What Does It Mean to Be Asexual?

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on March 26, 2024
8 min read

Asexuality is a broad term to describe a lack of sexual attraction to others, or a low interest in sexual activity.

Some people consider asexuality to be their sexual orientation. Others prefer to describe asexuality as an absence of sexual orientation.

Asexual vs. aromantic

There are different ways to experience attraction.

  • Sexual attraction means that you want to be physically intimate with someone.
  • Romantic attraction means that you desire an intimate connection with them.
  • Aesthetic attraction means that you appreciate someone's physical appearance, but you don't desire them sexually or on a deep emotional level.

Identifying as asexual means that you may be romantically and aesthetically attracted to others, but you have little or no desire to be with them sexually.

It's also possible that you could identify as aromantic. It means you don't feel any romantic attraction to others and don't want that type of close emotional relationship. Some people say "aro," for short.

If you identify as asexual, you could refer to yourself as "ace," or as part of the ace community.

Asexuality isn't the same for everyone. It exists on a spectrum that also takes into account your emotional and romantic attraction to others. You might hear this called the ace-spec. You could also choose to identify as ace-spec.

Based on where you are on the ace-spec, you could:

  • Desire close friendship but not sex
  • Fall in love
  • Feel sexually aroused and be able to orgasm
  • Choose to masturbate
  • Choose to have sex
  • Have a committed partner and children

Asexuality can also be fluid. You may experience more or less sexual attraction at different times of your life or from one relationship to another.

Aromantic spectrum

Just like asexuality exists on a spectrum, there's an aromantic spectrum (arospec). You could also identify as arospec.

To describe who you feel romantically attracted to, you might identify as:

  • Heteroromantic: You have romantic feelings towards the opposite gender.
  • Homoromantic: You have romantic feelings towards people of your same gender.
  • Biromantic: You have romantic feelings towards people of more than one gender.
  • Panromantic: Gender identity doesn't factor into who you're romantically attracted to. You could have feelings towards people of any gender.

Types of asexuality

In recent years, language about asexuality has exploded. Many more specific types are now talked about, which may help you get to know yourself better.

For instance, you could identify as:

  • Demi-(a)sexual. To feel sexually attracted to someone, you first need to feel a romantic or emotional connection with them.
  • Fraysexual. This is the opposite of demisexual. You feel sexually attracted to someone at first, but your desire fades as you develop emotional ties.
  • Graysexual/Gray-A. If you identify as graysexual, you feel your sexual orientation is somewhere between asexual and allosexual (being sexually attracted to others.) Gray-A means that you could sometimes feel sexually attracted to others but not enough to act on it.
  • Aceflux. Sometimes also called abrosexual, this means that you have some periods of asexuality and some periods of sexual attraction.
  • Queerplatonic. This means that you and one or more partners share more intimacy and are more committed to each other than if you were friends, but it doesn't involve sex or romance.
  • Lithosexual. Identifying as lithosexual (also called akoiromantic) means that you can be romantically attracted to others but don't want or need the attraction to be returned. You might feel uncomfortable if you find that they want to have sex with you. You also don't need to be in a relationship with that person.

Here are some of the most common myths about asexuality.

Myth: Asexuality is the same as celibacy.

Asexuality is totally different than celibacy (giving up sex). If you practice celibacy, you're making a conscious choice to not have sex, even though you may be sexually attracted to others. For instance, you might choose to remain celibate because of your religious or personal beliefs. On the other hand, asexuality is an orientation, like being bisexual. If you identify as asexual, it's not something you choose. It's simply part of who you are.

Myth: Asexuality means that you have a low sex drive.

Your libido has nothing to do with your sexual orientation (who you're attracted to). Your libido is your sexual drive. It varies from person to person but is controlled by many different things inside your body, including your hormones and brain chemicals. Several factors, including medication, health issues, and stress, can cause a low libido. If you used to enjoy sex but have lost interest in it, you may want to talk to your doctor about figuring out the cause.

Myth: If you're asexual, you don't have romantic feelings for others.

