The last week of October is Ace Week, a celebration and a way to increase awareness of asexual people and their experiences.
How much do you know about asexuality, and how can you be a good ally to asexual people?
What is asexuality?
Asexuality is a spectrum. Here are a few terms to know:
Somebody who is asexual does not experience sexual attraction to anyone.
A grey-asexual (grey ace/grey-a) person may experience sexual attraction very rarely or only under specific circumstances. Demisexual people only experience sexual attraction after developing a strong emotional bond with someone.
Similarly, somebody who is aromantic does not experience romantic attraction and a grey-romantic person only does very rarely. Demiromantic people are only romantically attracted to those they’ve emotionally bonded with first.
At Stonewall, we use ‘ace’ as an umbrella term for anyone identifying under the asexual or aromantic umbrellas.
How does that work?
People experience lots of different kinds of attraction. When it comes to relationships, the main kinds of attraction we tend to notice and talk about are sexual and romantic attraction.
Most people experience both at the same time towards the same people – feeling romantically attracted to someone usually means also being sexually attracted to that person.
For those who are ace-identified, and for some bi people, sexual and romantic attachment is not always matched so neatly.
Asexual people may not experience sexual attraction but may still experience romantic attraction. Likewise, aromantic people may not experience romantic attraction, but may experience sexual attraction. It’s also possible to be both asexual and aromantic.
Is asexuality the same as celibacy?
Asexuality should not be confused with celibacy. Celibacy is a choice to abstain from sex, whereas for some asexuality is a lack of sexual attraction. Those who do not experience sexual attraction may choose to have sex for other reasons.
Some asexual people may find sex off-putting, commonly referred to in the ace community as sex-repulsed. They may abstain from sex, but others feel positively towards it. As with all other sexual encounters, consent is the part that counts.
Three common myths about asexuality
Ace people do not have relationships: people on the asexual spectrum may have relationships for a number of reasons, including romantic attraction. Grey-A and demisexual people may experience sexual attraction at times, while some ace people choose to have a close emotional intimacy with someone, beyond that of a friendship.
Ace people have intimacy issues: ace people are often told they're defective because they don’t experience attraction in the way others do. Some ace-identified people might choose to have close emotional or romantic bonds and others won’t – in either case, this is not evidence of them being broken or having a disorder.
People ‘grow out’ of being ace: like being a lesbian, gay, or bi, being ace is about orientation, not about behaviour. While people might change how they identify over the course of their lives, being ace isn’t a ‘phase’ and there are plenty of older ace people. One of the biggest myths about ace people is that they ‘just haven’t met the right person yet’, which can be particularly damaging to hear.
Six ways to be a great ace ally
There needs to be more research carried out, but surveys conducted by the international ace community show that a lack of acceptance and society’s misunderstanding of what asexuality is have a huge impact.
High rates of suicidal ideation and attempts, familial rejection, and attempts at conversion by friends and family are reported by ace people. By being an ally, you can help make things a little easier.
Here’s how to support the ace people in your life:
- If someone comes out to you as ace, believe them
- Read up on ace identities – you’re already on this blog, so that’s a great start! AVEN is another great online resource
- Don’t assume everyone needs sex or romance to be happy – let them choose their own path. Accept their relationship choices and support them as you would anyone else
- Remember that ace people may have an additional identity. An asexual person who is romantically attracted to people of the same gender may refer to themselves as gay. An aromantic person who is sexually attracted to all genders may identify as pan.
- Don’t ask intrusive questions about someone’s sex life. It’s not OK to do this to anyone, ace people included.
- Call out ace-erasure and acephobia where you see it and educate others along the way.
At Stonewall we’ve just started working towards ace inclusion.
We want to be ace-inclusive, but we want to do it properly.
We have an Ace Staff Network which is primarily for peer support but is helping to guide the organisation’s journey towards ace inclusion.
We know from our ongoing work to become trans inclusive that this will require significant time and attention, but we are determined to achieve ace inclusion in a meaningful way.