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Before I begin, a disclaimer.

I am a single person. My experiences do not, and cannot, represent the full picture of asexuality, nor am I some kind of designated asexual spokesperson. At the end of the day the only things I can take full credit for are my own experiences.

I also have a sinking feeling that a large part of the stuff I'm going to say will be pulled out of my ass unsourced. I consider myself a probably-aromantic sex-averse asexual.

What is asexuality?

The general consensus and the [1] AVEN-given definition is,

Asexual people are people who do not experience sexual attraction.

I am very hesitant to label anyone as asexual. If the label fits and sounds right, use it. Nobody can pick a label for you.

The Asexual Spectrum

The asexual spectrum includes asexuals, grey- (or gray-) asexual, and demisexual people. Though often we talk of asexual people, more correctly we should be talking about people in the asexual spectrum.

So far we have asexuality defined as not experiencing sexual attraction. However, for some people, this is not as clear-cut. Grey-Asexuality is a descriptor for people who partially identify as asexual for a number of reasons. Demisexual people on the other hand do not experience primary sexual attraction, but do experience secondary sexual attraction.

What's the difference? Primary sexual attraction is attraction-at-first-sight, so to speak, the instant flash of "ze's hot, I'd want to have sex with zir." Secondary sexual attraction is sexual attraction that happens after getting to know the person better, forming emotional and/or romantic bonds.

Is it really a sexual orientation?

Short answer: yes.

Long answer: Yes, because asexuality is not the complete lack of sexuality at all. Some asexuals have a sex drive. Some don't. Some are repulsed by sex. Some are indifferent. Some like intimate physical gestures, like kissing. Some don't. The asexual spectrum is not a monolith.

Asexuality and the DSM

Although asexuality is not explicitly in the DSM-IV, Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD) is. [2] HSDD is defined as:

a sexual dysfunction... characterized as a lack or absence of sexual fantasies and desire for sexual activity for some period of time.

Technically, a person has to be distressed by said lack of sexual fantasies or desire for sexual activity to be diagnosed with HSDD. However, it patholigizes asexuality, slapping an unnecessary label on people who don't have HSDD. Currently, there's a campaign to amend the definition of HSDD, so that it accommodates asexuality.

[3] A detailed post about the campaign to change HSDD in the DSM-IV.

A Brief History of the Asexual Community

Though asexuality has presumably existed for a very long time, the asexual community - and the term itself - is relatively young. In 1994, a survey of some 19,000 British residents found that 1% had never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all. The 1% figure is still quoted as the approximate percentage of asexual people in a given population.

Because of the difficulty in communicating and sharing experiences, it wasn't until the development of the internet that the asexual community started. Because of its relative obscurity, and the extreme normalization of the experiences of sexual people, it was very hard to realise that asexuality wasn't just a personal issue. The first online asexual communities were set up around the year 2000. AVEN, currently the biggest asexual space, was set up in 2001. Some communities were also set up that catered to anti-sexual views. At this time the definition of asexuality was varied and the community was fractured. Eventually a definition of asexuality was constructed based on orientation, and (at least on AVEN) it was decided that anyone who identified as asexual was asexual, regardless of other factors like sex drive. The community expanded steadily. Media interest grew, and asexual symbols - such as the upside-down triangle, the purple flag and the odd fixation on cake - were developed.

[4] Everything taken from this thread on AVEN.

Sexual vs. Romantic Orientation

Though we usually merge the two together and assume that A follows B or vice versa, when you remove sexual attraction from the equation, a different picture emerges. Generally we are told that if person A is heterosexual, we can infer that they are both sexually attracted and romantically attracted to members of the opposite gender. If person B is homosexual, they are sexually and romantically attracted to members of the same gender and so on.

However, for asexual people, there is a distinction. Asexual people are not automatically aromantic as well, though of course some are. You can very broadly separate asexual people into two groups, aromantic and romantic. Aromantic asexuals do not experience romantic attraction, while romantic asexuals do. Romantic asexuals can be heteroromantic, homoromantic, biromantic, panromantic or really any other combination. It's also possible to be a sexual aromantic, or (for example) a bisexual homoromantic. In my own opinion this separation of sexual from romantic attraction is much more flexible and accurate than lumping the two together. Again, this is on a spectrum - just as there are grey-asexuals and demisexuals, there are also grey-romantics and demiromantics.

Common Questions

Many of these were lifted from the Asexual Troll Bingo. Go Google it.

"Do you masturbate?"

I have no idea why this is always the first (or nearly the first) question. I mean. Seriously.

The answer to this is that it depends on the person. Some asexuals are libidinous i.e. have a sex drive, and so may masturbate. There are a lot of reasons why. Some asexuals don't have a sex drive, or have a reduced sex drive. Some asexuals might have sexual fantasies. Some don't. Some asexuals have fetishes, as well. Some don't. Again, it is always individual, and it makes no sense to make a blanket statement like "asexuals all do/don't masturbate".

"Are you sure there's nothing wrong with you?" or "Have you had your hormones checked?"

Asexuality is not due to any aberration in body chemistry, and certainly not due to hormonal imbalance. While it’s true that some people suffer from a decreased sex drive due to hormonal changes or other changes to body chemistry, asexuals lack sexual attraction – it’s not the same thing. Plus, it’s insulting, because it infers that asexuals must have something wrong with their bodies to ‘make them that way’.

"Are you sure it's not just a phase?" or "Are you sure you're not just straight/gay/bisexual?"

Good grief I have seen this one thrown around a lot. Yes, sexuality is fluid. But, for this opinion to be valid, consider the fact that if you think we’re not really asexual, then it follows that a gay person might not really be gay and a straight person might not really be straight. Even so, you should support whatever sexuality a person identifies as. Just because there’s a possibility of change doesn’t make it any less valid. The same is true for the opposite direction; if you once identified as asexual, that doesn’t then mean that all other asexuals are going through a phase. Everyone has their own experience.

The other problem with the second question is that the asexual community occasionally gets attacked and artificially split up, by people outside the community, according to romantic orientation. This has happened before in discussions about whether or not asexuals can call themselves queer; I've seen some very vitriolic comments saying "heteroromantic asexuals aren't queer enough/are encroaching on queer spaces" or some variant of that (aromantics... tend to confuse them.)

"Isn't it unfair if you're dating a sexual person?" or "So do you only date other asexual people?"

Being a romantically inexperienced probably-aromantic I am not going to be very good at answering this! But from what I can gather, it's (again) an individual thing. Every relationship is different, and everyone will have different views on what they want in a romance.

Further Links and Resources

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