For humans, being asexual does not mean having an ability to clone yourself on the spot like an amoeba. For the most part, it also does not mean to have no sexual organs.
So what, exactly, is it?
The definition of Asexuality is a lack of sexual attraction.
A study published by the New Scientist in October 2004 estimated that 1% of the human population is asexual, and confirmed the existence of asexuality in both humans and other animals.
Asexuality As An Orientation
Asexuality is seen by most asexuals as an orientation in it's own right. After all, there is sexual attraction to the opposite gender, the same gender, and both genders, so why not also neither gender?
Some asexuals do not consider asexuality an orientation because it is more of a lack of orientation. They do not feel that they have a sexual orientation at all.
As asexuals are a sexual minority, this places asexuality firmly within the queer movement. However, many asexuals lead a conventionally straight life and some individual asexuals do not feel they are a part of the queer* movement.
As all other orientations have a shortened name, so does asexuality. Commonly it is 'A' although some people prefer 'Ace'*.
Why Call It Asexuality?
Many people wonder why asexuality is so called, as they reason that an asexual person would not wish to define themselves in relation to sex or a sexuality. However, imagine being asexual, having no sexual attraction to either gender, for your entire life. People will be interested in why you aren't dating, so they ask "Are you hetero, homo or bi?" What can you say in reply? "I'm not sexual" is the answer, but then you have defined yourself in relation to sex. Simply saying "None of the above" will prompt the question "So what are you then?" to which you have to reply with the aforementioned answer.
Asexuals are capable of love. Romantic attraction is separate from sexual attraction, and it is something that many asexuals feel. Some asexuals talk of a 'romance drive', meaning that they feel compelled to form a close romantic relationship with a partner.
A romance drive is not connected to sexual attraction or behaviour, it is more of a desire to form a close relationship with someone. This is possible just as it is possible for parents to love their offspring in a non-sexual manner.
Asexuals who have a romance drive can also identify as straight, gay or bi, depending on the gender of person they usually feel romantically attracted to. Romantic orientation is different to sexual orietation, so a gay asexual person remains asexual even though they prefer to form relationships with the people of the same gender.
Most asexual relationships would be looked upon by outsiders as just being very close friends, and indeed in a lot of cases that is true. These asexuals form close friendships with people, but feel no need to go any further.
However, for some asexuals a relationship it is a lot more than just friendship. These asexual relationships can be very intimate, but the intimacy is not sexual in nature. Asexuals in these relationships consider that they are 'more than just friends' with their significant other, so close is their relationship.
Some asexual relationships can also include physical contact of a sexual nature*. Most physical asexual relationships focus more on hugging and stroking than sex, however there are asexuals who do enjoy sexual sensations and acts.
Many sexual people do not understand how a relationship can work without sex as they see sex as a necessary expression of love. For asexuals, sex is not an expression of love at all and to many the idea that it is seems foreign. To help differentiate, if sex is a necessary expression of love, then prostitutes are the most loving people in the world.
Just because someone is asexual doesn't mean they don't have sex or can't enjoy it: asexuality only means that they are not sexually attracted to people. A good proportion of asexuals have tried sex. As asexuals are otherwise normal people they are physically capable of sex, and some asexuals enjoy sexual arousal. Those asexuals who do have sex or masturbate do not think about people during the act; some enjoy the sensation, some have a fetish, and some just let their minds wander and work out what tomorrow's dinner will be or when the car should next be serviced.
Many asexuals who try sex find it disappointing, and some find the idea of sex absolutely repulsive. Many asexuals do not masturbate and derive no pleasure from any sexual act.
Many sexual people find the concept of sexual attraction difficult to separate from the concept of sexual arousal and assume that they are the same, and therefore anyone who experiences sexual arousal must also experience sexual attraction. This is not true. As an example, many sexual people are sexually aroused by leather, but they are not sexually attracted to leather.
