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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  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
Asexuality and the DSM
Although asexuality is not explicitly in the DSM-IV, Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD) is.  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.
 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.
 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.
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
"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