What Does Graysexual Mean? Definition & 12 Things To Know
"Sexuality is a spectrum."
That's a phrase you may have heard before, but not everyone realizes just how wide that spectrum actually goes. The sexuality spectrum is so vast that you may find one sexuality falling within another—like the way graysexuality falls within the asexuality spectrum. But what does that even mean? Here's everything you need to know about graysexuality and what it means to identify as graysexual.
What does it mean to be graysexual?
People who are graysexual, also referred to as gray-A or gray-ace, fall under the umbrella of asexuality, but as the word gray suggests, there is nuance in their response to sexuality and sexual interest, according to sexologist Carol Queen, Ph.D. Graysexual people fall in a bit of a gray area in the way they experience sexual attraction—namely, they do experience sexual attraction but rarely or with low intensity.
Queen says graysexuality "challenges the automatic primacy of sex, in relationships as well as outside of them." Graysexual people end up "prioritizing things other than sexual attraction in relationships and not centering sexual connection in relationships; experiencing attraction more rarely (or less sexually) than many other people do; being more likely to express love and connection in nonsexual ways; having sex for other reasons than attraction, maybe. Basically not using the sexual lens as primary."
It's also important to note that many graysexual people do engage in and enjoy sex, depending on their own unique feelings and experiences.
Types of graysexuality.
Graysexuality can be broken down even further into four main categories or types, according to multi-certified sex and relationships educator Anne Hodder-Shipp:
- Sex-repulsed: Folks who fall into this category "might experience sexual attraction but find sexual activity itself to be undesirable or even revolting," Hodder-Shipp says.
- Indifferent/Neutral: These folks "might feel some sexual attraction or desire but don't have any strong feelings about sexual activity or acting on their feelings," they explain.
- Ambivalent: Those on the more ambivalent side "tend to have mixed feelings about sex but aren't represented as indifferent, repulsed, or favorable," Hodder-Shipp says. "Their feelings about sex might fluctuate frequently or might be contextual, or they may only feel favorable toward certain sexual activities."
- Sex-interested/Sex-favorable: There are also graysexual folks who are sex-interested or sex-favorable. These people tend to "feel some sexual desire and are open to or enjoy the concept of sexual activity but don't experience sexual attraction." Hodder-Shipp says sex might be a part of their relationships for reasons that aren't predicated on sexual attraction toward their partners, such as to strengthen the romantic relationships or enjoy the physical sensations associated.
How graysexuality relates to sexual orientation.
Some people see the asexuality spectrum as separate from sexual orientation, meaning that a graysexual person may have a separate sexual orientation. Graysexuality and asexuality are terms used to describe a person's approach to sexual feelings and sexual attraction, explains Megan Harrison, LMFT, a couples' therapist at Couples Candy. Sexual orientation, on the other hand, describes what genders a person is attracted to sexually and/or romantically.
"It is, therefore, possible to identify as both graysexual and heterosexual, or both graysexual and homosexual, and so on. This also covers all other sexual orientations, including bisexuality and pansexuality," Harrison explains. "Many graysexual people still enter into relationships, and they may still have very clear preferences in terms of the gender they are attracted or drawn to or the gender that interests them romantically."
Graysexual vs. asexual.
Graysexuality falls under the asexual umbrella, but they aren't exactly the same thing. According to Harrison, the two are similar in the sense that both sexualities are defined by a lack of interest in sexual activity and reduced levels of sexual attraction. When it comes to the differences between the two, Harrison says asexuality usually describes an absence of sexual attraction and little or no interest in sexual activity, while a graysexual person may occasionally experience sexual attraction or an active interest in sex—but this will usually be rare, at a low level, and may bring with it feelings of confusion.
Graysexual vs. demisexual.
Another sexuality that's also compared to graysexuality is demisexuality. The two share similarities, but again, they aren't the same thing. "A demisexual is a person who does not experience sexual attraction and/or a desire to engage in sexual activity until they have formed a sufficiently strong bond with another person," Harrison explains. "In this sense, demisexuals differ from graysexuals because they are ultimately interested in sexual relationships—in the right circumstances."
That said, Harrison says that when the right level of emotional attachment is not present, the experiences of graysexuals and demisexuals are broadly the same. Harrison also says it's worth noting that "graysexuality is fluid, so it is possible to move from graysexual to demisexual and vice versa."
Myths about graysexuality.
Graysexuality is still a relatively new term and topic within the academic studies of sexuality and sexual orientation, which means there is still a lot we don't know. This can lead to misunderstandings and myths. Here are some of the most common myths surrounding graysexuality, according to experts.
Myth #1: It's something to get over.
"A common misconception about asexuality or graysexuality is that lack of interest in sex indicates trauma or that something is blocking a person's sexual interest, which should be overcome," AASECT-certified sex therapist Indigo Stray Conger, LMFT, CST, tells mbg. But that's not true: "When asexuality or graysexuality is an orientation, there is no desire to 'overcome' lack of sexual interest, other than peer pressure or a desire to fit in."
Myth #2: Graysexual people cannot enjoy sexual relationships.
Harrison says it's assumed that sexual relationships are unpleasant for graysexual folks, but that's another myth.
"In reality, many graysexual people do enjoy sexual relationships, and they may even enjoy the sexual activity itself," Harrison explains. "But this enjoyment may be at a low level, or it could occur without experiencing sexual attraction. Some graysexual people do willingly and happily engage in sexual activity for the benefit of their partner(s) too."
Myth #3: Graysexuality is a medical issue.
"It is crucial to understand that graysexuality is completely distinct from medical issues and sexual disorders, such as those resulting in a low sex drive," Harrison says. She says it is actually possible for a graysexual person to have a high sex drive and a need for sexual release while simultaneously experiencing an absence of sexual attraction to other people.
How graysexuality works in relationships and sex.
Sex is often considered an important part of most romantic relationships. However, when it comes to someone who is graysexual, that may not always be the case. Of course, this depends on the individual and their own personal experience with sexual feelings and attraction. The most important thing, according to Hodder-Shipp, is that all partners involved [are] prepared to have ongoing open and honest communication about each other's needs and boundaries, as with any sexual or romantic relationship.
"For some graysexual folks, sex may be a rare occurrence in their relationship and simply isn't prioritized as, say, expressions of love and affection would be. For others, sex might be a part of their relationship, but for the graysexual partner, their motivation may not be sexual attraction so much as desire to strengthen their romantic connection or enjoy the physical touch involved," Hodder-Shipp explains.
They add, "As with any relationship dynamic, the presence or frequency of sex is not what defines a relationship as 'healthy,' and sex cannot be 'owed' to a partner as though it's a five-dollar bill. However someone feels about sex or experiences sexual attraction is valid and true for them, no matter what anyone else says."
The bottom line.
If you experience little or low sexual attraction in your life, you might be graysexual or fall somewhere under the asexual umbrella.
"Graysexuality presents in many different ways," Hodder-Shipp adds. "I would remind graysexual folks navigating relationships to listen to and prioritize their needs and feelings and do their best not to compare them to others' needs and feelings—including other graysexual folks."
However, if after reading, you find yourself still questioning your place on the spectrum, consider browsing this comprehensive list of sexualities.
Stephanie Barnes is a freelance writer from Kingston, Jamaica. She studied Information Technology from the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean and spent several years as a front-end/iOS engineer. Her work has been featured at The Huffington Post, Healthline, The Lily, HelloGiggles, Business Insider, and more. She's passionate about all things mental health, technology, and binge-worthy television.