People aren’t born sexually attracted to others, so when is “too young”?

Q: People aren’t born sexually attracted to others, so when is “too young”? I’ve seen people speaking out about assigning themselves to a label (not just asexuality) and end questioning too early, as things are especially prone to change in teens.

That is a very good question, and not one I have a clear answer for.

Do I believe that there is a time when someone is “too young” to know that they’re asexual?  Yes.

Do I know where the boundary between “too young” and “old enough” is?  No.

I think it’s different for every person, just like how puberty kicks in at a different age for every person.

Certainly, there’s a statistical range, but in my ten minutes of searching, I haven’t found a good study on the subject to take figures from.  I found one that talks about the age of the first same-sex attraction, but not one about the first experience of sexual attraction in general.  Since it’s the only data I could find, let’s proceed as if it’s valid for all types of sexual attraction.  (Which it may not be.)

That paper says that the average age of sexual attraction is:

Boys:   Mean=9.6, SD=3.6

Girls:  Mean=10.1, SD=3.7

Skimming the article, I don’t see any mention of what the distribution of the sample is, so let’s go further away from attempting to come up with a sound conclusion here and assume it’s a normal distribution.

That means that by age 9.6, 50% of boys have had their first experience of sexual attraction, by 13.2, it’s up to 84%, and by 16.8, it’s almost 98%.

For girls, it’s 50% by 10.1, 84% at 13.8, and 98% by 17.5.

I’d say 84% is a high enough threshold of reasonable certainty, so the boundary between “too young” and “old enough” is 13.2 for boys and 13.8 for girls.

Which is an absolutely ridiculous claim to make and it should be rejected out of hand.

At this point, it’s important to note a few things that call into question the validity of this conclusion:

  1. We’ve made some assumptions and leaps that aren’t based on the data.  This is bad science.
  2. This model doesn’t actually allow for the existence of asexuality.  It’s going off an assumption that everyone will eventually experience sexual attraction, even if you’re +13σ off the mean.
  3. The data comes from some random study from 1996 that I found during a quick Internet search.  Has it been discredited?  Has it been refined or superceded by better data?
  4. Is the data itself completely flawed because the study subject might not even understand what they’re feeling?

Beyond just the process errors, even if everything is accurate, why not set the bar at 9.6/10.1?  According to the data, at that age, 50% of people have experienced sexual attraction, so if you haven’t, and you think you’re ace, you’ve got 50/50 odds of being correct.

Why not earlier?  We often look at asexuality as the fall-through case.  It’s where we end up after we’ve realized that none of the other orientations work.  Am I straight?  Don’t think so.  Gay?  Nope.  Bi?  Uh-uh.  Guess I must be ace, then.  But…  Is it really that way?  Did we only go through that because we didn’t know there was another possibility?  Is there a way to know that you’re asexual without treating it as “none of the above”, something that can be recognized at an earlier age?

I remember sometime probably in the 5th or 6th grade, seeing a pin that read “I’m Temporarily Celibate” at some novelty store.  I understood what that meant at the time, and thought it would be nice to have one that said “permanently” instead.  That’s a sign.  Were there others that were just not recognized?  Is there a way to recognize them?

Patterns of attraction can begin to form well before puberty kicks in.  I’ve heard of people who’ve known that they’re gay since they were five.  Why shouldn’t there be a way to know that you’re ace when you’re five?  As asexuality becomes more well known, will we start to decipher the clues?

Enough with all the theoretical stuff, on a more practical note, does it matter?  I will admit to not being in tune with today’s youth, but are there really that many 11 year olds going around erroneously claiming to be asexual, simply because they haven’t gotten the hots for someone yet?   Doesn’t strike me as something that’s widespread.  And even if there are, what’s the harm?  When I was 11, there were a lot of other kids who were fans of New Kids on the Block.  When 14 rolled around, they all liked Pearl Jam and Nirvana.  We never made them renounce their past of singing along to The Right Stuff.  Kids change how they feel about things.  Big deal.  People position “You’re too young” as a way to protect children from the ignorance of youth, but is there really a group that benefits from this advice?

