Is asexual really a sexual orientation?
Research suggests that asexuality is best conceptualised as a sexual orientation [1–3]. A 2016 study concluded "that asexuality is a heterogeneous entity that likely meets conditions for a sexual orientation" [1,2]. The conclusion was based on multiple independent lines of evidence including:
- asexuality tends to be a lifelong condition / pattern, which is inconsistent with the idea that it's a response to trauma,
- asexuality has statistically significant biomarkers, in a similar manner to the way other sexual orientations do,
- asexuality tends to be evident early in life,
- asexuals display a consistent lack of motivation for sex,
- asexuality tends to be stable over time.
The following quote from Ritch C. Savin-Williams, Director of the Sex and Gender Lab at Cornell University, explains this in no uncertain terms .
Asexuality is an orientation, an intrinsic part of who one is. There is increasing evidence of a biological component to asexuality (see Yule, Brotto, & Gorzalka, 2014 for an excellent example). Furthermore, it is not that asexual individuals have an abnormal subjective and physiological sexual arousal capacity—it’s normal. And, counter to many beliefs, asexuality is not a sexual dysfunction—though some with mental and physical health problems may not engage in sexual activities. Neither is asexuality a matter of celibacy—asexuals are not asexual because they’ve decided to abstain from sexuality.
Asexuality is also not best conceptualised as a mental illness. See Is asexuality a mental illness? for more information.
There is even evidence of asexuality in non-human animals .
It is also sometimes asserted that asexuality is a lack of orientation. But this misses the point. There are a lot of ways to conceptualise asexuality that make sense, but people are usually more concerned with how asexuality functions in their life and in a social context. There, it at least functions like a sexual orientation, so it makes practical sense to treat it as one most of the time. In most contexts what matters is the way that asexuality interacts with a person, their understanding of themselves and the world, and the way the world interacts with them, and in those contexts asexuality is indistinguishable from a sexual orientation.1
Claiming that asexuality isn't an orientation can and has been used as a way to erase its importance both for individuals and in public discourse. For this reason doing so should be avoided unless you are referring only to yourself and your personal experience.
- This is similar to how black is a colour, even though it's the absence of light. It might be technically correct in some sense to say black isn't a colour – but when people are talking about colours they are almost always not speaking in that sense.
- : Brotto, Lori A.; Yule, Morag (19 August 2016). Asexuality: Sexual Orientation, Paraphilia, Sexual Dysfunction, or None of the Above?. Archives of Sexual Behavior. 46 (3): 619–627. doi:10.1007/s10508-016-0802-7.
- : Bella DePaulo (2016). Asexuality Is a Sexual Orientation, Not a Sexual Dysfunction. Psychology Today.
- : Yule, Morag A.; Brotto, Lori A.; Gorzalka, Boris B. (March 2015). A validated measure of no sexual attraction: The Asexuality Identification Scale. Psychological Assessment. 27 (1): 148–160. doi:10.1037/a0038196.
- : Ritch C. Savin-Williams (2017). Asexuality: A Brief Primer. Psychology Today.
- : Perkins, A., & Fitzgerald, J. A. (1997). Sexual orientation in domestic rams: Some biological and social correlates. In L. Ellis & L. Ebertz (Eds.), Sexual orientation: Toward biological understanding (pp. 107-127). Westport, CT: Greenwood.