It's way different than low libido or abstinence.

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What Does it Mean to Be Asexual?
Credit: Getty Images/InStyle

DEAR DR. JENN,

I am in my 20s and have only had two boyfriends. I feel romantically connected to the men I have dated in the past — but I don't find myself feeling turned on or wanting to have sex. I do want to fall in love and get married one day but I just don't have an interest in sex. Could I be asexual? — Just Not That Into It

DEAR NOT INTO IT,

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." While asexual people — also known as "Ace" or "Aces" – may have little interest in having sex, most desire emotionally intimate relationships. (Which sounds like you!)

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 (e.g. they want to save themselves for marriage). Someone who is asexual, however, is not sexually attracted to another person and does not want to engage in sexual acts. It's not a fleeting state. 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."

Asexual people experience different kinds of attraction.

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

Being asexual isn't a medical concern.

It's important to know that most people who are asexual have always felt that way. It isn't a medical concern that needs fixing and it's not the same as loss of libido, sexual dysfunction or a fear of intimacy. It is also different from conditions such as Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder, a deficiency or absence of sexual fantasies and desire for sexual activity that causes distress and relationship difficulty. This is not the case for people who identify as being asexual.

So, if this lack of sexual desire is new for you, it is important to rule out any medical or emotional issues that may have shifted your feelings. 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 than asexuality.

So, can asexual people have romantic relationships... or sex?

There are many different ways to be in a relationship if you are asexual. There are some people who choose to not have any sexual contact at all. There are some asexual people who are in relationships with sexual people who opt to have an open relationship.

There are others who opt to have sexual experiences with their partner for a range of reasons, like making their partner happy, or showing and receiving affection. Remember: Asexuality doesn't mean that someone can't enjoy sex — it just means they don't experience sexual attraction. That means some asexual people choose to have sex for the physical or sensual pleasure, including touching and cuddling.

The bottom line is every asexual person is different in their desire to have sex. Some aces might be repulsed by it, while others may enjoy 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.

At the end of the day, whether you're asexual or any other sexual orientation, what matters is that you have good communication and talk through any challenges with anyone you date.

In Hump Day, award-winning psychotherapist and TV host Dr. Jenn Mann answers your sex and relationship questions — unjudged and unfiltered.