Someone who is asexual experiences little to no sexual attraction.
Sexual attraction, in basic terms, means you find a specific person sexually appealing and want to have sex with them.
Asexual people, who might use the term “ace” or “aces” for short, typically don’t experience sexual attraction or want to pursue sexual relationships with other people.
That said, being asexual means different things to different people.
Some people might only experience sexual attraction in very limited circumstances. For example, someone who is demisexual — which some say falls under the asexual umbrella — experiences sexual attraction only when they experience a deep connection.
To put it another way, they might only feel sexually attracted to people in the context of a loving romantic relationship.
Some people might not experience any sexual attraction and still choose to have a sexual relationship.
To put it simply, everyone has a different experience with being asexual, and there’s no single way to be asexual.
Some people don’t experience sexual attraction at all
Asexual people who don’t experience any sexual attraction can still experience other forms of attraction.
Aside from sexual attraction, you can also experience:
- Romantic attraction: desiring a romantic relationship with someone
- Aesthetic attraction: being attracted to someone based on how they look
- Sensual or physical attraction: wanting to touch, hold, or cuddle someone
- Platonic attraction: wanting to be friends with someone
- Emotional attraction: wanting an emotional connection with someone
It’s possible for asexual people to experience all these forms of attraction, plus plenty of others.
You’ll find a whopping 37 terms to describe different types of attraction here.
Wondering exactly what it means to be asexual? Here are the basics.
Asexual people can have a sex drive and experience sexual desire
There’s a difference between libido, sexual desire, and sexual attraction.
- Libido. Also known as your “sex drive,” libido involves wanting to have sex and experience sexual pleasure and sexual release. For some people, it might feel a little like wanting to scratch an itch.
- Sexual desire. This refers to the desire to have sex, whether it’s for pleasure, a personal connection, conception, or something else.
- Sexual attraction. This involves finding someone sexually appealing and wanting to have sex with them.
Plenty of people who aren’t asexual have a low libido and may not desire sex. Similarly, many asexual people still have a libido and might experience sexual desire.
Asexual people might still masturbate or have sex.
After all, sexuality doesn’t always mean someone doesn’t enjoy sex. It just means they don’t experience sexual attraction.
An asexual person might want to have sex for plenty of reasons, including:
- to satisfy their libido
- to conceive children
- to make their partner happy
- to experience the physical pleasure of sex
- to show and receive affection
- for the sensual pleasure of sex, including touching and cuddling
Of course, some asexual people have little to no sex drive or sexual desire — and that’s also OK since asexuality means different things to different people.
Many asexual people desire and have romantic relationships
An asexual person might not experience sexual attraction, but they could certainly experience romantic attraction.
An asexual person could be romantically attracted to people of the same gender, people of another gender, or people of multiple genders.
Many asexual people want — and have — romantic relationships. They might build these romantic relationships with other asexual people, or with people who aren’t asexual.
Asexual people may engage in sexual intimacy with partners
As mentioned, some asexual people do have sex, because sexual desire differs from sexual attraction.
In other words, you might not look at someone and feel the need to have sex with them, but you might still want to have sex on occasion.
Every asexual person is different. Some might feel repulsed by sex, some might feel nonchalant about it, and some might enjoy it.
Sexuality is a spectrum
Many people view sexuality as a spectrum.
Asexuality can be a spectrum too, with some people experiencing no sexual attraction, others experiencing a little sexual attraction, and others experiencing a lot of sexual attraction.
Graysexual people rarely experience sexual attraction, or they experience it at a very low intensity. As the Asexual Visibility & Education Network (AVEN) explains, many people recognize graysexuality as a midpoint between sexuality and asexuality.
Sexual attraction and desire aren’t the same as romantic attraction and desire
Wanting to have sex with someone is different from wanting a romantic relationship with them.
Similarly, it’s important to remember that just as sexual attraction differs from romantic attraction, sexual desire also differs from romantic desire.
You can desire a romantic relationship without also desiring sex and vice versa.
Some people prefer nonromantic relationships
Some asexual people have no interest in romantic relationships.
As asexual people experience little to no sexual attraction, aromantic people experience little to no romantic attraction. Some — but not all — asexual people are aromantic.
Queerplatonic, a word that originated in the asexual and aromantic communities, offers one way to describe nonromantic relationships.
According to AVEN, a queerplatonic relationship is a very close relationship. Though it doesn’t involve romance, people in a queerplatonic relationship are just as committed as those in a romantic relationship.
Anybody can have a queerplatonic relationship, no matter their sexual or romantic orientation.
Some find their capacity for attraction or desire shifts over time
Many people consider their identity somewhat fluid.
One day, they might feel like they’re asexual because they experience little or no sexual attraction. Weeks or months later, they might feel a shift and find they experience sexual attraction more often.
