Last year, Netflix's Sex Education did something that TV shows don't often do — it included a plot line about an asexual character. Florence, the theatre-obsessed student, approaches Otis, the school's makeshift sex therapist, with worries about her disinterest in sex. She feels, she says, “like a freak.” Otis assumes Florence simply isn't ready. However, when Florence approaches Jean, Otis's mother and a real sex therapist, she gets the answer she's been looking for — she's asexual. “Sex doesn’t make us whole,” Jean explains. "And so, how could you ever be broken?”
Awareness around what it means to be asexual has come a long way. While most people used to think like Otis, more and more people, like Jean, understand that asexuality is not only normal, but is also nothing to be ashamed of. In turn, more people are identifying with the orientation than ever before. According to a 2022 report by Stonewall, 2% of the population identify as asexual or ace (an abbreviation for asexuality).
And more studies are being conducted in an effort to better understand asexuality. For instance, a 2023 study used eye-tracking technology to analyse how asexual people perceive erotic images differently from others and found that asexual people naturally look at erotic images for less time than their more sexual counterparts.
Recognition is a work in progress. International Asexuality Day was introduced in 2021, co-founded by asexual activist and model Yasmin Benoit. In a recent interview, she talked about how we need to go beyond “awareness” of asexual people and identity, and is on a “quest for representation” that extends further.
That said, there’s still a considerable amount of confusion and some pretty rogue assumptions about asexuality that need to be put to rights.
We answered all questions you may have about what it means to be asexual.
What is asexuality?
Slightly different from other sexual orientations, which are are used to convey sexual preference, asexuality is a sexual orientation that is defined by someone who has no sexual desire for their preferred sex.
This doesn’t mean that someone who identifies as asexual doesn’t experience romantic feelings or have a desire for physical closeness and many asexual people enjoy loving relationships, but they’re just not sexually attracted to their partners.
But isn’t that just low sex drive?
Asexuality may sound similar to a low libido or low sex drive, but there are a few key differences that set it apart. A low sex drive can have a number of causes from hormonal changes to different medications. Asexuality, on the other hand, is a valid sexual orientation that someone might identify with. It is not caused by any one thing and it doesn’t need to be treated – it’s simply how someone was born.
Can you fall in love if you are asexual?
While an asexual person may not experience sexual attraction, they may still experience romantic attraction. It's a common misconception that people who identify as asexual don't have romantic relationships, and many choose to have close emotional intimacy with someone, beyond that of a friendship.
Why are so many people suddenly becoming asexual?
It might seem like lots of people are suddenly saying that they identify as asexual, but asexuality is nothing new.
It’s just that society has evolved to be more open towards different orientations and people feel more empowered and comfortable to be open about who they are.
Sometimes I want to have sex and sometimes I don’t – am I asexual?
As with all matters or sexuality and orientation, there is a grey area and you don’t have to label yourself with any particular term if it doesn’t feel right to you.
It’s very possible that you can feel differently about your sexuality throughout your life, and you still have the right to identify with whichever orientation you want.
Are asexual people celibate?
Some asexual people choose not to participate in sexual acts at all, simply because they don’t experience a desire to do so. However, many asexual people don’t mind taking part in consensual sexual experiences as part of a bonding experiencing, they may enjoy making their partner feel pleasure or they may want to try for a baby.
Some asexual people also masturbate to relieve stress or just because they enjoy the feeling of having an orgasm, but there won’t be any sexual arousal motivating them to do so.
I think my partner is asexual. What should I do?
Talk to them. Communication is key to any healthy relationship, so long as you approach the discussion from a place of love and with an open mind.
And remember, if they do identify as asexual, it doesn’t mean they don’t love you or that you’ll have to break up and it doesn’t mean you’ll have to stop having sex. But it may help you to understand one another better so it’s always a good idea to talk it through.
Are there any celebrities who are asexual?
Several people in the public eye have described themselves as asexual, including author Tim Gunn, Caitlyn Jenner, and Paula Poundstone.
Why is asexual acceptance so important?
Being an asexual, or “ace”, is often an isolating experience. In fact, a new study found that more than a quarter of young asexuals never feel accepted by the LGBTQA+ community. Another recent piece in The Guardian highlighted how the “hypersexualised” nature of the community can make it hard to fit in.
This article was originally published on Glamour UK.