It's all about the gray area between sexual and asexual—let us explain.

By Claire Gillespie
January 20, 2021
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Graysexuality—sometimes spelled greysexuality or known as gray-asexuality, gray-A, or gray-ace—is a sexual identity characterized by feeling limited sexual attraction.

"People who call themselves graysexual tend to feel sexual attraction rarely, at a low level of intensity, and/or only in very specific situations," Sarah Melancon, PhD, a sociologist, clinical sexologist, and sexuality and relationship expert for SexToyCollective.com, tells Health.

Like many sexual identity terms, it's not clear when graysexuality was first coined, but it's been used in the asexual community for several years. In a 2015 Mic article, sexuality educator Sari Locker argued that graysexuals "feel they are within the gray area between asexuality and more typical sexual interest." It's also hard to know how many people describe themselves as graysexual. According to the 2015 Asexual Census, 15.6% of respondents (1,427 out of 9,161 people) identified as graysexual.

"Graysexuality is a close cousin of asexuality," explains Melancon.

Graysexual vs. asexual

But what does it mean to be asexual? According to the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), an asexual person experiences little to no sexual attraction. The opposite of asexual is sexual, which is also referred to as allosexual. So graysexual falls somewhere between the two, stemming from the idea that sexuality isn't black and white, and that many people fall into this "gray area."

"Graysexual is a way for someone who feels a little attraction at times to honor their experience, as opposed to using the term asexual, which implies a complete lack of sexual attraction," Melancon says. However, she points out that some people who identify as asexual can experience attraction at times or to certain people.

"These identity categories are not absolutes but reflect how people see themselves and what terms they prefer to describe their experience," she adds.

hands holding in front of greysexual flag

Graysexuality and sexual orientation

Some graysexual people may not consider graysexuality their primary or only orientation or identity.

The 2015 Asexual Census found that around half of those who identified as graysexual identified as exclusively graysexual or straight, followed by queer (16.6%), bisexual (12.5%), pansexual (11.2%), other (3.1%), lesbian (3%), and gay (2.8%). So you might be graysexual and queer, or graysexual and straight, or you might simply identify as graysexual and choose not to label yourself any further.

Do people who are graysexual experience romantic feelings?

Someone who identifies as graysexual may also have any romantic orientation, because sexual and romantic identities aren't necessarily linked. And there are almost as many types of romantic orientations as there are sexual orientations.

For example, a person could identify as graysexual and aromantic (experiences little to no romantic attraction to anybody, regardless of gender); grayromantic (experiencing romantic attraction infrequently); demiromantic (experiencing romantic attraction infrequently, and only after developing a strong emotional connection to somebody); or heteroromantic (experiencing romantic attraction only to people of a different gender).

Embracing a graysexual identity

Like most sexual identities, graysexuality isn't widely discussed or accepted as being "normal." This can make coming out as graysexual challenging and scary. Beverly D Buchanan, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Minnesota, advises taking a small step, getting comfortable, then taking another small step.

"For the more introverted individual, I would suggest they read and process and then read some more. A lot of people will tell them to 'get out there' and 'find their people,' but that is very daunting when they feel like they are a unicorn in a world of horses," Buchanan tells Health. "It's easier to 'get out there' once you have enough information to feel secure in your identity, or at least secure enough to talk about your struggle with or curiosity about your identity."

The next step is looking for ways to connect with other graysexual people, such as on social media or online forums. AVEN is inclusive of graysexual folks; the group has an entire forum called The Gray Area, Sex, and Related Discussions, where members can discuss topics and experiences in the gray area.

If you're a more extroverted type, you may need to jump straight to the meet-up section of the forum to feel connected and recharge with others, Buchanan says.

Navigating a graysexual relationship

If you identify as graysexual and are in a relationship with somebody who is at the other end of the asexual-sexual spectrum, communication is crucial, Buchanan says. Try to have honest conversations about how often you both need/want to have sex, and discuss activities that may be satisfying alternatives to sex, like cuddling or massage.

As a therapist who has specialized in couples work, Missouri-based counselor Molly Lyons has seen that even in couples who are highly matched, small differences when it comes to romantic and sexual needs can have a large impact over time. "Every couple I have met has had some difference in their sexual preferences and needs and that can have a large impact if not discussed intentionally," she tells Health. "The key to managing conflict is constantly talking, making compromises and negotiations, and validating and empathizing with your partner."

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