13 Myths and Misconceptions About Asexual People: Part One


For my first post at Queereka, I thought I’d explain a bit about what asexuality is, and what it isn’t, by addressing some common misconceptions. First off, a definition: at its most fundamental level, asexuality is the absence of sexual attraction. (The term also appears in biology, but we’ll be talking about the orientation.) Even within that definition there is room for manoeuvre, demonstrated by the increasing prominence of terms such as demisexual and grey-A. For simplicity’s sake I will refer to all of these orientations under the umbrella term of asexuality.

It’s difficult to summarise what it means to be asexual – beyond the “little or no sexual attraction” caveat there are possibilities as numerous as people (it is estimated that one percent of the population are asexual). What I hope to dispel is that all asexual people are the same, or that we’re “broken” in some way, or that we all fall into a stereotype (beyond the “asexual people love cake” stereotype, but then again, who *doesn’t* love cake?). Here are a few myths and misconceptions regarding asexuality, accompanied by my attempts at busting them.

Note: asexual people cannot perform binary fission. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, biological term correction courtesy of commenter crane)

1. Oh, so you’re celibate?
Celibacy and asexuality are two different, albeit superficially similar things. Celibacy is where a person abstains from sex either voluntarily (such as a religious vow) or involuntarily. The important thing is that they have a desire to have sex that is suppressed somehow. Asexual people have no such desire; not experiencing sexual attraction is an intrinsic part of them. Celibacy is about behaviour, while asexuality is about underlying feelings. Asexual people do not make a choice to be asexual any more than gay people make a choice to be gay and so on, and it isn’t a case of them being unable to have sex. Some people give asexual people credit for “saving themselves” or “exercising self-control”, but there’s nothing to save or control. [This section was altered to include a more accurate portrayal of celibacy thanks to commenter miller.]

2. The purpose of life is to procreate – you must be ill or damaged in some way.
This is always lovely to hear. Some people take evolutionary theory – or their religious book of choice – to extremes! Life has so many facets beyond going forth and multiplying/passing down our genes, I can’t even begin to do them justice. It’s bizarre how they’re all suddenly forgotten by those trying to make asexual people feel inadequate. (On a side note, don’t you think we have enough procreation going on already without trying to force asexual people into doing it too?)

Regarding the second point, it’s a sign of how sex is held in such high regard in our society that anyone who expresses no interest in it is seen as having a problem that needs to be fixed. (Because denoting orientations as disorders has gone so well before, amirite?) No sensible person will deny that loss of sexual desire can be a symptom of underlying problems, but being asexual is an orientation, not an illness. Think of it this way: some people are naturally more sexual than others. Why can’t that extend to having no sexual attraction at all without it becoming an illness, or a symptom of childhood abuse, or any sort of cause for concern?

3. How do you know if you’ve never tried it?
The same way straight people know they're straight without having gay sex, or gay people know they're gay without having straight sex, or any person knows they don't want sex with a certain person without actually doing it. As I mentioned before, the key thing is attraction.

This sort of question also ignores the fact that some asexual people have in fact had sex, or masturbated, or (if they're demisexual) can experience sexual attraction once an emotional connection is formed, and they haven't magically turned sexual – just like someone who identifies as, for example, a lesbian wouldn't be turned straight just by having sex with a man. (Though, word to the wise, don't randomly ask an asexual person intimate questions about their sex life – it's not that they're a prude, it's just incredibly rude.) There's a chance an asexual person might shift their identity, but generally people come to asexuality having examined themselves quite a lot, since it's a relatively invisible orientation. Even so, doubting anyone's orientation is kind of a douchey thing to do.

Conversely, if terrible movies have taught me nothing else, they've taught me that sexual people don't have to have sex to want it.

Asexual heart
Another symbol used by the asexual community. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

4. I met an asexual person who was in a relationship. They must have been lying about being asexual.
Relationships are more complex than simply sexual attraction. There's romantic attraction for starters – asexual people can identify as having a romantic attraction to other people (homoromantic, heteroromantic, biromantic, etc.), or not (aromantic). More importantly, there's the fact that relationships don't have to be sexual or romantic to be meaningful – friendships or familial relationships can be even more fulfilling.

