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Asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction to others, or low or absent interest in or desire for sexual activity. It may be considered a sexual orientation or the lack thereof. It may also be categorized more widely to include a broad spectrum of asexual sub-identities.
Asexuality is distinct from abstention from sexual activity and from celibacy, which are behavioral and generally motivated by factors such as an individual's personal, social, or religious beliefs. Sexual orientation, unlike sexual behavior, is believed to be "enduring". Some asexual people engage in sexual activity despite lacking sexual attraction or a desire for sex, due to a variety of reasons, such as a desire to pleasure themselves or romantic partners, or a desire to have children.
Acceptance of asexuality as a sexual orientation and field of scientific research is still relatively new, as a growing body of research from both sociological and psychological perspectives has begun to develop. While some researchers assert that asexuality is a sexual orientation, other researchers disagree.
Various asexual communities have started to form since the advent of the Internet and social media. The most prolific and well-known of these communities is the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, which was founded in 2001 by David Jay.
Definition, identity and relationships
Asexuality is sometimes called ace (a phonetic shortening of "asexual"), while the community is sometimes called the ace community, by researchers or asexuals. Because there is significant variation among people who identify as asexual, asexuality can encompass broad definitions. Researchers generally define asexuality as the lack of sexual attraction or the lack of sexual interest, but their definitions vary; they may use the term "to refer to individuals with low or absent sexual desire or attractions, low or absent sexual behaviors, exclusively romantic non-sexual partnerships, or a combination of both absent sexual desires and behaviors". Self-identification as asexual may also be a determining factor.
The Asexual Visibility and Education Network defines an asexual as "someone who does not experience sexual attraction" and stated, "[a]nother small minority will think of themselves as asexual for a brief period of time while exploring and questioning their own sexuality" and that "[t]here is no litmus test to determine if someone is asexual. Asexuality is like any other identity – at its core, it's just a word that people use to help figure themselves out. If at any point someone finds the word asexual useful to describe themselves, we encourage them to use it for as long as it makes sense to do so."
Asexual people, though lacking sexual attraction to any gender, might engage in purely romantic relationships, while others might not. There are asexual-identified individuals who report that they feel sexual attraction but not the inclination to act on it because they have no true desire or need to engage in sexual or non-sexual activity (cuddling, hand-holding, etc.), while other asexuals engage in cuddling or other non-sexual physical activity. Some asexuals participate in sexual activity out of curiosity. Some may masturbate as a solitary form of release, while others do not feel a need to do so.
With regard to sexual activity in particular, the need or desire for masturbation is commonly referred to as sex drive by asexuals and they disassociate it from sexual attraction and being sexual; asexuals who masturbate generally consider it to be a normal product of the human body and not a sign of latent sexuality, and may not even find it pleasurable. Some asexual men are unable to get an erection and sexual activity by attempting penetration is impossible for them. Asexuals also differ in their feelings toward performing sex acts: some are indifferent and may have sex for the benefit of a romantic partner; others are more strongly averse to the idea, though they do not typically dislike people for having sex.
Many people who identify as asexual also identify with other labels. These other identities include how they define their gender and their romantic orientation. They will oftentimes integrate these characteristics into a greater label that they identify with. Regarding romantic or emotional aspects of sexual orientation or sexual identity, for example, asexuals may identify as heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, or by the following terms to indicate that they associate with the romantic, rather than sexual, aspects of sexual orientation:
- aromantic; lack of romantic attraction towards anyone
- biromantic; by analogy to bisexual
- heteroromantic; by analogy to heterosexual
- homoromantic; by analogy to homosexual
- panromantic; by analogy to pansexual
People may also identify as a gray-A (such as a gray-romantic, demiromantic, demisexual or semisexual) because they feel that they are between being aromantic and non-aromantic, or between asexuality and sexual attraction. While the term gray-A may cover anyone who occasionally feels romantic or sexual attraction, demisexuals or semisexuals experience sexual attraction only as a secondary component, feeling sexual attraction once a reasonably stable or large emotional connection has been created.
