Asexual, Graysexual, Demisexual Meanings: What’s the Difference?

By Dr. Justin LGBTQ Community

Dr. Alfred Kinsey was the first to describe sexual orientation as existing on a continuum in his famous Kinsey Scale. He characterized human sexuality as running on a spectrum from “completely heterosexual” to “completely homosexual” based on people’s level of sexual attraction and behavior involving persons of each sex.

Kinsey’s scale ran from 0 to 6, but there was a separate X designation that existed outside of this continuum for folks who had “no socio-sexual contacts or reactions.” Today, we recognize this X category as representing asexuality, which was not a sexual identity that existed at the time of Kinsey’s work.

In recent years, our understanding of asexuality has grown and, rather than being a unitary category as captured by the Kinsey Scale, we can see it as existing on its own spectrum. So, let’s explore it.

The Sexual Attraction Spectrum

Sexuality exists on multiple spectrums. For example, there’s one spectrum for attractions based on sex/gender. There’s another for interest in monogamy vs. non-monogamy. And so on.

But there’s also a spectrum for your general level of sexual attraction to other people. The endpoints of this spectrum are:

  • Asexual, which denotes the absence or lack of sexual attraction, and
  • Allosexual, which denotes the regular experience of sexual attraction

In between, there exist a number of sexualities in which sexual attraction is present, but only under limited circumstances or conditions. These include graysexual and demisexual.

person with rainbow projected onto them

What Does It Mean to Be Asexual?

Different people define the term “asexual” in different ways. Strictly defined, asexuality is often used to describe persons who do not experience sexual attraction to others at all. Some have also defined it as a lack of interest in or desire for partnered sexual activity.

In popular usage, asexual is often used as an umbrella term or identity for anyone who is not allosexual. The term “ace” is also often utilized in this way.

Thus, someone who identifies as asexual may be asexual in the strict sense of having no sexual attraction at all, but some who fall in the category of graysexual or demisexual may also identify as asexual, which is why it is worth distinguishing between and understanding these different types of asexuality.

What It Means to be Graysexual

The term “graysexual” can also be seen as an umbrella term capturing everything between asexual and allosexual on the sexual attraction spectrum.

Graysexual persons experience some level of sexual attraction to others, but only on rare occasions or under very specific circumstances. Thus, graysexual can refer to either a low frequency of sexual attraction or a highly contextualized experience of sexual attraction (or both).

One of the more common forms of graysexuality is demisexuality.

two people embracing with closed eyes

What It Means to Be a Demisexual Person

The term “demisexual” is usually defined as someone who only experiences sexual attraction when they have a strong emotional bond with a partner.

This could be the loving bond you have with a romantic partner, but it could also be the platonic bond you have with a friend. Thus, the key here is not necessarily that one needs romantic love to feel sexual attraction (although that is true for some), but rather it is more generally about the presence of a strong emotional bond or connection with another person (not necessarily a demisexual person) being a precursor to attraction.

However, when discussing the topic of “demisexual meaning,” attraction can be complicated. While a bond is necessary for the emergence of sexual attraction, this is not to say that every emotional bond necessarily prompts attraction with demisexual people. Thus, you can think of this as a necessary but not sufficient condition for sexual desire and attraction.

If you conceptualize graysexual as an umbrella term denoting infrequent sexual attraction, everyone who is demisexual is also graysexual. However, not everyone who is graysexual is necessarily demisexual because some graysexual people may experience sexual attraction to persons they are not emotionally close to.

a happy couple

Scientific Definitions Versus Personal Definitions

What we have discussed above is the way scientists and researchers tend to look at these terms, with each signifying something a little different. Scientifically, it’s important to recognize the different variants or “types” of asexuality that exist because they each represent very different patterns in the world of human sexuality.

Sex scientists make these distinctions in the interest of simply capturing, reflecting, and describing sexual diversity.

