What It Means When Your Teen Says They're Asexual and How to Support Them

Understanding what asexual means is the first step to being there for them as a caregiver. 

An image of a father and son on a colorful background.
Photo: Getty Images. Illustration: Kailey Whitman.

When I came out to my mom as asexual, it was a mess. I was 16 and tired of her wrong assumptions about what my love life would be like as an adult. I impulsively blurted it out at dinner one night, when I couldn't stand it anymore. What followed was pure chaos. My mom had no clue what I was talking about, and I had no idea how to explain. We talked around each other until we got home, and when we got up the next day we pretended nothing had happened the night before.

It's been years since that disaster of a dinner, and asexual visibility has changed a lot since then. This year, the first-ever International Asexuality Day was celebrated worldwide. Popular characters like Todd from BoJack Horseman are asexual, making stories that center ace people (people who are asexual) easily accessible. However, just because the world is starting to talk about it doesn't mean that you and your family personally know much about it.

Even if your teen is not asexual, they likely know someone who is. It's important to help them be an ally and navigate these relationships, too. Here, experts explain what it means to be asexual and how to support your asexual teenager.

What Is Asexuality?

Asexuality is when someone doesn't experience sexual attraction. Asexuality is part of the LGBTQ+ community. You can be asexual and still experience romantic attraction. If you don't experience romantic attraction, you are aromatic, or aro. Some people are ace, some are aro, and some are both. There are many places you can learn about it at any age. My friends and I learned from Tumblr in middle school, while others may have learned from listening to a podcast (Sounds Fake But Okay, hosted by an aromantic asexual girl and a demisexual-straight girl, is a great one), or reading an article. There are also fun Instagram accounts that celebrate asexuality.

What 'Causes' Asexuality?

There is no underlying "cause" of asexuality. Rather, it's just the way someone is. It is also normal. Millions of people identify as asexual or fall somewhere on the ace spectrum.

How Do You Know If You're Asexual?

While there is no test you can take to determine if you are asexual, there are some common indicators and signs, including:

  • A lack of interest in intercourse and/or other sexual activities
  • Not being and/or getting turned on
  • A lack of attraction, i.e. you may find others attractive but are not attracted to them
  • A genuine disinterest in sex

That said, asexuality means different things to different people. Some of these signs may not be true for you, and that's okay. Only you can determine if you identify as asexual, or ace. Self-realization and actualization is the greatest determining factor.

Facts About Asexuality

Anyone Can Be on the Ace Spectrum

When Angela Chen first learned about asexuality, she didn't think it applied to her. She thought it meant that a person hates sex, so it couldn't possibly be referring to her. In her book Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex, Chen wrote, "It is possible to be ace and not realize it, to see the word and still shrug and move on. Definitions are not enough; one must plumb deeper."

There isn't one "fit" for being asexual. Some asexual people enjoy sex and have it. Some are repulsed by the idea and want nothing to do with it. Some feel sexual attraction only once they establish a close personal bond to someone (demisexual), and others may rarely experience sexual attraction (graysexual). It can be fluid and change depending on the person, but that doesn't invalidate your experience.

If your child comes out on the asexual spectrum, believe them. Listen to what they're telling you about their experiences and match their energy while they're coming out. It might be a little stressful, or it might be pretty chill. Yasmin Benoit, an asexual aromantic advocate and model, said her mom didn't really care when she came out: "There are crazier things that your teenage daughter can tell you than 'I'm not having sex, Mother.'"

Don't Be Surprised if Your Child Comes Out Again

Asexuality only applies to sexual interest. It doesn't apply to who you're attracted to, or your gender identity. What's more, asexuality isn't the same thing as having low libido; those with low libido usually experience sexual attraction but have little desire for sex, while asexual people might not be sexually attracted to anyone.

Since I've come out as asexual, I've also come out as nonbinary. I'm also homoromantic, which means that I'm romantically attracted to people of the same gender (specifically, other transgender people.) You can be ace and trans, ace and biromantic, ace and a lesbian, or ace and a gay man. You can also be asexual and straight. Respond to your teenager the same way you did when they came out as ace if they come out again by listening to and respecting them.

It would be helpful to differentiate this from low libido/abstinence since this seems to be a point of confusion for many people. It may even be helpful to say, sexuality is not black or white - you can be ace AND gay. Those two things can coexist. There just needs some clarification if we are making a statement that asexuality = sexual interest and not sexual attraction.

Asexuality Doesn't Mean Despair

One of the most pervasive stigmas that surround asexuality is that you're broken if you're ace. Something is wrong with you if you don't experience sexual attraction. That's absolutely not true. When not modeling or working on advocacy work, Benoit loves the simple joys, like getting a cup of tea outdoors. I love writing articles and watching Studio Ghibli movies while cuddling with my cat, Big Boy. We're not exceptions. We're the rule. There is nothing to worry about if your teenager comes out as asexual, or somewhere on the asexual spectrum.

Books To Read About Asexuality

For more information, here are some excellent resources to continue learning about asexuality and support your teenager. All are YA books whose target audience is teenagers, so you and your child can read them together.

Loveless by Alice Oseman

Oseman signed her first book deal at age 17 and hasn't quit since. Loveless, her fourth YA novel, is about "discovering that it's okay if you don't have sexual or romantic feelings for anyone . . . since there are plenty of other ways to find love and connection." The book is popular with both critics and audiences and just won the 2021 YA Book Award.

Let's Talk About Love by Claire Kann

Let's Talk About Love is Kann's debut novel that came out with a bang back in 2018. Alice is a university student with great best friends and a girlfriend—until they break up when Alice comes out as asexual. The rest of the book "gracefully explores the struggle with emerging adulthood and the complicated line between friendship and what it might mean to be something more," writes the publisher.

Not Your Backup by C.B Lee

Not Your Backup is the third book in a YA series. The storyline follows an aro ace Latina girl, Emma, who is the only powerless member of a team fighting against corrupted superheroes. Besides the super cool plot, the rest of the series is chock full of representation and other superpowered shenanigans.

Rick by Alex Gino

Gino broke onto the scene back in 2015, writing a critically acclaimed Rick, a middle-grade novel that won a Lambda Literary Award, among others. In 2020, they followed it up with Rick, a book about a middle schooler trying to figure out who he is. The book has gotten starred reviews from major reviewers, including Kirkus Review and Booklist.

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