Other unique words and phrases used in the asexual community to elaborate identities and relationships also exist. One term coined by individuals in the asexual community is friend-focused, which refers to highly valued, non-romantic relationships. Other terms include squishes and zucchinis, which are non-romantic crushes and queer-platonic relationships, respectively. Terms such as non-asexual and allosexual are used to refer to individuals on the opposite side of the sexuality spectrum. Some asexuals use ace playing card suits as identities of their romantic orientation, such as the ace of spades for aromanticism and the ace of hearts for non-aromanticism.
Asexuality is not a new aspect of human sexuality, but it is relatively new to public discourse. In comparison to other sexualites, asexuality has received little attention from the scientific community, with quantitative infomation pertaining to the prevalence of asexuality low in numbers. S. E. Smith of The Guardian is not sure asexuality has actually increased, rather leaning towards the belief that it is simply more visible. Alfred Kinsey rated individuals from 0 to 6 according to their sexual orientation from heterosexual to homosexual, known as the Kinsey scale. He also included a category he called "X" for individuals with "no socio-sexual contacts or reactions." Although, in modern times, this is categorized as representing asexuality, scholar Justin J. Lehmiller stated, "the Kinsey X classification emphasized a lack of sexual behavior, whereas the modern definition of asexuality emphasizes a lack of sexual attraction. As such, the Kinsey Scale may not be sufficient for accurate classification of asexuality." Kinsey labeled 1.5% of the adult male population as X. In his second book, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, he reported this breakdown of individuals who are X: unmarried females = 14–19%, married females = 1–3%, previously married females = 5–8%, unmarried males = 3–4%, married males = 0%, and previously married males = 1–2%.
Further empirical data about an asexual demographic appeared in 1994, when a research team in the United Kingdom carried out a comprehensive survey of 18,876 British residents, spurred by the need for sexual information in the wake of the AIDS pandemic. The survey included a question on sexual attraction, to which 1.05% of the respondents replied that they had "never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all". The study of this phenomenon was continued by Canadian sexuality researcher Anthony Bogaert in 2004, who explored the asexual demographic in a series of studies. Bogaert's research indicated that 1% of the British population does not experience sexual attraction, but he believed that the 1% figure was not an accurate reflection of the likely much larger percentage of the population that could be identified as asexual, noting that 30% of people contacted for the initial survey chose not to participate in the survey. Since less sexually experienced people are more likely to refuse to participate in studies about sexuality, and asexuals tend to be less sexually experienced than sexuals, it is likely that asexuals were under-represented in the responding participants. The same study found the number of homosexuals and bisexuals combined to be about 1.1% of the population, which is much smaller than other studies indicate.
Contrasting Bogaert's 1% figure, a study by Aicken et al., published in 2013, suggests that, based on Natsal-2 data from 2000-2001, the prevalence of asexuality in Britain is only 0.4% for the age range 16–44. This percentage indicates a decrease from the 0.9% figure determined from the Natsal-1 data collected on the same age-range a decade earlier. A 2015 analysis by Bogaert also found a similar decline between the Natsal-1 and Natsal-2 data. Aicken, Mercer, and Cassell found some evidence of ethnic differences among respondents who had not experienced sexual attraction; both men and women of Indian and Pakistani origin had a higher likelihood of reporting a lack of sexual attraction.
In a survey conducted by YouGov in 2015, 1,632 British adults were asked to try to place themselves on the Kinsey scale. 1% of participants answered "No sexuality". The breakdown of participants was 0% men, 2% women; 1% across all age ranges.
Sexual orientation, mental health and cause
There is significant debate over whether or not asexuality is a sexual orientation. It has been compared and equated with hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), in that both imply a general lack of sexual attraction to anyone; HSDD has been used to medicalize asexuality, but asexuality is generally not considered a disorder or a sexual dysfunction (such as anorgasmia, anhedonia, etc.), because it does not necessarily define someone as having a medical problem or problems relating to others socially. Unlike people with HSDD, asexual people normally do not experience "marked distress" and "interpersonal difficulty" concerning feelings about their sexuality, or generally a lack of sexual arousal; asexuality is considered the lack or absence of sexual attraction as a life-enduring characteristic. One study found that, compared to HSDD subjects, asexuals reported lower levels of sexual desire, sexual experience, sex-related distress and depressive symptoms. Researchers Richards and Barker report that asexuals do not have disproportionate rates of alexithymia, depression, or personality disorders. Some people, however, may identify as asexual even if their non-sexual state is explained by one or more of the aforementioned disorders.
