Asexuality is a lack of sexual attraction. It’s not a choice like a religious vow of celibacy, and it typically does not stem from factors such as sexual violence or psychological distress. Many asexual people and researchers therefore consider asexuality a sexual orientation in itself and observe that it exists on a spectrum (colloquially “aspec”). Asexual people may call themselves “aces” or “ace.”
Asexuality has existed throughout history, but not always visibly. For example, academics have interpreted 19th-century “Boston marriages” — devoted domestic partnerships between two unmarried women — as a socially approved cover for lesbianism. But it’s also possible that some of these women were asexual. By the early 20th century, psychologists and scientists viewed asexuality as dysfunctional and diagnosed asexual people with “frigidity” and other maladies. Because we live in a society in which sexual attraction is normative, asexuality can be stigmatized.
It’s also relatively understudied, so it’s hard to know how many people are asexual. The most commonly cited figure — 1 percent — comes from a 2004 study of British residents. A 2019 study of “sexual minorities” found that 1.7 percent identified as asexual and that 59 percent of them were in romantic relationships.
People on the asexual spectrum vary in their inclination toward sexual behavior and romance. Some are “sex-repulsed,” while others find pleasure in the intimacy of sex and/or have romantic partners. (People who do experience sexual attraction are called allosexual.) Demisexual people, also on the ace spectrum, feel attraction only after forming an emotional bond. Gray-asexuals may enjoy sex at times. Aromantic people may experience sexual but not romantic attraction. An aromantic (“aro”) individual may also be asexual, but not all are, and vice versa.
In the past 30 years, the internet has enabled an ace community to emerge. Some aces align themselves with the LGBTQ+ movement, though not everyone does and not everyone agrees with the inclusion, arguing that asexuality can be more “invisible” than other sexual orientations. (When using the abbreviation LGBTQIA, the “I” means intersex and the “A” stands for asexual, aromantic, and agender, not ally.)
Using the term as an adjective (“asexual person” vs. “an asexual”) recognizes that a person’s sexuality is just one aspect of their identity. “Ace,” however, can be used as a noun or adjective, though some explanation may be helpful if using the shortened term. As with any identifier, taking into account an individual’s preference wherever possible ensures coverage aligns with their lived experience.
- The Asexual Visibility & Education Network (AVEN)
- Understanding Asexuality (The Trevor Project)
- “Asexuality” (Journal of Applied Philosophy)
- “5 Ways to Better Understand Asexuality” (The Cut)“Asexuality Is Still Hugely Misunderstood. TV Is Slowly Changing That” (Vox)
Asexuality is a sexual orientation characterized by a lack of sexual attraction. It’s not a choice, nor is it sexual dysfunction. Because asexual individuals (“aces”) vary in their inclination toward sexual behavior, asexuality exists on a spectrum. Using the term as an adjective (“asexual person” vs. “an asexual”) recognizes that a person’s sexuality is just one aspect of their identity. “Ace,” however, can be used as a noun or adjective, though some explanation may be helpful if using the shortened term. As with any identifier, taking into account an individual’s preference wherever possible ensures coverage aligns with their lived experience.