5 Myths About Asexuality, Debunked By Science

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Amid all the current political debates regarding gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender rights, one group often left out of the discussion is the asexual community. And many harmful myths about asexuality remain. Asexuals, defined by the Asexual Visibility and Education Network as people who do not experience sexual attraction, are also frequently absent from scientific discussions of human sexuality. In the recent paper "Asexuality: What It Is and Why It Matters," sex researcher Anthony F. Bogaert brings awareness to asexual experiences, arguing that one of the best ways to understand sexual desire is to learn about what happens when it is absent. In it, he outlines what we know so far about asexuality — and this knowledge goes against a lot of conventional wisdom.

Asexuality has been gaining visibility in recent years, thanks to things like a Modern Love column dedicated to one asexual's journey and an informative documentary on Netflix called (A)sexual. But some people still have never even heard of the orientation. Many even believe it's just another word for having a low sex drive or not yet having experienced a sexual awakening. This misconception can pressure asexuals, who make up about one percent of the population, into sexual situations they don't feel comfortable with. The time to clear things up is long overdue.

Since sexuality pervades all aspects of our culture, from advertisements to religious customs, it's hard for many of us to imagine how it can play no role in some people's lives. Yet many are perfectly happy without it. Here are five myths that asexuals themselves and the scientists who have studied them would like to clear up.

Asexuality Is A Mental Illness

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Asexuals themselves have long combated this misconception, and now scientists are doing the same. Though the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) once listed "Inhibited Sexual Desire" as a disorder, it has changed the condition to "Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder" and includes distress or interpersonal difficulties as necessary criteria for diagnosis. This is similar to the transformation that homosexuality underwent in the DSM. After all, if someone's sexual orientation does not cause them unhappiness (other than perhaps that which society imposes on them), then why should anyone else take issue with it?

Asexual People Do Not Experience Sexual Arousal

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There are no physiological differences between asexual people and those of any other sexual orientation. The only thing that's different is that the sexual response of asexuals is not connected to another person. If you have Netflix, go watch (A)sexual, because the people interviewed in the film do a good job of explaining what sexual arousal and masturbation are like for asexual people. A few use the phrase "cleaning out the plumbing." They can still feel sexual pleasure; they just don't fantasize about sharing it with someone else.

Asexuals Do Not Have Romantic Relationships.

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The desires for sex and for love are actually distinct, so some asexual people have romantic relationships with one another or with people of different orientations. In the latter case, the person with sexual desires may simply not express them in that relationship, or the asexual person may participate in sexual activities for their partner's sake. "I felt an urge to be with certain people romantically, but that urge did not involve feeling sexual desire for them," explains Kim Kaletsky in the Modern Love column "Asexual and Happy," in which she writes that she is "willing to compromise with a partner when it comes to sex." There's a separate term — "aromantic" — for those who lack the desire for romance.

Asexuality Is A Choice

Some people choose not to have sex, but people don't choose not to want sex. Asexuality is not a choice, but an orientation. Sexual desire is a lesser-known dimension of the Kinsey Scale. Bogaert writes that "asexuality is construable as a separate, unique category within a sexual orientation framework." We don't really know where asexuality comes from — but again, as long as someone's sexual orientation isn't harming anyone, why should it matter?

People Are Either Sexual Or Asexual.

Like other dimensions of sexual orientation, sexual desire exists on a spectrum. Some people experience very high levels of sexual attraction and some experience none at all, but many lie somewhere in the middle. One of the categories in the center of the spectrum is "demisexual," which describes those who are only sexually attracted to people once they've gotten to know them. There are also many people who identify somewhere between "romantic" and "aromantic." And within each of these categories, people can also be gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual, and every other orientation you can think of.

It's all pretty complicated — but then again, so are we.

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Images: Verne Ho/Unsplash; Marilyn Roxie/Flickr; Giphy (3); Magasjukur2, AnonMoos/Wikipedia