The first study that gave empirical data about asexuals was published in 1983 by Paula Nurius, concerning the relationship between sexual orientation and mental health. 689 subjects—most of whom were students at various universities in the United States taking psychology or sociology classes—were given several surveys, including four clinical well-being scales. Results showed that asexuals were more likely to have low self-esteem and more likely to be depressed than members of other sexual orientations; 25.88% of heterosexuals, 26.54% bisexuals (called "ambisexuals"), 29.88% of homosexuals, and 33.57% of asexuals were reported to have problems with self-esteem. A similar trend existed for depression. Nurius did not believe that firm conclusions can be drawn from this for a variety of reasons.
In a 2013 study, Yule et al. looked into mental health variances between Caucasian heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals, and asexuals. The results of 203 male and 603 female participants were included in the findings. Yule et al. found that asexual male participants were more likely to report having a mood disorder than other males, particularly in comparison to the heterosexual participants. The same was found for female asexual participants over their heterosexual counterparts; however, non-asexual, non-heterosexual females had the highest rates. Asexual participants of both sexes were more likely to have anxiety disorders than heterosexual and non-heterosexual participants, as were they more likely than heterosexual participants to report having had recent suicidal feelings. Yule et al. hypothesized that some of these differences may be due to discrimination and other societal factors.
With regard to sexual orientation categories, asexuality may be argued as not being a meaningful category to add to the continuum, and instead argued as the lack of a sexual orientation or sexuality. Other arguments propose that asexuality is the denial of one's natural sexuality, and that it is a disorder caused by shame of sexuality, anxiety or sexual abuse, sometimes basing this belief on asexuals who masturbate or occasionally engage in sexual activity simply to please a romantic partner. Within the context of sexual orientation identity politics, asexuality may pragmatically fulfill the political function of a sexual orientation identity category.
The suggestion that asexuality is a sexual dysfunction is controversial among the asexual community. Those who identify as asexual usually prefer it to be recognized as a sexual orientation. Scholars who argue that asexuality is a sexual orientation may point to the existence of different sexual preferences. They and many asexual people believe that the lack of sexual attraction is valid enough to be categorized as a sexual orientation. The researchers argue that asexuals do not choose to have no sexual desire, and generally start to find out their differences in sexual behaviors around adolescence. Because of these facts coming to light, it is reasoned that asexuality is more than a behavioral choice and is not something that can be cured like a disorder. There is also analysis on whether identifying as asexual is becoming more popular.
Research on the etiology of sexual orientation when applied to asexuality has the definitional problem of sexual orientation not consistently being defined by researchers as including asexuality. Sexual orientation is defined as "enduring" and resistant to change, proving to be generally impervious to interventions intended to change it, and asexuality may be defined as a sexual orientation because it is enduring and consistent over time. While heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality are usually, but not always, determined during the early years of preadolescent life, it is not known when asexuality is determined. "It is unclear whether these characteristics [viz., "lacking interest in or desire for sex"] are thought to be lifelong, or if they may be acquired."
Sexual activity and sexuality
While some asexuals masturbate as a solitary form of release or have sex for the benefit of a romantic partner, others do not (see above). Fischer et al. reported that "scholars who study the physiology around asexuality suggest that people who are asexual are capable of genital arousal but may experience difficulty with so-called subjective arousal." This means that "while the body becomes aroused, subjectively – at the level of the mind and emotions – one does not experience arousal".
The Kinsey Institute sponsored another small survey on the topic in 2007, which found that self-identified asexuals "reported significantly less desire for sex with a partner, lower sexual arousability, and lower sexual excitation but did not differ consistently from non-asexuals in their sexual inhibition scores or their desire to masturbate".
