First Things First
Asexuality is a sexual orientation, like being straight or gay. When someone is straight, they’re interested in people of a different gender. When someone is gay, they’re into the same gender. But when someone is asexual, or “ace” as it’s called, they’re not really into anyone in that way. They simply don’t experience sexual attraction. Asexuality isn’t something that needs to be “fixed” or “cured”, it’s just a part of who they are.
You’ve probably never heard of asexuality until your child mentioned it to you. You’re probably a little bit confused and a little bit concerned. That’s understandable! This probably wasn’t a conversation you were expecting to have when you woke up this morning. This guide aims to help explain what you need to know about asexuality, and what it means for you and your child.
It’s a good idea to let go of whatever preconceptions you might have about asexuality. When people hear the word “asexual”, it conjures up a lot of images and ideas, and most of those are wrong.
Asexuality is not a problem that you need to solve. It’s not a disease. It’s not a disorder. It’s not an Internet fad. It’s not a cult. It’s not a fancy word for celibacy. It’s not a gender identity. It’s not a choice. It’s not some tree-hugging hippy liberal idea. It’s not some conservative purity movement. It doesn’t involve spores or splitting in two or anything like that. It’s not some excuse to get out of dating. Asexuality is a sexual orientation. That’s all.
Now, you’re probably wondering why, if it’s a real sexual orientation, you’ve never heard of it before. That’s because the word used to describe it is relatively new. Although it’s been around for decades, it really only started picking up popularity in the early 2000s. But the concept is much older. There have been asexual people for as long as there have been people. They just didn’t have a word to describe themselves. The age of a word used to describe a concept does not make that concept invalid. After all, “heterosexual” wasn’t used until 1892, although there were certainly heterosexual people in the Middle Ages and in Ancient Greece and even earlier.
The current best estimate is that at least 1% of people are asexual. This figure comes from Dr. Anthony Bogaert, a scientist who was among the first to explicitly study asexuality. He wasn’t the first to notice it, though. The famous researcher Alfred Kinsey, when he was working on the “Kinsey Scale”, realized that some people simply didn’t fit on his chart, so he labeled them as “Group X”. Many people today believe that this Group X described asexual people.
If at least one out of every hundred people is asexual, this means you probably know someone else who might be asexual. Think about the people in your life. Is there a bachelor uncle or spinster aunt who never showed an interest in anyone else? Is there a friend who always stays out of the sex talk? Is there a cousin who got married a couple of times, but never had any kids? Was there a college roommate who was more interested in books than hookups? Those people might be asexual, too. They might not even know of the word.
What This Means For You
This means that you have a child who is asexual.
No, really, that’s all it means. Nothing in your life or your child’s life has changed. This is simply a revealing of what was already there. It’s one of many things your child will come across as they live their life and discover who they are.
Why Is My Child Asexual?
Like any other sexual orientation, the cause of asexuality is unclear, and for the most part, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that your child is asexual. It’s part of who they are.
Your child likely did not start using the word “asexual” lightly. This isn’t something they’re saying on a whim. They thought about it a lot, probably even agonizing over why they weren’t like everyone else. For many people, the discovery of the word “asexual” is actually a liberating moment. Finally, they become aware that they’re not alone, that there are other people like them. They are sure this is who they are.
You didn’t do anything to turn your kid asexual. They didn’t end up asexual because you scared them off of sex or didn’t hug them enough or anything like that. Asexuality is not the result of poor parenting. There is nothing you could have done differently that would have changed anything.
What Should I Do?
- Listen to your child. They know more about this than you do.
- Try to understand. It doesn’t all have to make sense right away, but what’s important is that you make an effort to understand.
- Do research. If you don’t understand something, or have questions you don’t feel comfortable asking your child, or if you simply want to know more, then spend some time and look up what you want to know.
- Treat asexuality with respect. Asexuality is not imaginary, it’s not a “teenage thing”, it’s not a punchline. It’s an integral part of your child’s identity. If you disrespect asexuality, you’re disrespecting your child.
- Accept them. This is important to them, and it’s important for them to know you care.
- And most importantly: Love them.
What Shouldn’t I Do?
- Don’t get angry. There’s nothing to get angry about. Asexuality isn’t a choice, it’s part of who they are. Getting angry over your child being asexual is like getting angry that your child wears size 9 shoes or has brown eyes.
- Don’t try to “fix” it. There’s nothing to “fix”. The APA recognizes asexuality as a valid orientation in the DSM-5. Sending your child to a therapist to “cure” their asexuality would, at best, be a complete waste of money, and, at worst, be a horrifying, traumatic experience.
- Don’t try to convince them that they’re wrong. Trust that your child knows how they feel and what they’re thinking.
