What Is Asexuality? Experts Debunk Common Misconceptions
“If you identify as ace, you don’t have anything to prove — to yourself or to anyone else.”
Asexuality is one of the most widely misunderstood identities under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella. There are many common misconceptions about asexuality, like the assumption that asexual folks — aka “aces” — don’t experience sexual attraction, aren’t interested in sex, and don’t want romantic relationships. But these myths couldn’t be further from the truth, and they can have harmful consequences. Misinformation about asexuality can lead to mental health challenges and stigma for ace folks and make it difficult for aces who desire a romantic relationship to find one.
According to The Trevor Project, asexual people “identify somewhere on a spectrum that includes their emotional, spiritual, and romantic attraction to other people. Some people on the asexual spectrum desire sexual intimacy, while others do not.” Because asexuality is a broad term that represents many levels of attraction, it’s easy for falsehoods to spread about what it actually means.
Although popular TV shows like Sex Education and Steven Universe feature asexual characters, mainstream culture has a long way to go before accurate representations of asexuality are the norm. And in the meantime, asexual people are stuck in the unenviable position of having to explain themselves to friends, family, and potential partners. Here are some of the most common myths about asexuality — and what experts and members of the ace community want everyone to know.
Myth #1: Asexual People Don’t Experience Sexual Attraction
A common misconception is that asexual folks don’t experience sexual attraction — or have sex. You’re probably thinking, “But wait, isn’t that what asexuality means?” Not necessarily.
According to the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, asexual people’s attitudes towards sex generally fall into one of three categories: sex favorable, sex indifferent, and sex averse. Depending on where an individual falls within this spectrum, there are different ways they might incorporate sexual or intimate activities into their relationships.
“Asexuals can have sex, can [participate in] kink, [or] can do both, but if and when they do, they'll do it for their own personal reasons that have nothing to do with sexual attraction,” the Barefoot Backpacker, a blogger who is part of the ace community, tells Elite Daily. “Sexual attraction is just one aspect of a relationship, and it’s not even the most important one.”
Myth #2: Asexual People Can’t Be Kinky
Another common myth about asexuality is that ace folks typically aren’t interested in exploring kink. However, this isn’t necessarily true. The Ace and Aro Advocacy Project (TAAAP) — an asexuality advocacy group — addressed the myth that being ace is incompatible with being kinky. Through a series of interviews in 2021, they found that the ace community actually has a variety of kinky interests, which further dispels the myth that ace folks don’t practice kink.
A 2019 article published in Psychology and Sexuality found that sharing kinks and fetishes could enhance intimacy in asexual relationships, and according to Fetlife, a kink and fetish social networking site, there are over 200 groups online dedicated to asexuality. Clearly, being asexual and kinky aren’t mutually exclusive.
Myth #3: Asexual People Don’t Have Romantic Relationships
Many people assume that aces don’t have romantic relationships, but in fact, plenty do. Destinie Vidrio, an associate marriage and family therapist, tells Elite Daily that aces can have numerous romantic identities, such as heteroromantic, homoromantic, biromantic, or panromantic. Like sexual identities, romantic identities describe who someone is romantically attracted to. For example, someone who is homoromantic desires romantic relationships with people of the same gender, and someone biromantic is interested in romantic relationships with people of multiple genders.
It’s important to know that sexual desire and romantic desire can be completely separate impulses, and many asexual folks enjoy healthy romantic partnerships whether or not sex is involved. “The majority of the aces that I work with and know personally are romantic and desire a romantic connection,” Holman says. In fact, a 2019 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that roughly 58% of asexual people reported being in an intimate relationship.
Myth #4: Asexuality Is A Disorder
Historically, therapists and medical professionals have used the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to make clinical diagnoses. Up until the DSM-5, “a lack of sexual desire” was one of the main criteria for being diagnosed with hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), which is defined as “the mental and physical loss of desire to have sex for an extended period of time.” Because the criteria for this disorder were practically indistinguishable from asexuality, activists formed a committee to advocate for change, which led to a DSM update in 2013.