What’s more likely is that someone might start to notice something about themselves when they’re 11, 12, 13.  They’ll start to notice that their friends are changing what they like to talk about.  14 and 15 come along and still no interest in girls (or boys, for that matter), and they start wondering why that is.  Then, by the time they’re 16 or 17, they’re like “Yeah, I’ve waited long enough, that bus ain’t coming”, and so they begin to openly identify as asexual.

Saying to a 16 or 17 year old that they’re “too young”, when they’ve spent years of introspection and questioning, when they’ve noticed that pretty much everyone else their age has expressed some level of sexual interest yet they themselves have felt nothing, that is nothing short of harmful invalidation.  There isn’t a shred of helpfulness about it.  It’s merely saying “I’m going to ignore your feelings and simply tell you that you’re wrong, because I choose not to believe you.”

And “You’re too young” doesn’t end at high school graduation.  It’s leveled at 20 year olds and 25 year olds and 30 year olds, too.  I believe SwankIvy has remarked that “You’re too young to know” lasts until it becomes “You’re too old to want sex anymore anyway.“  There isn’t an age that satisfies these people.  They’re like that normal curve up above:  No one is actually asexual, they’re just +13σ off the mean.

[It was noted in a follow up response that the logical conclusion of this illogical line of thinking isn’t just that no one is asexual, but that everyone is actually bisexual.  It’s just that most people haven’t found that special someone yet.]

So, all of this is why my answer to this question typically is:

If you’re old enough to understand what asexuality is, you’re old enough to know that you’re asexual.

What are your thoughts on aesthetic versus sexual attraction?

Q: What are your thoughts on aesthetic versus sexual attraction?

As in, what are they?  Do I believe that they exist as separate concepts?  Or do I have experience with them?  Or did you want some other thoughts on the subject?

In grossly oversimplified terms, sexual attraction is the innate thought that you’d like to have sex with a particular person, while aesthetic attraction is the innate thought that someone is nice to look at.  The actual definitions are more subtle and nuanced and outside the scope of this post, so look them up, if you’re curious.

Do I believe that they exist as separate concepts?  Yes, absolutely.  When people describe aesthetic attraction, they tend to use phrases like “Pretty like a sunset” or “It feels like looking at a beautiful painting.“  When people describe sexual attraction, they rarely use words like “sunset” or “painting”…

Have I experienced them?

Sexual attraction, no.  When I first saw a naked woman in front of me, it was like looking at a road map.   Now, I like road maps, but people do not use the word “road map” when describing sexual attraction.  When I had sex with her, it was a logical decision that was not driven by any kind of urge or pull or whatever else it is that people describe when they talk about what sexual attraction is like.

Aesthetic attraction, yes.  There are some people who are simply more interesting to look at than other people.  It triggers something in my brain that I can’t really explain.  It’s very similar to the feeling when I’m standing someplace amazing (Like, say, across from Delicate Arch or at South Falls or at North Head Lighthouse at sunset), where I like looking at it, and I want to keep looking at it, even though it’s still the same the whole time.

Aesthetic attraction never has a sexual component to it.  I never become aroused, I never imagine them naked, and, in the past, when I tried to combine it with sexual thoughts, it just felt forced and awkward and out of place.

And now I want to go back to these places:

DSCF1534 IMG_2541 IMG_6140


What’s the hardest part about running a website about asexuality? What’s the best/worst response to your website (or book) you’ve received?

Q: What’s the hardest part about running a website about asexuality? What’s the best/worst response to your website (or book) you’ve received?

The hardest part is definitely finding the time and motivation to work on them.  Lately, I seem to have gotten in a pattern where everything I do is a large project that takes a long time to complete.  I end up devoting a month or two of my time, and by the end of it, I’m burned out and don’t want to do anything for a while.

And so I take six months off. was supposed to help with that somewhat.  There I was intentionally turning the site into bite-sized chunks that I could churn out in a few days.  That way, I could maybe get one or two out every month.

It hasn’t turned out that way.

