Asexuality 101

Considering the obscurity of asexuality, it's likely that many of my readers have never encountered it before.  This is unfortunate, because much of what I'd like to talk about is beyond the 101 level.  This page explains the bare basics that I expect readers to know.

Facts about Asexuality:
  1. An asexual is a person who does not experience sexual attraction.

  2. Asexuality does not mean lacking sexuality. "Sexuality" can refer to so many traits besides sexual attraction, and asexuals can have many of these "sexual" traits.

  3. Asexuality is a sexual orientation, not a behavior.  Some asexuals have sex (although of course many do not), and most abstinent people are not asexual.

  4. Asexuals may experience nonsexual attraction.  Most notably, some asexuals experience romantic attraction, and may identify by a romantic orientation (heteroromantic, homoromantic, biromantic, or panromantic).  Some asexuals are aromantic, and do not experience romantic attraction.  Other asexuals do not conceptualize themselves in terms of romantic orientation.

  5. Asexuality is a spectrum.  Not only is there large diversity within asexuality, there are many ways that people might only partially identify with asexuality.

  6. There is a small but growing asexual community.  For some time, the community was dominated by AVEN, which was founded in 2001.  Recent years have seen the growth of other communities, including Tumblr, blogs, and offline groups.

  7. Asexuals fight invisibility and erasure.  Asexuals are often ignored or told that their identity is invalid.  Most asexuals grow up without knowing that it's even a possibility, and end up believing themselves broken or freaks.
Inappropriate responses

There are many common responses to asexuality which arise from ignorance.  If you give one of these responses, I will probably point out your error.  It's not a big deal, and you'll be forgiven.  But to avoid this slight embarrassment, avoid the following comments:
  • "Do you masturbate?"  If the context is inappropriate to ask a straight person this question, then it is also inappropriate to ask an asexual this question.  The answer is some do and some don't.  It is not the same as sexual attraction.

  • "Your asexuality is really caused by hormones/immaturity/abuse/anxiety/prudishness/autism/etc."  Some asexuals may have these characteristics, but overall there is little to suggest correlation much less causation.  If you suggest such a thing, I will think you are attacking the validity of asexuality.  And since you have no evidence to base this on, you are basing it on idle speculation and personal prejudice.

  • "Why do asexuals feel the need to talk about what they're not doing?"  Asexuals may discuss pressure from society, or how they form relationships, or any number of other things.  Also, many asexuals are not interested in talking about it, and you just don't see those people. 

  • "It's so amazing that asexuals can rise above the need for sex!"  For an asexual, being asexual requires no effort, so it doesn't make sense to praise it.  Also, this is insulting to asexuals who choose to have sex, and people who are partly asexual, not to mention non-asexuals.

  • "What are you saying, that the rest of us are sex-crazy?"  No, not at all.  If I describe an asexual experience, I am not trying to say that non-asexuals never share that experience.  Lots of people aren't super into sex, even though they aren't asexual, and that's okay.  And if a person is super into sex, that's cool too.
The above list is not comprehensive.  See the recommended resources to learn more.

Recommended resources:

AVEN FAQ: General, For Family and Friends, Relationships
Asexuality Archive (Also see the glossary)
Taking the Cake: An illustrated primer on asexuality
Asexuality and LGBT: The Case for Inclusion
Swankivy's Asexuality Top Ten

I keep additional (non-101) links on my additional links page.