Some asexuals do have a sex drive. This idea can also be difficult for sexual people to understand. A sex drive is a desire for sexual arousal, not a desire to feel sexual attraction. The difference here can be highlighted by masturbation: people who masturbate by the application of their hand or other object do not feel sexual attraction to that object, but do it because they feel a need for arousal.
Some asexuals who have sex drive satisfy themselves only by masturbation, these can come under the title of autosexual. Autosexual does not mean that a person loves themself sexually, merely that they have no wish to have sex with another person, but still feel the desire to experience arousal.
Other asexuals who have a sex drive prefer to satisfy themselves by sharing sex with a partner.
It is entirely possible for an asexual to have a sexual relationship. As stated above, some asexuals do enjoy the sexual sensations and therefore will happily engage in a sexual relationship. Some asexuals are not too bothered about sex, but will go through with it because they like giving pleasure to their partner, and others will because they love their partner and are willing to have sex in order to stay with them. Not all asexuals, however, will be willing to do this. Many do not enjoy any sexual act at all (including kissing), so no matter how much they love their partner, sex will be totally out of the question and they have rigidly defined and defended no-go zones.
Many asexuals are in a sexual marriage, and there are just as many reasons for an asexual to marry. In many cases marriage has happened because the asexual person assumed that they must be sexual, since they have never heard that it is possible not to be sexual. Then there are those who love their partner so much they are willing to compromise by having sex just to stay with their partner. Some want children and want their children to grow up in a traditional family group, and some have been forced into it by their religion and family.
Why Are Asexuals Making Such A Fuss?
A lot of people, sexual and asexual alike, do not understand why some asexuals are making such a big deal out of what they see as a non-issue. If you feel no desire for something, why shout about it? There are no a-football groups.
The world is sex-mad. Sex permeates every part of the world, it is in songs, books, films, radio, television, adverts, billboards, comics, art, shops, couples are everywhere, and most people talk about sex and sexual relationships every day. Our culture is screaming at everyone to find their perfect mate, settle down and start a family. Many people, not just asexuals, are constantly hounded by family and friends asking when they are going to find a partner and settle down. For some asexuals it is difficult to relate to most entertainment and many friends because either courting or sex are such large parts of them. In this climate, it is very very difficult to ignore the fact that sex and sexuality exist.
All that may not be obvious to sexuals, but to asexuals it is blindingly obvious.
Because of living in such an over-sexed culture that is today's world, many asexuals feel isolated. As asexuality is so rarely heard of and largely unknown, young asexuals growing up notice that they are different to their peers and assume that they are horribly broken, deficit in some way and need to be 'cured'. This can lead to self-loathing and withdrawal from society. It often leads to experimentation with sex when the asexual concerned has no sex drive, and they can often emerge traumatised.
Other reasons for isolation is religion. Certainly, mainstream Christians do not have a problem with asexuals, but some see sex as a gift of God that should be used. Many other religions (Mormons, Islam) see it as the duty of all humans to procreate and not wishing to do so is viewed as a sin.
This isolation is why many asexuals feel that they need to spread the word - they have gone through years of self-hate, traumatising sexual experiences, and being told repeatedly that they need medical help. When they hear about asexuality, then having found that they are not abnormal after all they do not want anyone else to have to go through it as well. Spreading the word, of course, means making a fuss to get yourself seen and understood by media.
Why Do Asexuals 'Come Out'?
Many families and friends constantly hound both sexuals and asexuals to find a partner, and often to settle down and have children. For some asexuals this can be completely out of the question. Many asexuals find it easier to blend in with society by pretending to be sexual, by nodding in agreement of Kylie being hot, or laughing at sexual jokes, and in this case they are effectively hiding the truth. In any case, 'coming out' can be very helpful for asexuals, as if their family and friends understand then they will no longer be hounded to pair up or be expected to join in sexual conversations.
For some asexuals it is not an issue, either they are lucky enough to have very accepting (or asexual) family and friends, or they just never find themselves in a situation where they are expected to discuss sex.
