Okay, let’s play a little game of “f*ck, marry, kill.” Brad Pitt, Harry Styles, John Legend. If your answer to this round (or any round, for that matter) is, “Do I have to f*ck anyone?” then you’re not alone. While asexuality isn’t exactly common (more on that below), it’s a very real type of sexuality that some people identify with.
“It’s not that anything is wrong with someone who is asexual,” says Courtney Watson, a sex therapist at Doorway Therapeutic Services. “They just fall on a different place on the spectrum of sexual desire.”
There’s a lot that’s misunderstood about asexuals, also known as “Aces.” So check your stigmas at the door, and let’s dig into what asexuality actually is all about.
1. Asexuals don’t experience sexual attraction.
Like heterosexuality, pansexuality, and homosexuality, asexuality is a sexual orientation. According to the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, the term describes “a person who does not experience sexual attraction.” That’s not to say asexual people can’t develop romantic feelings or establish emotional connections. In fact, there’s a number of ways someone might identify as asexual (but more on that later).
2. It’s not super-common
Some estimates put the prevalence of asexuality at only about 1 in 100, notes Liz Afton, LMSW, psychotherapist at The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in New York City. This helps explain why it’s often misunderstood.
3. It exists on a spectrum.
In some cases, an asexual person will crave a romantic connection but won’t be interested in ever having sex. Others will experience the urge to have sex—it just comes with a deep emotional connection to someone. A lot of people who identify as asexual fall somewhere in between.
Asexuality is fluid, too, Watson adds. This means asexuality won’t look the same across every point of someone’s life. So, while an asexual person might not have been interested in romance at one point, they might be later on.
4. It’s not a medical condition.
Asexuality is often confused with having a low libido, which is a clinical diagnosis that could be caused by a variety of medical reasons (think: depression totally tanking your sex drive for a few months or even years).
Unlike having a low libido, asexuality is not a medical condition, and is in no way a “disorder” that could or should be treated, says Kristen Lilla, L.C.S.W., a certified sex therapist and sexuality educator in Nebraska.
5. It’s not celibacy, either.
Being celibate, choosing abstinence, or swearing off sex are choices you make—asexuality, a sexual orientation, isn’t. “Celibacy is about behavior, while asexuality is about underlying feelings and experiences of sexual attraction and desire,” Kahn points out.
6. Nothing is “wrong” with asexual people.
Being asexual doesn’t mean there’s anything physically or psychologically askew. I’ll say it louder for the people in the back: Asexuality is a sexual orientation. As Afton reminds us, it’s not “caused” by surviving sexual violence or any other external factors.
7. Any person can be asexual.
Despite the antiquated notion that men have higher sex drive than women, gender doesn’t have any affect on asexuality (and neither does any other sexual construct, for that matter). “These narratives limit our understanding of desire and sexuality,” Kahn says. As with any other sexual orientation, absolutely anyone can identify as asexual.
8. If you identify as asexual, you can still date (if you want to).
Just like non-asexuals, “people who are asexual may date men, women, and trans people,” says Lilla.
Think about it this way: If you were to make a list of all the things that attracted you to your partners, chances are that list wouldn’t begin and end with how they made you feel in your nether regions, right? We are attracted to people for dozens of reasons—their quirky senses of humor, killer intellect, and day-making hugs. The same is true for people who identify as asexual and experience romantic attraction.
“There are so many dimensions to relationships,” Afton says. So yes—there are ways to build intimacy in a relationship that don’t involve what’s in between your legs.
9. Asexual people can still have sex…
The list of reasons for getting it on is long and varied, like it is for someone who identifies with any other orientation. “Someone who identifies as asexual might not experience sexual attraction, but they might still want to be intimate with a partner as a physical release or to be close and intimate with someone physically,” Lilla explains. “Depending on the person, they might not want to be physical but may choose to pleasure their partner even though they don’t want to be pleasured.” In short, like most things in life, it really depends on the individual.
10. …and orgasms.
And yes, sex can still be pleasurable if you’re asexual—orientation doesn’t affect anatomy. “Sex is still a physically pleasurable act,” explains Lilla. “Someone who identifies as asexual can have orgasms like anybody else,” adds Eric Marlowe Garrison, a clinical sexologist and professor at the College of William and Mary.
Someone who is asexual might even masturbate, Garrison says. “I’d say five to seven out of every 10 asexual patients I’ve seen in my practice masturbates,” he says.
Confusing? Garrison explains you have to remember there are a lot of good things about having an orgasm aside from the obvious sexual pleasure. They can be a way to let off steam, reduce stress—or even help you get rid of a headache.
11. An asexual person might decide to open their relationship.
Even if they have a total disinterest in all things hanky panky, their partners may feel differently.
“If that couple is open to non-monogamy, that can be a way that a partner can get that sexual need met,” Watson says. However, it’s important for the Ace to lead the conversation about when and where sex will come in the relationship so they can make sure they’re comfortable. “There’s enough pressure from the outside world for sex to look like one particular thing,” she adds.
12. If you don’t know if you’re asexual, check in with yourself.
Watson suggests taking time to do some soul-searching in the sheets—if you’re comfortable with that. Make a plan to intentionally gauge where your interests lie the next time your masturbate or have sex. By making a point to assess your level of pleasure during sex, you’ll have an easier time pinpointing what makes you feel good and what you can do without. This will ultimately help you determine where you lie on the sexuality spectrum.
13. The realization that you’re asexual can feel like a relief.
“Typically, it manifests at the same time everyone else begins to realize and acknowledge their sexuality, during early adolescent years,” Lilla explains. “However, people who are asexual often don’t have the language to describe their sexuality until adulthood.” They may try to date other people and be intimate with them, but know something just isn’t clicking.
And when someone realizes they’re asexual, “there is a huge amount of relief, because they finally understand why they’ve never experienced sexual attraction,” says Lilla.
14. Asexuality has had some major pop culture moments in recent years.
In the Netflix series Bojack Horseman, Todd, who is Bojack’s roommate for much of the series, comes out to Bojack as an asexual—something that many asexual people responded to, saying it made them feel seen.
In Game Of Thrones, the character Lord Varys also said he was asexual before he became a eunuch. “When I see what desire does to people, what it’s done to this country, I am very glad to have no part in it,” he says in the show.
15. You’re not alone if you’re asexual. There is support.
If you’re still struggling or confused, seek out a sex therapist. “You don’t have to feel like you’re in this alone, because there are people who are specifically trained to be able to help you deal with, sort through, and manage these feelings,” says Watson.