A 1977 paper titled Asexual and Autoerotic Women: Two Invisible Groups, by Myra T. Johnson, is explicitly devoted to asexuality in humans. Johnson defines asexuals as those men and women "who, regardless of physical or emotional condition, actual sexual history, and marital status or ideological orientation, seem to prefer not to engage in sexual activity." She contrasts autoerotic women with asexual women: "The asexual woman ... has no sexual desires at all [but] the autoerotic woman ... recognizes such desires but prefers to satisfy them alone." Johnson's evidence is mostly letters to the editor found in women's magazines written by asexual/autoerotic women. She portrays them as invisible, "oppressed by a consensus that they are non-existent," and left behind by both the sexual revolution and the feminist movement. Johnson argued that society either ignores or denies their existence or insists they must be ascetic for religious reasons, neurotic, or asexual for political reasons.
In a study published in 1979 in volume five of Advances in the Study of Affect, as well as in another article using the same data and published in 1980 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Michael D. Storms of the University of Kansas outlined his own reimagining of the Kinsey scale. Whereas Kinsey measured sexual orientation based on a combination of actual sexual behavior and fantasizing and eroticism, Storms used only fantasizing and eroticism. Storms, however, placed hetero-eroticism and homo-eroticism on separate axes rather than at two ends of a single scale; this allows for a distinction between bisexuality (exhibiting both hetero- and homo-eroticism in degrees comparable to hetero- or homosexuals, respectively) and asexuality (exhibiting a level of homo-eroticism comparable to a heterosexual and a level of hetero-eroticism comparable to a homosexual, namely, little to none). This type of scale accounted for asexuality for the first time. Storms conjectured that many researchers following Kinsey's model could be mis-categorizing asexual subjects as bisexual, because both were simply defined by a lack of preference for gender in sexual partners.
In a 1983 study by Paula Nurius, which included 689 subjects (most of whom were students at various universities in the United States taking psychology or sociology classes), the two-dimensional fantasizing and eroticism scale was used to measure sexual orientation. Based on the results, respondents were given a score ranging from 0 to 100 for hetero-eroticism and from 0 to 100 for homo-eroticism. Respondents who scored lower than 10 on both were labeled "asexual". This consisted of 5% of the males and 10% of the females. Results showed that asexuals reported much lower frequency and desired frequency of a variety of sexual activities including having multiple partners, anal sexual activities, having sexual encounters in a variety of locations, and autoerotic activities.
A 2010 paper written by Karli June Cerankowski and Megan Milks, titled New Orientations: Asexuality and Its Implications for Theory and Practice, suggests that asexuality may be somewhat of a question in itself for the studies of gender and sexuality. Cerankowski and Milks have suggested that asexuality raises many more questions than it resolves, such as how a person could abstain from having sex, which is generally accepted by society to be the most basic of instincts. Their New Orientations paper states that society has deemed "[LGBT and] female sexuality as empowered or repressed. The asexual movement challenges that assumption by challenging many of the basic tenets of pro-sex feminism [in which it is] already defined as repressive or anti-sex sexualities." In addition to accepting self-identification as asexual, the Asexual Visibility and Education Network has formulated asexuality as a biologically determined orientation. This formula, if dissected scientifically and proven, would support researcher Simon LeVay's blind study of the hypothalamus in gay men, women, and straight men, which indicates that there is a biological difference between straight men and gay men.
In 2014, Cerankowski and Milks edited and published Asexualities: Feminist and Queer Perspectives, a collection of essays intended to explore the politics of asexuality from a feminist and queer perspective. It is broken into the introduction and then six parts: Theorizing Asexuality: New Orientations; The Politics of Asexuality; Visualizing Asexuality in Media Culture; Asexuality and Masculinity; Health, Disability, and Medicalization; and Reading Asexually: Asexual Literary Theory. Each part contains two to three papers on a given aspect of asexuality research. One such paper is written by Ela Przybylo, another name that is becoming common in asexual scholarly literature. Her article, with regard to the Cerankowski and Milks anthology, focuses on accounts by self-identified male asexuals, with a particular focus on the pressures men experience towards having sex in dominant Western discourse and media. Three men living in Southern Ontario, Canada, were interviewed in 2011, and Przybylo admits that the small sample-size means that her findings cannot be generalized to a greater population in terms of representation, and that they are "exploratory and provisional", especially in a field that is still lacking in theorizations. All three interviewees addressed being affected by the stereotype that men have to enjoy and want sex in order to be "real men".
