What Does it Mean to Be Asexual?
DEAR DR. JENN,
I am in my 20s and have only had two boyfriends. I am really not that into sex. I feel romantically connected to the men I have dated but I don’t find myself feeling turned on or really wanting to get it on. I’ve never had anything traumatic happen to me sexually. Could I be asexual? — Just Not That Into It
DEAR NOT INTO IT,
People who identify as asexual are not that way due to a trauma, that is a whole different diagnosis. Many people, like you, just do not feel sexually drawn to others. The Asexuality Visibility and Education Network, the most well known asexuality organization, describes asexuality as follows, “An asexual person does not experience sexual attraction — they are not drawn to people sexually and do not desire to act upon attraction to others in a sexual way.” People who identify as asexual and researchers who study this stuff refer to themselves as the "ace" community.
When determining whether you fit into that community, it's important to note that asexuality is different than celibacy. While it is controversial, many people consider asexuality to be an orientation (what you are or are not sexually attracted to), whereas celibacy is a behavioral choice (not having sex). Someone may choose to be celibate for religious reasons or personal reasons, like because they want to save themselves for marriage. Someone who is asexual is not sexually attracted to another person and does not want to engage in sexual acts. It's not a fleeting state. Why is this controversial? An article on Pride.com put it pretty clearly: "If you're offended when people say being gay, lesbian, or bi is a choice, then you can't just say the same thing about asexuals."
Someone who is asexual may feel drawn to another person, and date them for reasons that are not sexual. Asexual people experience different kinds of attraction. Here's how these might look in your daily life:
Romantic attraction: I would love to go for a walk on the beach and share a sunset with that person.
Aesthetic attraction: I can really appreciate how attractive that person is, just the way I can appreciate a beautiful piece of art but not have a desire to touch it or take it home.
Sensual attraction: I would love to cuddle, hug, kiss or hold hands with this person.
How do you know whom you want to share these romantic, aesthetic or sensual experiences with? That is how people within the asexual community identify their sexual orientation. Here are some of the common categories they use to differentiate.
Aromantic: a lack of romantic attraction towards anyone
Biromantic: romantic attraction towards either sex
Heteromantic: romantic attraction towards the opposite sex
Homoromantic: romantic attraction towards the same sex
Panromantic: romantic attraction not limited with regard to gender or gender identity
Most people who are asexual have always felt that way. If this lack of libido and sexual desire is new for you, it is especially important to rule out any medical or emotional issues that may have shifted your feelings. Asexuality is different from conditions such as Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder. In cases of HSDD, The lack of libido, sexual fantasies and desires causes distress and relationship difficulty. This is not the case for people who identify as being asexual. Asexual people do not have higher rates of depression, personality disorders, or an inability to describe their feelings, emotions or bodily sensations. It is possible for an asexual person to experience tension in their relationship (perhaps because the other partner is not asexual, and is not feeling sexually satisfied), but let's talk about the health stuff first.
If you're unsure about your own lack of sexual desire, get checked out. Make sure to get a physical, meet with your gynecologist to get an exam, have your hormones tested and get a full blood panel. If this change is emotional, it is especially important to meet with a psychotherapist or sex therapist to discuss why the sudden shift in libido. A history of trauma, depression, anxiety or struggles with intimacy issues can cause a person to turn off sexually. Again, any of these medical or emotional issues are different then asexuality.
So what does this mean for your romantic relationships? There are many different ways to have a relationship if you are asexual. There are some people who choose to not have any sexual contact at all. There are others who opt to have sexual experiences with their partner in order to please that person. Many asexual people want to experience intimacy of some sort in a connected relationship. There's a famous Daisy Mae Darling quote: “Intimacy is not who you let touch your genitals. Intimacy is who you text at 3 a.m. about your dreams and fears. Intimacy is giving someone your attention when 10 other people are asking for it. Intimacy is the person who is in the back of your mind, no matter how distracted you are.”
Is it okay for someone who does not feel sexual desire to give in to having sex with a partner? That all depends on how they feel about it. As a person who identified as Queenieofaces on Tumblr said, “We need to recognize that for some people, sex is great and for some it is horrific and for some it is on a par with folding laundry.” If it is positive or neutral, having sexual contact can be okay for someone who is asexual. If it is unpleasant or negative, that can be unhealthy and create resentment. There are some asexual people who are in relationships with sexual people who opt to have an open relationship. At the end of the day, what matters is that you have good communication and talk through any challenges with anyone you date.