A Short Guide to Asexuality
What is Asexuality?
Asexuality is a sexual orientation defined by having little to no sexual attraction to any person of any gender. It is considered to be both an orientation on its own as well as an umbrella term including a spectrum of orientations between being asexual and allosexual (someone who is not asexual or on the asexual spectrum).
Asexual (sometimes abbreviated as ace) people can be of any romantic orientation, gender, race, or cultural background. There are a number of combinations of gender and orientation labels that a person may use in combination to describe their romantic orientation or relationship to asexuality, but this is not required. "I am asexual" is a complete sentence.
What does the asexual flag look like?
The Asexual pride flag was created in 2010 online via a popular vote led by the Asexuality and Visibility Education Network, AKA AVEN. It is made up of four horizontal stripes, descending in the order of black, grey, white, and purple. Black is for asexuality as a whole, grey for the grey spectrum between allosexuality and asexuality, purple for the community, and white is for allies to the community. The colours were decided before the flag was designed. The flags for demisexuality and greysexuality borrow the colour scheme of this initial flag, but not all flags within the asexual spectrum use this colour scheme.
A non-exhaustive list of symbols that have been popularly adopted as "ace culture" include:
- Cake - this is because a discussion on AVEN's forums once asked what was better, cake or sex, and the majority agreed cake was better
- Garlic bread - proposed as an alternative to cake for persons who do not like cake
- Black ring - this began in 2005 via AVEN forums, but its exact origins are unknown
- Card symbology - different suits of playing cards are adopted for different asexual orientations as follows:
- Hearts - alloromantic aces
- Spades - aromantic aces
- Diamonds - demisexuals / greysexuals
- Clubs - questioning aces
While asexuality and orientations under its umbrella are thought of as being new inventions of the internet, a cursory glance through queer history tells us this isn't true. Asexuality has always existed, but like many orientations used today, was not specifically named. This is in part because research into human sexuality has only recently begun to make a distinction between celibacy, sexual abstinence, and sexual attraction, and partly because of how rarely the history of human sexuality, including asexuality, has been told. This is changing as queerness is brought out of the shadows and into the mainstream but there is a way to go.
Like many orientations discussed today, many historical figures who may have been describing asexuality are left to interpretation, though many did write about what we would interpret as low levels of sexual or romantic attraction today.
Here are some notable moments in the history of asexuality:
- 1907: Carl Schlegal wrote a speech that included asexuality, explicitly, stating, "Let the same laws for all the intermediate stages of sexual life: the homosexuals, heterosexuals, bisexuals, asexuals, be legal as they are now in existence for the heterosexuals."
- 1952: The magazine Transvestia discussed heterosexual trans people as well as asexual trans people.
- 1965: Transvestia also published a short description of a range of asexuality, dubbed the A-Sexual Range. This did not differentiate between low libido and low sexual attraction, however.
- 1971: Village Voice published a parody article titled Asexuals Have Problems Too!, which ironically led to readers writing in about their own asexual experiences
- 1972: The Asexual Manifesto is written and published by Lisa Orlando in conjunction with the group New York Radical Feminists
- 1978: A Lack of Sexual Desire Emerges as a Contemporary Condition by Georgia Dullea is published in the New York Times
- 1981: Dear Abby advice column advises a reader describing having "no feelings for men or women" as well as no interest at all in sex that they may be asexual
- 2001: The Asexuality and Visibility Education Network (AVEN) is founded
- 2009: AVEN members participate in the first official asexual entry in pride during the San Franciso Pride Parade
- 2010: The Asexual pride flag is officially created
- 2010: Ace Week, originally called Asexual Awareness Week, is founded by Sara Beth Brooks
- 2012: The first International Asexual Conference is held at World Pride in London
- 2018: The Ace and Aro Advocacy Project (TAAAP) is founded
- 2019: Washington is the first state to recognize Ace Week as an official proclamation
- 2021: The first-ever International Asexuality Day took place on April 6th
Some famous asexuals include:
- Tim Gunn
- David Jay
- Yasmin Benoit
- Edward Gorey
- Paula Poundstone
- Keri Hulme
There are also many historical figures that are speculated to have been asexual. As awareness of asexuality grows, it is likely more famous people will come out as asexual.
Misconceptions about asexuality
Some common misconceptions about asexuality include that it is the same as celibacy or abstinence, that it is caused by trauma, or that it is a medical disorder.
Asexuality is a sexual orientation. Celibacy and abstinences are choices that a person of any orientation may make about their sex life, and are not limited to asexuals.
While some people may identify as asexual after experiencing trauma, and that is completely valid, asexuality can and does exist without the presence of trauma. If a person who has experienced trauma tells you they are asexual, it is not your position to tell them that they are wrong or interrogate their orientation.
Asexuality is not a medical disorder. While some medical conditions and medications can cause a person to have a lowered libido, libido and sexual attraction are not one and the same. Chronically ill and disabled people can also be asexual, but chronically ill and disabled people should not be automatically assumed to be asexual; this is not recognizing the varied sexualities and experiences that disabled and chronically ill people can have, but rather desexualizing them.
AVEN - or asexuality on Twitter is both its own social network with a long history in the asexual community and a great place to find out what's going on in the community
Indian Aces - a great place for conferences, educational chats, and seminars, particularly for asexual folk from or in India
TAAAP - an organization that works to advocate for asexual and aromantic people
Sounds Fake But Okay - a weekly podcast hosted by a demisexual and aromantic asexual that discusses all parts of the asexual experience