Our culture often attributes desire as the main motivator for sex. But there are many different types of attraction that inspire someone towards lovemaking. Asexuality is one in a vast and nuanced menu of sexual orientations.

Asexuality is also often misunderstood. Frequently, the assumption is made that asexuals don’t want to have sex. But there are many reasons why someone would want to engage in intimacy, even without experiencing sexual desire. So what exactly does it mean to be asexual – and how do you know if you’re asexual?

What is Asexuality?

Asexuality is a sexual orientation, such as heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality. Those who identify as asexual generally experience little to no sexual desire. But there is a wide spectrum of asexual identities and preferences, and the inclusivity of the community in recent years have empowered many people to come out as asexual

Asexuality can also mean different things to different people. Some people only experience sexual desire in very particular circumstances, while some experience no desire at all. For example, romantic attraction or emotional attraction can be a big motivators towards sex, as well as a desire to connect with a partner. Sensual or physical attraction may be another reason someone chooses to have sex without sexual desire. For some people, platonic attraction has them seeking deeper intimacy and connection with others, without the desire for sexual encounters. 

While the term asexuality is inclusive, it is not to be confused with celibacy or abstinence. Someone choosing celibacy is making a long term vow to stay unmarried and avoid all sexual activity. Someone practicing abstinence is making a choice to abstain from sex for a period of time. Both are conscious decisions not to engage in sexual activity – they however do not indicate a lack of sexual desire.

Many people who identify as asexual didn’t choose not to experience sexual desire – it’s just how they are. Other people may choose to identify as asexual because they don’t agree with the societal conventions around how people have sex

LGBTQIA+ on hands showing that asexuality is part of an orientation.

The Asexual Spectrum 

Sexuality is spectrum – and the same is true for asexuality. The asexuality spectrum includes those who never experience sexual desire, as well as those who experience it in very limited circumstances or only under specific conditions. People’s preferences and identities can also shift over time. Some like to claim they are on the asexuality spectrum rather than labeling themselves as asexual. Saying you’re on the spectrum leaves more wiggle room for later shifting your sexual preferences, curiosities, and possibilities.  

Those on the spectrum may also experience some degree of sex drive from time to time. Sexual attraction is different than sex drive or libido. Sexual attraction or desire means you want to engage in sex with another person, while sex drive is an innate arousal in the body. Asexuals might experience some arousal in the body, without feeling sexual attraction or the desire to engage in sexual acts. 

Types of Asexuality 

When exploring types of asexuality, it’s important to consider the difference between sexual and romantic attraction. Someone may declare as asexual, but change their romantic orientation due to a shifting interest in romance.

The degrees of sexual and romantic attraction can be fluid, entangled at times, or completely separate from one another. According to GLAAD, this split model helps give those in the asexual community a way to qualify their experiences and a way to better describe their identities to themselves and others. Here a few of the common asexual identities: 

  • Aromantic: Those who are not interested in a romantic relationship, but who might be interested in a sexual one.
  • Panromantic: People who are open to a romantic relationship, but might not open to a sexual one. 
  • Demisexual: Those who only experience attraction if there is a deep emotional connection. 
Greysexual woman kissing another's forehead

Gray Asexuality or Graysexuality

For some people the term asexual doesn’t quite fit either. They experience sexual attraction some of the time, or they experience it with a very low intensity. Gray asexuality – sometimes shortened to graysexuality or gray-ace – is used to refer to those who fit somewhere on the spectrum between asexual and sexual.

Since sexuality is never black and white, graysexuality is an inclusive term for those who fall in the middle. People who identify as graysexual often consider themselves a part of the asexual community. 

How to Tell if Someone is Asexual

You might wonder if you’re asexual, or how to tell if someone else is asexual.

First of all, don’t assume someone is asexual if they aren’t interested in sexual activity. Some people are making the conscious choice not to have sex. Others may be experiencing low sex drive or low desire. The fluidity of sexual desire and romantic attraction can also make it hard to tell if someone is asexual. 

If the term asexuality resonates with your or someone you know, you can explore some of the common characteristics and see if they align with your desires. Some questions you might ask are: 

  • What does sexual attraction or sexual desire mean to me?
  • Do I experience sexual attraction or desire? 
  • How do I feel about the concept of sex? 
  • Do I find people attractive and want to have sex with them? 

Questions like these allow you to explore your own sexuality, and your experience with sexual attraction to other people. You get to decide if identifying as asexual feels right to you.

Asexual flag

Am I Asexual or Depressed? 

There are many factors that can contribute to a decrease in sex drive. Hormonal shifts, stress, or depression are all common symptoms. In fact, low sex drive is sometimes considered a sign of depression, leaving people wondering, “Am I asexual or depressed?”

Experiencing low desire from depression is definitely not the same as asexuality. When trying to diagnose your state, you should consider whether your relationship to sex has changed. If the lack of desire has been consistent, it’s more likely you fall on the asexuality spectrum. If you’ve experienced sexual desire and then lost it – especially in conjunction with other depressive episodes – it’s more likely the disinterest in sex is caused by depression. 

Feeling uncertain about one’s sexual identity or feeling outside of the cultural norm can be challenging. Fortunately, there is now more education and awareness around asexuality than ever. This gives visibility and voice to those who haven’t been able to put words to their sexuality or romantic orientation before.

According to GLAAD, as many as “one in every hundred people may identify as asexual now.”  The inclusive language and wide spectrum of identities recognized in the community reminds people that they are not alone. Asexuality is not something to be fixed or changed. Many asexuals live fulfilling and juicy sex lives, have meaningful partnerships, and feel empowered to claim their sexual identifies and preferences more than ever before. 

How a Sex Coach Can Help

If you are asexual, but uncertain about how to share this information with family, friends, and potential partners (or current partners), it can be helpful to talk to someone and practice with how to share your asexual identity.

If you are not sure whether you are asexual and have questions about the differences between asexuality and low desire, a sex coach can help you explore your history around desire.

Finally, because our society is so very focused on sex, you may feel shame around your asexual identity. You need a supportive person who can celebrate you for exactly who you are, and help you embrace your identity. A sex coach can support you in figuring out how to approach your sexual and dating life once you’ve fully embraced who you are.

Find a Sex Coach Near You and live your best life.

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Danielle Harel is the co-founder of the Somatica® Institute</a. She trains coaches in the Somatica® Method of Sex and Relationship Coaching, and has her own private practice in Sunnyvale, where she supports her clients in having amazing sex and relationships as well as passion-fueled lives. She has published original research on Orgasmic Birth and is the co-author of three books:Cockfidence, Making Love Real, and Coming Together. Danielle has her Masters in Clinical Social Work From Haifa University in Israel, and her PhD in Human Sexuality from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality (IASHS). She is also a Clinical Sexologist, Certified Sexological Bodyworker and a Certified Body Positive Facilitator.