Another of Przybylo's works, Asexuality and the Feminist Politics of "Not Doing It", published in 2011, takes a feminist lens to scientific writings on asexuality. Pryzyblo argues that asexuality is made possible only through the Western context of "sexual, coital, and heterosexual imperatives". She addresses earlier works by Dana Densmore, Valerie Solanas, and Breanne Fahs, who argued for "asexuality and celibacy" as radical feminist political strategies against patriarchy. While Przybylo does make some distinctions between asexuality and celibacy, she considers blurring the lines between the two to be productive for a feminist understanding of the topic. In her 2013 article, "Producing Facts: Empirical Asexuality and the Scientific Study of Sex", Przybylo distinguishes between two different stages of asexual research: that of the late 1970s to the early 1990s, which often included a very limited understanding of asexuality, and the more recent revisiting of the subject which she says began with Bogaert's 2004 study and has popularized the subject and made it more "culturally visible". In this article, Przybylo once again asserts the understanding of asexuality as a cultural phenomenon, and continues to be critical of its scientific study.
CJ DeLuzio Chasin states in Reconsidering Asexuality and Its Radical Potential that academic research on asexuality "has positioned asexuality in line with essentialist discourses of sexual orientation" which is troublesome as it creates a binary between asexuals and persons who have been subjected to psychiatric intervention for disorders such as Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder. Chasin says that this binary implies that all asexuals experience a lifelong (hence, enduring) lack of sexual attraction, that all non-asexuals who experience a lack of sexual desire experience distress over it, and that it pathologizes asexuals who do experience such distress. As Chasin says such diagnoses as HSDD act to medicalize and govern women's sexuality, the article aims to "unpack" problematic definitions of asexuality that are harmful to both asexuals and women alike. Chasin states that asexuality has the power to challenge commonplace discourse of the naturalness of sexuality, but that the unquestioned acceptance of its current definition does not allow for this. Chasin also argues there and elsewhere in Making Sense in and of the Asexual Community: Navigating Relationships and Identities in a Context of Resistance that it is important to interrogate why someone might be distressed about low sexual desire. Chasin further argues that clinicians have an ethical obligation to avoid treating low sexual desire per se as pathological, and to discuss asexuality as a viable possibility (where relevant) with clients presenting clinically with low sexual desire.
Intersections with race and disability
Scholar Ianna Hawkins Owen writes that "Studies of race have revealed the deployment of asexuality in the dominant discourse as an ideal sexual behavior to justify both the empowerment of whites and the subordination of blacks to uphold a racialized social and political system." This is partly due to the simultaneous sexualization and de-sexualization of black women in the Mammy archetype, as well as by how society de-sexualizes certain racial minorities, as part of a bid to claim superiority by Whites. This is co-existent with the sexualization of black female bodies in the Jezebel archetype, both utilized to justify slavery and enable further control. Owen also criticizes the "...investment in constructing asexuality upon a white racial rubric (who else can claim access to being just like everyone else?)". Eunjung Kim illuminates the intersections between disability/Crip theory and asexuality, pointing out that disabled people are more frequently de-sexualized. Kim compares the idea of frigid women to asexuality and analyzes its history from a queer/crip/feminist angle.
