While LGBTQ people have become more visible over recent years, there's still a lot of silence and misinformation around one group in particular: asexuals. And one major misconception about them is that they don't feel sexual pleasure or have sexual thoughts. According to the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, an asexual person is "someone who does not experience sexual attraction." But that doesn't mean they don't engage in sexual activity, fantasize, masturbate, or pursue romance. As a new study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior and reported by New York Magazine shows, their sex lives look more like those of sexual people than many might assume. The researchers asked 739 people, 351 of them asexual, about their solo sex habits and sexual fantasies. Almost half of the women and three quarters of the men among the asexuals in the study still both masturbated and fantasized. Asexual men weren't significantly less likely than sexual men to masturbate at least once a month; asexual women were slightly less likely, but around 70% still did. When asked why they masturbated, the most common reason among asexuals was to relieve tension, while sexual people were most likely to say they did it for sexual pleasure. Asexuals were also more likely to report feeling like they had to masturbate. There were a few differences between the fantasies of asexuals and the rest of the population. One was that asexuals were more likely to have fantasies that they themselves weren't in. "I enjoy watching other people enjoy their sexuality. I like the role of being strictly a voyeur but I love being the cause of them enjoying their sexuality," one woman explained. "Although I am very excited by these situations, I wouldn’t call it sexual excitement. Although my body is clearly aroused by it, I have no desire to attend to that arousal." In addition, asexual women fantasized more often about romantic situations and non-sexual touch, like cuddling. The same woman quoted above said, "I like to see my romantic partner endure unpleasant situations that I’ve created because I feel that his willingness to sacrifice his comfort is an expression of his devotion to me." The most common fantasy among asexual women and men was, "A special person is devoted to me and showers me with love and attention." Some of asexual people's romantic fantasies were very imaginative. One man pictures himself "in a situation where the laws of nature are suspended, or I get a glimpse of a world that underlies our own, or I am in a desert hut with a girl from an unfamiliar tribe. Or even just an old country house with the wind whistling...just the idea that we can be different and feel different things and learn and have experiences we never imagined. An art studio on the lower east side in 1976. A girl wizard. A blood moon." In addition to what it reveals about asexuality, this study suggests that sexual fantasies can be distinct from sexual desires, since many asexuals — like people of other sexual orientations — had fantasies they didn't want to act on. While asexuals may fantasize about facilitating "physiological sexual arousal and masturbation," the authors wrote, "the sexual fantasies may not be reflections of innate sexual wants or desires." They also concluded that asexuals, like sexual people, are a very diverse group: "There are likely a large number of variations in how (lack of) sexual attraction is experienced that might lead a person to identify as asexual." Of course, the idea that every single person who identifies as a particular sexual orientation doesn't have the same exact experiences shouldn't come as a shock. Hopefully, these findings clear things up for those who are still unsure about what it means to be asexual.
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