How individuals choose to personally identify is another matter entirely. For example, if you are someone who only experiences sexual attraction when you have a strong emotional bond present, you might identify as demisexual—but you might instead identify as graysexual or asexual. Or you might identify with more than one of these terms. There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to our personal identities.

Everyone is free to identify based on their own self-understanding. People may also add other labels to their sexual identity, too. For instance, someone might identify as a bisexual demisexual. Sex/gender orientations are distinct from asexual/allosexual orientations, and these can be combined in any number of ways.

How Common is Asexuality?

The best available research involving nationally representative samples pegs asexuality at around 1% of the population.

However, this research is limited in that virtually all of it has inquired specifically about identifying as “asexual.” What this means is that we don’t truly know about the prevalence of different forms of asexuality (i.e., complete lack of attraction vs. infrequent attraction vs. contextualized attraction).

It is also possible that the 1% figure underestimates the prevalence of asexuality, especially when it comes to romantic relationships, emotional attachments, and sexual desire. For example, not everyone who experiences infrequent attraction identifies as an asexual person. Thus, 1% is better thought of as the floor rather than the ceiling when it comes to asexuality.

two hands make a heart

Asexuality Versus Aromanticism

The asexual/allosexual spectrum captures variability in sexual attraction. Romantic attraction is on an entirely different spectrum, which runs from:

  • Aromantic, which denotes a lack of romantic attraction, to
  • Romantic, which denotes the presence of romantic attraction

Again, the space in between reflects those who experience romantic attraction infrequently or only under limited circumstances.

Someone who lacks sexual attraction could also lack romantic attraction, in which case they might identify as an aromantic asexual. However, it’s also possible to lack sexual attraction but possess romantic attraction, which explains why many asexual people are in romantic relationships.

Romantic asexuals sometimes start relationships and emotional connections with allosexual persons. These romantic relationships can work, but they require some negotiation to meet everyone’s needs. For example, sometimes asexual people will consent to sex that they do not desire because they want to please their partner. This is part of the reason why surveys of asexual persons usually find that a majority of them say they have had sex before. Thus, being asexual does not necessarily mean that one does not ever have sex (although, of course, some asexual persons will never do it).

Another way that some asexual-allosexual couples navigate their relationships and emotional connections is by being polyamorous or sexually open. In these cases, the asexual individual may rarely or never sexually engage with their partner, whereas the allosexual partner may have other partners with whom they are sexually active.v


Human sexuality is incredibly diverse, and it exists on more than one spectrum. The asexual-allosexual spectrum is one of the keys to understanding and describing this diversity.

Asexuality is something that scientists are still learning about. It is something that much of the general public does not yet understand, which is why many myths and misconceptions exist on this topic.

It is important to recognize that being asexual can look very different across different persons. Some asexuals experience sexual attraction, but only sometimes. Some are sexually active. Some are in romantic relationships, and sometimes with allosexual persons.

Asexuality, like every other aspect of human sexuality, is complex and diverse—and we would all do well to better understand it in its many and varied forms.



Bogaert, A. F. (2004). Asexuality: Prevalence and associated factors in a national probability sample. Journal of Sex Research, 41(3), 279-287.

Bogaert, A. F. (2015). Understanding asexuality. Rowman & Littlefield.

Bogaert, A. F. (2015). Asexuality: What it is and why it matters. Journal of Sex Research, 52, 362-379.

Copulsky, D., & Hammack, P. L. (2021). Asexuality, Graysexuality, and Demisexuality: Distinctions in Desire, Behavior, and Identity. The Journal of Sex Research.

Hille, J. J., Simmons, M. K., & Sanders, S. A. (2019). “Sex” and the Ace Spectrum: Definitions of Sex, Behavioral Histories, and Future Interest for Individuals Who Identify as Asexual, Graysexual, or Demisexual. The Journal of Sex Research.

Lehmiller, J. J. (2017). The psychology of human sexuality. John Wiley & Sons.