Some things that asexuality is not

There are a number of misconceptions around asexuality, many of which this website addresses in detail. This page summarises our responses to many of the more common misunderstandings.

A choice.

Asexuality is similar to other sexualities like Gay or Straight. There is no “cure” for being asexual, and no one can decide to be asexual. The reason(s) for someone not experiencing sexual attraction towards others are currently unknown, but as asexuality is typically a lifelong phenomenon, like other rainbow identities, it is theorized to have a similar origin in the brain. Asexuality is likely determined by a part of the brain that also determines other elements of sexual attraction.

Celibacy for spiritual or religious reasons.

Celibacy is about sexual behaviour (deliberately refraining from sex), and as such, it is a personal choice. While some asexual people choose to abstain from sex (making them both asexual and celibate), asexuality is not something that people choose to do for religious reasons. Many people who are celibate for religious reasons find it difficult to abstain from sex. For some people, this struggle is part of their spiritual journey, as it teaches them self-control or how to deny earthly desires etc. Asexual people generally don’t have such struggles because they lack sexual attraction in the first place.

A phase.

While for some people sexuality can change over time, asexuality is not a choice that people make. This one can be problematic when the occasional non-asexual person chooses to use the word ‘asexual’ as a placeholder or synonym for ‘celibate’. Sometimes people will say things like “after my recent breakup, I’ve decided I’m going to be asexual for a while so I can focus on other things”, or “until I figure out if I’m attracted to men or women, I’m just going to be asexual”. Although these people probably don’t mean any harm (and have probably innocently confused asexuality with celibacy), these statements can be problematic for asexual people because they make asexuality seem like a choice. This also carries the implication that if you can choose to be asexual, then you can also choose to stop being asexual.

Asexuality is also not just a young persons’ fashionable identity or a way of acting out. There are many asexual people of all ages who report having felt this way throughout their lifetime. Although the term ‘asexual’ is relatively recent, there is evidence that asexual people have existed all throughout history.

A hormonal or medical disorder.

As above, there is no known cure for asexuality, and most asexual people do not have medical conditions that affect libido (many asexual people have a “normal” libido). Some people who are asexual do have various medical conditions and wonder if this is the cause of their asexuality. No known medical condition definitively causes lifelong asexuality, although there are some medical conditions that may be associated with asexuality (i.e. some people with these conditions have been noted to be asexual, while others aren’t). If someone has a lifelong condition that is untreatable and could possibly cause a lack of sexual attraction, there is no problem with them identifying as asexual. This is because they still lack sexual attraction and will have many of the same experiences as other asexual people. However, there are a whole variety of medical conditions that can cause a temporary loss of sex drive (often libido rather than sexual attraction), and for most, if the condition is treated effectively then the persons sex drive will return. A helpful way to tell the difference will be to consider whether a person experienced sexual attraction before the onset of the medical condition. Some chronic or ongoing medical conditions may make a person effectively asexual for long periods of time, and if such people wish to use the term asexual to describe themselves during these periods, that is ok, because some of their experiences may be similar to people with a more lifelong form of asexuality. The main point to make here is that most asexual people lack any medical condition that could cause their asexuality, so there isn’t some ‘asexual condition’ that can be treated by medical means. Sending the majority of asexual people to the doctor will not make them any less asexual.

A mental condition.

Some asexual people have experienced trauma and/or have mental disorders such as depression or anxiety (like people of every sexuality). However, asexuality is not a treatable mental condition. Although conditions such as depression can lower a person’s sex drive, these conditions are not generally the cause of a lifelong lack of sexual attraction. Most asexual people who have various mental conditions were aware of their lack of sexual attraction before and/or between episodes of their current condition. This is obviously more difficult in situations where people have experienced trauma early in life, such as in childhood.

Interested in the intersection between mental conditions and asexuality? Learn more here.

Fear of sex.