Now, about the second part…

Best Response:  Every time someone mentions how something I’ve done has changed their life or made them realize that they were asexual or helped them explain asexuality to someone else.  That sort of thing is why I do what I do.  It is good to know that the effort is worthwhile and that I’m changing the world for the better in some small way.

Worst Response:  Leaving aside the hate and the trolls, the worst responses I’ve gotten are the ones that take a minor wording issue, and instead of helping me fix the issue, they go on a angry tirade about how I’m THE WORST THING IN THE WORLD.  And they tell everyone how horrible I am and how everything I do and have ever done and will ever do needs to be destroyed.  And never mind that I’ve posted several times, looking for feedback on the troublesome wording.  (I’ve even been attacked when I’ve been looking for feedback!)  And never mind that there are two diametrically opposed trains of thought and that no matter what you say, you’ll make one of them unhappy.  And never mind that it’s a handful of words out of several thousand, on a topic that is completely unrelated to what people are taking issue with.  It makes me wonder why I should bother.  What’s the point of doing any of it if you’re guaranteed to be attacked at the end.  Far too many people think that “activism” means “screaming outrage the loudest”, instead of actually working towards changing things.

Do you ever have sexual fantasies?

Q:  Do you ever have sexual fantasies? If so, do you design them or are they subconsiously-sourced or are they the work of other people (a la pornography)? Do you find them arousing, enjoyable, and/or annoying?

Not really, but I have tried.  I’ve never really been all that successful.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a natural fantasy that just came out of nowhere.  It’s always been something that I’ve deliberately had to think about.

“I am going to have a fantasy now.  I am going to imagine a sexual situation.  I am going to imagine another sexual situation.  I am going to imagine…  Damn it, I lost my place and have to start over.”

Yeah, like I said, not very successful.

It takes a lot of mental effort to try to conjure up a fantasy and keep it going.  The more complicated and detailed it is, the more difficult it is.  With all the effort involved, it typically ends up more distracting than arousing.  Typically, I can only manage a few seconds at a time, so it’s just not worth it.

It was always strange to me to hear people claim that masturbation required sexual fantasy, because I managed just fine without them.

I can never mentally put myself into a pornographic scene.  It just doesn’t work that way for me at all.  I can’t imagine myself involved in that way.

How do aces/aros identify a lack of something?

Q: How do aces/aros identify a lack of something? Without ever having known that something personally, I’m finding it difficult in my neverending journey of questioning myself.

I looked around at what everyone else was talking about, how they felt, what they were interested in, and realized that I had never felt what they were talking about.

Being a guy, and hanging around with other guys, the topic of “hot women” tends to come up once in a while.  Eventually, I just sort of realized that I never was interested in anyone they mentioned.

That actress is hot?

That model is hot?

That figure skater is hot?

That waitress is hot?

That coworker is hot?

The first few times, maybe they’re pretending, but not when this consistently happens year after year, person after person.  There was just no way that such a grand conspiracy involving pretty much every man I’d ever met would be possible.  So they had to be feeling something.

While I could reasonably accurately identify whether or not someone else would think someone was hot, no one ever triggered my own hotness sensor.  Discovering that “hotness” was not a concept that made intrinsic sense to me went a long way towards identifying that lack.

In a way, it’s sort of like detecting a black hole.  You can’t actually see it, but you can detect its effects, and so you can infer whether or not a black hole exists at a given place based on the presence or absence of these effects.

Since you discovered what asexuality was, and came to understand what it meant for you, have you ever felt conflicted about it?

Q: Since you discovered what asexuality was, and came to understand what it meant for you, have you ever felt conflicted about it? I read your answer earlier about having been in a relationship previously, it came across that you were okay with it ending, and you mentioned that it just didn’t fit right. I was just wondering if at any point you found yourself wishing that you felt differently, wishing that you wanted it, even though you were/are fine being single and asexual?

At the time that relationship ended, I didn’t know that I was asexual.  In the following years, I did have the “Why don’t I care about sex/what’s wrong with me?” moments.  Those episodes went away when I discovered asexuality, though.

