Author (Greek version): Christina Vaizidou

Psychiatrist – Psychotherapist

Translation: Evelina Koutsikopoulou

Asexuals have the same emotional needs, as everyone else, but we differ a lot in the way we fulfill them. Some asexuals are happier being alone, others are happy with a group of close friends. Others look for meeting and creating long-term fellowships. Looking for ways of flirting, coming closer or be monogamous in an asexual relationship is a challenge, but being free from sexual expectations and  orders, we can create relationships based on our personal needs and desires”. (AVEN, Asexual Visibility and Education Network).

The term “asexuality” has become a subject of many scientific discussions in the last few years. Asexuality is not identified as the lack of attraction for another person, but as the lack of interconnection of attraction with the need for sexual satisfaction. Many times, asexuals have the need to communicate, interact and create relationships. But those relationships are most often romantic or platonic ones. Asexuality can also be characterized as lack of or a type of sexual orientation. A 2004 study, found that in the UK around 1% of the population considers themselves as asexuals (Bogaert, (2004).

Asexuality needs to be differentiated from two other phenomena. One is that of sexual abstinence and celibacy, which might often be identified or confused with asexuality. Sexual abstinence and celibacy encompass the discontent at a personal level with regards to the lack of interest experienced during sex. It is about a sexual behavior, not a sexual orientation, which is still sustained. Those with sexual abstinence and celibacy often seek treatment and support and it is therefore important to make the crucial distinction from asexuality because this situation can conceal other issues or triggers like:

  • Family experiences: In many cases, it is about people who have been raised in a family environment that surrounds the sexual impulses with feelings of guilt and suspends or represses them in this way.
  • Traumatic experiences: In this category, emotional or physical traumatic experiences are included, like negative experiences from erotic relationships and clear traumatic events like sexual harassment, rape. Many times, these experiences lead to aversion to sexual contact.
  • Avoiding homosexuality: It is about people who avoid expressing homosexual tensions, mainly because themselves or the social surroundings do not accept the identity of homosexuality, as they cannot control the issue of their sexual identity or their choice has been charged with feelings of guilt. So, the area of sexual life is completely “frozen”, in order not to come into contact with these “unpleasant” pieces of themselves.
  • Self- punishment: The person feels guilty and implicitly “punishes” himself /herself by depriving his/her pleasure.
  • Issue of relationship/ sexual partner: It may be something in his/her behavior that does not let us express ourselves. The idea of “tediousness” in long-term relationships is also important here. The two partners may also have different sexual desires, and the one may look for sexual contact more often than the other. Such dynamic can eventually lead in situations of misunderstanding, disappointment and avoidance, and after all to emotional distance of the couple and passionless erotic attitude.
  • Psychotic background, depression or schizoid personality disorder.
  • Many antidepressants also cause interception of sexual desire and arousal.
  • Religious beliefs or cultural facts that are not compatible with the personality of someone, but they still repress their sexual urges.

The second phenomenon includes sexual disorders. In the new categorization of mental diseases, DSM 5, the Female sexual interest/ arousal disorder (FSIAD) and the Male Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (MHSDD) have been included for the first time. In order for the diagnosis to be given to these two disorders, the situation should cause great discontent and impact someone’s functionality profoundly. However, for asexuals, indifference for sex is not an abnormality, but a sexual orientation. The followings are traits of asexuals of that kind:

  • Lack of erotic attraction or arousal for people of the surrounding environment or other famous people.
  • Lack of need for sex to be part of one’s life.
  • Lack of need for the person to have good sex in his relationships.
  • Belief that, even though sex is not wrong/immoral/disgusting etc. it is neither interesting of important as an action.

So far, possible associations between asexuality and neurobiological factors, upbringing, education, personality have not been adequately investigated. Also, no research has examined possible associations between asexuality and the psychodynamic theory. The main difficulty in the evaluation of psychodynamic theory in sexual orientation lies in the fact that most of the people feel and talk about sex like it is something irrelevant from the rest of their life and not as a continuum of our psyche.

In general, certain factors that often affect our sexual orientation are:

  • Intrapsychic confrontations between the desire for pleasure on the one hand and the internalized moral values on the other.
  • Anxiety for the physical contact and intimacy. Sexuality is developed very early, almost from infancy, from the way we know our body, the touch of our parents, the way we react and we receive others’ reactions, the way they talk, caress and interact with us.
  • Need for isolation and withdrawal, so to avoid expressing ourselves. Sex can be connected with fear of losing ourselves, of our partner will come very close and intimately to us, so he will pass through us and all the limits will be lost. This fear causes intense frustration and there is a sense of “disintegration” and lack of delimitation.

In some cases, asexuals might seek psychological support due to an emotional variation they experience. Some of them, being in a relationship, feel guilty towards their partner something that leads to feelings of depression. Social expectations and the associated pressure arising from what is “normal” and what is “expected” from a satisfactory erotic life, are very intense leading to social isolation due to shame. Ultimately and regarding asexuality, many questions remain unanswered: Is asexuality a reaction to today’s oversupply and raw “over-projection” of sex in our society? Is it about an emotional “numbness” that some people might experience?

Regardless of whatever happens in the human mind and psyche, the aim of any psychotherapeutic approach is for the person to be able to experience happiness and pleasure in his/her life. Therefore, if a person has no interest in sexual activities but he/she is still happy with his/her life with no feelings of discontent or impairment of functionality, then surely, his/her orientation, his/her asexuality is neither a problem or a disorder.

Suggested literature

Decker, Julie Sondra  (2014): The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality, Carrel Books, ISBN-10: 1631440020.

Prause, Nicole  & Graham, Cynthia A.  (2007): Asexuality: Classification and Characterization, Arch. Sex. 36:341–356.

Prause, Nicole & Graham, Cynthia A.  (August 2004). «Asexuality: Classification and Characterization», Archives of Sexual Behavior