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Asexuality: the fourth sexual orientation

While most of us can’t imagine going through life without experiencing some form of carnal desire, researchers estimate about one per cent of the population — up to 70 million people worldwide — have absolutely no sex drive. Not in a, “No honey, not tonight. I have a headache,” kind of way but an ongoing disinterest in sexual behaviour with members of the same or opposite sex.

According to the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, an asexual person is a person who does not experience sexual attraction. Anthony Bogaert, a professor in the psychology department at Brock University, refers to asexuality as the “fourth sexual orientation,” distinct from heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality. Like other sexual orientations, asexuality is classified as an intrinsic part of a person’s identity and not something that can be turned on or off.

Some couples might lose interest in sexual activity during particular phases in their relationships — following childbirth or while faced with health problems or personal struggles — but these issues are usually a temporary concern rather than an innate and enduring absence of desire. Asexuals do not choose to abstain from sex for religious or moral reasons; it is not the result of some traumatic childhood event or because they haven’t found the right person.

For those who identify as asexual, this apathetic attitude toward sex is much more than just a simple dry spell or an empty vow of celibacy following a bad breakup. Many feel confused and isolated as they come to terms with their asexuality in our hyper-sexualized culture. I can imagine it would be hard not to feel like an outsider in a society where people read erotic paperbacks on the bus and talk about sexual positions in graphic detail over brunch.

It’s important to remember that sexuality exists on an extremely vast and complicated spectrum. From pansexuals to polyamorous to demiromantics to autosexuals, there exists a veritable alphabet soup of sexual preferences and expressions.

And while different forms of categorization can be helpful in promoting visibility, educating others and developing a sense of community, labelling shouldn’t be done for negative or exclusionary purposes.

Sexual desire might be one of our most basic biological instincts, but that doesn’t mean we should judge those who choose to have intimacy without intercourse. Accepting sexual diversity means recognizing the many different forms of attraction and giving others the freedom to embody their own sexuality, even if that means not at all.

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