Date First Written: October 2009; Date Last Updated: March 2010
In today’s market, advertisements use sexuality to sell everything from clothing to cars and from bath products to food produce. It can be found in literally just about anywhere at many given time to one degree or another. The use of natural sexual attraction is so common, in fact, sometimes we don’t even realized it overtly. Most Americans would agree that today’s society and culture is quite literally obsessed with sex and things of a sexual nature. In the same turn most of mainstream society in America would find it hard to believe that there is a small part of the population that is not interested in the same sex craze as general, mainstream part of American or even global society. These people call themselves asexuals.
Asexuality is considered by some to be a naturally occurring sexual orientation in which a person does not experience any sexual attraction toward any gender and/or does not experience sexual drive at all. Some asexuals may or may not have a low or virtually non-existent sex drive or libido, though the exact presence or absence of a person’s desire for sexual intercourse is not considered by some who try to define asexuality as a pivotal point. On the other hand, some people believe that asexuality and the lack of sexual attraction or sex drive to be solely be caused by some form of trauma at an early age or even a lack of a certain hormones, and that it is not a valid sexual orientation. Some even suggest that asexuality might be or even is mental illness of some sort which should be treated accordingly as such. Others simply believe that asexuals are just ashamed of their actual sexuality, or are simply “late bloomers” who will sooner or later becoming sexually interested in one gender or another (Childs; Fulbright).
Just as people can have a very high sex drive, it is also possible for people to have a very low or even no sex drive at all. Sexuality is a very fluid thing, and just because a percentage of the population deviates from the average of most of the rest of society does not automatically mean there is something fundamentally wrong with those who stand outside the standard norm. The same is true for those who consider themselves asexual. Just because they have no interest or desire to have sexual intercourse, or sexual interest in another person does not mean that there is something sociologically, psychologically, or biologically wrong with them.
Scientific research and studies on asexuality is at present still limited, and only a few studies have been made and published as of yet. In fact, the subject of asexuality and the nature of it has only just begun to be explored by psychologists and scientists over the past few recent decades and even more so in the last five years. Asexuality among the scientific community is still so new, in fact, that there is even a debate still going on if asexuality should be considered a sexual orientation or if it should be considered a mental or biological condition of some sort(Fulbright). There are many human sexuality experts from around the world who have never even heard of the concept of asexuality, though many of them are not surprised in the least that such people would exist in the first place (Duenwald, Fulbright). The now retired director of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at the Indiana University, Dr. John Bancroft once even stated that he thought it would be very surprising if there were not any asexuals in the world noting that from the view of the idea of the Kinsey scale, there is a large range of variation when it comes to human sexuality (Duenwald). However, some human sexuality experts refute the idea of anyone possibly being asexual without there being any underlying causes either biologically or mentally (Fulbright).
Many of the studies into asexuality have thus far been conducted by a psychologist and human sexuality expert from Brock University by the name of Anthony Bogaert. Anthony Bogaert’s work and studies on asexuality is well known primarily because there had been no such studies into asexuality before to its degree ("Study: One”). One of Anthony Bogaert’s most quoted and known studies on asexuality have been published in the 2004 issue of The Journal of Sex Research. During the study, Bogaert found that one out of every hundred people, of 18,000 people in Britain for which the study took place, agreed with the statement that "I have never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all." (“Asexuality: Its Prevalence”). This statistic has grown to be one of the most widely used case in point for the existence of people who could be labeled as asexual in many news articles and journals ever sense its publication.
During Anthony Bogaert’s study he also found that people who considered themselves to be asexual could be put into one of two different groups. In Bogaert’s view some asexuals are romantically attracted to a particular gender, but they are not interested in actual sexual intercourse; other asexuals are not attracted to any gender, and are also not interested in sexual intercourse. Bogaert also found that of the people who considered themselves asexual, 33 percent of them were in some kind of long-term relationship (Bridgeman).
In resent years, asexuality has become more and more known in certain parts of mass media. Asexuality is beginning to become mentioned in school textbooks such as the college textbook Sociology by Linda Gerber and John J. Macionis. Asexuality was also described in the book Exploring the Dimensions of Human Sexuality, giving a brief overview of statistics concerning asexuality and mentioning the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network. (Greenberg, 440). Asexuality has even made its way onto mainstream television by way of a character by the name of Gerald Tippett, who describes himself as asexual on a New Zealand medical soap opera entitled Shortland Street.
