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What is asexuality?

In a coffee shop, you notice someone new. Their hair, you think, or the way they wear their jeans, or the way their eyes crinkle when they smile. You can’t deny you feel some kind of attraction. But what does that mean?

There are innumerable kinds of attraction, but the three biggies are sexual attraction, where you feel physically drawn to a person and want to be sexual with them; romantic attraction, where you want to have a committed, emotionally intimate relationship with them; or platonic attraction, where you want to be close friends. How often do you really take the time to distinguish which or how many of these three you’re feeling when you lock eyes with someone and feel your world shift? 

In Western society, we assume that everyone experiences the feeling of sexual attraction—but that’s simply not true. Allosexual is the term for people who do (“allos,” for short), but asexual people (who call themselves “aces”) don’t, or feel it rarely. We’re still exploring the science behind these differences: A 2014 study of 924 people found that 40% of self-identified aces reported never having sexual fantasies. That said, a 2010 study of 38 women found that self-identified aces and allos showed similar levels of genital arousal—both measured and self-reported—when they saw sexual imagery, even though the ace women reported feeling less sexual attraction. But as we know, physiological sensations are a small part of sexual attraction; it’s culture that teaches us how to interpret them and what we are allowed or supposed to do about them. There is still neurological research to be done, but from a place of curiosity, not as a problem in need of fixing.

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