Asexuality, just like heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality, is a valid sexual orientation that deserves understanding and recognition.
Asexuality is a sexual orientation that represents limited or nonexistent sexual attraction to other individuals. Unlike a societal norm of needing and wanting sexual relationships, asexuality means a spectrum of sexual orientations that may overlap with aromantic identity (lack of romantic attraction) or stand-alone. Indeed, asexuality is considered to be a valid orientation, just as heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual orientations are (Brotto et al., 2015).
However, asexuality is often faced with dismissal or misunderstanding due to its invisibility and lack of representation in media or education. One common misconception about asexuality is that it is the direct result of childhood trauma or negative sexual experiences later in life. However, research shows that asexuality is about an absence of sexual desire rather than a consequence of trauma. Asexual identities occur across a range of gender and racial backgrounds, suppressed by societal norms requiring sexuality, thereby representing a fundamental form of human diversity (Brotto et al., 2015).
Asexuality's prevalent misconceptions and stigmatization reinforce the asexual identity's marginalization and invalidate its existence. The constant invalidation and disbelief asexual individuals experience may lead to self-doubt, eventually resulting in individuals feeling compelled to seek out relationships or question their identity. Acknowledging asexuality as a valid orientation and promoting asexuality's understanding and recognition is the first step toward creating a society that accepts every sexual orientation (Robbins et al., 2016).
One study (Brotto et al., 2015), based on a survey of over 800 individuals with self-identified asexual identities, showed that "asexuals do not differ from others on major demographic, biological, and psychological characteristics" (p. 1). This finding suggests that there is no direct cause-and-effect relationship between asexuality and trauma or other forms of psychopathology. Furthermore, this study reveals that sexual orientation identity and attraction are multidimensional, with asexuality falling on a spectrum between sexual attraction and complete absence of sexual attraction.
Another study (Robbins et al., 2016) focused on assessing the relationship between self-identification as an asexual individual and mental health outcomes. The study drew its results from 14,283 participants, and results showed that self-identifying as an asexual individual did not have an independent link to mental health outcomes. However, stigma and discrimination due to asexuality-related trauma that asexual individuals frequently experience can be linked to adverse mental health outcomes. The results suggest that creating policies to support the acceptance of asexual individuals and reducing stigma and invalidation concerning asexuality would likely help promote positive mental health outcomes, just as with any other sexual preference.
Asexuality as a Sexual Orientation
Asexuality, as a sexual orientation, is distinct from disorders, phases, or choices regarding sexual attraction. It is essential to understand that asexuality falls within the spectrum of sexual orientations, in which individuals experience limited or no sexual attraction towards others (Jones & Carr, 2017). Asexual individuals may identify as aromantic, which refers to a lack of romantic interest (Brotto et al., 2015). However, it is crucial to recognize that asexuality and aromanticism are separate identities that can exist concurrently or independently.
Asexual individuals may experience a range of orientations within the asexual spectrum, each with its nuances. For example, some individuals may identify as "grey-asexual" or "demisexual." Grey asexuality refers to individuals who experience some degree of sexual attraction but find it intermittent or less intense compared to the general population (Brotto et al., 2015). Demisexuality pertains to individuals who develop sexual attraction only after forming a strong emotional connection with someone (Jones & Carr, 2017).
Research has highlighted the validity and existence of asexuality as a distinct orientation. Preliminary studies indicate that asexuality is a stable and enduring characteristic, similar to other sexual orientations (Bogaert, 2004). Asexual individuals may form fulfilling relationships, experience various types of attraction (such as aesthetic or emotional attraction), and engage in non-sexual intimacy (Blake, Iantaffi, & Moller, 2020).
It is essential to respect individual definitions and expressions of asexuality. Just as there is a wide range of sexual orientations, asexuality is diverse and should not be reduced to a single experience. Some asexual individuals may have little to no interest in sexual activity. In contrast, others may engage in it for other reasons, such as meeting social expectations or fulfilling their partner's needs (Brotto et al., 2015). Validating individual experiences is crucial in promoting understanding and acceptance of asexual identities.
Indeed, asexuality is a complex and diverse sexual orientation. It encompasses a wide range of experiences and individual definitions. Some asexual individuals may have little to no sexual desire, experiencing complete or near-complete absence of sexual attraction (Hinderliter, 2019). These individuals may identify as "asexual" in the strictest sense.
However, it is essential to note that not all asexual individuals fit into this strict definition. The asexual spectrum is broad, and there are various identities and orientations within it. Some asexual individuals may experience sexual attraction under specific circumstances or infrequently, identifying as "gray-asexual" or "gray-ace." Gray-asexual individuals may occasionally experience sexual attraction but at a lesser intensity or frequency compared to allosexual individuals (meaning those who experience sexual attraction more regularly).
Similarly, the term "demi-sexual" refers to individuals who develop sexual attraction only after forming a deep emotional bond with someone (Cerankowski & Milks, 2017). These individuals may experience sexual desire within the context of an established emotional connection.
It is crucial to respect and acknowledge these different experiences and not generalize asexuality as a uniform or static orientation. Each individual's asexual identity is unique and personal, and it is vital to listen to and understand their perspectives.
Asexuality is not a Result of Trauma
Asexuality is often misunderstood and stigmatized, and one common misconception is that it is caused by negative sexual experiences or sexual trauma (Brotto et al., 2015). However, research does not support this idea, and it is essential to disprove this misconception and recognize asexuality as an innate orientation.