While the subject of asexuality has yet to really become a big topic of study for researchers and scientists, asexuality has slowly over the years become somewhat of a topic of interest among news agencies and newspapers (O’Donnell). Even big name news agencies such as ABC, CNN, and FOX News have all brought up asexuality at various points over the years on their television programs, newspapers, and online articles. It even appeared as a topic twice on ABC’s primetime show 20/20; once on March 24, 2006 and the other on September 5, 2006, in which several members of AVEN talked about their asexuality openly on camera.
AVEN, or Asexual Visibility and Education Network, is one of the if not the largest online community dedicated for asexuals and information about asexuality. The founder of AVEN is 27 year old San Francisco resident David Jay, who is certainty one of the leading activists on asexuality gaining acceptance and understanding in society at large. AVEN centers around an internet forum were asexuals and people curious about asexuality can engage in discussions about asexuality and topics surrounding it. And while the site is prudently geared toward English-speaking users normally based in the US, the site has even grown to the extent that multiple sub-forums have been created specifically for non-English speaking users outside the US. Several countries this includes, but is not limited to Spanish speaking continues, French, Italian, and a host of other languages.
Within the asexual community, both online and in real-life, a host of terms and phrases have been created and taken hold as everyday community terms to better understand and describe various facets of the users asexuality. Just as a hetrosexual can be called ‘straight’ and a homosexual can be called ‘gay/lesbian,’ asexuals have come to called ‘ace’ for short both inside and outside the asexual community. Also, over the years the asexual community has created several terms for subcategories to help asexuals define those who, while not interested in sexual intercourse, may still be interested in romantic relationships. The word, heteroromantic in the asexual community has come to mean an asexual whose romantic attraction is towards persons of the opposite sex. There is also homoromantic, meaning romantic attraction towards persons of the same sex, biromantic, romantic attraction towards persons of either sex, and panromantic, romantic attraction towards people of any gender or even lack of gender. Finally there are asexual who are aromantic, and lack of romantic attraction towards anyone of either sex, and/or are not interested in romantic relations with anyone regardless of their sex or gender. These similar distinctions were also noted by in Anthony Bogaert’s study, as mentioned earlier.
Because little research has been done in detail into asexuality, the prevalence of one romantic attraction over others is not scientifically known. However, the forum of AVEN holds host to numerous polls for its members to respond to, and while the polls are not scientifically validated they still do help shed light on its general prevalence within AVEN itself. As of March 28, 2010, 645 members have responded to the poll asking “What is your ROMANTIC orientation?,” 240 members (or 37.04% out of a 100%) stated that they were hetero-romantic, 42 members (or 6.48%) stated they were homo-romantic, 108 members (16.67%) considered themselves bi-romantic, 92 members (14.20%) called themselves pan-romantic, and 120 members (18.52%) were a-romantic. The remaining percent was taken up by the options “Other” (32 members for 4.94%) and “Changing” (14 votes for 2.16%).
One common misconception people get when they first hear about asexuality is that asexuality is similar to celibacy. Asexuality is not the same as celibacy. Celibacy is the conscious decision to abstain and refrain from sexual intercourse for a decided period of time, while asexuality is when someone has no desire for sex or does not experience sexual attraction (Fulbright). Even the author of the book A History of Celibacy, Dr. Elizabeth Abbot recognized the difference between asexuality and celibacy. Elizabeth Abbott, dean of women at U of T's Trinity College during an interview about asexuality even stated, “I definitely think that someone can be born with a very low or non-existent sexual drive in the same way that someone can be born with a very high sex drive.” Abbott later when on to argue that there was no “‘normal’ human range of sexual interest or sexuality” (qtd. in Rynor).
In the 1990s, a rarely publicized studies by the US Sheep Experiment Station on sheep involving three different teams did a study on the partner preferences of sexually mature rams. They found that while the majority of the rams showed only interest in the female ewes and mated solely with them, ten percent of the rams did not. The researchers found that seven percent of the ten percent of male rams who did not have any interest in the ewes were instead only interested in other rams. The remaining three of the ten percent showed absolutely no interest in either males or females. Fredrick Stormshak, who was a part of the study noted, “They have no interest whatsoever in mating. They appear to be 100% asexual.” A year after the first tests on rams was conducted, the experiments were done again with the same results. Studies such as these, while somewhat controversial when they are used in comparison with humans, certainly does still reveal some insight into asexuality or even simply sexual preference as a whole, and how it might be a natural phenomena among different species (qtd. in Westphal).
One of the greatest obstacles for people labeling themselves asexual, is that often after coming out to others around them, one statement that asexuals hear over and over again by family member and friends when they come out about their lack of interest in sex is that they “just have not met the right guy yet”, or “just have not met the right girl yet” (Mar). David Jay, the founder of AVEN once noted while talking about trying to spread the word about asexuality in an article for MTV that, “We [the asexual community] don't have people who are physically attacking us the way that gay people have for a long time, thankfully. We just have people that are telling us that asexuality doesn't exist" (qtd. in Mar).
