With the growing acronym of the LGBTQIA+ community, it’s hard to keep all the letters straight (haha). The Q stands for queer — no, questioning? The A stands for allies — not even close.

The A stands for three things: aromantic, agender, and asexual. They’re similar in that they all describe an absence of something, whether that is attraction of some kind or gender. But let’s just focus on that last one for now — asexual.

To put it simply, someone who is asexual is a person who does not experience sexual attraction. Just like gay people are attracted to people who are the same gender as them and bisexual people are attracted to two or more genders, asexual people are attracted to no one. To make it more complicated, asexual can also be an umbrella term to describe a whole spectrum of sexual orientations with varying shades (a grayscale, if you will) of asexuality:

There’s gray(a)sexual people who only experience sexual attraction on certain occasions specific to them,

demisexual people who only — if ever — experience sexual attraction after a very strong emotional bond is formed,

lithosexual people who only experience sexual attraction when it is not reciprocated, reciprosexual people who only experience it when it is reciprocated — the list goes on.

It can get overwhelming and draw a few raised eyebrows, but the asexual spectrum is an excellent example of how fluid sexuality actually is. It’s not black and white, gay and straight, sexual attraction and no sexual attraction. Everyone has different experiences and brains and sex organs to combine into a unique person with a unique sexual orientation.

But back to just asexual. The term is relatively new compared to many of the other LGBTQIA+ terms and as such there are plenty of misconceptions running around about asexuality. The first and most shockingly stupid I’ve had the pleasure of hearing is, “So you’re a plant?” Yes. I am a plant. Thank you for noticing. No, asexuality is not the same as asexual reproduction. I cannot reproduce by chopping my arm off and growing another me, as much of a bummer as that is. Next on the list, less stupid but more hurtful, is, “How do you date if you don’t have sex?” The first thing to tackle here is that asexual is not the same as aromantic. If you want to learn about aromanticism, re-read the second paragraph but sub in “romantic” every time the word “sexual” pops up. Someone being asexual has nothing to do with their romantic attraction or comfort dating. Many asexual people are also aromantic, but it is by no means a guarantee. The next thing wrong with that statement is that it should not be a requirement to have sex when you date someone. If sex is the most important thing in a relationship to you, perhaps a reevaluation of your priorities is in order.

When I first started recognizing my own asexuality, I was in my very first relationship and it was starting to get physical. I wanted to recognize why I didn’t like things like kissing or cuddling, things I viewed to be sexual acts. I found demisexuality on a list of terms that all fit under the asexual umbrella and was happy to tell my partner that while I was not comfortable with those sexual acts now, I probably would be soon when we had a deeper emotional bond. They didn’t like that very much. We decided to take a break that turned into an on-again-off-again relationship based on how okay they were with my asexuality. Needless to say, it was not a healthy way to learn how my sexual orientation would affect my romantic life and my future.

But in that relationship, because I (perhaps foolishly) trusted my partner, I felt safe enough to — I hesitate to use the term — experiment with what I was comfortable with as we grew closer. Doing actual research side-by-side with that fabled experimentation, I learned that just because someone is asexual does not mean they cannot have sex or even don’t want to have sex. Asexuality is about a lack of sexual attraction, not sex drive or desire. There are plenty of asexual people who are happy to have sex, either for their own enjoyment or their partner’s. Which brings in another group of categories:

Sex-repulsed — “I do not want to have sex and sometimes I don’t even want to talk or hear or think about sex.”

Sex-indifferent — “I don’t really care about sex either way.”

And sex-favorable — “Sex is great! I like sex! I might not be attracted to you, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun down there!”

Now these are not exclusive asexual terms. There are plenty of sex-repulsed and sex-indifferent allosexual (non-asexual) people in the world. Again, asexuality and any sexual orientations are about sexual attraction only. Through trial and error and several tearful break-ups, I finally learned that I am simply an asexual that fluctuates between sex-repulsed and sex-favorable. I also decided that when someone tells me, “I want to have sex with other people,” I shouldn’t get back together with them.

Another misconception of asexuality is that we are all survivors of some kind of sexual abuse. I have a few lesbian friends who experience the same thoughtless comments in regards to their sexual orientation — “Did a man hurt you?” First of all, if someone trusts you enough to tell you their sexual orientation, do not say this! You should never say this to anyone, honestly, but especially when the person is putting themself in a moment of vulnerability like they do when they come out. The short answer to this question is that it’s none of your business. The long answer is that yes, some asexual people are survivors of sexual abuse and sometimes that does affect their sexual orientation, but it in no way invalidates it. The cause of a person’s asexuality does not make that aspect of their identity any less real.

I discovered asexuality about three years ago but only identified myself as asexual about a year and a half ago. Part of that was because of my own denial and internalized self-hatred and part of it was because it’s hard to identify something when it isn’t there. By spreading information and awareness and talking about experiences, we help normalize this feeling and find people who feel the same things. Asexuality isn’t as colorful or loud as many of the other letters in LGBTQIA+ and often we get rejected from the community entirely because so many other oppressed orientations don’t even acknowledge us. But we’re here, we exist, and we occupy a significant portion of the population — 1% of 7 billion can take up a lot of space.

For more information, check out asexuality.org!