Another myth is that asexual people can only form relationships amongst themselves – many asexual people enter relationships with sexual people, though the trick (as with any relationship, especially one where sex drives don't match) is communication. Some asexual people will do sexual things for their partner, or even be sexually attracted to them if they're demisexual. You have no right to know the details just because you're curious.

5. Come off it! You're just gay and in denial/straight but can't get any/too young to make that sort of statement.
I'm going to need a list-within-a-list to deal with all this fail!

a) Many asexual people grow up being misread as gay or even believing they are gay – learning about asexuality and finding you fit into it can be a real turning point. It does seem that if you're not aggressively heterosexual, you're automatically gay – and if you deny you're gay, you're repressed. Don't you think it would be easier for a closeted gay person to come out than go through constant scrutiny by identifying as asexual?

b) Asexual people are no more or less desirable than sexual people. Our orientation is not a defence mechanism. (I theorise that part of this misconception is down to the fact we engage in behaviours that traditionally attract people somewhat less since we have less desire to attract them, but that's just common sense.)

c) I won't deny that members of the asexual community seem younger on average than others. However, I think this is down at least in part to how invisible asexuality is, and how it's prominently an internet community. The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) was only founded in 2001, after all! Many gay people know they're gay from a young age and we don't try to force them back into the closet until they're "old enough" (how old is "old enough" anyway?), so don't do the same to asexual people. I would go so far as saying the younger a person can know themselves fully, the happier they'll be – they won't have to go through years of believing there's something wrong with them.

EDIT: Commenter Elizabeth made a helpful addition to this point: “I think it’s also important to recognize that there ARE plenty of older asexual people out there. It’s just that older people are less likely to find the community because they’re less likely to spend a lot of time on the internet. And they’re hidden behind their online aliases when they do, so unless they specifically point out their age, you wouldn’t know how old they are.”

d) Remember what I said about doubting someone's orientation being a douchey thing to do?

Part two of this series can be found here.

Feature image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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  1. Very cool post; I'm looking forward to part two. It seems to me that there are a lot of binaries that people don't think can be broken, regardless of what way you try to break them. You can't be sexually attracted to all genders, but you can't be attracted to none either; you have to be straight or gay. You can't have a sexual relationship without a romantic one, and you can't have a romantic relationship without a sexual one; you have to be in a "real" sexual romantic relationship or not be intimate at all.
    It would be nice if one day everyone could take a deep breath and come to terms with the fact that people differ, and that that's OK, and that a situation that might make one person miserable might fill another with joy, and vice versa.

    • Hey, thanks ๐Ÿ™‚ I like to think that there are approximately seven billion different sexual orientations and gender indentities. Any attempt to sort them into categories, much less create artificial binaries, will inevitably not be completely satisfying. It's obviously useful to have labels with which people can identify, just as long as we don't treat them as black-and-white! Differences are what make us human, and it's sad to see how some people still think deciding some shade of difference are superior (or, conversely, don't exist at all) is human instead.

  2. Very interesting Court – how many people think there are only stricly-delineated parameters?  Human beings are rich and varied (not to say variable) in their functions – the sooner that is realised the better … and they can change.
    I know two asexuals (male and female) who live together very happily and who the hell else's business is it anyway????

    • Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚ The world becomes a much more interesting and beautiful place when you start recognising spectra instead of false binaries.
      And if only we could all just live our lives without having to explain ourselves at every turn. While that's not the case, enough of us need to share our stories and educate people. Things are changing slowly, at least!

  3. Great post, and welcome! I'm glad to see asexuality being represented here.
    One other thing to add for 5c: I think it's also important to recognize that there ARE plenty of older asexual people out there. It's just that older people are less likely to find the community because they're less likely to spend a lot of time on the internet. And they're hidden behind their online aliases when they do, so unless they specifically point out their age, you wouldn't know how old they are.
    Looking forward to the next part of this!

    • Thanks very much – I'm glad to have been given the opportunity to write about it ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks as well for the clarification. You put what I think I was attempting to say so much better than I managed. I may add a link to your comment in the post, if that's alright!