Other asexuals are often simply told that they are just “late bloomers,” and that they will grow out of their phase and will become attracted to opposite sex (Westphal). During Anthony Bogaert’s study “Asexuality: Prevalence and Associated Factors in a National Probability Sample,” he noted that many people in today’s society in general begin to become aware of their particular sexual preference by about the age of 10 years old in some sense. Bogaert went on to state that while awareness of sexual preferences may be delayed because of various environmental factors, extremely delayed awareness long past puberty is extremely rare. Although it is possible someone can simply be a “late bloomer” of sorts when it comes to becoming sexually attracted to other people and having a desire for sexual intercourse, the growing number of people who identity as asexual cannot be solely be explained away as all being late bloomers. While a fair number of asexuals being interviewed by various news agencies, as well as the asexuals who a part of AVEN are people in the range of 19 to 28 the likelihood of someone of that age range suddenly becoming sexually attracted to other people after years of sexual maturity is highly unlikely (Bogaert “Asexuality: Prevalence”).
The fact that some people who have heard of asexuality simply consider described asexuals to be denying or hiding their true sexual urges, feelings, or desires for one reason or another is another problem some asexuals face while trying to come out to the public (Fulbright). In a magazine from the National Religious Vocation Conference in the US called Vision 2002, there was an article titled "Eight myths about religious life." In the article it states: “Question: what do you call a person who is asexual? Answer: Not a person. Asexual people do not exist. Sexuality is a gift from God and thus a fundamental part of our human identity” (qtd. in Westphal). Some people such as Ian Kerner, a sex therapist, believe asexuals simply use asexuality as an excuse as a way of concealing their true sexuality, or even feelings about bad or even traumatic sexually related experiences from somewhere in their past (Friedman). Others believe asexuals have an aversion and repulsion for sex because they were brought up in overly religious or strict families were they were taught about sexuality and sexual acts with strictly negative connotations. Though, as already stated, current detailed studies and surveys are limited, the studies thus far have not found any link between religious background and upbringing to people being asexual in their adult life. Studies have also failed to find a link between traumatic, either sexual or otherwise, that might lead to someone being asexual as an adult (Bogaert “Asexuality: Prevalence”).
Skeptics of the existence of asexuality sometimes note that a fair number of asexuals themselves have never had sex in their whole life. Joy Davidson, a sex therapist, when interviewed by ABC News about asexuality, stated that, in regards to asexuals who have never had sex, “Saying you don't miss it is like someone in a sense who's colorblind saying, ‘I don't miss color.’ Of course, you don't miss what you've never had” (qtd. in “Sexless and Proud”). The problem with this line of thinking is that someone does not have to have sex with a particular gender to know that they are, or in this case, are not attracted to. A homosexual man does not have to have same-sex intercourse to know that he is attracted to men and not women (Cox). A self described asexual by the name of Ivy once stated after someone told her she can’t dislike sex until she had tried it, “I'm as sure that I don't feel the attraction as any heterosexual person can be said to be sure they aren't interested in homosexual relationships. By that logic, they'd all have to try gay sex before they could say they didn't like it” (Jennings). Also many asexuals who have never had sex state that they do not have sexual intercourse because they are uninterested in the act, and they do not state that they have any aversion or dislike of the act of sexual intercourse. Many asexuals interviewed and surveyed in various studies have noted that they do not engage in sexual activates because they have no desire or drive to engage in such activates (Duenwald, Bridgeman).
Some people criticize the idea of asexuality noting that some people who call themselves asexual masturbate on occasion. Robyn Salisbury, a clinical psychologist, noted that someone who labeled themselves asexual and still masturbated was auto-erotic and/or autosexual and not asexual (Bridgeman; Roy). Bogaert, however, noted in one of his papers that some asexuals do experience some small amount of sexual desire but for some reason or another their minds do not seem to direct those desires onto anything or anyone, and so they satisfy their desires through masturbation (“Toward a Conceptual Understanding”). Paul Cox, a 24 year old asexual who is married to another asexual, once wrote an article for the Guardian explaining that, for him, masturbation had nothing do with sexual desires or urges and that instead it was something biological. He stated that he never fantasized, and that he found no connection between masturbation and his sexual orientation, or in his case, lack of sexual orientation. Cox went on to say finally that he felt no connection between his body’s natural processes with a desire to have sex with another person.
