Skip to content

Life Among The One Percent

It’s a bit difficult to determine what percentage of the population is asexual, as we tend to be a rather under studied group; we are everywhere, but largely invisible, tacked on as an afterthought in trendy acronyms, but not actually included, except on rare occasions. One relatively recent study pegged the number at about one percent of the general population.

Many people are not very curious about what life is like among the one percent. In fact, most have an imperfect understanding of what asexuality even means and may be too afraid, or too indifferent, to ask. Despite efforts to increase asexual visibility, the asexual community sits very much outside other communities active in the social justice and activism communities, and many of us who are asexual tend not to address that particular aspect of our identities if we are active in the social justice community. Every time I talk about asexuality, asexual people creep out of the woodwork, reminding me of how many of us there are, here, and how silent we are about ourselves.

What this leads to is a number of artificial divides and a lack of understanding when it comes to bridging the gap between sexual and asexual people, a particularly important matter for people concerned with topics like intersections between sexuality, reproductive rights, and social justice. And that’s what today’s post is about; a glimpse into what asexuality is all about, in the hopes that it will pique your interest and make you want to seek out more resources and information. A reminder that asexuals are all around you, and you should be thinking about us when you’re exploring topics of sexuality, orientation, and identity.

Asexuality is often defined as a lack of sexual attraction. Defining something as what it’s not is inherently less than ideal, but at least it’s a good start at a working definition. Asexual people do not, generally, experience sexual attraction. This differentiates us from people choosing celibacy for religious, cultural, personal, or other reasons. Celibate people do experience sexual attraction, although it may wax and wane over time. We do not, necessarily, although that is also something that can shift.

Some asexuals are fond of saying that people should use the identity as long as they find it useful, and abandon it when it is not. This fluidity and relaxation around asexual identities is one many sexual people find confusing, especially in environments where identities are thought of as fixed and set. The idea that asexuals can label themselves on the basis of a personal definition of the label, rather than one imposed by society, is also alien to some people. We, ourselves, debate the nature of asexual identities and what fits under this umbrella, while taking care to avoid the creation of exclusionary litmus tests.

Asexuality is not a pathology; it is not the result of trauma, it is not the result of fear or hatred of sex, it is not the result of medications that suppress libido. Asexual people can and do experience all of these things, but this does not constitute a causal relationship. They can play a complex and intersecting role in an asexual identity, but they are not its sole facet.

Speaking of intersections, while one percent is a good statistic for the general population, there are some communities that appear to have a higher rate of asexuality. Around four percent of the transgender community identifies as asexual, and I know that I am not the only asexual transgender person active in the social justice community right now. As the rich array of writing at the Spectral Amoebas Blog Carnival recently demonstrated, there are a lot of intersections between asexuality and disability. Kaz explores some of the intersections between asexuality and disability, and the problems with common social assumptions about both, in more detail here, and I would highly recommend reading that post if you want more information.

Many of us believe that asexuality is a sexual orientation in its own right, and it is important to be aware that it is a very diverse one; to be asexual is as diverse as being lesbian or heterosexual, with room for many facets of identity under that broad label. Some asexuals are very interested in sex, and may consume, make, and discuss pornography, ranging from erotic stories to films. The interest in expressions of sexuality can be rooted in a lot of different things, depending on the asexual person doing the creation or consumption. Many of us are interested in sex on a cultural level if not a personal one, or derive pleasure from specific genres of erotica and porn (just as some of us masturbate). Others may enjoy the experience of creating erotic work for partners or others; some asexuals are very active in the erotic fanfiction community, for example. The absence of sexual attraction does not necessarily equate to a lack of interest in sex as a cultural and social phenomenon. As The Asexual Sexologist can attest, we can be so interested in sex that we turn it into a professional career! Some of us also have sex, for a variety of reasons; asexuality doesn’t mean you never have sex, and you are not cast out of the cool kids club for having it.

Some asexual people orient themselves along a spectrum of romanticism and aromanticism, describing the natural of the attractions they feel; being asexual doesn’t mean you are not attracted to people, only that you do not experience sexual attraction. Nor does it mean that the nature of those attractions is inherently weaker because sex is not involved.

Some asexuals may be involved in romantic relationships, including polyamorous relationships involving a variety of people who experience different levels of attraction for each other. It is possible to be asexual and queer, as I am, to be asexual and deeply in love with someone, as others are. Many people seem surprised to learn about these aspects of life among the one percent, just as they are surprised to learn that some asexual people are kinky, that some of us may go to sex clubs or attend Folsom Street Fair or work in sex shops.

The asexual community is vibrant and complex. We develop a common language to compensate for the lack that our native languages have when it comes to describing aspects of asexuality and our lives; to address, for example, the fact that the very term ‘asexual’ is often misused to describe people who do not have sex, regardless of the reasons why, or to make derisive comments about people who do not want to have sex with you.

Sometimes the jargon can be confusing and alienating. Just as people who enter feminist and social justice spaces find themselves at sea in new words, or old words used in new ways, people dipping their toes into asexuality often encounter things that confuse them as we try to define our identities and carve out a space in a society that values sexual relationships more than others, consequently devaluing people who do not have them.