- Don’t dismiss it. If your child says that they’re asexual, that means it’s important to them. Brushing it off will tell your child that you don’t care.
- Don’t “forget” about it. If your child has to remind you that they’re asexual at some point down the line, it shows them that you’re not interested in their life. You don’t have to remember all the terminology and all the specific details, but you do have to remember that they are asexual and what that means.
- Don’t tell anyone else without your child’s permission. Your child has trusted you with this information. There may be other people that they do not trust with this information. Don’t betray your child’s trust by telling other people about it.
- Don’t say anything in the “What Not To Say” section below. That section is a collection of hurtful and invalidating statements that should be avoided when talking to your child about asexuality.
What Not To Say
“What about grandchildren?” Many parents are concerned that they will never become grandparents after a child comes out as asexual. First, you need to recognize that your children are under no obligation to produce grandchildren for you. The decision to have or not have children is a personal one, and there was no guarantee that your child would have wanted to have children of their own, even if they were heterosexual. However, nothing about being asexual prevents your child from having kids, if that’s what they want. There are many asexuals who want kids and there are many who have kids. Asexual people can become parents the same way anyone else can: Adoption, surrogacy, artificial insemination, even through natural conception.
“But you dated someone!” Past dating history is not evidence that someone is not asexual. Even current relationship status is not evidence that someone is not asexual. Maybe your child went out with that person because they felt that they had to conform to social expectations. Maybe your child went out with that person because they were experimenting with their own feelings, and that’s what led them to realize that they are asexual. Maybe your child went out with that person because they were in love. Dating someone has no bearing on whether or not a person is asexual.
“I was like that, too. You’ll change!” When someone tells you that they are asexual, they’re not looking for reassurance that someday they’ll be “normal”. They already are normal. They’re looking for acceptance and understanding. They’re looking for recognition of who they are. By saying that you “used to be the same way”, you’re not helping them at all. You’re dismissing them. Asexuality is not some sort of teenage fashion trend that they’ll be over in a week.
“You’re too young to know.” If your child came to you and said “Hey, I’m straight”, would you think that they’re too young to know? If they said “Hey, I’m gay”, would you think that they’re too young to know? If you think they’re old enough to know that they’re gay or straight, then they’re old enough to know that they’re asexual.
“I don’t approve.” You do not get to disapprove of this. You have no say in the matter. When your child tells you that they are asexual, it is a statement of fact. It’s not a matter that is open for debate. You can’t talk them out of it and you can’t convince them to change, because it wasn’t a choice that they made. There is nothing to talk them out of and there is nothing that they can change. They are asexual and that’s that. Your disapproval will only hurt your child.
“I’m fine with it. Just don’t tell anyone about it.” If you want to silence your child, then you’re not actually fine with it. It is not your place to decide who your child tells. Are you embarrassed by it? Are you worried what other people will think? That is not your role as a parent. Your job is to defend your child’s right to be who they are without fear.
“No one will go out with you if you say that.” There are several problems with this sort of statement. First, you’re telling your child to hide who they are for the sake of finding a partner, instead of telling them to value themselves and find someone who will love them for who they are. Second, you’re making the assumption that your child is actually interested in going out with someone. They might not be. A significant number of asexual people are also aromantic or are otherwise not interested in dating. And finally, you’re saying that sex is the only important thing in a relationship.
“Don’t worry, you’ll meet someone someday.” Asexuality is not a synonym for single. It’s not a temporary state that’ll just evaporate the moment the right person comes along. When your child told you that they were asexual, they weren’t complaining about the lack of a suitable partner. They were telling you what their sexual orientation is. Certainly, they may meet someone someday. And if they do, your child will still be asexual.
“I don’t want you to limit yourself.” The word “asexual” is a description, it’s not a self-imposed limitation. Your child is not using it to shut themselves off from experiences they’re afraid of or aren’t ready for. They’re not suppressing some part of their personality to fit this word, they’re using the word because it fits their personality. An asexual person is no more limited by asexuality than a straight person is limited by heterosexuality.
“But I heard that sexuality is fluid. Maybe you’ll change someday!” Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. That’s not the point. They are asexual today, and that’s what matters. When you say something like this, what you’re really saying is that you don’t like the current state of things and wish they were different, and that you won’t accept your child until they change into something more acceptable to you. Besides, this argument can easily be turned around: If sexuality is fluid, maybe you’ll become asexual someday.