Bogaert's psychological work and theories
Bogaert argues that understanding asexuality is of key importance to understanding sexuality in general. For his work, Bogaert defines asexuality as "a lack of lustful inclinations/feelings directed toward others," a definition that he argues is relatively new in light of recent theory and empirical work on sexual orientation. This definition of asexuality also makes clear this distinction between behavior and desire, for both asexuality and celibacy, although Bogaert also notes that there is some evidence of reduced sexual activity for those who fit this definition. He further distinguishes between desire for others and desire for sexual stimulation, the latter of which is not always absent for those who identify as asexual, although he acknowledges that other theorists define asexuality differently and that further research needs to be done on the "complex relationship between attraction and desire". Another distinction is made between romantic and sexual attraction, and he draws on work from developmental psychology, which suggests that romantic systems derive from attachment theory while sexual systems "primarily reside in different brain structures".
Concurrent with Bogaert's suggestion that understanding asexuality will lead to a better understanding of sexuality overall, he discusses the topic of asexual masturbation to theorize on asexuals and "'target-oriented' paraphilia, in which there is an inversion, reversal, or disconnection between the self and the typical target/object of sexual interest/attraction" (such as attraction to oneself, labelled "automonosexualism").
In an earlier 2006 article, Bogaert acknowledges that a distinction between behavior and attraction has been accepted into recent conceptualizations of sexual orientation, which aids in positioning asexuality as such. He adds that, by this framework, "(subjective) sexual attraction is the psychological core of sexual orientation", and also addresses that there may be "some skepticism in [both] the academic and clinical communities" about classifying asexuality as a sexual orientation, and that it raises two objections to such a classification: First, he suggests that there could be an issue with self-reporting (i.e., "a 'perceived' or 'reported' lack of attraction", particularly for definitions of sexual orientation that consider physical arousal over subjective attraction), and, second, he raises the issue of overlap between absent and very low sexual desire, as those with an extremely low desire may still have an "underlying sexual orientation" despite potentially identifying as asexual.
An academic work dealing with the history of the asexual community is presently lacking. Although a few private sites for people with little or no sexual desire existed on the Internet in the 1990s, scholars state that a community of self-identified asexuals coalesced in the early 21st century, aided by the popularity of online communities. Volkmar Sigusch stated that "Groups such as 'Leather Spinsters' defended asexual life against the pressure of culture" and that "Geraldin van Vilsteren created the 'Nonlibidoism Society' in the Netherlands, while Yahoo offered a group for asexuals, 'Haven for the Human Amoeba.'" The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) is an organization founded by American asexuality activist David Jay in 2001 that focuses on asexuality issues. Its stated goals are "creating public acceptance and discussion of asexuality and facilitating the growth of an asexual community".
For some, being a part of a community is an important resource because they often report having felt ostracized. Although online communities exist, affiliation with online communities vary. Some question the concept of online community, while others depend on the online asexual community heavily for support. Elizabeth Abbott posits that there has always been an asexual element in the population, but that asexual people kept a low profile. While the failure to consummate marriage was seen as an insult to the sacrament of marriage in medieval Europe, and has sometimes been used as grounds for divorce or to rule a marriage void, asexuality, unlike homosexuality, has never been illegal, and it has usually gone unnoticed. However, in the 21st century, the anonymity of online communication and general popularity of social networking online has facilitated the formation of a community built around a common asexual identity.
Communities such as AVEN can be beneficial to those in search of answers to solve a crisis of identity with regard to their possible asexuality. Individuals go through a series of emotional processes that end with their identifying with the asexual community. They first realize that their sexual attractions differ from those of most of society. This difference leads to questioning whether the way they feel is acceptable, and possible reasons for why they feel this way. Pathological beliefs tend to follow, in which, in some cases, they may seek medical help because they feel they have a disease. Self-understanding is usually reached when they find a definition that matches their feelings. Asexuality communities provide support and information that allows newly identified asexuals to move from self-clarification to identifying on a communal level, which can be empowering, because they now have something to associate with, which gives normality to this overall socially-isolating situation.
Asexual organizations and other Internet resources play a key role in informing people about asexuality. The lack of research makes it difficult for doctors to understand the causation. Like with any sexual orientation, most people who are asexual are self-identified. This can be a problem when asexuality is mistaken for an intimacy or relationship problem or for other symptoms that do not define asexuality. There is also a significant population that either does not understand or does not believe in asexuality, which adds to the importance of these organizations to inform the general population; however, due to the lack of scientific fact on the subject, what these groups promote as information is often questioned.