To take just one example of the need for asexual visibility and broader inclusion of asexual people in ongoing conversations within social justice and feminist communities, including asexuality in conversations about sexuality is critical. Asexuals are poorly understood by sexual people and we can become targets of abuse, especially in the case of asexuals who experience intersections with other identities like disability. Some people believe that asexual people need ‘correction’ so we can be ‘cured,’ and asexual people can experience tremendous pressure to have sex, sometimes leading to rape and sexual assault. We may have imperfect language to describe these experiences in no small part because the community talking about rape and sexual assault is focusing on sexual people and does not think about what these experiences might be like when you are asexual.

It is critical to not just pay lip service to asexuality, but to actively learn about it; by talking to asexual people, by exploring resources we design for ourselves, by including us in discussions to take advantage of the experience we can bring to the table. As Take Back the Night events unfold all over the world this month, as April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, as I see reporting from the End Violence Against Women Conference in Chicago, asexuality weighs heavily on my mind. In order to be an elephant in the room, you must be visible.

23 Comments

  1. Shelby wrote:

    I just want to say how happy I am to see s.e. smith writing over here! I’ve been a fan of their writing for a really long time, and I think it’s a much needed perspective.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 8:45 pm | Permalink
  2. Dallas wrote:

    This is a great article! I’ll be sure to repost it and thanks for linking me! If you have any suggestions for Asexual Awareness Week (October 23-29th this year) send them to me and I’ll pass them on to the committee!

    -Dallas

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 10:06 pm | Permalink
  3. Torvaun wrote:

    Thank you thank you thank you! I always appreciate reading articles and posts that don’t forget I exist.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 10:36 pm | Permalink
  4. maddox wrote:

    This is one of the best recounts of I have read of

    a) the definition of asexuality
    b) why asexual visibility and awareness is important.
    Many thanks for writing this so clearly.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011 at 11:43 pm | Permalink
  5. s.e. smith wrote:

    Thanks for all the kind comments, y’all! (And I apologise for, er, slow comment moderation, luckily everyone else is more with it than I am and covered my ass.)

    Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 8:26 am | Permalink
  6. cabochon wrote:

    Thank you, s. e. smith. By presenting this post here at Tiger Beatdown, you certainly have added to the awareness of the existence of asexual persons. And you do a great job of expressing the complexity of asexuality, as well.

    Thing have come a LONG way from the 1970′s, when sexuality books would claim that the only “perversion” is not having sex! Yes, in the swingin’ 70′s, this really was what a number of “sexperts” claimed.

    Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 10:27 am | Permalink
  7. Grace wrote:

    Thanks for this post. I have been learning a lot about asexuality lately. There is a great vlog series on YouTube by Hot Pieces of Ace in which asexual people from all over the world describe their ‘brand’ of asexuality. It’s at http://www.youtube.com/user/HotPiecesofAce

    Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Permalink
  8. Kelly wrote:

    What an excellent post. While much of this makes sense to me, I did have a question, if someone wouldn’t mind enlightening me.

    “being asexual doesn’t mean you are not attracted to people, only that you do not experience sexual attraction”

    What is the difference, here, between being attracted to someone and experiencing sexual attraction? I don’t know that I’ve ever differentiated between the two before. Thanks and apologies for my ignorance – I ask out of sincere curiosity and a desire to learn.

    Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Permalink
  9. Serene wrote:

    Thanks for being visible. I appreciate it.

    Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Permalink
  10. Kelly – I was attracted to my current partner for three years before we got together, and I never experienced sexual attraction during that time. Back then, I identified as a romantic asexual, although I don’t use that label anymore.

    It wasn’t that I actively didn’t want to have sex with him. Sex just didn’t really factor into the attraction. I still wanted to be in a relationship with him, and I still wanted him to be interested in me.

    It’s difficult to differentiate between attraction and sexual attraction, because many (most?) people don’t. The best I can do is point you to this website: http://www.asexuality.org/wiki/index.php?title=Attraction

    Friday, April 15, 2011 at 12:17 am | Permalink
  11. Shawn Landis wrote:

    Thanks for the link. I don’t have much to say that’s relevant to the pos, however.

    I think I’m doing more than paying lip service, although I could be wrong.

    Friday, April 15, 2011 at 7:31 am | Permalink
  12. Shawn Landis wrote:

    Relevant to this piece* I didn’t think I hit enter on the last comment.

    Friday, April 15, 2011 at 7:37 am | Permalink
  13. H. Wren wrote:

    I don’t identify asexual, but I’ve always found myself attracted to people for their personality, intellect, sense of humor, etc. I want to get closer to these people, to get to know them much better, but without the possibility of sleeping with them, because that attraction just isn’t there for me.

    In my mind, I call these attractions “brain crushes” or “nerd crushes” to differentiate them from crushes on people (usually women) that I actually want to sleep with. However, these “brain crushes” are often just as intense for me, and, honestly, happen much more often, than sexual crushes.

