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Religious Tolerance logo

About Asexuality, a fourth sexual orientation?

What is asexuality? A famous asexual: Sheldon.
Relation to celibacy and demisexuality.
Prevelence and cause(s)

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What is asexuality?:

The vast majority of adults are cisgendered. That is, they consider themselves either male or female, and the gender that they believe themselves to be -- their gender identity -- matches their birth-identified gender. Further, about 90% of adults are heterosexual: they are sexually attracted only to members of the opposite-sex. However, a minority of adults differ from this model in a bewildering variety of ways. Asexual persons form one segment of this minority. Others are gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender individuals, & transsexuals, and intersexuals.

Asexuals are generally considered to be adults who are largely or completely devoid of sexual drive, attractions, feelings, or desires towards other people. They typically have little or no interest in sexual activity. However, some do engage in sexual behavior out of a sense of duty, to procreate, to please their partner, or perhaps for other reasons.

Such a simple definition obscures the complexity of asexuality. Mark Carrigan et al., writing in the Psychology and Sexuality journal said:

"Within the asexual community, one key distinction drawn is between those who experience romantic attraction (romantic asexuals) and those who do not (aromantic asexuals), with individuals in the former group commonly understood as heteroromantic, biromantic, homoromantic or polyromantic." 1

Here, Carrigan divides romantic asexuals into four groups with romantic attraction:

  • Heteroromantic: only to persons of the opposite gender,
  • Biromantic: to both men and women, although not necessarily to the same degree,
  • Homoromantic: only to persons of the same gender,
  • Polyromantic: to persons of many but not necessarily all sexes & genders, 2

To which might be added:

  • Panromantic: attraction to persons of all sexes and genders.

The last two groups are based on the concept that there are more than two binary genders or sexes, including cisgendered males, cisgendered females, intersexual, transgender and transsexual persons, where:

  • As noted above, a cisgendered person is one whose gender identity matches their birth-identified gender.
  • Intersexual persons are born with ambiguous genitalia that are different from the typical male & female shapes.
  • Transgender persons identify their gender differently from their birth-identified gender,
  • Transsexual persons are transgender individuals who live differently from their birth-identified gender.

Carrigan continues:

"Another distinction that often emerges concerns reactions to sexual activity: some asexual individuals are indifferent to sex while others are actively averse to varying degrees. For researchers in the field of psychology and related disciplines, the elaboration of asexual identities and the growth of online asexual communities raise a range of empirical and theoretical questions, which are just starting to be addressed." 1

David Jay, founder of the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) web site, wrote:

" 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." 3

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Asexual persons in the entertainment field:

Perhaps the most famous asexual person is not a real person at all, but the character Sheldon Lee Cooper Ph.D. He plays the role of a theoretical physicist on the TV program "The Big Bang Theory." He is portrayed by actor Jim Parsons (1973-) as a person of very high intelligence, socially awkward, apparently asexual, and perhaps experiencing Asperger's Syndrome (AS). In reality, Parsons "... has revealed he is gay and in a committed relationship." 4

In the following video, his friends discuss Sheldon's sexual orientation:



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Two terms that are somewhat related terms: celibacy, and demisexuality:

Asexuality is often confused with celibacy. Many asexuals and all celibates do not engage in sexual activity with others. However, asexuals are sexually inactive because of a lack of sexual desire. Celibates are normally sexually attracted to others, but have decided to not engage in sexual activity.. This is often motivated by their religious beliefs, fear of contracting STIs, and/or concern over pregnancy.

A demisexual person does not normally have feelings of sexual attraction towards anyone, but can develop such feelings if a close romantic/emotional bond is first established.

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Studies on asexuality, its prevalence and cause(s):

There isn't a great deal of information available about asexuality in general and its prevalence and cause(s) in particular. It is a field of human sexuality that is only now beginning to be studied. Traditionally, asexuality has been viewed as a pathological symptom or as a pathology itself. For example, in 1994, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) published by the American Psychiatric Association refered to asexuality as "hyposexual desire disorder." However, asexuality has sinced been widely accepted as a "... sexual orientation within the normal range of sexual functioning." 6

Anthony F. Bogaert wrote an article in the Journal of Sex Research in which he extracted data from a national sample of about 18,000 British residents. About 1% answered positively to the question: "I have never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all." 1 Bogaert wrote:

"... A number of factors were related to asexuality, including gender (i.e., more women than men), religiosity, short stature, low education, low socioeconomic status, and poor health. Asexual women also had a later onset of menarche relative to sexual women. The results suggest that a number of pathways, both biological and psychosocial, contribute to the development of asexuality." 7

Dudley L. Poston, Jr. & Amanda K. Baumle analyzed data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) in the U.S. They found that:

"... a small but notable, number of individuals do not appear to fall clearly into the heterosexual, gay, or bisexual categories in terms of their sexuality. Rather, they report that they are not engaging in sexual activity, that they experience no sexual desire, and/or that they self-identify as asexual. ... The limited literature on asexuality presents three kinds of definitions dealing with the phenomenon, namely, definitions based on one‚€™s behavior, one‚€™s desires, and one‚€™s self-identification. ..."

"This analysis of prevalence rates of asexuality highlights the importance of considering sexuality across the three dimensions of behavior, identity, and desire. If one subscribes to an essentialist view of asexuality (that is, people either are or are not asexual on all three dimensions), very few females and males would be classified as asexual. ... In contrast, between 0.8% and 4.8% of females, and 0.7% and 6.1% of males, can be classified as asexual across the three dimensions separately." 8

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Mark Carrigan et al., "Asexuality special theme issue editorial," Psychology & Sexuality, Vol. 4, #2 (2013), Pages 111-120. Abstract at:
  2. "Polyromantic," Urban Dictionary, undated, at:
  3. D. Jay, article, Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), 2005, at:
  4. "Jim Parsons Comes Out As Gay: 'Big Bang Theory' Star's Sexuality Officially Revealed In New York Times," Huffington Post, 2012-MAY-23, at:
  5. "Mitosis," YouTube, 2012 at:
  6. Cara C. MacInnis & Godron Hodson,"Intergroup bias toward ‚€œGroup X‚€: Evidence of prejudice, dehumanization, avoidance, and discrimination against asexuals," Group Process & Intergroup Relations, 2012-NOV, Vol 15, #6, Pages 725-743. Available at:
  7. "Asexuality: Prevalence and associated factors in a national probability sample," Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 41, #3 (2004), Pages 279-287. Abstract at:
  8. Dudley L. Poston, Jr. & Amanda K. Baumle, "Patterns of asexuality in the United States," Demographic Research, Vol 23, Article 18, Pages 509-530, (2010), at:

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Copyright © 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2013-NOV-04
Latest update: 2013-NOV-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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