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What Is Asexuality?

What Asexuality Looks Like for People Who Identify as Asexual

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Updated January 02, 2010

When you hear the term asexuality you might imagine micro organisms that reproduce on their own or people who are somehow devoid of sexual energy. Asexuality certainly gets used in both cases, although when it comes to humans the way asexuality is used has been more colloquial and random than scientific or intentional. Asexuality has also tended to be used in a negative way.

Recently a new definition of asexuality has emerged; one that proposes asexuality as more like a sexual orientation than a sexual curse. According to this definition asexuality describes someone who, instead of having high sexual attraction to one gender or another, has a low attraction to all genders. Perhaps the most interesting and important things about this emerging definition of asexuality is that it is being developed by people who consider themselves asexual.

Defining Asexuality, On line

In 2001 the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network launched as a website and discussion group. The goals of the not-for-profit site were to encourage “public acceptance and discussion of asexuality” and facilitate “the growth of an asexual community.” It now has over 15,000 members from around the world many of whom contribute regularly to the site and discussion boards. While some basics are generally agreed upon, the community is diverse and not everyone experiences their asexuality the same.

One researcher has begun looking into asexuality directly. He found a British survey that asked people about their sexual attraction and gave them the option of choosing between genders or that “they have never felt sexual attraction to anyone at all”. One percent of the national probability sample chose this option.

Is Asexuality a Sexual Orientation?

Many of the people who identify themselves as asexual think it’s an orientation. Researchers, sex educators, and therapists haven’t had much to say about this (yet) because it has yet to be widely studied or even talked about.

Asexuals argue that they are marginalized because of their sexual values and beliefs just as other orientations are. They say that asexuality is an orientation because it’s primarily about who they are (or in this case are not) attracted to. It’s not that they don’t want meaningful and intimate relationships with others, rather that they don’t desire their connections and interactions to be sexual.

Aren't Asexuals Just Uncomfortable with Sex?

Before answering this question I need to point out that we can’t talk about “asexuals” as if they are all the same. It may be true that some people who consider themselves asexual are in fact struggling with their own desires and the result is that they feel no sexual desire at all. But if you talk to people who identify as asexual or read their writing, or even look at the small amount of research on the topic, the idea that this is the case for all of them seems unlikely.

It seems strange that we would come to accept all sorts of expressions of sexual desire (from heterosexual monogamists to polyamorist BDSMers) and yet not be willing to consider that some people don’t feel sexual desire toward others. It is still early going in the defining of this group and it would be interesting to better understand how people who identify themselves as asexual feel about sex in general as opposed to them having sex.

Maybe Asexuals Just Haven’t Found the “One”

This sentiment, which is common, sounds an awful lot like the heterosexist idea that all a lesbian needs is a good man (or all a gay man needs it the right woman). Of course for any individual this might be true, but to discount the experience of a group of people simply because it doesn’t fit into the way we think things “should” be is both ignorant and a little offensive. It’s also worth noting that research shows that people who are asexual do have sex. Some of them have had lots of sex. Sometimes they do it because they don’t want to lose a relationship or because early on they want to see if they will eventually like it. Regardless of the reason, it’s clear that asexuals are not simply people who can’t find sexual partners or haven’t tried sex enough.

Is Asexuality a Sexual Disorder?

There is already a label for a sexual dysfunction referring to someone who has low or no interest in sex Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD) is defined as “persistently or recurrently deficient (or absent) sexual fantasies and desire for sexual activity.” What makes asexuality different is that the diagnosis of HSDD includes individual distress over the situation. Most people who identify as asexual don’t describe distress over their situation. Instead they say they are distressed more by the reaction of others around them that causes them distress.

Sources:

Asexuality Visibility and Education Network

Bogaert, A.F. “Toward a Conceptual Understanding of Asexuality” Review of General Psychology Vol. 10, No. 3 (2006): 241–250.

Bogaert, A. F. “Asexuality: Its Prevalence and Associated Factors in a National Probability Sample” The Journal of Sex Research Vol. 41 (2004): 279–287.

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