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01/22/2016 01:34 pm ET Updated Feb 09, 2016

Why Some Asexuals Masturbate (And A Few Other Things They Want You To Know)

A look at a still very misunderstood orientation.
Andersen Ross via Getty Images

While sexual orientations beyond heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality are beginning to receive more attention and understanding from mainstream culture and the media, asexuality remains fairly misunderstood.

The Asexual Visibility And Education Network (AVEN) defines an asexual as "someone who does not experience sexual attraction" and notes that, "unlike celibacy, which people choose, asexuality is an intrinsic part of who [they] are." On a recent episode of the HuffPost Love+Sex Podcast, co-hosts Carina Kolodny and Noah Michelson spoke with several asexuals about their lives, as well as Anthony Bogaert, the author of "Understanding Asexuality" and a professor of health sciences and psychology at Brock University. 

Check out the podcast (below) to learn more about what life is like as an asexual, as well as some facts from Bogaert about what exactly asexuality is and isn't.

Asexuality is an orientation: "Sexual attraction is the core element of what defines sexual orientation. Therefore, if you lack sexual attraction for others then you can understand asexuality within a sexual orientation framework. You don’t have a kind of directionality towards other people, but it’s still understandable within a sexual orientation framework and that’s why I construe it as a separate sexual orientation."

Asexuality is not a disorder: "From a medical health standpoint, there’s not much evidence that asexual people who self-identify as such are necessarily distressed by the lack of sexuality or lack of sexual interest or lack of sexual attraction to others. And therefore, that’s a main criterion that we should be using in thinking about when we’re thinking about [whether or not it is] some kind of mental or health disorder."

There is an asexual spectrum: "Some [self-identifying asexual] people report some level of sexual interest and some level of sexual attraction, although it’s very low... and may report that [they define themselves as] 'gray-a' or 'graysexual.' 

Then there are individuals [known as 'demisexuals'] who report that they only have a sexual interest within a very specific context... But their sexual attraction is not broad based in the way that average typical people in a romantic relationship will have sexual attraction for their romantic partner... For these demisexual people, there’s a predominant kind of sexual interest that’s only focused within the context of romantic relationships. 

And then of course there’s other asexual people who don’t have any sexual attraction whatsoever, even in the context of any kind of romantic relationships."

Asexuals can form relationships with sexual people: "Asexual people can be in a relationship with a sexual person and they may even function sexually -- that is they may engage in sex, for example, to please their partner even if they don’t have any sexual interest or sexual attraction for them. And then there are individuals who may be in a relationship with a sexual person, but the sexual person seeks their sexual pleasure elsewhere."

Some asexual individuals masturbate:  "Some asexual people still have some level of what I call ‘non-directed desire’ towards others. There may be a kind of lustful feeling that’s not connected directly to other people and they may feel the need to release and have some kind of non-specific or non-directed sexual desire towards others, and therefore they may still masturbate. There is some evidence that a significant number of asexual people still masturbate, still may for example, do what one person calls “cleaning out the plumbing,” so to speak. Or there may be even a certain kind of sexual pleasure of sorts, but it’s not a sexual pleasure that’s attached to the lustful feelings that typical sexual people have towards others."

As many as one percent of Americans are asexual: "The measures of attraction that I’m most familiar with, and work that I’ve done, indicate that perhaps as many as one percent or perhaps even more, are asexual. A number of studies have also suggested that one percent of people may indicate that they’ve never really felt sexual attraction for others."

There is a strong and growing online asexual community: For more information, visit AVEN.

The HuffPost Love+Sex podcast is produced by Katelyn Bogucki and edited by Nick Offenberg. Production assistance and design is provided by Lauren Bell.

Have an idea for an episode? Need help with a question about love or sex? Find us on Twitter at @HuffPostPodcast or email us at loveandsexpodcast@huffingtonpost.com.

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