Similarly, someone might identify with the term heterosexual or bisexual, then later realize they’re asexual.
This doesn’t mean they were wrong or confused before. It also doesn’t mean sexual orientation is a “phase” or something you’ll grow out of.
Now, let’s clear up a few of the myths around asexuality.
It means celibacy or abstinence
Many people falsely believe asexuality is the same thing as celibacy or abstinence.
Abstinence is about deciding not to have sex. This is usually temporary. Someone may choose to abstain from sex:
- until they get married
- during a difficult period in their life
Celibacy is about deciding to abstain from sex, and possibly marriage, for a longer period of time. Many people make a lifelong commitment to celibacy for religious, cultural, or personal reasons.
One key difference lies in the fact that abstinence and celibacy represent choices. Asexuality does not.
What’s more, asexual people might not actually abstain from sex at all — and people who choose celibacy or abstinence can certainly experience sexual attraction.
It’s a medical condition
Many people think there is something “wrong” with asexual people.
The world seems to assume that everyone feels sexual attraction. As a result, asexual people might worry there’s something wrong with them if they don’t feel that same attraction.
But asexuality isn’t a medical concern or something that needs to be fixed.
It should go without saying, but being asexual isn’t the same thing as experiencing:
Anyone can develop one or more of these conditions, regardless of their sexual orientation.
It only happens because someone can’t find the right partner
Some well-meaning people may assume asexual people will feel sexual attraction when they meet the “right” person — but that’s not how asexuality works. It’s not a matter of finding love or romance.
As a matter of fact, many asexual people desire romantic relationships — and many asexual people have happy healthy romantic relationships.
Romance doesn’t have to involve sex, just as sex doesn’t require romance.
If you’re asexual, you’ll want to talk to your partner about the types of sexual activity you’re open to (if any) plus any other boundaries you have around sex.
Maybe you and your partner both want a long-term romantic relationship, but your partner has a much higher sex drive. You might try an open relationship, where your partner has other sexual partners but maintains an emotional commitment to you.
What’s most important is that both partners express their needs honestly and recognize that while sexual attraction can shift over time, it may not. So, it generally won’t help to assume an asexual partner will suddenly experience sexual attraction.
Keep in mind, too, that it’s OK (and very healthy) to have a high sex drive and want to have sex often. Sometimes, people simply aren’t compatible. If your partner is asexual and doesn’t want to have sex, but they aren’t willing to consider an open relationship, you might want to consider whether the relationship meets your needs (which are entirely valid, too).
As with homosexuality or bisexuality, there’s no underlying “cause” of asexuality. It’s just the way someone is.
Asexuality isn’t genetic, the result of trauma, or caused by anything else.
That said, if you experience any distress as a result of your orientation, or you feel uncertain about your orientation or what your lack of sexual attraction might mean, talking to a compassionate, LGBTQIA+ affirming therapist can help.
Although you can’t take a specific test to figure out whether you’re asexual or not, you can ask yourself a few key questions to evaluate your desires and consider whether they align with common asexual characteristics.
Some questions to consider:
- What does sexual attraction mean to me?
- Do I experience sexual attraction?
- How do I feel about the concept of sex?
- Do I feel like I should have interest in sex only because others expect it?
- Is sex important to me?
- Do I see attractive people and feel the need to have sex with them?
- How do I enjoy showing affection? Does sex factor in?
These questions don’t have any “right” or “wrong” answers, but they can help you think about your sexuality.
If you realize you’re asexual, you might wonder how to explain your orientation to the people in your life, particularly those who may be less familiar with the term.
You can always start by explaining that asexuality is an orientation, just like being gay, queer, or pansexual. Some people have an attraction to people of one gender, others to people of many genders, and some don’t experience sexual attraction at all.
Family or friends might worry asexuality means you’ll never have a loving relationship, so you can also reassure them that you won’t be lonely — you can and do experience the desire for friendship and other close bonds.
It can also help to keep in mind you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone if you don’t want to. Your romantic and sexual desires (or lack thereof) are your business. That said, many people find that being open about their sexuality helps them live more authentically.
Of course, you’ll definitely want to share your orientation with someone you have a romantic interest in.
Maybe you experience a little sexual attraction or none at all. The way you define your sexuality, orientation, and identity is your choice, and only you get to decide what asexual means to you.
Ultimately, you can always choose the identifier(s) you’re most comfortable with for yourself. If you decide not to use any labels to describe yourself, that’s OK, too!
Want to learn more? Read up about asexuality and chat with members of the asexual community online at the:
Sian Ferguson is a freelance writer and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. Her writing covers issues relating to social justice, cannabis, and health. You can reach out to her on Twitter.