Asexual people can have a whole range of attitudes to sex. Some describe themselves as sex positive, meaning that they are OK with sex or enjoy it (but lack sexual attraction to their partners). Others are sex indifferent and may be OK with some elements of sex and not others, or they may have sex sometimes, but feel that they get nothing in particular out of it (these people may have sex to make a romantic partner happy, or to conceive a child etc.). Other asexual people describe themselves as sex repulsed and feel an aversion to the idea of sex. These people may be ‘weirded out’ by sex, ‘grossed out’ or may have had bad or underwhelming experiences with sex in the past. People in this latter category may choose to avoid sexual encounters completely. Regardless of a particular asexual person’s view of sex, asexuality itself is not caused by a fear of sex.

Hatred of sex.

This one ties in with the point above. While asexual people have widely varying feelings about sex, asexuality is not caused by negative attitudes to sex. Most asexual people are happy for other people to have sex, so long as it doesn’t involve them. Many asexual people also agree with the sex positivity movement, as long as being sex positive means that people are free to have as much or as little sex as they want. While some asexual people do hate sex (possibly due to a combined lack of interest and a sense of being pressured into sexual relationships that they didn’t want), a person’s attitudes toward sex does not determine their sexuality.

A cover for being gay or having an unusual kink or fetish.

While it is possible that some gay or other people could use asexuality as a cover, this does not apply to the majority of asexual-identified people – being gay is often more straightforward to explain anyway! This ties in with the above point about asexuality not being a phase. Some people do seem to feel the need to use other sexual identity labels to hide their actual identity. An example is a gay person first identifying as bisexual, and then later admitting that this was just a stepping stone to coming out as gay. Just because some people use bisexuality as a stepping stone, it doesn’t imply that most people who identify as bisexual are not genuinely bisexual. The same applies to asexuality.

Being young or being old.

Many asexual people end up hearing that they are too young to know they are asexual. Most people first experience sexual attraction in their pre-teens or early teens. Most asexual people realized that something was different about them around this time. If it is possible to know that you are sexually attracted to people of the same gender, or a different gender, at 12 or 13, then it is possible to know that you are not sexually attracted to anyone at this age. For some people this may change over the next few years, but asexuality is still the best description of how they feel now. By the time someone is in their mid-teens, their sexuality is unlikely to change much.

At the other end of the spectrum, some middle-aged or elderly people are told that they are only asexual because they are too old to want sex. This point assumes that everybody loses their sex drive with age, which is not true. This point also contradicts itself, because presumably these people would have had a sex drive prior to becoming older. If they did experience sexual attraction typical of an allosexual person when they were younger, then they would presumably remember this experience. People whose sex drive has lowered due to older age typically don’t identify as asexual, which is usually defined as a lifelong lack of sexual attraction.

For some people, older age (along with associated health problems) can cause various sexual dysfunctions, such as erectile dysfunction or lack of vaginal lubrication. It is common for asexuality in older people, particularly men, to be blamed on impotence due to old age. There are a variety of conditions that can cause somebody to lose sexual function, and most are related to hormones changes due to age, menopause, or various medical conditions.  Most of these conditions primarily affect sexual arousal, and can be treated with a variety of medicines or hormone replacement therapy. Often sexual attraction is still present, and the desire to have partnered sex is still there, but the ‘equipment’ is not working properly. This differs from a lack of sexual attraction, where there is often no desire to have partnered sex, whether the ‘equipment’ works or not.

Interested in the intersection between age and sexuality? Find out more here.

Want to know more about asexuality? See mapping the sexual spectrum

Read more about misconceptions about asexuality elsewhere.

  • The Asexual Visibility & Education Network is the world’s oldest and most visible asexuality education website. The AVEN forums have regularly attracted discussion about asexual peoples experiences of others misunderstanding their identities. One particularly productive conversation can be found here.
  • A number of leading magazines have, in recent years, begun to occasionally publish articles aimed at debunking common myths about asexuality. While of variable quality, the popularity of these magazines means they are useful for explaining asexuality to people not familiar with LGBTQIA+ issues. 

The Asexuality New Zealand Trust has no control over, accepts no responsibility for, and does not necessarily endorse the content of external websites.

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