Studies have shown that asexuality is not linked to abuse, mental illness, or medical conditions (Brotto et al., 2015). In other words, individuals do not become asexual as a result of negative experiences or psychological disorders. The causes of asexuality are not yet fully understood, but research suggests that it may be determined by a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors (Hinderliter, 2019).
It is crucial to recognize asexuality as a valid and normal aspect of human diversity, similar to other sexual orientations such as heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality. Just as individuals cannot control or change their sexual orientation, asexuality cannot be attributed to a single cause or life event.
Dispelling the misconception that past experiences cause asexuality can help reduce the stigma and discrimination against asexual individuals. Society should acknowledge the diversity of human sexuality and accept individuals' identities and experiences without judgment or prejudice.
Asexuality across Genders and Racial Backgrounds
Asexuality is not limited to any specific gender identity or racial group. It exists across diverse populations, but societal biases and expectations might influence its visibility.
Research suggests that asexuality is prevalent across different genders and racial backgrounds, although the experiences of asexual individuals may vary due to intersecting identities and cultural factors (Blake, Iantaffi, & Moller, 2020). However, it is essential to note that asexuality within marginalized communities might be less visible or recognized due to the intersectionality of identities and societal expectations surrounding sexuality.
In some cultures, there may be limited awareness or acceptance of asexuality, which can lead to further marginalization of asexual individuals (Blake, Iantaffi, & Moller, 2020). Asexuality can intersect with race, ethnicity, and culture in complex ways, and individuals may face unique challenges in navigating their identities within their specific cultural contexts.
It is crucial to recognize and validate the diverse experiences of asexual individuals across all genders and racial backgrounds. By promoting inclusivity and understanding, we can fight against erasure, marginalization, and discrimination faced by asexual individuals.
Challenging Stereotypes and Promoting Acceptance
Promoting awareness and education about asexuality is crucial to combatting stereotypes and assumptions that perpetuate ignorance. Asexual individuals often face challenges in being understood and validated due to their orientation being less visible or widely understood in society.
To create an inclusive society, we need to challenge the existing narratives and misconceptions surrounding asexuality. Educating ourselves and others about asexuality can help break down these barriers and promote acceptance and respect for all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Increasing awareness about asexuality as a legitimate and valid orientation can contribute to creating a more inclusive society. This includes providing information about asexuality, sharing personal stories and experiences of asexual individuals, and fostering open and respectful conversations around diverse sexual orientations.
By dismantling stereotypes and presumptions, we can create a space where asexual individuals feel seen, heard, and accepted. This also requires creating safe and supportive environments where individuals can openly express their identities without fear of judgment or invalidation.
Ending Stigma through Dialogue
Conversations and open dialogue are essential in increasing understanding and acceptance of asexuality. Sharing personal stories and experiences can make a significant impact in dispelling myths and misconceptions while also creating a supportive environment for asexual individuals.
When engaging in discussions about asexuality, it is vital to approach the conversation with an open mind, free from judgment or assumptions. This allows for genuine empathy and understanding to develop. Listening attentively to asexual individuals, their experiences, and the challenges they face can help bridge the gap of knowledge and promote a greater sense of inclusivity.
Creating safe spaces where individuals feel comfortable sharing their stories and asking questions can foster a supportive community. This can be done through support groups, online forums, or community organizations focused on asexuality awareness and education. These spaces allow for dialogue and the opportunity to learn from one another.
By actively participating in conversations about asexuality, we can challenge and dismantle the prevalent stigma surrounding asexuality. By recognizing and validating asexuality as a legitimate sexual orientation, we move towards a more inclusive society for all.
Understanding asexuality as a sexual orientation is essential to creating a society that respects and recognizes diverse identities. By acknowledging that asexuality is a valid orientation, unrelated to trauma and experienced by individuals across all gender identities and racial backgrounds, we can work towards an inclusive and accepting world for all. Let's challenge stereotypes, foster dialogue, and provide support to help others understand and embrace asexuality with empathy and respect.
Dr. Stephanie, PhD is the founder of Evolve Your Intimacy. Being ethically non-monogamous in her personal life, she is passionate about helping others discover their relationships’ true potential regardless of the dynamics. She specializes in working with individuals in alternative relationships in her private practice, hosting workshops and playshops at events, on cruises, and through her online platform. She holds a PhD in Clinical Sexology, an MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, a Licensed Professional Counselor in Texas, Arizona, and Florida, and a Certified Sex Therapist. If you want to work with Dr. Stephanie, schedule a free consultation.
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Cerankowski, K., & Milks, M. (2017). An introduction to asexuality. In K. Cerankowski & M. Milks (Eds.), Asexualities: Feminist and queer perspectives (pp. 1-24). Routledge.
Hinderliter, A. C. (2019). Asexuality: Understanding an often invisible sexual orientation. Sexuality Research and Social Policy Journal of NSRC, 16(2), 127–139. doi: 10.1007/s13178-018-0373-7
Jones, T. & Carr, S. (2017). Asexuality: A brief introduction. Sexuality Research and Social Policy Journal of NSRC, 14(3), 229–234. doi: 10.1007/s13178-016-0255-4
Robbins, S. D., Reissing, E. D., LeBreton, J. M., & Markowitz, J. (2016). Asexuality: A mixed-methods approach. Journal of Sex Research, 53(7), 819-830. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2015.1026935