    In my mind, this is how I differentiate these forms of attraction, but I don’t know if this is relevant to anyone else’s experience.

    Friday, April 15, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Permalink
  14. JfC wrote:

    I dunno if this idea is possibly ignorant but I think back to elementary school crushes I had back when I was pre-sexual, when I imagining divorcing sexual attraction from romantic attraction, and that makes a lot of sense to me. I don’t really know if this is an invitation to answer questions. I respect your right not to educate if you don’t want to, so you can take or leave this query: I don’t really understand how one can be kinky and asexual.

    Friday, April 15, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Permalink
  15. Sciatrix wrote:

    Thank you for posting this; it’s composed entirely of awesome. I really, really love not feeling invisible.

    In terms of trans issues, the biggest survey of asexual community demographics I know of indicated that something like 20% of the asexual community identifies as transgender or “cisgender with reservations,” which dovetails interestingly with the 4% statistic. Admittedly, that’s a poll on one (very large) site done about three years ago, so it has some sampling issues, but the data is pretty cool nonetheless.

    JFC: I’m not, myself, but a lot of the kinky asexuals I have talked to put a lot of emphasis on liking certain experiences, but not experiencing attraction to specific people.
    You might be interested in Verbs Not Nouns, which is a blog written by a kinky asexual, and who has herself described it as being interested in verbs (activities) rather than nouns (specific people).

    Friday, April 15, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Permalink
  16. Tom wrote:

    Thank you for this.

    Sunday, April 17, 2011 at 7:14 pm | Permalink
  17. Dallas wrote:

    @JFC – “Kink” isn’t just about sex. Kink can be about any or all of the following: sex, psychology, power exchange, endorphins, bonding, stress relief, and much, much more. Everyone who engages in any type of kink does so for their own reasons and I certainly know people who are into “kink” pretty much just as sex, but I know plenty of people who are not asexual for whom kink isn’t about sex at all, or only marginally so.

    As an asexual I can still enjoy many aspects of BDSM (Bondage & Discipline, Dominance and Submission, Sadism and Masochism – sometimes also read just as sadomasochism, but that seems to be a regional thing). I can enjoy the experience of being tied up just for the way it feels, I still get a rush of endorphins from impact play like everyone else, and I thoroughly enjoy power exchange. I can enjoy each of these aspects for their own sake. Why would I want to ruin something I enjoy doing by mixing it with something that, for me, is a total turn off?

    Try rethinking about what you’re asking. Would you ask a straight man how he can enjoy kink without having gay sex while he’s doing it? I know some male dominants who are completely straight who will scene with male bottoms because it isn’t just a sexual thing for them. When they scene with females it may be a sexual thing for them but when they scene with someone they aren’t sexually attracted to it’s all about the psychology, the head space, the mind games, the power and not at all about sex. It’s the same concept for me when I play- sex is the last thing on my mind because I’m not sexually attracted to the person I’m playing with- just like the male doms I know when they play with male submissives.

    To be fair, while I believe this is a good analogy I don’t know very many male tops who play with male submissives because for so many men in the scene they do think about it as being about sex- which often makes it difficult for me to find a parter who enjoys “kink” for the same reasons I do or who can understand what I’m looking for- or not looking for. My impression is that there are more women then men (percent wise) who enjoy kink for the sake of kink rather than just as a lead up to sex… but that’s just my impression. :)

    Thursday, April 21, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Permalink
  18. Erica wrote:

    Thank you for this article!

    Saturday, April 23, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Permalink
  19. buy silver wrote:

    Wow has it really been a month since my last post?I just had a cool discussion with a researcher from down the bay and we go into an interesting discussion about what asexual people as a community are out to accomplish. I broke it down into four categories though Id love peoples thoughts on the issue.SupportProbably the biggest thing asexual people are looking for is a place to figure ourselves out and be supported in our identity.

    Monday, April 25, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Permalink
  20. Sarah wrote:

    Thank you for this article. And thank you to all of the folks who have answered questions and shared their knowledge and themselves in the comments. I’m learning a lot, here.

    Monday, April 25, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Permalink
  21. GallingGalla wrote:

    I’m a bit late to this post, but still I want to thank you, s.e. smith for this post, and everyone for the comments.

    I’ve mulled the identity of asexual around for quite some years, before concluding fairly recently that is accurate for me. Especially seeing the title of that blog (Verbs Not Nouns) – which I need to go and read – but just the *title* settles things for me. I like activities. I like doing things and in some cases having things done to me. It might be hiking, or giggling at a silly movie, or getting tied up. As opposed to being attracted to men, or women, or tall people, or … because I’m not. I’m attracted to activities and I’d love to share those activities with other people who are interested in them, and leave the “…therefore, you have to be sexually attracted to *me*” part out of it.

    Sunday, May 1, 2011 at 5:31 pm | Permalink
  22. I had been studying a number of the real posts ideal right here

    Tuesday, May 3, 2011 at 2:46 am | Permalink
  23. Hong Tallie wrote:

    I’m glad to study some wonderful post like this.

    Monday, May 9, 2011 at 2:23 am | Permalink