Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Asexuality is a sexual orientation

I see this idea around quite a lot. “Asexuality is an orientation in the same way that atheism is a religion,” is a quote I’ve heard on various occasions, most recently from the A Life podcast some while back (but it’s probably also said a lot on AVEN), and remember noting that I wanted to make a post about.
I agree that atheism isn’t a religion, but I do think that it is a faith. The difference is maybe analogous to a religion being “Describe the sort of person you feel sexually attracted to” and a faith being “Who do you feel sexually attracted to?” (in case you can’t tell the difference, the first question can’t technically have the answer ‘no-one’).

So, here comes my post on the subject, which I can link people to, copy and paste from or just generally use to have my thoughts organised if the topic comes up again.

To me, there are a couple of big inconsistencies with the idea that asexuality is not a state of sexuality.
One issue is the semantic issue. To say that an asexual is someone who doesn’t have a sexual orientation (and therefore that asexuality isn’t a sexual orientation) is to completely misunderstand conventional ideas on sexual orientation, and the use of the suffix ‘sexual’. ‘Sexual’ has a different meaning to its actual grammatical implication. For example, heterosexual literally means something like “different sexuality’, while homosexual means something like “same sexuality” and bisexual means “two sexualities”. In this context, it would be reasonable to assume that asexual means “no sexuality.” However, this is obviously completely untrue. In every wording apart from transsexual, the suffix sexual means ‘sexually attracted to people of this gender, relative to you’. So asexual doesn’t mean ‘no sexuality’, but ‘experiences no sexual attraction’.
Now, of course, we have to figure out if experiencing no sexual attraction can be counted as a sexuality. Which is where the second issue comes in.
The second issue is that of common sense. Sexualities could be defined in two ways. The one which includes asexuality is “Which people you find yourself sexually attracted to,” and has a tickbox for ‘none’, the one which excludes sexuality is... hang on, I don’t think there is one. Except the same question, just without a tickbox for none. Which is silly, because then the whole thing just becomes a question of bad survey-writing, and not one of ideology.

Anyway, back on track, the other reason asexuality is a sexuality is because it makes more sense for it to be one, in the real world. Asexuals look inside themselves, figure out their feelings with regards to sexual attraction, come out, stay in the closet, look for asexual relationships, join LGBT groups and a whole variety of other things that are so similar to what every other sexual minority does that the average asexual will get so much more support and community if they accept their personal sexual preference as being a sexuality, since sexuality basically equals personal sexual preference.
With all that to lose out on, those (asexuals and asexophobes alike) who insist that there’s some big semantic reason for asexuality to define itself as ‘not a sexual orientation’ should really ask themselves if it’s a price asexuals should pay for a stubborn insistence on technicalities that I hope I’ve disproved anyway.

(That post ended on rather a heated note, so I’d better clarify, I’d still love to hear from you if you hold the view that asexuality is not a sexual orientation, and can enlighten me as to why you think that).


  1. I like this post. It's a great distinction to illuminate and discuss. I believe that Asexuality, like any other sexual identity will have different meanings for each person that chooses to identify in that term. I certainly see the merit and value of your definition. I would like to see how others define it for themselves.

    Please consider cross-posting this at Our readers would get a lot from the conversation as well.

    I tweeted this post already and have added your site to our google-reader some time ago.

    Be well,


  2. I've never heard atheism described as a faith, but that makes perfect sense.

  3. sexgenderbody, thanks. Gosh, why didn't I think of the phrase 'sexual identity' when I was writing this. It expresses exactly what I meant to say.

    Yes, I'd be honoured to cross-post on your site. What's the procedure?

    Ily, I'm glad to hear that makes sense. I didn't quite know how to explain what was in my head, about the difference between religion and faith, and what all that means for sexuality.

  4. For "asexual" there are two possible derivations: one means "not sexual" and the other, on the basis of analogy to hetero/homo/bisexual means "not sexually attracted to others." Among people identifying as asexual, there are people who feel that they are "not sexual" (and there are others who do no feel this.) There are some who feel that asexuality is their sexual orientation, and there are others who consider themselves to have no sexual orientation. I'm inclined to think that both are prefectly reasonable options.

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