If you were asked to define your sexuality, how would you do it? You might call yourself heterosexual, bisexual, pansexual, or homosexual. These words, among others, are commonly used to describe the people you feel attracted to. But the way we define ourselves is changing. With more descriptors comes more accuracy and a greater ability to relate. As our language evolves, we find ourselves able to describe not only who we are attracted to, but how we experience attraction.
The word “asexual” and the associated spectrum remains an abstract concept to many, but once explained, it is actually rather simple to understand. As we learn more about human behavior, we have begun to understand that how you experience attraction is just as important as who you experience it with.
Most of us understand that sexuality falls on a spectrum. But that spectrum extends not only to who you’re attracted to, but also how you experience attraction. That is why there is a great amount of variability in preferences and behaviors of those who describe themselves as asexual or “ace.”
Generally speaking, when someone identifies as strictly asexual, this means they experience no sexual attraction. That feeling you get when you see someone aesthetically pleasing? (Think: “I’d tap that.”) Asexuals don’t get that feeling. This does NOT mean that they are celibate. It also does not mean that they can’t appreciate the attractiveness of a person. It simply means that the drive to have sex is not there.
Even among those who identify as asexual, there is still the matter of individual choice. Some asexuals may be sex repulsed or choose to be celibate out of lack of interest, while other asexuals may have sex for a variety of reasons. Oftentimes, people who are on the asexual spectrum may choose to have sex to connect with their partner or because they still derive some other sort of enjoyment from it. It is important to note that sexual attraction and libido can be entirely separate entities. Many people who experience no sexual attraction still have a libido and may pursue satisfaction either alone or with others.
From these differences in preference comes other terms that define markers on the ace spectrum. For example, many people who experience occasional sexual attraction identify as gray-ace, or graysexual. As a play on the words grey and asexual, it implies that they fall in the “gray area” of sexuality.
Another common term is the word “demisexual,” which has two frequently understood meanings. First and most common is the interpretation that a demisexual person only feels sexual attraction to someone who they are very close to (often romantically) and trust. Occasionally, other people interpret demisexual as only being attracted to certain types of people or in certain circumstances.
Though it may seem daunting — and there are other terms that deal in more specifics — the basics are very easy! Asexual refers to a lack of sexual attraction, demisexual speaks to sexual attraction in a specific circumstance (particularly with a trusted partner), and graysexual is often used as a descriptor when someone falls on the spectrum without feeling that either of the prior labels describes them. As with any label, it can be personal to each individual. If you’d like to understand more about someone, the best course of action is always to ask!