Asexuality and Why does it Matter to Everyone?

In the past few decades the acronyms for many sexuality rights groups have become more inclusive by expanding from LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) to, commonly, LGBTQIA (same plus questioning and/or queer, intersex, and allies) . Sometimes even more sexualities are included, for example, polyamory and pansexual. But how should a person who does not feel sexual attraction to anyone (neither though choice nor medical ailment) identify? The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) was founded in 2001 after a small discussion group on a Yahoo forum. Their goals: “creating public acceptance and discussion of asexuality and facilitating the growth of an asexual community” (asexuality.org). What makes this especially interesting is that “asexuality” was not an intelligible term before the websites launch . Through discussion, they defined asexuality as “someone who does not experience sexual attraction”. This is also the typically definition given in popular and academic contexts also. AVEN elaborates that “Unlike celibacy, which people choose, asexuality is an intrinsic part of who we are… There is considerable diversity among the asexual community; each asexual person experiences things like relationships, attraction, and arousal somewhat differently (AVEN, “Overview”).” Even though there were a growing number of sexualities to choose from, they all required the person to have a sexual desire for some group, and, what is now known as the asexual community, would not have been able to relate or answer honestly. Though an absence of sexual desire has been of academic interest (predominantly as pathology) and with occasional traces in popular culture for some time, interest has increased greatly within the past decade largely because of AVEN. (A)sexual (2011) is a documentary about AVEN, academic findings, and asexuality in general. There have been over a dozen primetime focuses on asexuality . There are numerous websites which now list asexual as a sexual orientation . There are also several websites designed specifically to help the reader assign personal meaning to asexuality as part of a sexual identity category . There have been a surge of academic articles and even a few recent or in-press books . There are even asexual dating websites . This is a lot of attention for a community with a prevalence rate of approximately 1% (Bogaert, 2004). The “not” in the definition has created controversy from academics, popular culture, the LGBT community, and even some asexuals. A debate, similar to ones in the LGBT community, wages over how one should qualify for aexuality. Should it be based on desire (kind of person they are attracted to), and, if so, does a single, isolated moment of attraction alter one’s “correct” classification for life? Some would say classification should be based on behavior [who the person has (if anyone) engaged with sexually]. Finally, some argue that sexual classification should be based on self-identification (viewing and calling oneself asexual is the only criteria needed). Put simply, would someone be considered asexual because they do not desire sex from males or females, because they have/do not engage in overtly-sexual behavior with males or females, or because they said that they are asexual? Academics seem to learn towards the desire, whereas AVEN strongly holds that self-identification is the best method. This is important to LQBTQIA discourses, which in simple terms require selecting (or being placed within) sexualities the most applicable to one’s sexual desires from a set list (heterosexuality being one). All terms require the person to be attracted to someone, so if the desire is not there, or even if it is minimal, one cannot truly consider someone to be a lesbian, gay, bisexual, strait, queer, etc. Consider the following quote from “Christine” from Scherrer (2008, 634): “I am asexual and I am not attracted by either males or females. Also, I’ve always identified myself as straight, but considering I do not really have any desire to enter a sexual or a touchy/feely relationship it is a bit of a moot point in my opinion.” An interesting, related, and somewhat common phenomenon on the AVEN blogs is when individuals state that they just learned the term “asexual”, state that they have no (sometimes little) sexual desire almost immediately, give a personal history, and then ask if the qualify. The statement of an absence of sexual desire is the only criteria AVEN requires, and the AVEN administrators often reinforce their rule that telling someone else how they should identify themselves is not allowed. Asexuality is further complicated by kinds of attraction. Instead of simplifying to only “sexual” attraction they make three additional distinctions: sensual, aesthetic, and romantic. “Sensual attraction (is) a desire to do sensual (but not sexual) things with certain people, especially relating to tactile sensuality such as cuddling.” Aesthetic attraction “is an attraction to other people that is not connected to a desire to do anything with them, either sexually or romantically.” “Romantic attraction is a feeling that causes people to desire a romantic relationship with a specific other person.” Through online discussions, the AVEN community created the following less-stringent subtypes:

There is still a great deal of research being done on the subject, as well as a number of avenues where asexual individuals and groups increasing their visibility. Treating asexual members with respect can be done through:

By Brian Richards Coordinator, Carolinas Diversity Council Lecturer, Central Piedmont Community College

Back to Articles