The word “asexuality” might conjure up memories from ninth grade biology, where you learned about animals that can reproduce without having sex. But when I say the word “asexuality,” I’m talking about the human sexual orientation—one that’s existed for a long time, but that’s only really entered the cultural conversation over the past two decades.
Since asexuality is fairly “new” as far as sexualities go, it’s pretty easily misunderstood. Sometimes, it’s conflated with celibacy. Other times, it’s conflated with abstaining from relationships altogether. Neither of these things are necessarily the case—at least, not for everyone who identifies as asexual.
Ahead, I address those misconceptions, as well as seven other things I wish people understood about asexuality.
1. It’s a spectrum
Like sexuality, gender and relationship style, asexuality exists on a spectrum, as explained in a 2018 study in the Dalhousie Journal of Interdisciplinary Management. While some asexual people never experience sexual attraction, others do occasionally—or in specific circumstances.
Which brings us to our next point…
2. There are tons of terms that fall under the asexual umbrella
For example, people who identify as graysexual (or gray-asexual) occasionally (but rarely) experience sexual attraction, while those who identify as demisexual experience sexual attraction only when there is first a deep emotional bond.
Other types of asexuality include placiosexual (little or no desire to receive sexual pleasure, but there is desire to give sexual pleasure), quoisexual (unable to differentiate between sexual and platonic attraction or unsure if they experience sexual attraction) and akoisexual (experiences sexual attraction with no desire to act on it).
3. Asexual people can have relationships
People who are asexual can still desire and exist in romantic relationships, according to the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network. Many asexual people are in relationships with both other asexual people and allosexual (having sexual desire) people.
Remember, there’s a difference between not experiencing sexual attraction (asexuality) and not experiencing romantic attraction (aromanticism).
4. Not all asexual people are abstinent
The Asexuality Visibility and Education Network also explains that because asexuality is a spectrum, there are people who identify as asexual who have sex. For some asexual people, this could look like only having sex with people they love, or it could be the opposite—only having sex with people they have no connection with at all.
5. Celibacy and asexuality are different
If you have never had sex or haven’t had sex in a while, this doesn’t make you asexual. If you choose not to have sex, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re asexual, either. Celibacy is the act of not engaging in sex, while asexuality is specifically not wanting sex.
6. Some asexual people masturbate (including with sex toys)
Sexual attraction is different from libido or sex drive. Some asexual people don’t experience sexual attraction but do regularly masturbate, according to a 2014 study in the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality. Some asexual people also enjoy masturbating with their partner(s)—either with their fingers or with toys.
7. There are more asexual people than you might guess
According to a 2004 study published in the Journal of Sex Research, roughly 1 percent of the population has never experienced sexual attraction at all. With the population of the world estimated at 7.6 billion people, that means around 76 million people identify as asexual.
Having said that, that particular study is 14 years old—but it’s still the one most frequently referenced when it comes to putting a statistic on asexuality. This is an area where updated research is needed, as people’s perceptions and understanding of the sexual spectrum are constantly evolving.
8. There’s an entire community for asexual people
It’s called the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network, and we’ve been citing information from its website throughout this article. It was started by David Jay, who stars in an excellent documentary about asexuality called (A)sexual.
9. It is a real and perfectly valid orientation
Last, but not least, asexuality is 100 percent real. In a 2017 article in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, the authors, Drs. Lori Brotto and Morag Yule conclude that asexuality is, in fact, a sexual orientation. They also note that more research in this area is required to help us understand the nuances of the orientation.
So whether your child just came out to you or you’re experiencing asexuality yourself, it’s important to remember that not experiencing sexual desire is completely normal.
If you or somebody you know is interested in learning more about asexuality, there are some excellent resources available online, including the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network,Ash Hardell’s video on asexuality and sex, The Trevor Project, Ace and Aro Spec Sources and (A)sexual.
Originally posted on SheKnows.