On June 29, 2014, AVEN organized the second International Asexuality Conference, as an affiliate WorldPride event in Toronto. The first was held at the 2012 World Pride in London. The second such event, which was attended by around 250 people, was the largest gathering of asexuals to date. The conference included presentations, discussions, and workshops on topics such as research on asexuality, asexual relationships, and intersecting identities.
In 2009, AVEN members participated in the first asexual entry into an American pride parade when they walked in the San Francisco Pride Parade. In August 2010, after a period of debate over having an asexual flag and how to set up a system to create one, and contacting as many asexual communities as possible, a flag was announced as the asexual pride flag by one of the teams involved. The final flag had been a popular candidate and had previously seen use in online forums outside of AVEN. The final vote was held on a survey system outside of AVEN where the main flag creation efforts were organized. The flag colors have been used in artwork and referenced in articles about asexuality. The flag consists of four horizontal stripes: black, grey, white, and purple from top to bottom. The black stripe represents asexuality, the grey stripe representing the grey-area between sexual and asexual, the white stripe sexuality, and the purple stripe community.
Asexual Awareness Week
Asexual Awareness Week occurs on the last full week in October, and is created to celebrate and bring awareness to asexuality (including gray asexuality). It was founded by Sara Beth Brooks in 2010.
Studies have found no significant statistical correlation between religion and asexuality, with asexuality occurring with equal prevalence in both religious and irreligious individuals. Nonetheless, asexuality is not uncommon among celibate clergy, since others are more likely to be discouraged by vows of chastity. In Aicken, Mercer, and Cassell's study, a higher proportion of Muslim respondents than Christian ones reported that they did not experience any form of sexual attraction.
Because of the relatively recent application of the term asexuality, most religions do not have clear stances on it. In Matthew 19:11–12, Jesus mentions "For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others – and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs to the sake of the kingdom of heaven." Some biblical exegetes have interpreted the "eunuchs who were born that way" as including asexuals.
Christianity has traditionally revered celibacy (which is not the same as asexuality); the apostle Paul, a lifelong unmarried celibate, has been described by some writers as asexual. He writes in 1 Corinthians 7:6–9,
I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
Nonetheless, some Christians regard asexuality as imaginary or even immoral. The Jesuit priests David Nantais and Scott Opperman write: "Asexual people do not exist. Sexuality is a gift from God and thus a fundamental part of our human identity. Those who repress their sexuality are not living as God created them to be: fully alive and well. As such, they're most likely unhappy."
Discrimination and legal protections
A 2012 study published in Group Processes & Intergroup Relations reported that asexuals are evaluated more negatively in terms of prejudice, dehumanization and discrimination than other sexual minorities, such as gay men, lesbians and bisexuals. Both homosexual and heterosexual people thought of asexuals as not only cold, but also animalistic and unrestrained. A different study, however, found little evidence of serious discrimination against asexuals because of their asexuality. Asexual activist, author, and blogger Julie Decker has observed that sexual harassment and violence, such as corrective rape, commonly victimizes the asexual community. Sociologist Mark Carrigan sees a middle ground, arguing that while asexuals do often experience discrimination, it is not of a phobic nature but "more about marginalization because people genuinely don't understand asexuality."
Asexuals also face prejudice from the LGBT community. Many LGBT people assume that anyone who is not homosexual or bisexual must be straight and frequently exclude asexuals from their definitions of queer. Although many well-known organizations devoted to aiding LGBTQ communities exist, these organizations generally do not reach out to asexuals and do not provide library materials about asexuality. Upon coming out as asexual, activist Sara Beth Brooks was told by many LGBT people that asexuals are mistaken in their self-identification and seek undeserved attention within the social justice movement. Other LGBT organizations, such as The Trevor Project and The National LGBTQ Task Force, explicitly include asexuals because they are non-heterosexual and can therefore be included in the definition of queer. Some organizations now add an A to the LGBTQ acronym to include asexuals, however this is still a controversial topic in some queer organizations.