What Causes Asexuality?
Nothing is yet known to cause asexuality. Examples of common assumptions of causes are:
Abuse is not known to cause asexuality. It may cause repulsion, hatred or fear of sex, but not asexuality. Almost all abuse victims turn out to be sexual, and those who don't weren't sexual to begin with.
Hormonal or Chemical Imbalances
While some drugs do repress libido, and pregnant and pre-natal women lack a sex drive, hormonal problems are rarely the cause of asexuality. Many asexuals have gone through rigorous tests which conclude that their hormones are completely normal.
Scientists may have found a 'gay gene' which increases the chances of the carrier being gay. There is no known 'A gene' but the possibility does exist.
Asexuals are normal people. Some of them are popular, some aren't, some are extroverts, some introverts, and of course some are very withdrawn. It is possible that there is a higher percentage of asexual introverts than sexual introverts, but that is probably caused by the asexuality: most people naturally become withdrawn from the world if they don't fit in. On internet asexual communities most of the asexuals are introverts, but this is probably because all the extroverts are out and too busy with their social lives to visit the internet very much. This is noticeable in a great majority of internet communities including h2g2.
Fear Of Relationships
Also trust issues. A fear or relationships or a lack of trust does not lead to a lack of sexual attraction. These issues are separate to asexuality. They can co-exist with asexuality, just as sexual people also have these problems.
Some not-so-commonly touted reasons:
The theory was that premature babies may not have had their full quota of sexual hormones whilst in the womb.
This one was quickly ruled out as although many asexuals were premature, some were full term and many others were beyond full term.
An internet poll with 53 respondents interestingly shows that 49% of asexuals are the oldest child in a family. This should not be taken as any evidence, however, as there is simply not enough data collected on the subject.
Death of a Loved One
As a child, the death of a family member or close friend can be very traumatic, and it was speculated that this could lead to asexuality. However, most children who have suffered a loss grow up to be sexual.
What Asexuality Isn't
On first hearing about asexuality many sexual people fail to comprehend what asexuality is. So here are common misconceptions of what asexuality is:
Celibacy: Celibacy is a choice not to have sex. Asexuality is not a choice but an orientation, and whilst some asexuals do not have a sex drive, others do.
A disorder: Asexuality is just another orientation. Whilst some people still have a problem with the existence of more than one orientation, it is widely accepted that there are more. Asexuals are just like any other people, and come from all walks of life, all countries, and all religions. Asexuals are just as mentally balanced as the rest of the human race.
Homosexuals in hiding: Asexuals are not claiming to be asexuals because they are homosexual and don't want to admit it. Homosexuals who don't want to admit it, like asexuals who don't want to admit to it, tend to claim that they are heterosexual. Claiming asexuality would draw close scrutiny of their sexuality and sex life, which is the last thing someone who wants to stay in the closet wants.
A late bloomer: Asexuality is usually a life-long thing, if you are born asexual you will stay asexual, and most asexuals do. Most, because as with other sexualities, some people do drift into a different sexuality. It is possible to both become asexual having been sexual, and become sexual having been asexual. If you are 13 and haven't felt sexual attraction then you could be a late bloomer. If you are 20, you are very probably asexual.
Frigidity: Frigidity is sexual unresponsiveness. Asexuality is an orientation, and those asexuals who have a sex drive do enjoy sex. It is, of course, possible to be both asexual and frigid, but neither implies the other.
Sexual repression: People who are sexually repressed are still sexual, however deeply they have buried their sexual feelings. Asexuals are not sexually repressed, but merely feel no sexual attraction.
Fear of sex: Asexuality is an orientation, not a fear. Some asexuals have and enjoy sex, others do not because they have no sex drive.
Only for women: Both men and women can be asexual. Currently the statistics show that more asexuals are women, but that could be simply because less men wish to admit to it.