Last year, however, in the situation with the prospective relationship that didn’t even start, I did sort of want to feel differently.  Not really for my sake, though.  Not like I felt broken or wanted to be different, but that I didn’t want to hurt her.  I liked her, she was fun to be around, but I just wasn’t interested in a relationship, and I knew that was a disappointment, I knew that hurt her.  I wished that could have been different.

You’ve talked publicly about a lot of sexually explicit issues. How did you get to be so comfortable doing that?

Q: You’ve talked publicly about a lot of sexually explicit issues. How did you get to be so comfortable doing that?

Honestly, I have no idea.

In some ways, there’s the anonymity.  That helps a lot.

In other ways, I don’t believe that those sorts of things should be as taboo as they are.

I also think that I don’t look at those issues the same way most other people do.

But I think the biggest reason is that I’ve forced myself to do it.  On a number of those topics, pretty much no one was talking about them, yet many people were curious about them.  It seemed like someone needed to talk about them, and since I was already talking about other things, why shouldn’t I talk about them?

Any movies or books with ace characters in them? Do you have a fav?

Q: Any movies or books with ace characters in them? Do you have a fav?

There are several lists floating around, of varying completeness and accuracy.  Here’s one.  And another.  And another. [ht Siggy]

I would very much like to see a website dedicated to making a comprehensive list of asexual people (Fictional and notable real people), which applies consistent standards when classifying them as asexual or not (Or “Demisexual”, “Gray-Asexual”, “Likely asexual” or “Probably not”, etc.), and lays out the evidence (“On page 32, Character A explicitly comes out.  [excerpt]” or “Celebrity B claimed to be asexual in an interview, but has since taken it back, and it’s clear that she was just trying to be controversial with the reporter in the original interview, so she’s not.”).  I’ve seen far too many “Asexual People” lists that are full of headcanon, baseless speculation, and inaccurate information.

Unfortunately, I don’t have enough time or energy to try to run a third website…  It doesn’t look like anyone else is going to do it, though, so maybe I need to get it started, then hand it off to someone else.

In any case, I’d have to say that my favorite unconfirmed, but likely fictional asexual would be Sherlock Holmes.

I’ve had crushes in the past, sex repulses me, do you think I may be asexual?

Q: Well this is kinda weird to ask but it’s more for advice. I’m a teen girl who has has crushes in the past and the thing is that even though I crush on guys the thought of sex repulses me. I’ve been told multiple times I’ll grow out of it but at this point I’m 16 and nothing’s changed. Do you think I may be asexual?

I’m not terribly good at advice…


Asexuality is about a lack of sexual attraction, not about feeling repulsed by sex.  Certainly, there are many sex-repulsed aces (and many of them cite their repulsion as being a strong factor in why they identify as asexual), but there are also many sex-repulsed non-aces.  Sex repulsion alone is not the determining factor of asexuality.  I’ve heard of people who thought they were asexual because of strong repulsion, but once they separated their repulsion from attraction, or overcame their repulsion in some way, they realized that they were actually sexually attracted to people, it’s just that the repulsion was masking it.

So, the question really boils down to attraction.  Are you sexually attracted to these guys?  If you could remove whatever negative feelings you have about the act from the picture, how would you feel?

Also, have you looked into romantic attraction or romantic/affectional orientations at all?  You might want to read up on them and see if that helps you sort things out.

On the other point:  By 16, the “you’ll grow out of it” argument is pretty weak.  Pretty much everyone who’s going to feel sexual attraction would have felt it by then.  Certainly, it can’t be ruled out, but it’s unlikely.

Are women more or less interested because you’re asexual?

Q: Are women more or less interested because you’re asexual? Some women want to be loved for their personalities rather than their bodies so i feel like they would be fine with your asexuality? But then again….

I really can’t say.  To date, there have only been two women who have declared their feelings towards me.  One was not a fan of my asexuality (I didn’t know I was asexual at the time), while the other is actually ace herself.  I think some other women have tried flirting with me, but flirt slides off me like water off a duck’s back, so…

I’ve also never approached a woman with romantic intent, so I have no idea how that would work out.