To help avoid stigma, the DSM-5 now includes an exception to the diagnosis for people who identify as asexual. But many people criticize this change as not going far enough. Not only is there a long and problematic history of research framing sexual desire in a negative light, but the criteria listed in the DSM often lack clear definitions, leaving diagnoses like HSDD open to interpretation. It’s also worth noting that the DSM listed homosexuality as a disorder until 1973 — so this is hardly the first time the clinical world has been slow to catch up to LGBTQ+ culture or with scientific research.
Myth #5: Asexuality Is “Just A Phase” and Can Be “Cured” With Sex
This misconception about asexuality isn’t just annoying; it’s dangerous. Like all identities under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, asexuality is not a phase, and suggesting that a person’s identity can change after one sexual experience is blatantly false. A 2019 report published in Hastings Women’s Law Journal brought attention to the harmful idea of “correcting” someone’s sexuality and examined historical incidents of sexual assault against LGBTQ+ folks.
Activist and author Julie Decker regularly speaks out about why it’s harmful when people claim asexuality is a phase that can be “cured” by having sex. In her book, The Invisible Orientation, she says, “It’s not common for a person to suddenly start finding other people attractive because someone gave them good sex.” This highlights the absurdity of thinking someone’s identity or orientation can change after a single sexual encounter.
Myth #6: Asexuality & Queerness Are Mutually Exclusive
Asexuality and queerness are not mutually exclusive identities, but unfortunately, this myth is pervasive in LGBTQ+ spaces. “Asexual is part of the LGBTQ+ spectrum. The ‘A’ in LGBTQIA is for asexual,” Holman explains. “[But] aces cope with a lot of erasure both within and outside of the queer community, even from identities that have also experienced erasure, such as bi.”
Vidrio, who is part of the ace community, shares a personal example. “For me, there is no distinction in my queerness and my asexuality. I am queer because I am asexual. I myself identify as asexual queer because I have never felt or have been straight.” They have also run into misconceptions and erasure in LGBTQ+ communities. “I saw a lot of stigmas about asexuality, such as ‘asexuals are just straight people wanting to be part of the queer community’ or ‘they are just prude heterosexuals.’ This was coming from queer spaces as well,” they say.
Despite the common myth that a person can’t be queer and asexual simultaneously, aces don’t need to engage in sexual, romantic, or even queerplatonic relationships in order to “earn” inclusion.
If You Identify As Asexual, You Are Not Alone
When exploring your ace identity, it’s powerful to remember that you’re not alone and that there are communities of people you may choose to belong to. “Find others who identify like you do,” Vidrio suggests. “Watch TikTok videos, read books, [and] find your own community. Finding and talking to people within the asexual community for me has created such a feeling of belonging and validation in my identity.”
Sometimes, that validation can be as simple as sharing memes or in-jokes. “Garlic bread and cake being better than sex are two of the most prominent [inside jokes],” says Holman. Apart from community, many aces also find it empowering to explore and affirm their identity through their sense of style. This can be as simple as adjusting a hairstyle, trying out a new outfit, or a permanent commitment like a new tattoo.
When exploring your ace identity, experts recommend Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex, A Quick And Easy Guide to Asexuality, and The Invisible Orientation — or this podcast interview with The Invisible Orientation’s author.
Dealing with misinformation about ace identity can be tough. If you need additional support, Vidrio suggests seeking professional help. “Find a therapist who is not just LGBTQIA+ affirming but knowledgeable. Ask them questions about what they know [about] asexuality; it’s OK to interview your therapist and leave if they try to ‘fix’ or question your asexuality,” says Vidrio.
To find support and gender-affirming therapy, these resources can help:
- Psychology Today: Find A LGBTQ+ Therapist
- The Expansive Group: LGBTQ Counseling & Gender Therapy
- National Queer & Trans Therapists of Color Network
- The Trevor Project: Resources For Mental Health Support
- The Association of LGBTQ+ Psychiatrists (AGLP)
- Inclusive Therapists
- Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741-741
- To Write Love On Her Arms: Find Help Tool
There are many harmful misconceptions out there about what it means to be asexual. But if you identify as ace, you don’t have anything to prove — to yourself or to anyone else.
Kari Holman, LCPC, NCC, CCTP-II, Mental Health Therapist
Destinie Vidrio, M.S., AMFT, Associate Marriage & Family Therapist
This article was originally published on