In some jurisdictions, asexuals have legal protections. While Brazil bans since 1999 whatever pathologization or attempted treatment of sexual orientation by mental health professionals through the national ethical code, the US state of New York has labeled asexuals as a protected class. However, asexuality does not typically attract the attention of the public or major scrutiny; therefore, it has not been the subject of legislation as much as other sexual orientations have.
In the media
Asexual representation in the media is limited and rarely openly acknowledged or confirmed by creators or authors. In works composed prior to the beginning of the twenty-first century, characters are generally automatically assumed to be sexual and the existence of a character's sexuality is usually never questioned. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle portrayed his character Sherlock Holmes as what would today be classified as asexual, with the intention to characterize him as solely driven by intellect and immune to the desires of the flesh. The Archie Comics character Jughead Jones was likely intended by his creators as an asexual foil to Archie's excessive heterosexuality, but, over the years, this portrayal shifted, with various iterations and reboots of the series implying that he is either gay or heterosexual. In 2016, he was confirmed to be asexual in the New Riverdale Jughead comics. The writers of the 2017 television show Riverdale, based on the Archie comics, chose to depict Jughead as a heterosexual despite pleas from both fans and Jughead actor Cole Sprouse to retain Jughead's asexuality and allow the asexual community to be represented alongside the gay and bisexual communities, both represented in the show. This decision sparked conversations about deliberate asexual erasure in the media and its consequences especially on younger viewers.
Gilligan, the eponymous character of the 1960s television series Gilligan's Island, would today be classified as asexual. The producers of the show likely portrayed him in this way to make him more relatable to young male viewers of the show who had not yet reached puberty and had therefore presumably not yet experienced sexual desire. Gilligan's asexual nature also allowed the producers to orchestrate intentionally comedic situations in which Gilligan spurns the advances of attractive females. Films and television shows frequently feature attractive, but seemingly asexual, female characters who are "converted" to heterosexuality by the male protagonist by the end of the production. These unrealistic portrayals reflect a heterosexual male belief that all asexual women secretly desire men.
Asexuality as a sexual identity, rather than as a biological entity, became more widely discussed in the media in the beginning of the twenty-first century. The Fox Network series House represented an "asexual" couple in the episode "Better Half". However, this representation has been questioned by members of the asexual community (including AVEN founder, David Jay) due to the episode concluding in the reveal that the man simply had a pituitary tumor that reduced his sex drive, and the woman was only pretending to be asexual to please him. This led to controversy over the representation and a change.org petition for Fox Network to reconsider how it represents asexual characters in the future, stating it "represented asexuality very poorly by attributing it to both medical illness and deception." Children's animated television series Spongebob Squarepants was under speculation (2002) and later controversy (2005) because of claims that Spongebob and his best friend, Patrick are gay. This prompted the creator, Stephen Hillenburg, to clarify on both occasions that he does not consider them gay or heterosexual, but rather asexual. He also linked Spongebob's ability to reproduce asexually by "budding", to further explain that the character doesn't necessarily need relationships.
The character Evan Waxman proclaims his asexual identity upon his first appearance in a 2013 episode of the web series High Maintenance; the character, portrayed by Avery Monsen, reappears in several episodes, including the series' subsequent continuation on HBO.
The Netflix series BoJack Horseman revealed in the end of the third season that Todd Chavez, one of the primary characters, is asexual. This has been further elaborated in the 4th season of the series and has been generally well accepted by the asexual community for its methods of positive representation.
- Asociality: a lack of interest in social relationships in general
- Antisexualism: the views of someone who is antagonistic towards sexuality
- Handedness and sexual orientation
- Platonic love: a non-romantic/non-sexual affectionate relationship
- Sexless marriage: a marriage in which little or no sex is performed
- Sexual anorexia: a loss of "appetite" for romantic-sexual interaction
- The Bone People: a 1984 novel with an asexual protagonist, which explicitly makes reference to the subject of asexuality
- Timeline of asexual history
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Media related to Human asexuality at Wikimedia Commons