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Fifty shades of desire: dispatches from the gray area

The complexity of the asexuality spectrum serves as a strong reminder of the infinite combinations that exist within the spheres of desire and attraction.

By Aurelie | 7 February 2021
Art illustration of naked bodies of womenìs hugging each other

While we may all be aware of what the A in LGBTQIA+ stands for, the complexity of the asexuality spectrum serves as a strong reminder of the infinite combinations that exist within the spheres of desire and attraction in relation to pleasure. Welcome to the “gray area”.

Attempting to define asexuality

Asexuality and aromanticism

If we lived in a black and white world, we may happily settle for a simple definition of asexuality as the absence of sexual attraction towards any gender/sex; at the opposite end, we would find all forms of sexuality, which encompasses heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, pansexuality… Those who experience sexual attraction may be defined as being allosexual.

If we wanted to paint a more complete picture, we could add an extra layer via the aromanticism spectrum; romantic attraction being defined as an emotional response that results in the desire to build a romantic relationship.  Many asexuals may experience romantic attraction without any kind of sexual attraction; there are other forms of attraction, be it aesthetic or sensual, that doesn’t involve a sexual dimension.

Asexuality and arousal

Asexuality doesn’t necessarily involve a total absence of libido, at least not for everyone; while non-libidoists experience very little to no arousal, many asexuals may still feel excited, although such feelings wouldn’t translate as desire towards another person. These dynamics are sometimes defined as autochorisexuality.

Arousal can stem from physiological reactions, such as hormonal fluctuations related to menstrual cycles or spontaneous erections. Being aroused but uninterested in sex means masturbation can be an outlet of choice for asexuals and a key component of their intimate lives.

One spectrum, many variations

Identifying the “gray area”

While there are many definitions out there, they barely encompass the complexity of individual identities and preferences. Whoever identifies with asexuality only to some extent may belong to the “gray area” and identify as graysexual or gray-A. Most graysexuals have had or are having sexual experiences, although generally to a lesser extent than typical allosexuals. Beyond semantic considerations, graysexuals are generally considered as belonging to the asexual sphere by way of the many similarities, and the general inclusive nature of the asexual community.

Asexuality, graysexuality and demisexuality often fall under the “ace” umbrella. Demisexuality, which refers to people who may only feel sexual attraction in the presence of an emotional connection, may also fall under the realm of graysexuality.

Pleasure within the “gray area”

While graysexuals may experience a lesser amount of sexual attraction than average allosexuals, it is no indicator of the quality and extent of the pleasure they experience as a result of sex. While those who define themselves as sex-repulsed or sex-indifferent may view sex from a place of disgust or indifference, sexual intercourse can be perfectly enjoyable for whoever identifies as sex-favourable.

What we can learn from Gray-As

Why should we ask ourselves and learn about asexuality, aromanticism and the entire gray area that surrounds them? Perhaps because knowing and recognising the richness and complexity of orientation and attraction gives us the necessary tools to deconstruct the heteronormative model and hypersexualisation that is often attached to it; the lack of diversity in the representations and ideals that are fed to us can create a sense of exclusion and inadequacy, beyond the obvious struggles and obstacles generated by discrimination.

Amidst the global Valentine’s Day marketing frenzy, we come across limited and somewhat obsolete representations of what our intimate lives should look like, from the obligatory “romantic” dinner to the compulsory “saucy” gift towards the inevitable “passionate” tryst. Whether we feel like we belong to the aroace spectrum or not, we all deserve and should aspire to more; diversity and inclusivity start with each and every single one of us. 

For any resources on asexuality, you may visit the The Asexual Visibility & Education Network

Do you identify as gray-A or as falling somewhere onto the ace sprectrum? How do you experience about pleasure and masturbation?

If you want to share any comment or observation on the matter, please send us a DM @y__spot!  

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