James W. Hicks, M.D.

Asexual

In Ask the Doctor*, Sexual Types on April 8, 2011 at 7:49 am

Q: What if someone is asexual, as in completely uninterested in having sex at all with anyone, not out of fear, but simply out of boredom? Is this a sign of depression? What if said person doesn’t feel the least bit mentally stressed or poorly but, in fact, perfectly healthy?

A: I have received several questions like this, and also several comments expressing dissapointment that “asexual” is not a category recognized on the Flexuality Test. The point is well taken, because asexuality has become a self-defining sexual identity for many people, and not just one end of a dimensional measurement of sexual desire or behavior.

As with other types of sexual orientation, any discussion about asexuality is complicated by a multitude of definitions (does it refer to attraction, desire, behavior, or identity?), and even more so by a lack of research, though a couple of interesting exploratory studies have been published in recent years.

Perhaps the most common and useful definition is the one implied by the question above: you are asexual if you lack sexual feelings. You may find other people attractive in an aesthetic way, but not in a way that triggers sexual arousal or desire. Like many asexuals, you may have engaged in sex, if only out of curiosity or to please a partner, but you wonder, “What’s the big deal?” You are probably able to masturbate, but you may experience orgasm as a relaxing, physical release unaccompanied by sexual fantasy and craving. You may be concerned about your lack of sexual interest, since everyone else is so impressed (if not preoccupied) by sex, but you do not feel you have lost some necessary feeling.

Some people find themselves romantically attracted to others (either men or women or both), but the romantic feelings are not accompanied by a desire to have sex. Some people choose not to have sex, even though they experience some sexual desire, and this might be better characterized as celibacy. But those who choose to be celibate may do so, in part, because they experience less sexual desire or arousal to begin with.

For more information about asexuality, and to make contact with an internet community of asexuals, check out the excellent web site of the Asexual Visibility and Education Network.

As a psychiatrist, I should point out that some people lose interest in sex for medical or psychological reasons, such as depression or hypothyroidism. Some people have learned to fear and avoid sex, sometimes because of painful, coercive, or otherwise distressing experiences, but this seems to be distinct from the more neutral disinterest experienced by those who consider themselves asexual. If you are troubled by your lack of interest in sex, if you dread sex, or if you have experienced a change in your level of sexual desire and functioning, then you should probably consult with your doctor or a therapist.

As some readers have pointed out, asexuality is not explored on the Flexuality Test. Some questions assume that the test taker has some sexual desire (aimed at people of the same or opposite sex, or both). My intention was not to deny asexuality as a type of sexual orientation in an overall scheme. Rather, my project has been to explore only those dimensions that contribute to a spectrum of bisexual feelings and behaviors. I similarly excluded from consideration many other areas of interest, such as age preferences, sexual addiction, and fetishes. Of the categories discussed on this blog, the flexamorous sexual type is probably most likely to overlap with asexuality, in that the gender of the partner may be unimportant for some asexuals who have romantic feelings but little desire.

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