What is asexuality?

Asexuality is a sexual identity that is often misunderstood and can sometimes feel confusing. Understanding what asexuality is can help you to better understand yourself and those around you.

This can help if:

  • you think you might be asexual

  • you know someone who might be or identifies as asexual

  • you identify as asexual and want to learn more.

An asexuality awareness march with young people smiling and holding flags and signs on an urban street.

What does ‘asexual’ mean? 

The term ‘asexuality’, or ‘ace’ for short, means not feeling sexual attraction to others. It’s all about experiencing no – or very little – physical desire for sex, but it doesn’t automatically mean a disinterest in love, romantic relationships or sexual pleasure. Asexuality can be experienced on a spectrum that includes, but isn’t limited to, the following identities:

  • Demisexual: where someone may experience sexual attraction only when a deep emotional bond is established.

  • Graysexual: where someone rarely experiences sexual attraction or it’s a weak or ambiguous attraction. 

  • Aceflux: where someone fluctuates across the spectrum.

  • Fraysexual: where someone can feel sexual attraction to a person they’re not deeply connected to, but the attraction disappears once a connection is established.

  • Reciprocisexual: where someone doesn’t experience sexual attraction until they know for sure the other person is attracted to them.

  • Cupiosexual: where someone doesn’t experience sexual attraction but still wants a sexual relationship.

  • Ansexual: where someone lacks any kind of interest in sexual pleasure, attraction or interaction.

You can head here for more details on the different identities on the asexual spectrum.

What’s the difference between being asexual and being aromantic?

While being asexual means not feeling sexual attraction, being aromantic means not feeling a romantic attraction to anyone. Sometimes a person can be both asexual and aromantic, known as 'aroace', but they can also be just one of these. 

For instance, an asexual person might still want a romantic relationship without sex, while an aromantic person might not seek romantic relationships but could still enjoy close friendships or other bonds. People who identify as asexual can still have close, loving relationships and romantic partnerships without the sexual aspect. Alternatively, some asexual people may choose to take part in sexual activities even without sexual attraction, but perhaps less often. All experiences are valid!

'Some of my friends have suggested I might be asexual/aromantic. But I enjoy watching romance movies and reading romance books/comics. I still feel turned on when I read sexy scenes between the characters. But for some reason, it's something I don't feel like chasing after in real life… And I don't have a huge desire to have sex myself.'  – Jardin, ReachOut OnlineCommunity

How do I know if I’m asexual?

A U.S. survey by the Trevor Project found that about 10 per cent of the 40,000 LGBTQIA+ young people surveyed identified as asexual. For some people, knowing whether they are asexual will take time and self-reflection, while others may feel very certain of it early on. Asexuality is a unique experience for everyone.

You might be asexual if you notice that you don't feel sexual attraction to anyone, even when others around you do. Sometimes, when we don’t understand why this is happening, we can feel fear and shame about being ‘different’ or ‘wrong’. This can be especially true if you’re feeling things that aren’t straightforward, such as not being sexually attracted to someone but enjoying sexual self-pleasure or sexual content in the media. It's important to remember that there's no rush to label yourself. Exploring your sexuality and what aligns with how you feel can take time, and can even change over time.

How do I tell someone I’m asexual?

Coming out, or telling someone you’re asexual, particularly someone you might be interested in romantically, can feel daunting. It helps to be honest and direct, and it's okay to take your time and to be selective about who you share this part of yourself with.

Choose a safe, private moment to share your sexual identity and to explain to someone that being asexual means you don't feel sexual attraction. You can also share with them how this doesn't affect your ability to have meaningful relationships, and answer any questions they might have. It can be helpful to share resources to help the other person understand. It’s also good to be prepared in case you need to remind someone about various aspects of being asexual. You can check out Dib’s story of coming out with their friends and family here for some more tips.

'Most of my friends know that I am aroace and are accepting of it. It wasn’t a big deal for them when I told them. It took me a while to tell some people in my family as they either saw me as being straight or gay. I think it was also hard for family members to accept as they just assumed that I would eventually get married or that it was just a phase.' – Jessica, ReachOut OnlineCommunity

Can my asexuality change over time?

Yes, sexuality can be fluid for some people, meaning it can change over time. You might identify as asexual now but feel differently in the future. You might also always feel asexual. All experiences are valid. What’s important is how you feel in the moment and that you respect your own journey.

Can you be asexual but still have sexual thoughts and feelings?

Yes! An asexual person can still have sexual thoughts and feelings. ‘Asexuality’ refers specifically to a lack of sexual attraction to others, not to a lack of sexual desires or behaviours. An asexual person might still have fantasies, experience arousal, or engage in sexual activities for a range of reasons, including curiosity, pleasure or a desire for intimacy. It's important to understand that asexuality is about who they are (or aren't) attracted to, rather than their overall relationship with sexuality. This distinction can help you to better understand and support the unique experiences of people who identify as asexual.

two young people walking down the street, one with a pride flag and the other with an ace flags wrapped around them like capes.

Are asexual people part of the LGBTQIA+ community? 

They sure are! The ‘A’ in LGBTQIA+ stands for asexual, aromantic and agender. 

Asexual people are an important part of the LGBTQIA+ community and also have a community of their own, the ace community. The ace community can help asexual people to understand and navigate the challenges and experiences unique to this sexual identity.

Do asexual people experience discrimination? 

Unfortunately, asexual people can sometimes face discrimination and misunderstandings. This type of discrimination is referred to as ‘acephobia’. It can include being told that their sexual identity isn't real or it’s a disorder, or it’s just dismissed, or they may be pressured to change or to conform. 

Experiencing this can lead to feelings of confusion, sadness, isolation and loneliness, which may have negative impacts on your mental health and emotional wellbeing. One way to ensure you’re supported is to prioritise spending time with people who accept and seek to understand you.

If you don’t really have anyone to talk to yet about what you’re experiencing, you can jump onto the ReachOut Online Community or book an anonymous text-based chat with an experienced ReachOut peer worker to connect with supportive people. If you’re struggling with negative feelings and feel like you need more support, consider talking to a professional, especially someone who works with the LGBTQIA+ community. 

How to be a good ally to an asexual person 

Being a good ally means listening actively, believing the person, respecting their identity and educating others. Avoid making assumptions about the person’s relationships or identity, and try not to attempt to ‘fix’ them. Standing up against acephobia includes spreading awareness about asexuality. Don’t underestimate how much your support can help the asexual person feel seen and respected.

You can find more helpful tips on how to be a great ally here.

Groups and communities providing support for the ace community

If you’re looking for support for the ace community, check out this list of LGBTQIA+ services across Australia or connect with QLife, Australia’s national LGBTQIA+ support service. Ace Week is an annual campaign to raise awareness of asexuality and to connect the global ace community. In Australia, we also have Ace & Aro Collective AU and Australian Asexuals.

You can also check out these conversations between other young people who are exploring their asexuality in the ReachOut Online Community:

What can I do now?