We tend to think of sexual orientation as a spectrum from gay to straight. Many people are familiar with the Kinsey Scale, for example. While these perspectives have been liberating to many, another spectrum exists entirely: the asexuality—or ace—spectrum. People on this spectrum experience little to no sexual attraction and/or desire.
In honor of ACE Week (October 25-31), an international campaign dedicated to raising awareness and expanding education of asexuality, here are nine things to know about asexuality and the ace spectrum
1. The A in LGBTQIA+ is not (only) for ally
While there’s been a lot of progress towards accepting people of all sexualities, those on the asexual spectrum often get left out of acronyms such as LGBTQ. If and when the A is included, as in LGBTQIA+, it historically has been assumed to mean ally.
While some still use this meaning, the A can better be thought to represent identities including asexual, aromantic, and gender. As a reminder, the prefix of “a” means “without.”
2. Asexuality is a sexual orientation
Just like someone can identify as gay, straight, bi, or pan, so too can someone be asexual.
One’s sexual orientation is typically thought of as having three components: who you’re attracted to, what you do sexually, and how you identify. These may or may not align in ways you might expect.
Which brings us to…
3. Being asexual doesn’t automatically mean that someone is celibate or abstinent…
These latter two terms focus only on behavior—what you do or don’t do sexually. But behavior is just one component of orientation. Not experiencing sexual attraction and/or desire doesn’t mean that an ace person can’t have an active, even pleasurable sex life. Some do. Some don’t. If you think about it, the same can be said for most allosexual people—those who experience sexual desire and/or attraction—as well.
Furthermore, celibacy and abstinence are a choice whereas your seuxal orientation is innate.
4. …or that they don’t enjoy sex.
Ace individuals may describe their relationship to sex itself separately from their orientation. This relationship again can be thought of on a spectrum, from repulsed—having zero interest in sex and disliking the idea of it—to neutral, to positive, liking and enjoying sex.
It’s worth reiterating that no matter how they feel about sex, ace people still don’t experience sexual attraction. Additionally, people engage in sex for many different reasons, from desire to stress relief to work—so you can’t assume someone’s identity or desires solely based on what they do, and vice versa.
5. There are many ways to be asexual
The ace umbrella or spectrum includes all of the identities related to asexuality. This includes but is not limited to:
- Demisexual: people who only experience sexual attraction if there’s a strong emotional bond. Attraction is not guaranteed.
- Greysexual/grey ace: is sometimes positioned as a bridge between the ace and sexual orientation spectrums. It refers to those who may experience sexual attraction rarely or only under specific circumstances, as well as those who fluctuate between periods of being sexually attracted to others and not.
- Cupiosexual: people who experience no attraction but still desire to have a sexual relationship for multiple reasons
- Lithsexual: people who find that there sexual attraction to some fades after it is reciprocated
6. Sexual attraction and romantic attraction aren’t the same…
As mentioned above, another A is “aromantic.” This refers to folx who experience little to no romantic attraction and/or desire for a romantic relationship. It’s distinct from sexual attraction because it doesn’t inherently involve a desire to have sex with another person.
7. …and they don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand
Being asexual doesn’t mean you’re also aromantic and vice versa. Similar to the ace umbrella, the aromantic umbrella also includes identities and experiences such as demiromantic and greyromantic.
8. Low sexual desire and asexuality are not the same thing.
Asexual folx don’t experience the desire to have sex whereas folx with low desire are or once were interested in sex. Sexual orientation is innate whereas libido is contextual.
9. There is still a lot of work to be done to support the ace community.
Originally founded as an “awareness campaign to encourage LGBTQ+ organizations to support the ace community,” Ace Week has grown into an international movement. In its current form, it continues to offer community, advocacy, and education as well as a celebration of ace identities.
There are many different organizations doing work around asexuality. Aces and Aros, The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), and Asexual Outreach are three good places to start.