In fact, many people who identify as asexual experience strong romantic feelings for others. You can be asexual and go on dates, fall in love, and have a long-term committed relationship. Sexual attraction is simply not a driving factor.

Myth: If you're asexual, you never have sex.

You can identify as asexual and still have sex. There are many reasons why you might decide to, but two common ones are to show your romantic partner that you care for them and to fulfill their needs or to have children.

Myth: A person becomes asexual because they've been rejected sexually. 

Some people realize they're asexual after one or more sexual experiences. Others just know it. Being turned down for sex has nothing to do with your sexual orientation, just like it has nothing to do with the color of your eyes.

Myth: People say they're asexual because they haven't found the right partner.

Movies and TV shows often blend sexual attraction with romantic attraction but the two are different. It's possible to have a happy, healthy intimate relationship with someone and not be sexually attracted to them. This doesn't mean that you are with the "wrong" partner.

Myth: People become asexual because they've been sexually abused. 

Being asexual is not solely determined by your history. It's a harmful myth to associate your sexual orientation with trauma. Although past experiences can shape part of your identity, your sexuality is not a choice.

Your asexuality may affect your relationships, or it may not be a factor at all. Communication is key.

Discuss your preferences with your partner. Let them know if you're comfortable with some amount of physical or sexual contact, or not. Talk about their sexual needs, too. Ask each other about your likes and dislikes. Try to be honest, and listen to each other without judgment.

If you and your partner have different sexual needs, you may decide to get them met outside of your relationship. Some people choose to open up their relationship to other partners. You might hear this called a "nonmonogamous" relationship.

Setting boundaries in an open relationship is important. For instance, you might feel comfortable if your partner has sex with someone else, as long as they don't pursue the same emotional closeness they have with you.

Polyamory (having more than one relationship at a time) has also become more common in recent years. A poly relationship is different than an open relationship in that you and your partner may agree to experience romantic love and sex with multiple people.

There's no test you can take to learn if you're asexual. It's an answer that you'll have to reach on your own. Asking yourself some guiding questions can be helpful.

For instance, you might think about:

  • What does sexual attraction mean for me?
  • Do I want to be sexually intimate with others? In what ways?
  • Who am I sexually attracted to?
  • How often am I sexually attracted to others?
  • How would identifying as asexual change the way I think about my relationships?
  • Are there sexual or emotional changes I want to make in my relationships?

After learning more, you may feel like you identify as asexual. Or, you may discover another term that fits your sexual orientation more closely. It's OK to take time to explore.

Coming out is a personal decision. It may help you feel like you can live more openly and be more fully accepted for who you are. On the other hand, you don’t have to come out to your loved ones (or anyone else) as asexual unless you want to.

Keep in mind that there's no "right" way to share this understanding of yourself. And it may not be a one-and-done deal. For many people, coming out is a gradual process. For instance, you might come out to your closest friend before you come out to your family, then tell your coworkers later.

If you feel ready to take this step, you might think about:

  • Who you want to come out to.
  • The timing. For instance, will you first bring up the topic of asexuality and observe their reaction?
  • How and where to share your news. For instance, in person or through email?
  • What to say. For instance, you could explain your asexuality in a detailed way that describes how you feel personally. Or you could stick to the general idea of nonsexual attraction.
  • How they may respond. Keep in mind that some people may need time to process their feelings about your news. Their initial reaction may change once they've had a chance to think about what you've said.

It’s up to you to decide who to come out to. But it’s never OK to out someone else. If they prefer to keep this part of their life private, honor their decision.

In many cases, asexuality is unlikely to come up in conversations. But it might be helpful to think about what you'll say if someone puts you on the spot and asks you about your orientation.

Where to get support

Coming out is a big deal. Leaning on others for support can make it feel less of a challenge. Think about reaching out to:

Asexuality is a term that describes having little or no sexual attraction to others. You can identify as asexual and still have a romantic, loving relationship. Talking honestly and openly with your partner about your boundaries and their own sexual needs will be key.