What Does It Mean to Be on the Asexual Spectrum?

When people think about sexual orientation, they generally refer to a person's sexuality (meaning the quality or state of being sexual). But, sexual orientation is not only limited to a person's ability to experience sexual attraction. There are people who do not experience sexual attraction toward people of any gender. This, too, is a sexual orientation and is referred to as asexuality.

Asexuality is not the same thing as celibacy or abstinence, in which a person consciously chooses not to have sex irrespective of their sexual feelings. It also doesn't mean that a person who is asexual has never had sex or has a low libido (sex drive).

Asexuality describes someone who does not experience sexual attraction regardless of whether they have sex or not. Under the umbrella of asexuality is a broad range of attitudes, experiences, and behaviors, which sociologists describe as the asexual spectrum (or, informally, the "ace spectrum").

Couple Holding Hands
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This article explores the asexual spectrum and the diversity of emotions and behaviors that help define it. This includes people who experience non-sexual forms of attraction or who experience sexual attraction only on occasion.

Defining the Asexual Spectrum

Asexuality is comprised of a wide range of attitudes, experiences, and behaviors. The asexual spectrum can be categorized in part by a person's general feelings about sex, which may be described as:

  • Sex-negative, in which a person finds sex off-putting or repulsive
  • Sex-neutral, in which a person's feelings about sex are neither negative nor positive
  • Sex-positive, in which a person believes that sex is a healthy part of the human experience

Although the relationship between asexuality and these attitudes can be difficult to grasp, they can comfortably co-exist.

For instance, a person can identify as asexual yet still be sex-positive if they believe that sex can strengthen an emotional bond between two people. They can also be sex-neutral and engage in sex to please a current or potential partner who is interested in sex.

By contrast, a person who is asexual and sex-negative is less likely to engage in sex. Even so, that doesn't mean that they don't. They may masturbate or engage in sex for other reasons, such as wanting to have kids.

In the end, asexuality is the absence of sexual attraction, not sexual desire. A person who is asexual can still have a strong libido and an active sex life. Or, they may have neither. This is why asexuality is described as a spectrum.

Romantic vs. Aromantic in the Asexual Spectrum

Emotional connections are another way to categorize the asexual spectrum—namely, the presence or absence of them.

Broadly speaking, people who identify as asexual can either be:

  • Romantic: Able to experience emotions characterized by passion, intimacy, and commitment
  • Aromantic: Lacking any interest or desire in romantic relationships

It's important to note that you can be romantic or aromantic whether you identify as sexual or asexual. Where it differs in the asexual spectrum is in its relationship to sex.

For example, an asexual person who is aromantic is less likely to engage in sex, while a sexual person who is aromantic may have a very active sex life.

A person who is asexual can also forge close emotional connections that don't involve romance. There may be an intellectual attraction (in which you are drawn to a person's intelligence) or an aesthetic attraction (in which you are drawn to a person's appearance) that can be just as compelling as a romantic attraction.

Demisexuality and Graysexuality

People who are less clearly defined by the absence of sexual attraction also fall within the asexual spectrum. These include people who identify as:

  • Demisexual: A sexual orientation in which a person experiences a romantic attraction only after a deep emotional connection has been made
  • Graysexual: A sexual orientation in which a person is largely asexual but occasionally experiences a sexual attraction

As with all facets of sexuality, it can be hard to draw a clear line between one asexual identity and the next. Scientists at the Kinsey Institute tried to clarify the differences with 22 behaviors they considered characteristics of asexuality, demisexuality, and graysexuality.

They found that people who identified as asexual generally exhibited behaviors classified as "disinterest or disgust." By contrast, people who identified as demisexual or graysexual were characterized by "emotional connection" behaviors. With that said, demisexual people were more likely to engage in sex (12%) than those who identified as graysexual or asexual (4%).

Another study published in the Journal of Sexual Research concluded that people who identified as demisexual or graysexual were more likely to experience romantic attraction, while asexual people were more likely to be aromantic.

Summary

Asexuality is a sexual orientation in which a person does not experience sexual attraction to individuals of any gender. A vast range of attitudes, behaviors, and experiences fall on the asexual spectrum.

People who identify as asexual have different attitudes about sex. Some regard sex as a healthy way to forge an emotional bond. Others feel it off-putting and tend to lack any interest in romantic relationships. In between are sex-neutral people who are neither positive nor negative about sex.

Though people who identify as asexual do not experience sexual attraction, they often have sexual desires and even enjoy sex. There are also people who experience sexual attraction only occasionally (graysexuals) and others who form a romantic attraction only after a deep emotional connection has been made (demisexuals).

A Word From Verywell

Asexuality is not a medical condition. It is a sexual orientation in the same way that homosexuality, bisexuality, and pansexuality are.

Though some people consider it "abnormal" to not have sex, a person's emotional health cannot be measured by how much or how little sex they have. This includes having no sex at all.

The asexual spectrum allows people to explore their sexual orientation without judgment. It allows them to shed labels that may not have matched how they view themselves and embrace asexuality as a healthy component of human sexuality.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Elizabeth Boskey, PhD
Elizabeth Boskey, PhD, MPH, CHES, is a social worker, adjunct lecturer, and expert writer in the field of sexually transmitted diseases.