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Am I asexual?

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thewitty1 asks:

I'm 17 years old and discovered the asexuality link on this site and I fit it really well, I feel safe to say that that website is the best thing that ever happened to me. But I'm not completely absent of sexual feeling, I just don't act on it. I sometimes feel like I really want to, but I talk myself down cause I tell myself it's not necessary and I don't act on my sexual impulses cause I don't like them and I think they're weird. I never get turned on by a person, just by a song or a scene in a book, but I never masturbate cause I don't want to and I've never really done anything with a guy. I wonder if I still feel the impulse if I'm asexual? I asked the asexual website but no one answered my email so I'm asking you. Am I a unique case? I also really like to kiss people, I think kissing is the best ever and I kiss lots of people of both genders. Am I still asexual? I really want to know, thank you.

Heather Corinna replies:

Some of what you're describing is what plenty of people who identify as asexual describe. Many asexuals report that it's not a matter for them of not having sexual feelings, but instead, a matter of lacking any motivation to pursue those feelings actively with sexual partners, and also for some, alone with masturbation. Other asexual people do masturbate, and others still say they don't have sexual feelings at all.

I think the Wiki on asexuality is pretty decent at summing it up, but do bear in mind that I am not asexual, so your opinion about it, and that of people who are asexual, may vary:

Asexuality is sometimes considered a sexual orientation describing individuals who do not experience sexual attraction, experience little or no sexual attraction, or lack interest in or desire for sex. Sometimes it is considered a lack of sexual orientation. One commonly cited study placed the incidence rate of asexuality at 1%. Asexuality is distinct from celibacy, which is the abstention from sexual activity. Some asexuals do have sex, and most celibates are not asexual.

You probably also already saw the definitions at AVEN, but I think some of that text is worth revisiting, even if you have:

An asexual is someone who does not experience sexual attraction. Unlike celibacy, which people choose, asexuality is an intrinsic part of who we are. Asexuality does not make our lives any worse or any better, we just face a different set of challenges than most sexual people. There is considerable diversity among the asexual community; each asexual person experiences things like relationships, attraction, and arousal somewhat differently. Asexuality is just beginning to be the subject of scientific research.

Asexual people have the same emotional needs as anyone else, and like in the sexual community we vary widely in how we fulfill those needs. Some asexual people are happier on their own, others are happiest with a group of close friends. Other asexual people have a desire to form more intimate romantic relationships, and will date and seek long-term partnerships. Asexual people are just as likely to date sexual people as we are to date each other.

Many asexual people experience attraction, but we feel no need to act out that attraction sexually. Instead we feel a desire to get to know someone, to get close to them in whatever way works best for us. Asexual people who experience attraction will often be attracted to a particular gender, and will identify as lesbian, gay, bi, or straight.

For some sexual arousal is a fairly regular occurrence, though it is not associated with a desire to find a sexual partner or partners. Some will occasionally masturbate, but feel no desire for partnered sexuality. Other asexual people experience little or no arousal. Because we don’t care about sex, asexual people generally do not see a lack of sexual arousal as a problem to be corrected, and focus their energy on enjoying other types of arousal and pleasure.

There is no litmus test to determine if someone is asexual. Asexuality is like any other identity- at its core, it’s just a word that people use to help figure themselves out. If at any point someone finds the word asexual useful to describe themselves, we encourage them to use it for as long as it makes sense to do so.

That last paragraph there is important: just as is the case with any other orientation, someone like me is only going to be able to tell you so much about yourself and what orientation you are. You're going to be the best expert on that, even if you don't feel like it just yet. But I can give you some feedback based on what you have shared.

I hear you saying that right now, what you are most of all, is questioning. My feeling is that if and when we are questioning, it can tend to be helpful to really own that as our orientation at a given time, rather than to try and put ourselves into groups or boxes that suggest something more solid before we're really feeling that solid in them. Allowing ourselves the time and space to be questioning takes off any pressure, and also keeps our minds free to explore all the possibilities without feeling too locked into any one.

You're young, and it's very typical for someone your age to be questioning: our teen years, and sometimes our twenties, too, tend to be the time in our lives when all aspects of exploring our identity are at the forefront. That's a lot of what those years are really for. When it comes to our sexuality, everyone is on a different timetable in terms of both figuring out our orientation, but also experiencing our sexuality and orientation.

You'd hardly be the only person at your age who just does not yet feel a drive or motivation to enact some parts of your sexuality -- such as with masturbation or genital sex -- or who has not yet met someone who revs that particular engine for you. I don't say that to dismiss asexuality or the possibility of you being asexual, as that is also a possibility, but given your age, I personally feel like you just not being at the point in your life where you feel the urge to pursue anything sexual is just as great a possibility.

