Asexuality. A sexual orientation that is often ridiculed, scoffed at, ignored, misunderstood and believed to be fake. Asexuality is real, it occurs across the world, and it is not a choice, but what is it exactly?

Asexuality is when an individual does not experience sexual attraction. This does not mean that an asexual individual does not experience other kinds of attraction such as aesthetic, romantic or sensual attraction. Identifying as asexual also does not determine or change one’s orientation – just because someone does not experience sexual attraction does not mean that she or he is not or will suddenly become gay, straight, bi or pansexual. Asexuality also does not mean that asexual individuals do not masturbate or experience wet dreams. Some asexual individuals do masturbate and experience wet dreams, some do not. Again, all that asexuality entails is that an individual does not desire sexual connection with another person (and no, this does not mean that asexual individuals sexually desire objects).

You also cannot convince or coerce an asexual individual into being sexual. She is not abstaining, she did not choose to be asexual because she has only experienced bad sex, and it has nothing to do with whether or not she has even had sex. Someone does not need to experience “good” sex to decide whether or not one wants to engage in sex. Asexuality is the same as identifying as straight, gay or bisexual. You just know. However, just because an asexual does not desire sex does not mean that she or he might not be willing to make certain comprises when in an relationship with a sexual partner (nor are any compromises guaranteed). Then there also those individuals who fall somewhere between sexual and asexual – demisexuals and gray-sexuals.

According to the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, demisexuality is when “Someone…can only experience sexual attraction after an emotional bond has been formed,” and gray-sexuality is when “Someone…identifies with the area between asexuality and sexuality, for example because they experience sexual attraction very rarely, only under specific circumstances, or of an intensity so low that it’s ignorable.” Sexual orientation, is not an either or. It falls within a dimension, rather than a spectrum, where many combinations and variances are possible, and while one person’s sexual orientation may differ from another’s that does not make any one sexual orientation any more or less real and valuable than any other sexual orientation. So put on your grownup pants and just accept that not all people want to have sex despite what pop culture leads you to believe. And, please, if you identify as being sexual and you want to ask an asexual about her or his sexuality (or lack thereof) try not to ask something completely idiotic and offensive. Just think, if someone asked you the exact same questions and you thought they were stupid and/or offensive, they’ll probably be just as offensive when directed towards an asexual individual.