  4. This is really nitpicky, but I don't like the standard line that celibacy being a choice.  If that were the case, we wouldn't have involuntary celibates.  Celibacy is a pattern of behavior, and it is usually chosen.  Asexuality refers to underlying feelings, regardless of consequent behavior.  I am asexual and not celibate, so I tend to nitpick about these things.

  5. People in the asexual community may be young, but the mean is early twenties.  In the stereotypical narrative, gay people often come out in high school.  The stereotypical narrative isn't true for most people, but many people accept it at face value.  But show them a teen or tween asexual and suddenly it's too young.

    • Thanks for the comments, I'm replying to both of them in this one. (No need to apologise for being “nitpicky” – nitpicky is good!)

      That's a really good point about celibacy, and I'm sorry I didn't incorporate it originally – I will edit the article accordingly. I agree about with your point about young asexuals too – it seems that what's encouraged for one group is disbelieved in another. (I've found it's more common for people to come out at university, though they perhaps knew they were gay and would have come out if school had been a better environment. It needs to be a better environment for everyone on the queer spectrum!)

  6. I have nothing to add or say that others haven't already, but I just wanted to thank you for writing this! It's a great post, and it makes me so happy that this blog (unlike some other queer spaces, unfortunately) is so positive when it comes to asexuality. I'm looking forward to the next half!

    • Thanks, really pleased you liked it ๐Ÿ™‚ I am planning to cover some of the negative things I've found queer people say about asexuality. I am definitely of the "can't we all just bake a cake made of rainbows and eat it and be nice?" camp.

  7. What's awesome is that the first time I ever heard about asexuality, I pretty much immediately understood all of this stuff. It immediately fell into place for me that sexuality=/=romanticism, and that there would be varying ranges of attraction. 

  8. This is overall quite a solid post. Nice job!
    One thing though, regarding your amoeba picture. Everyone can perform mitosis. If my cells couldn't, I'd be dead. You may be looking for the term "binary fission," which is how amoebas reproduce. There's also parthenogenesis, which is reproduction without fertilization; many plants do this, and I can think of a cool species of lizard that does too.

    • Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚ And thank you for the biological correction – I haven't done any biology for five years (since GCSE), really need to learn some so I don't make silly errors like that!

  9. Just a small comment on myth 2: "The purpose of life is to procreate – you must be ill or damaged in some way."
    No issue with what you wrote, but it should be noted that procreation and sexual attraction can actually be two different things. Yup, I know at least one couple of asexuals who are 5 months into their 'baby experiment'. Doesn't change the fact that they are asexual, but since they want a baby they put up with the "chore of having sex" (her words) enough times to conceive. I think they'll make damn fine parents too!

  10. Note: I have heard that people who happen to not love cake, and perhaps prefer other deserts… or especially those people who are recovering from eating disorders and for whom cake itself is a trigger, find things like your “(beyond the โ€œasexual people love cakeโ€ stereotype, but then again, who *doesnโ€™t* love cake?)” comment quite annoying. And it’s not just you, it’s everyone who perpetuates the silly and fun and seemingly harmless “we prefer cake to sex” idea, because it kind of does drive a point home to allosexual people who also enjoy cake, to give them an idea of how many of us truly do feel. I personally adore good chocolate cake and icing, and definitely find eating that kind of thing more enjoyable than the idea of having sex. But some asexuals actually enjoy having sex and just don’t experience attraction, so for them the analogy doesn’t stand. Some asexuals just hate both cake and sex. Etc. ๐Ÿ˜› Just some “food” for thought.

    • Hi there luvtheheaven, thanks for the comment and “food” for thought on the post. (I will never not appreciate a good pun.) I now realise that the way I phrased it — “who *doesnโ€™t* love cake?” — is kind of antithetical to the whole point of that comparison. Sorry about that, rather annoyed at myself for not noticing sooner and editing it while I still could. Referring more directly to your comment, I definitely see your point about it being inappropriate for certain people. Hopefully people like me can learn to use it sparingly and those who don’t find it useful can feel able to express that. That’s the problem with analogies sometimes: the point of them is to simplify, but simplifying tends to involve ignoring important details.

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