Age also matters when it comes to sussing out sexual orientation, period -- and I think it's sound to think about asexuality as an orientation issue as many people who identify as asexual do. For more people than not, figuring out what our orientation is is something that tends to take time, more time than just a few years into the time of life when your sexuality is coming into play, which is where you're at. In general, when we're young we'll often start to get some ideas about what our orientation may be, but while there are certainly exceptions, it seems like it takes most people a good deal of time and life experience to draw firm conclusions about sexual orientation.

As well, sexuality and orientation also are somewhat fluid, and all the more so for younger people, who tend to be more fluid than most. But at any age, organic (as in, without anyone making a choice or actively trying to change) shifts in who we are attracted to, or what we want or like sexually, can happen and do tend to happen for an awful lot of people in life.

You're also reporting that you do have some desires you like to engage in with other people when you talk about kissing.

Kissing is a tricky thing, because in a lot of ways, kissing -- when we're not talking about the way you kiss your grandma -- is a sexual activity. In just as many ways, it's also about affection which may or may not be sexual for any given person, or at any given time. Yet, even trying to separate what in any sexual endeavor is about sexual or physical pleasure, about bonding and affection is something we often can't do easily or accurately. But, if we're talking about more than a peck, we probably are talking about some sexual feelings being expressed, and you feeling a desire to express them through kissing. Bear in mind that even defining what is and is not sex is difficult: sex is more than just masturbation, genital sex or genital intercourse.

I'd also assume that if you like kissing others a lot, you're probably turned on by the person you're kissing when you're kissing them -- since you'd probably not like kissing them very much if you weren't -- which would be outside the usual definitions we have for asexuality right now. (There is very, very little study on asexuality yet.)

Not yet feeling urges for masturbation or genital sex, or not having met anyone who inspires those feelings and a desire to enact them is a place I've heard more than one (by a long shot) young person voice feeling, then find in a few months or years that they DO feel those things. It's also the way even older people, or those who have felt attracted to others, have felt the motivation to be sexual with others, and/or have been sexual with others or via masturbation alone also feel sometimes. People who are sexual don't always have sexual feelings all of the time, or the desire to be sexual all the time.

In other words, what you're describing is also what plenty of people who are NOT asexual describe, especially during this time of life.

So, again, I'd come back to the personal opinion that right now, what you know you are is questioning, that Q on the end of GLBTQ (which is also sometimes used to represent "queer," but for our purposes, in this case, you're the Q for questioning). Give yourself some time and space. Do what it is you enjoy, without feeling any need not only to keep from things you don't, but also without a feeling like you need a word to explain why you don't feel an interest right now in anything else. That's my opinion: you obviously get to decide if it's one you share or not. If you feel like you'd feel better trying on asexual (or any other term) as a term for yourself and seeing how that feels for a while, that's okay, too.

If this is a question motivated in part by what to tell other people who you may be kissing and may want to do more than kissing, know that you don't have to have a rationale or pat answer for why you only want to kiss. Anyone, for any reason, can just not want to do anything else, and "I just want to kiss you right now, not do anything else," is a perfectly sound response, without need saying of anything else. None of us should ever need a reason to say no: just not wanting something is enough.

If this is mostly just about you, I understand that the not-knowing with this stuff can be tough: so often a lot of angst we experience as young people centers around feeling like we don't really know who we are or where we belong and so badly wanting to know and feel those things. I get that it can also be challenging if you feel like your peers have sexual interests or motivations you don't, particularly given how people can tend to (falsely) presume that wanting or having certain kinds of sex suggests something about a person's maturity. Lastly, I understand that when I tell you that this, like a lot of other things, often just takes more time and you'll have a better handle on it when you're older, you may want to kick me in the shins.

...but all the same, that is what I have to tell you. It does tend to just take some more time for a lot of folks, and as time passes, as you get a better sense of yourself as a whole, and you have spent more time with your sexual -- or asexual -- self, you get to draw whatever conclusions you draw, and feel good about whatever feels authentic to you.

One last thing to know? Human sexuality is one of the most diverse things around. But it's pretty safe to say that it's strongly unlikely ANY one person with any given sexual identity, experience or idea is a snowflake. We can pretty much always be sure, no matter how seemingly unique or unusual, that when it comes to any given aspect of our sexuality, we're not likely alone in it. So no, I don't think you're a unique case, and I think given some more time and allowing yourself the freedom to question without being attached to any given answer, you'll figure out where you fit soon enough.

written 18 Feb 2009 . updated 05 Nov 2012

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