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Is It Asexuality or Is It Sexual Aversion Disorder?

Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

“Are you sure you’re asexual? Maybe it’s just trauma…”

If you’re someone who is asexual, you’ve probably been asked this before, and it’s one of the most aggravating assumptions and questions out there. 

For those of you who don’t know, asexuality is a sexuality spectrum that doesn’t really feel sexual attraction. Once again, it’s a spectrum, so there are aces out there who feel sexual attraction under certain conditions (demisexuals like myself), aces that fall somewhere between allosexuals and asexuals (gray aces), aces that only feel sexual attraction once they know the other person is attracted to them (reciprosexuals), the opposite where people lose sexual attraction once it’s reciprocated (akoisexuals), and people who are fluid on the spectrum (aceflux). All of these are real sexualities, and that’s partially what the “A” is LGBTQIA+ stands for (shoutout to my aromantics out there). 

No, we’re not “picky.” No, not everyone is “a little demi” or ace, or whatever. It’s a real sexual orientation. Anyways, off my soap box…

You can have no experience with sexual trauma, and be 100% ace. You can also have experience with sexual trauma, and not be ace. It can be both, and, neither, and or all at once, and sometimes it’s hard to figure it out due to how close the symptoms of trauma are to the traits of asexuality.

When you’ve lived through sexual trauma, you may gain an aversion or repulsion to sex. In fact, the DSM defines it as sexual aversion disorder (SAD) which is a “persistent or recurrent extreme aversion to, and avoidance of, all or almost all, genital sexual contact with a sexual partner.” When asexuality is a lack of asexual attraction, and sexual aversion disorder is an extreme aversion towards sex, it’s easy to get confused on which one you’re experiencing.

Having experienced both, I had to determine whether it was asexuality, trauma, or all of it wrapped up into one package. Is my lack of interest in physical intimacy due to people who didn’t treat me right, or is it due to the fact that it just doesn’t resonate in my brain.

The questions I asked myself were:

1. Before I experienced trauma, what were my feelings around sex and physicality?

I’ll never forget my first attempted make out session as a teenager, only because it didn’t happen. My then partner wanted to, but I had this crushing weight and anxiety in my chest. I simply didn’t feel the same way, even though my then hormonal teenage self did feel urges every now and then. Later on when I had my first “serious” partner, I once again felt very conflicted when engaging in any form of physicality. I consented and allowed it to happen, but it never felt “right.” I could have gone without it. I didn’t feel strongly in any way, shape, or form about partaking in sexual activity and looking back, I only did it because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. I wasn’t “normal,” if I didn’t. This continued years into adulthood until I was with a trusted partner and realized “Oh wait, I just don’t feel sexual attraction.” That shifted again when I fell in love and realized I do under certain conditions, but that’s being a bidemisexual for you, huh?  

2. How does my trauma impact the way I engage with intimacy? 

For me, my trauma simply gave me extreme hyper-vigilance and trust issues. It never stopped me from pursuing intimacy under the right conditions and circumstances, rather it simply set up a few more hoops that had to be jumped through and walls that had to be broken down.

Trauma can make people hyper-sexual or the complete opposite, however from my personal experience the feeling of trauma-led sexual aversion is different from the internal feeling of not feeling sexual attraction. It’s very hard to explain, and that’s why sitting with the question versus just my experience is more important.

3. Hypothetically, if I were in love, trusted that individual, and “healed,” could I see myself pursuing intimacy?

Once again, I’m demi, so love is really the key for me being able to be intimate and physical, but I want to look at this through the larger ace umbrella. 

I know a lot of aces that are in committed relationships, with and without trauma, and still have no interest in sex no matter how much they love them. They do it sometimes for their partner(s), but they know they won’t suffer if they go without. I also know a lot of people who once they were able to work through some of their sexual trauma, were able to re-spark that libido and were able to feel sexual attraction without being marred by trust issues or fear.

It’s hard to gauge when you’re still in the thick of it, but to me this question is a big help in indicating SAD from asexuality. If you could, would you, or do you just not care?

You can’t heal or cure asexuality and you shouldn’t feel as if you have to, but healing is possible if you live with SAD. 

Oh, and it’s OK to try out the label and have it not fit. Labels can change and be fluid, just like us. So if donning the label for now feels right and you learn that it’s no longer true to you, don’t feel ashamed. It’s OK. Promise.

Only you (and maybe a therapist or journal) can figure it out for yourself. Just remember that it’s your body and your choice what you do with it. No one else’s.

Getty image by Viktoriia Miroshnikova

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