When Michael Doré was in middle school, he started to realize that he was different from his peers. All of the boys in his grade were suddenly looking at and talking about girls as potential girlfriends, people to kiss and eventually have sex with. But Doré didn't feel the same way. He valued his relationships with women, but couldn't see them as anything more than friends. Maybe, you think, he was gay. After all, lots of men realize they're gay because they're not attracted to women. But that wasn't it. Doré didn't feel sexual attraction toward men, either. He didn't feel sexual attraction at all.
Eventually, Doré realized that he's asexual (he's now on the project team at the Asexual Visibility and Education Network) and that there's a whole community of people out there just like him. And his story is a common experience for asexual people. A lot of asexual people start questioning themselves because they feel like they don't fit in. But, those feelings aren't the only way someone realizes they're asexual, Doré says. Some asexual people do have sex and don't totally hate it. But, often, they don't feel connected to sex, would be just as happy not having sex, don't care if they have sex or not, or might just be having sex to appease a partner. Then there are people who want nothing to do with sex at all.
All of these people could consider themselves asexual. "Asexuality is a spectrum, it's not black and white," Doré says. Just like there are many steps between straight and gay, there's a whole spectrum of identities between asexual and sexual. Some asexual people call themselves "gray ace" or "demisexual," because they feel that they're in an in-between space. People who identify as gray asexual might have a very low libido, or only feel sexual attraction toward someone in special circumstances, like when they've formed an emotional bond with someone or are in a relationship.
Still, none of these feelings mean that you have to identify as asexual. Nor does using the label mean you have to feel a certain way. "A lot of people feel that they have to live up to these labels and tick all the boxes, otherwise they can't be a real asexual," Doré says. Instead of getting fixated on strict definitions, Doré says anyone who feels that "asexual" describes their experience can use the label. "These terms are there to help people understand themselves, not to prescribe what you have to experience," he says.
The only thing that asexual organizations like AVEN do try to distinguish asexuality from is celibacy. Unlike celibacy, asexuality is a sexual orientation, not a choice. "Asexuality as a sexual orientation is all about who you're attracted to, not about what moral values you have," Doré says. So while some people might choose to save themselves for marriage or forego sex for other reasons, they aren't asexual (as long as they feel sexual attraction).
But, much like there's no shame in choosing to not have sex, there's no shame in asexuality. Nor is there shame if you identify as asexual during a certain portion of your life and then later start identifying a different way. For most people, being asexual doesn't change, but sometimes it does. "It's not like you're committing yourself for life if you use the label asexual," Doré says. "Use the term asexual as long as it's useful for you."