What does it mean to be asexual?

Asexual pride flag. (Getty Images)
The asexual pride flag has four different colours representing different things. (Getty Images)

International Asexuality Day takes place annually on 6 April, only marked for the first time in 2021.

Despite being a key community represented by the '+' in LGBTQ+, asexual people are often still overlooked.

So, to help raise awareness and increase understanding, here's a look at what the sexual orientation means.

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What is asexuality?

Group of friends. (Getty Images)
More understanding is needed about asexuality. (Getty Images)

An asexual person is someone "who does not experience sexual attraction", according to Stonewall. "Some asexual people experience romantic attraction, while others do not.

"Asexual people who experience romantic attraction might also use terms such as gay, bi, lesbian, straight and queer in conjunction with asexual to describe the direction of their romantic attraction."

So, you can identify as both asexual and gay, for example (or straight and asexual).

Around 1% of the population are thought (or known) to be asexual, but this doesn't mean representation should be any less important, as you'll likely still know someone who is.

But to note, being specifically 'asexual' is just one part of a larger umbrella term called 'ace'.

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What is ace?

This is used to "describe a lack of, varying, or occasional experiences of sexual attraction" according to Stonewall. "This encompasses asexual people as well as those who identify as demisexual and grey-sexual."

The term grey-sexual is used to describe people "who experience [sexual] attraction occasionally, rarely, or only under certain conditions".

Demisexual people only experience sexual attraction after developing a strong emotional bond.

Meanwhile, someone who is aromantic does not experience romantic attraction, a grey-romantic person only does very rarely and demiromantic people are only attracted to those they've emotionally bonded with first.

You might either not experience sexual attraction but still experience romantic attraction, vice versa, or be both asexual and aromantic.

Ace people generally may also still use other terms like gay, bi, lesbian, straight and queer.

In the asexual Pride flag, black represents asexuality, grey represents grey-sexuality and demisexuality, white represents non-asexual partners and allies, and purple signifies community.

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What are common misconceptions?

Female couple enjoying time together on a sofa.
Some people on the asexual spectrum may still have relationships in a way that works for them. (Getty Images)

The first thing to clear up is that asexuality and celibacy are not the same thing. While celibacy means someone is choosing not to have sex, for some asexual people this is just due to a lack of sexual attraction in the first place.

And while some asexual people may find the idea of sex entirely off-putting, others may feel more positive about it and still choose to have sex for other reasons.

Stonewall also points out that people on the asexual spectrum may still have relationships, for example depending on the level or type of attraction they feel. Plus, you can still have close emotional intimacy with someone.

But if an individual doesn't have this, or romantic or sexual bonds, this does not mean something is wrong with them, or that they just haven't met someone they like enough yet. Asexual people are by no means 'boring' or prudish – a sexual orientation represents their preferences in this area and doesn't define someone's whole personality.

Watch: Confessions: Asexual and feeling pretty at the same time