Ever wondered what the ‘A’ in LGBTQIA+ stands for? Nope, it’s not ‘ally’ – it’s ‘asexual’. Asexual people don’t experience sexual attraction. Asexuality exists on a spectrum, with many of our ace fam identifying with two different orientations: a sexual one and a romantic one. For example, sexually you may identify as asexual but romantically you may identify as biromantic.
Here’s a breakdown of the asexual (or ‘ace’) spectrum:
A person romantically attracted to someone of the opposite sex or gender
A person romantically attracted to someone of the same sex or gender
A person romantically attracted to someone of two sexes or genders
A person romantically attracted to others, but isn’t limited by other’s sex or gender
A person who has little or no romantic attraction to others
A person who does not experience sexual attraction
A person who identifies within the grey area between asexual and sexual
A person who does not experience sexual attraction unless they have a strong emotional connection to someone
A person who experiences sexual attraction
To explore more of the ace spectrum – and what this looks like IRL for real people – we spoke to six people who identify as graysexual, panromantic, aromantic, demisexual and biromantic. Let’s learn together.
For Joan, 22, her experience of this identity means that sex holds absolutely no appeal for her. She can appreciate when a person looks good – ‘Michael B. Jordan, are you kidding me?!’ – but sex itself? Not a biggie. ‘Sex just isn’t a huge deal to me. It feels… okay, I guess. It holds no appeal for me whatsoever.’
It’s similar for Lena, 32: ‘To me that means not having any sexual desire, not liking or wanting or thinking about having sex. It’s something I just don’t experience. Ever. I am just not sexually attracted to anyone. I can have sex if I choose to, I can even masturbate, just for physical relaxation. But there is no sexual thinking or feeling involved in the process. I’m just perfectly content without sex.’
For Nomsa, in her 20s, this means: ‘I’m not really into sex, however I enjoy a certain level of intimacy at times. I also enjoy erotic material and I suppose I have fantasies as well as experience attraction. But actually acting on these fantasies or attractions doesn’t please me.’
27-year-old Jo’burg-based writer Janine, who identifies both as demisexual and biromantic says: ‘I’m not sexually attracted to people based on their appearance at all. I can look at a person and understand that they are good looking but I do not want to touch them, nor do I want them to touch me.’ Instead, attraction is based on their personality, and how Janine emotionally connects with them.
While many may not articulate it, most asexual people have a sexual orientation as well as a romantic one. Janine is a great example of this. ‘I like romantic relationships (affection, dates, intimacy) with men and women. I’m currently not looking for a relationship but when I date I look for a shared value system, mutual trust, honesty, reliability, good banter, and consideration. I enjoy companionship. I like affectionate touches and I like spending time with people who love me (in a non-sexual way).’
While Tannin, 33 in Cape Town, is still searching for a label that she identities with most comfortably, for now she considers herself an aromantic asexual. ‘I’ve basically never had a crush, I’ve never wanted romance, I’ve never desired sex with anyone and I don’t know what the opposite may be like.’
Holly, 21, identifies as panromantic, noting that she ‘can feel attraction to any gender, but it isn’t necessarily sexual attraction. I’ve come to discover that a lot of people connect being attracted to someone as wanting to have sex with them. For me, if I’m attracted to someone, the thought of having sex with them is really repulsive, but l really want to be in a romantic relationship with them.’
Romantic attraction vs. sexual attraction vs. sexual behaviour: what’s the difference?
‘Sexual behaviour is the actual physical act of sex: oral sex, foreplay, kissing and so on. Sexual attraction is the desire to engage in sexual acts with someone else. So in my case, I have engaged in sexual behaviour with others (like making out), but I’m not smitten with desire for them and I don’t (necessarily) want to rip their clothes off and take them to the boom boom room.’ – Janine, demisexual biromantic
‘It’s been interesting to discover that l do experience some sexual attraction, but it’s very, very separate from my romantic attraction. I still identify as asexual despite feeling some sexual attraction because it’s so separate and feels much less important to me than romantic attraction.’ – Holly, panromantic asexual
‘For me, sexual attraction is something that just happens; that you can’t control. But it’s something I just don’t experience. Ever. I’m just not sexually attracted to anyone. Sexual behaviour is something I control. I can initiate and stop it. I choose to have sex if I want to, even though I don’t feel sexual attraction. I can masturbate if I choose to just for the physical relaxation, for example – even though there is no sexual thinking or feeling involved in the process.’ – Lena, asexual
Don’t identify as asexual? Here’s how to be supportive of those who do
One of the more painful parts of exploring and finding your identity is sharing it with others. While some completely dismiss how people may identify under the ace umbrella, others are wilfully ignorant and disrespectful. Many are completely rude, or confused.
‘Just because I don’t want to have sex with someone, it doesn’t mean I’m not attracted to them. And there’s no right person out there that’s going to make me any less asexual,’ says Nomsa.
‘I wish people didn’t think there was something wrong with me,’ adds Janine. ‘A lot of people imply there’s something wrong that can be fixed by therapy or medicine. I’m not traumatised; I just don’t want to have sex with most people.’
‘I wish it had been accepted more by family,’ says Tannin. ‘Aunties were always going on about how one day I’ll find love, too. I also wish healthcare providers listened to try to understand that this is how I am, that I’m not a problem and that there is nothing lacking in my life
‘My greatest wish is for respect,’ explains Holly. If respect of the identity is there, then it’s possible to work through any confusion that a person might have about my identity. There is no correct way to experience sexuality as a whole, and there ls no one way to be asexual.’
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