Asexuality is distinct from abstention from sexual activity and from celibacy, which is behavioral and generally motivated by factors such as an individual’s personal or religious beliefs.
Sexual orientation, unlike sexual behavior, is believed to be “enduring”. Some asexual people engage in sexual activity despite lacking sexual attraction or a desire for sex, due to a variety of reasons, such as a desire to please themselves or romantic partners, or a desire to have children.
Asexuality is like any other identity – at its core, it’s just a word that people use to help figure themselves out. If at any point someone finds the word asexual useful to describe themselves, we encourage them to use it for as long as it makes sense to do so. Asexual people, though lacking sexual attraction to any gender, might engage in purely romantic relationships, while others might not.
There are asexual-identified individuals who report that they feel sexual attraction but not the inclination to act on it because they have no true desire or need to engage in sexual or non-sexual activity (cuddling, hand-holding, etc.), while other asexuals engage in cuddling or other non-sexual physical activity. Some asexuals participate in sexual activity out of curiosity. Some may masturbate as a solitary form of release, while others do not feel a need to do so.
With regard to sexual activity in particular, the need or desire for masturbation is commonly referred to as sex drive by asexuals and they disassociate it from sexual attraction and being sexual; asexuals who masturbate generally consider it to be a normal product of the human body and not a sign of latent sexuality, and may not even find it pleasurable. Some asexual men are unable to get an erection and sexual activity by attempting penetration is impossible for them. Asexuals also differ in their feelings toward performing sex acts: some are indifferent and may have sex for the benefit of a romantic partner; others are more strongly averse to the idea, though they do not typically dislike people for having sex.
Many people who identify as asexual also identify with other labels. These other identities include how they define their gender and their romantic orientation. They will oftentimes integrate these characteristics into a greater label that they identify with. Regarding romantic or emotional aspects of sexual orientation or sexual identity, for example, asexuals may identify as heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, or by the following terms to indicate that they associate with the romantic, rather than sexual, aspects of sexual orientation:
- aromantic; lack of romantic attraction towards anyone
- biromantic; as opposed to bisexual
- heteroromantic; as opposed to heterosexual
- homoromantic; as opposed to homosexual
- panromantic; as opposed to pansexual
People may also identify as a gray-A (such as a gray-romantic, demiromantic, demisexual or semisexual) because they feel that they are between being aromantic and non-aromantic, or between asexuality and sexual attraction. While the term gray-A may cover anyone who occasionally feels romantic or sexual attraction, demisexuals or semisexuals experience sexual attraction only as a secondary component, feeling sexual attraction once a reasonably stable or large emotional connection has been created.
Other unique words and phrases used in the asexual community to elaborate identities and relationships also exist. One term coined by individuals in the asexual community is friend-focused, which refers to highly valued, non-romantic relationships. Other terms include squishes and zucchinis, which are non-romantic crushes and queer-platonic relationships, respectively. Terms such as non-asexual and allosexual are used to refer to individuals on the opposite side of the sexuality spectrum.