Come again? That was my reaction the first time I heard about asexuality. It’s a hard concept to fathom. Imagine going through life with zero interest in sex. Try wrapping your head around the idea of never being sexually attracted to another human being.
Like others, I wondered what makes someone asexual, especially given that the term tends to be misused or abused. While many people refer to people or themselves as being asexual, if just for spells, it’s the exception to the rule.
Case in point: In 2004, psychologist Anthony Bogaert from Brock University in Ontario, Canada, reported only 1 percent of adults have never felt sexual attraction for anyone. This was based on a national probability sample of 18,000 individuals.
Just to make sure we’re on the same page, when we talk about asexuality, we’re not talking about celibacy. One who is celibate — abstaining from sexual intercourse — may still experience sexual desire and attraction. A person also chooses to be celibate, whereas a person doesn’t decide to be asexual.
Very few people consider themselves asexual in the truest sense of the term. This means these individuals claim to never experience sexual attraction or the desire to be sexually intimate. Some may have been sexual at some point in their lives, even having sexual urges. They simply do not have a hankering for sexual intimacy with other people.
Think it’s a bit far-fetched? Consider a 2007 study by the Kinsey Institute found that asexuals reported significantly lower sexual arousability than non-asexuals. They also reported less desire for sex with a partner and lower sexual excitation. At the same time, they didn’t differ from non-sexuals on sexual inhibition scores or the desire to masturbate.
While turned off to sex, some asexuals do want to be in a loving relationship, which may or may not involve sex. After all, they still have emotional needs. And they experience romantic attraction and the longing to be in a union.
Asexuals date and have romantic relationships with people who are asexual or not. Many are successful in maintaining long-term relationships. Some, though, simply like to be on their own or among friends.
The scientific research on asexuality is limited. There is debate within the scientific community as to if “asexuality” can be considered another type of sexual orientation, or if it’s more of a human condition. Then there’s the matter of whether asexuality is due to a medical cause, for example, a lack of particular hormones, or if it’s even considered an actual experience.
Some regard asexuality as more of a condition known as hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), which presents itself in two ways:
— A hormone imbalance or deficiency, psychological issues with sex, or a medical condition that disrupts the transmission of sexual messages to and from the brain.
— A person losing interest in sex and no longer being able to experience arousal. This may be due to stress, anxiety, anger, performance failure, depression or other emotional hardships.
Find yourself wondering if you’re asexual? Many males and females can certainly identify with periods in their lives where they have not been attracted to others or to the idea of having sex. At the same time, these times are often temporary and due to a specific cause -- for example, a death in the family or going through a divorce.
So don’t be so quick to chalk yourself up as asexual. Everyone is different when it comes to experiences with sex, relationships, attraction, desire and arousal. And this is definitely impacted by biological, psychological, and social factors, as well as opportunity.
Still think you’re asexual? If your lack of interest in sex or (potential) partners is causing you distress or interpersonal difficulties, then you may want to seek out medical and/or psychological assistance.
If you’re perfectly fine with your condition, but feel like you need support in our sex-crazed society, you may want to turn to The Asexual Visibility and Education Network. As one of the worldwide activist groups on asexuality, this online network seeks to garner awareness and educate others about the concerns of asexuals.
Those involved with asexuals may want to explore support groups as well. The key to being involved in a relationship where one partner is asexual is a mutual understanding. Both partners need to communicate and be willing to make compromises. Partners need to figure out ways they can meet the other’s emotional and sexual needs. And that sounds a lot like what’s required of a non-asexual relationship.
Dr. Yvonne K. Fulbright is a sex educator, relationship expert, columnist and founder of Sexuality Source Inc. She is the author of several books including, "Touch Me There! A Hands-On Guide to Your Orgasmic Hot Spots."