“We’ll take you to a doctor to fix this.” Asexuality is not something that can be fixed or cured. You might be thinking that having no interest in sex is a symptom of something like a hormone imbalance or a brain tumor or something else. While it’s true that a lower libido or disinterest in sex can be a symptom of a number of medical conditions, it’s rarely the only sign. It’s natural to be concerned, but unless your child is showing other symptoms or there has been a sudden drop in their sexual interest, there’s likely no reason to involve a doctor. Many asexuals have had their hormone levels checked, and often will find that the levels are within the expected ranges. Some asexuals have even been on hormone therapy for various reasons, and they typically report no changes.
“God doesn’t approve.” Since the people who raise this objection are most often Christian, here are a couple of verses to take a look at: 1 Corinthians 7:6-9 and Matthew 19:10-12. Many other religions have similar statements of acceptance. I am unaware of any religion that specifically condemns asexuality.
“You’re going out with someone now. I knew you weren’t asexual after all!” Dating someone is not proof that your child is not asexual. There are many reasons your child might have for going out with someone, and sexual attraction doesn’t have to be one of them. Saying something like this indicates that you never believed your child in the first place and were always looking for some evidence to “prove” that they were wrong.
“That must be so hard on your partner.” If your child is in a relationship when they tell you that they’re asexual, you might assume asexuality mean there’s no sex, and no sex means that there must be relationship strife. However, neither one of those assumptions is necessarily true. Asexuality doesn’t prevent someone from having sex, it’s just that asexual people generally aren’t very inclined towards it or enthusiastic about it. Some asexual people do have sexual relationships with their partners for various reasons. On the second assumption, being in a sexless relationship does not guarantee relationship troubles any more than being in a sex-filled relationship guarantees eternal happiness. You do not know what is going on in their relationship. You don’t know what arrangements, agreements, or accommodations they have made in their relationship. It’s even possible that their partner is asexual, too! If they are not sharing any of this with you, that is because it is none of your business.
If you’ve said any of these things: You’re probably reading this after your child came out, and if that’s the case, there’s a chance you may have already said some of these things (or something similar). If that’s the case, then talk to your child and apologize. Let them know that you now understand that you may have said something hurtful. You can’t take back what you’ve said, but you can try to undo some of the damage it might have caused.
What Else Should I Know?
A single page cannot tell you everything you might need to know about asexuality, and I encourage you to do further research on your own. The following is a very rough look at a few other topics which may come up when your child talks about asexuality.
The Ace Spectrum: Your child might tell you that they are demisexual or are gray-asexual. These categories fall along what’s called the “Ace Spectrum”, which means they’re somewhere in the middle ground between being asexual and not being asexual. A gray-asexual person rarely feels sexual attraction, isn’t quite sure if what they’ve felt would be considered sexual attraction, or, for some other reason, doesn’t quite feel like the term “asexual” fits them right, even though it’s close. A demisexual person does not experience sexual attraction until after they’ve gotten to know someone very well. (Note that this is not the same thing as being unwilling to sleep with a stranger. This is about never being attracted to someone unless they know them well first. And before you say “Well, that’s just how everyone is”, consider that there are entire industries that revolve around people feeling sexually attracted to strangers.) Both gray-asexuality and demisexuality are real and are perfectly normal ways to be.
Romantic Attraction: Romantic attraction is separate from sexual attraction. Although an asexual person lacks sexual attraction, they may still experience romantic attraction. At the risk of oversimplification, if sexual attraction is about wanting to have sex with someone, then romantic attraction is about wanting to have romance with someone. Romantic attraction, like sexual attraction, can be directed toward a gender or genders. For instance, a man who experiences romantic attraction toward women would be described as “heteroromantic”, while a woman who is romantically interested in men and women would be “biromantic”, and so on. Someone who does not experience romantic attraction would be called “aromantic”. Although sexual orientation and romantic orientation are typically aligned (For instance, a homosexual person is often homoromantic, as well), it’s possible for a person to have any combination of these orientations. That means someone can be an aromantic heterosexual or a panromantic asexual or any other or whatever else.
Gender Identity: Gender identity is the perception of one’s own gender. In other words, it’s how a person sees themselves as a man or a woman (or, in some cases, both or neither, or a combination, etc.). Gender is separate from physical sex. One way to think of it is that gender is in your head, while sex is in your pants. Someone whose gender identity matches their physical sex (for example, a woman who happens to have a vagina) is said to be “cisgender”, while someone whose gender and sex at birth are not the same (for example, a woman who happens to have a penis) are called “transgender”. Often, the concept of “preferred pronouns” will come up in a discussion of gender identity. Preferred pronouns are how someone would like to be addressed. For example, one person might want to be called “he”, someone else might want to be called “she”, and a third person might want the word “they” to be used. It is important to note that asexuality is not a gender identity. Asexuals can be any gender or any sex.