Nature's way of controlling population: This was also thought of homosexuals, but studies have shown that even in endangered species there are homosexual specimens. Other studies have shown that the existence of homosexuality is an evolutionary advantage as it means there are a few adults around without offspring who can devote more time and energy to looking after nephews and neices, and the same could be said for asexuality. There is no reason to believe that asexuality is a way of controlling population, particularly as some asexuals do enjoy sex and do have children.
A hormonal problem: Whilst this may be true for a small number of people, it is not the case for most asexuals. Many asexuals have gone through many tests to identify hormonal problems, and all are completely normal.
Asexuals are normal people. Some of them are popular, some aren't, some are extroverts, some introverts, and of course some are very withdrawn.
Ugliness: Asexuals do not choose to identify as asexual because they are ugly or can't get any. Just like the rest of the human race, some asexuals are beautiful, most are average, and some are ugly.
Pickyness: It is not that asexuals are very picky about who they date. Many just don't feel the need to date anyone, and those who do date are only picky about sexual activity.
Religiousness: Some asexuals are religious, some very religious, and others are not at all religious. Some statistics suggest that asexuals are more likely to be religious.
Asexual Responses To Common Statements And Questions Made By Sexuals
When an asexual 'comes out' to a sexual person, there are many responses widely reported by asexuals that shows that the sexual person just doesn't understand or wasn't listening. These are some of those responses and some asexual replies:
Asexuality doesn't exist.
Why not? How can you know someone better than they do? What makes you the authority on other people's feelings?
Are you gay?
No. See above "Homosexuals in hiding" under "What Asexuality Isn't".
You need to see a doctor.
Asexuality is not a medical problem, nor is it a disorder. See above "A disorder" and "A hormonal problem" under "What Asexuality Isn't".
Where you abused?
Asexuality does not seem to have any causes. Abuse can obviously lead to repulsion, hatred or fear of sex, but not to asexuality.
You don't know what you're missing.
Some asexuals do have sex, some do masturbate. Some asexuals with no sex drive have tried sex. They do know what they're missing and are quite content that they're not having it. Those asexuals who have not tried sex do know that they don't know what it's like and have no desire to find out. One such asexual once remarked
"It's like algebra. I understand the concept, but have no interest."and indeed asexuals will draw an analogy with many things - baseball, synchronised swimming, playing a harmonica, or sky-diving. They understand what it means and how it's done, but have no interest in anything to do with it.
You just haven't met the right person yet. (Or you're just a late bloomer.)
Asexuality is for life, not just for childhood. See above "A late bloomer" under "What Asexuality Isn't". Most sexuals are aware from their early teens that they are sexual, and most know what their orientation is. Surely an asexual person, just the same as heterosexual person, is allowed to state that they are asexual when they are. Just because they might not always be doesn't stop them being asexual at that point in time.
No, really, everyone's sexual. You just haven't met the right person.
Everyone isn't sexual, asexuals are not sexual. For many asexuals, the right person wouldn't want sex either.
You've obviously never had me, f'naar f'naar.
Anyone who does not find you sexually attractive is not likely to date you just to find out if you can make them find you sexually attractive. Asexuality, like heterosexuality, is not something that needs to be 'cured'.
You must be very religious.
Asexuality is nothing to do with religion. Some asexuals are religious, some aren't. See above "Religiousness" under "What Asexuailty Isn't".
If it was unnatural it wouldn't exist, but there are scientific studies of other animals to prove that it does exist. (If you persist in objecting to things because they are unnatural, perhaps you should stop using all modern commodities (like shops, supermarkets, electricity, clean water, toilets, vehicles, soap, clothes, etc) as they are all entirely unnatural.)
You're just making it up to make yourself feel special.
If someone were doing that, surely they would choose something that didn't open them up to criticism? Many asexuals have been laughed at and even shunned for letting people know of their asexuality. Anyone needing to feel special is probably insecure and will not want that to happen.
OK, that's fine.
Hurrah, you understand! You're wonderful!