The Spectrum of Asexuality

Asexuality is an underrecognized sexual minority. There is a serious lack of both awareness and acceptance of asexual identities by the general public. What is asexuality actually and how does it differ from celibacy? How do asexual people function in a hyper-sexualized Western society? The lack of research on asexuality fosters the stigmatization of asexual identities. This stigma is a big hurdle to asexual people wanting to come out to their friends, partners and family.

Asexuality? What’s that?

Asexuality includes a spectrum of identities which do not feel sexual attraction, or at least do not experience sexual attraction in the same way that non-asexual (allosexual) people do [1]. Asexuality differs from celibacy. The latter is a choice an individual makes, due to personal or cultural reasons. Asexuality, on the contrary, is an inherent lack of sexual or romantic attraction that has little to do with personal or cultural causes. Asexuality also encompasses aromantic identities. Aromantic (often abbreviated as aro) people do not crave romantic relationships in life and experience romance differently to alloromantic (non-aromantic) people [2].

As a result, asexuality is an umbrella term to define any identities which experience romantic or sexual attraction differently to allosexual people. The reason why a difference in attraction, rather than an absence of attraction is specified, is because often times asexuality is reduced down to a complete absence of any sexual or romantic desires. Sex favourability is often an important qualifier for various asexual identities.

Following from this, a-spec (Asexual spectrum) people have created a system which helps them explain their identities to people who are new to asexuality and its many branches. This system distinguishes between sexual and romantic attraction and allows people to sexually identify as any orientation, while also being on the spectrum of asexuality. This system is called the Split Attraction Model (SAM) and it allows individuals to self-identify freely [3]. For example, a pansexual person could identify as both asexual and panromantic, or both aromantic and pansexual.

 “This helps asexuals who don’t identify as aromantic, and aromantics who don’t identify as asexual to qualify their experiences.” -Pasquier, GLAAD.org

I’m Ace…I think?

Ace is another abbreviation for asexual or a-spec individuals. It is normal, and often healthy to question your sexuality. Luckily for Ace-questioning people, there is a large community of a-spec people online! In fact, AVEN (the Asexual Visibility and Education Network) is one of the largest, if not the largest, network for a-spec people to come together and feel validated for their sexuality [4]. Since sexual relations are such a deeply rooted phenomenon in gender roles and heteronormativity, asexuality is a deviant and taboo orientation. However, through its deviant nature, it allows a-spec people to rethink and reconstruct their gender identity [5]. This is because certain gender roles which involve sexual relations do not apply to them and are automatically rejected.

Despite its potential to shake up heteronormativity and reshape all gender identities, Asexuality is still widely rejected by society as a genuine legitimate sexuality. It is often misinterpreted as a mental health disorder that needs to be fixed. This is obviously a toxic mindset towards identity formation of asexual individuals. Often a-spec people are believed to be “broken” and in need of hormones or other kinds of medication to “revive’ their libido to the allosexual/alloromantic standards [6]. Unfortunately, aphobia is very rampant, even within the LGBTQIAP+ community. Hopefully in the future education and awareness on asexuality can help improve the acceptability of a-spec people in society while also encouraging healthy critical conversations about sexuality for everyone.

To Come Out or Not to Come Out…

A 2015 study details the “coming-out” culture within the ace community. It mapped out the reasons why an asexual person would choose to come out versus the reasons an asexual person would hesitate from openly identifying as a-spec. For openly a-spec people identifying as a-spec has been very freeing, validating and relieving. These individuals also believed asexuality to be a prominent part of their identity, which needed to be shared with their loved ones. Others came out solely to relieve pressure from friends and family about their dating and love life [7].

On the other hand, some a-spec individuals did not consider their orientation principal enough to their identity and chose to keep it private, rather than coming out to their friends and families. Additionally, and unfortunately, asexuality is still not considered a legitimate sexuality by the family members and friends of some asexual individuals, which created a bad “coming-out experience” for them. Others chose to share their a-spec identity only with potential sexual or intimate partners [8].

How to Identify Your Local Ace/Aro

A-spec people use rings to identify in public! It’s subtle enough for non-asexual people to miss, but obvious enough for a fellow asexual person who is looking out for signs! So, if you see a person in public wearing a black ring on their right middle finger it’s either a very clear coincidence or this person identifies as asexual and wants other a-spec people to know! Meanwhile people who identify as aromantic wear a white, silver or green ring on the left middle finger for the same reasons.

If you meet or know a-spec people, validate their experiences! For more information, look up AVEN, the vast reddit community of asexual/aromantic people, and Todd Chavez references!

Author: Nawal Rahman

Bibliography

[1] Bogaert, A.F., 2015. Asexuality: What it is and why it matters. Journal of Sex Research, 52(4), pp.362-379.

[2] Antonsen, A.N., Zdaniuk, B., Yule, M. and Brotto, L.A., 2020. Ace and aro: understanding differences in romantic attractions among persons identifying as asexual. Archives of Sexual Behavior, pp.1-16.

[3] Morgan Pasquier 2018, Explore the spectrum: guide to finding your ace community, GLAAD, viewed 27th March 2021, <https://www.glaad.org/amp/ace-guide-finding-your-community>.

[4] see [1]

[5] MacNeela, P. and Murphy, A., 2015. Freedom, invisibility, and community: A qualitative study of self-identification with asexuality. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44(3), pp.799-812.

[6] Robbins, N.K., Low, K.G. and Query, A.N., 2016. A qualitative exploration of the “coming out” process for asexual individuals. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45(3), pp.751-760.

[7] see [6]

[8] see [6]

Sources of images

Image 1: From reddit user u/komiamiko on the subreddit r/asexuality https://www.reddit.com/r/asexuality/comments/m82s37/all_the_spectra_an_overview_and_conversation/

Image 2: From artist Luna Tiny, luna_tiny on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/luna_tiny/p/8jd8Owlabv/?hl=en

Image 3: From Tumblr user Altai

Image 4: From Tumblr site page bojackhorseman.tumblr.com

UNDIVIDED for KU Leuven

UNDIVIDED is a student-faculty diversity initiative at KU Leuven. For a more inclusive university. Contact us at UNDIVIDED@kuleuven.be or on our social media.

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