual orientation, asexuality remains more or less constant throughout a person’s lifetime.
Though they do not experience sexual attraction, some asexual individuals may be interested in romantic relationships, while others may not. Similarly, some asexual individuals may choose to engage in sexual activities despite a lack of sexual attraction or desire for several reasons including curiosity, a wish to pleasure a partner or themselves, or for fertility purposes.
Despite the numerous definitions of asexuality, the most valuable definitions are the ones that people carry for themselves. Therefore, it is important respect how others identify in terms of their sexual orientation as well as in other aspects of their being.
- (Updated January 2021). PFLAG National Glossary of Terms. https://pflag.org/glossary.
- Prause, N., & Graham, C.A. (2007). Asexuality: Classification and characterization. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 36(3), 341-356. https://kinseyinstitute.org/pdf/PrauseGraham-Asexuality.pdf