Asexuality has yet to come into any known true conflict with any religious originations or groups as being against their teachings, but because asexuality is little known to most of mainstream society it is unknown if asexuality will come into conflict with religious doctrines later on as it because more known. Some religions, such as some denominations of Christianity, tend to emphasis on "purity" and virginity of the body, but on the other hand some of the same religions also teach that might it is “God’s will” to procreate and have many children. (Genesis 1:28 KJV?) While some religions sometimes teach that celibacy or abstinence is best way to go about their natural human sexuality, because asexuality is not the same thing as celibacy it is hard to determine how certain religious and spiritual view points may clash with what asexuals view as what is normal for them.
From a biological standpoint, asexuality is explained by some as simply being caused by a low amount of certain hormones or certain electrical signals from the brain which cause a low or poor sex drive (Roy; Fulbright). A study by the Kinsey Institute in 2007, found that asexuals who took part in the study “reported significantly lower sexual arousability than non-asexuals” as well as having less of a desire or urge to have sex with a partner than non-asexuals (Fulbright). The concern that something might be biologically wrong with them has led some asexuals to seek medical advice, but one asexual interviewed stated that after numerous tests, no biological abnormalities were found (“Sexless and Proud”; Bridgeman).
Another common obstacle asexuals face when coming out with their sexuality, or in their case lack of sexuality, is trying to get people to believe that there is not something biologically or psychologically wrong with them which must be treated (Westphal). From a psychological and disorder standpoint, asexuality is sometimes associated with several mental illnesses, including Sexual Aversion Disorder and Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (Bogaert “Toward a Conceptual Understanding”). Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder, is defined as a sexual dysfunction in which a person does not experience any desire for sex, and even has an aversion to sexual intercourse (“Asexual Behavior”). Under the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), asexuals could easily be labeled with any of these such disorders (Mangus).
The problem lies in the fact that labeling someone as having a disorder leads to the conclusion that there is a problem which needs to be fixed so that the person can lead a happy and healthy life (Westphal). The problem with this is that many of the asexuals interviewed and surveyed in various studies thus far generally lead happy and healthy lives in the same way that non-asexuals do. The very definition of a disorder is a mental abnormality which causes hindrance and/or harm in a person’s life or the people around them. Even Dr. Irwin Goldstein, the director of the Center for Sexual Medicine at Boston University, whose majority of patients go to him because of their lack of a sex drive stated that the lack of sexual desire or drive does not specifically mean that a person has a problem or a disorder like H.S.D.D.. Dr. Goldstein asserted that it only becomes a disorder if it caused problems in the person’s relationship or daily life (Duenwald). The nature of what asexuality is for those who describe themselves with it and what the general idea of what a disorder is thereby does not match (Roy; Bogaert “Toward a Conceptual Understanding”; Westphal).
Another problem with labeling asexuals with disorders such as Sexual Aversion Disorder is that not all asexuals have an aversion or repulsion toward sex or sexual acts. Some asexuals interviewed by various news agencies and studies noted that they still from time to time engaged in sexual acts especially if they were in a relationship with someone who was not asexual (Fulbright; Cox). Many of them stated that while they were not interested in the act of sexual intercourse themselves, their non-asexual partners still were (Bridgeman; Cox). Another poll done by AVEN, again while there is no scientific backing, asked a question on this matter asking its members “Repulsed-A or Indifferent-A?” As of February 3, 426 members (28.12%) agreed with the statement “Repulsed-asexual: I find sex and all sexual things to be absolutely disgusting” while 1089 members (71.89%) agreed with the statement “Indifferent-asexual: Enh, whatever floats their boat. I'm not disgusted, just not interested.”
While asexuality has only begun to be researched and studied, it seems that the nature of asexuality is a lot more complex than it simply being one thing or another. The fact that someone is asexual does not mean that there is “something wrong” with them. Bogaert himself in his paper entitled “Toward a Conceptual Understanding of Asexuality” stated that asexuality should be considered a sexual orientation, because it is a means for those who use it to identify and label a major part of their sexuality. Over recent years, studies into human sexuality have revealed much even though a lot still remains to be understood. Science and research into sexuality in general has continued to bring up mix and even contradictive results about the possible reasons and causes for any sexual preference or orientation. It is hard to say if science will ever begin to unravel the nature verses nurture aspect of human sexuality. What these studies do seem to indicate is that human sexuality is a complex and wide ranging part of human life and behavior. It can be easily argued that human sexuality and sexual behavior is an important part of our society and culture, but that does not mean that those who find themselves outside the average range for most of society are outside the range which is healthy. Asexuality and those who define themselves as asexual are simply another part of the spectrum of human sexuality.
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