While we often talk about the LGB community, there are a number of sexualities that are less well known but ones are increasingly important. They can increase our understanding of the varied ways we can feel about each other and experience sexual attraction and romantic love. Below are three examples of the spectrum and we’ll talk a little bit about why recognizing them is important.
In our overtly sexualized society, it seems that sex is part of our everyday lives whether we like it or not. To some extent, this isn’t surprising. For the majority of people, our very genes make sex something we desire, even if we’re unaware of it affecting our behavior. Yet the desire to pursue sexual relationships isn’t part of everyone’s experience. There are a number of people who, when considering the spectrum of sexuality, simply don’t tend to feel sexual attraction at all. They identify as asexuals.
Of course, as sexuality is such a complex topic, it’s not quite as simple as stating that asexuals never feel attraction or never engage in sexual practices. Society might often confuse sexual attraction with affection and deep emotional attachment, but they are not necessarily linked. Asexual people often form relationships, sometimes with other asexuals and sometimes with people who are inclined to desire sex, which are of course deeply romantically fulfilling. They also might engage in sex, and for a number of reasons. They may want to please their partner, or even enjoy sex itself — just because you do not feel the urge of sexual attraction does not divorce you from enjoying your own or someone else’s body. They also may have sex in order to have children.
It’s important to stress that asexuality, like the umbrella term LGBT, encompasses a broad range of experiences, so while some of the above may be true for many asexual people, it is not necessarily true for all. For instance, some people who identify as asexual may occasionally feel sexual attraction. They are described as “gray-asexuals,” in reference to how there is a gray area around these kinds of labels. It’s also important to stress that asexuality is not the same as celibacy, which is choosing to live without romantic or sexual relationships.
There is now a growing community of asexuals and a desire to make asexuality more visible and a number of groups now provide help and information to people who believe they might be asexual. If you would like to find out more information on asexuality, you can get resources at The Asexual Visibility & Education Network.
This is a concept I have recently become interested in myself. Obviously, I’ve talked quite frankly about being gay (technically, I prefer homosexual) but I am aware of being slightly different to many of my gay and straight friends in how I experience sexual feelings.
While I do experience sexual attraction, it tends (though not always) to be through the lens of an emotional attachment. I am quite capable of finding men attractive but it usually occurs in an intellectual way (appreciating beauty) rather than a physical one — though I will say that there is clearly a difference for me between how I feel about the male and female body.
The big difference is really in person though. I tend not to feel sexual attraction when I meet someone. Instead, I first feel an emotional bond forming. When this happens I may then experience sexual feelings. I seem very unlikely to feel sexually attracted to someone in person without that emotional attachment, and haven’t so far experienced attraction without that emotional connection.
This is often termed secondary sexual attraction and obviously it doesn’t fall quite so neatly on the asexual side of the sexuality spectrum. For that reason, people who feel this way may choose to identify as demisexual as a means of communicating that they are capable of experiencing sexual attraction under some conditions but that they experience sexual attraction differently than the majority of the population. If you would like to learn more about people who identify as demisexual, you can do so here.
When we talk about being gay, lesbian or bisexual, we are still invoking a gender binary assumption: that genders fall into neat categories. However, pansexuality has long been recognized as distinct, and indeed different from bisexuality, because it does not include such limits. People who are pansexual may find themselves attracted to men and women who fit the gender binary, those who do not fit, as well as people who do not identify as a gender at all.
Identifying with this label tends to mean that a person is communicating that their sexuality encompasses a broader spectrum than what labels like lesbian or bisexual might imply. I should hasten to add that, just as with bisexuality, pansexuality does not suggest an opinion about monogamy or polyamory. These are distinct preferences, and ones that will be of different importance to different pansexuals.
If you’d like more information on pansexuality, please click here.
On Why Labels Can Be Important
We are often encouraged to sidestep or even shun labels in terms of just letting people be whoever they want to be. The spirit of that is very well-meaning and there is a grain of truth to it, but it assumes a world in which an understanding of sexuality and its rich variety has already been established. That isn’t the reality we live in yet.
We may look at some of the labels above and think they are superfluous. Some have even said, particularly of demisexuality, that the label is about people wanting to feel special and so concocting a new descriptor.
However, I can say that for me personally, understanding where my experience of my sexuality differs from other people has actually led to a feeling of greater ease about myself. When society places such an emphasis on sex, it can be alienating for people who fall toward the asexual end of the spectrum, and even baffling. As such, putting labels to our experience helps us talk about it, and that’s why these kind of discussions are important.
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