Asexuality is a highly charged concept. One camp of sexologists’ claim that it is, and should be recognized as a major sexual orientation like heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality are. The other camp sees it as nothing more than low libido or a generalized type of Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD).
Asexuality is generally defined as a lack of sexual attraction to others or the lack of interest in sex. Bogaert (2004) claimed that there are two forms of asexuality: 1. People who have a sex drive but do not direct this towards others—they may masturbate; and 2. People who have no sex drive at all.
In his book Understanding A sexuality, Bogaert (2012) contended that asexuality is distinct from abstention from sexual activity and from celibacy, which are behavioral and motivated by an individual’s personal or religious beliefs. Many asexuals were sexually active during puberty or at some other time period but at the time they identify as asexual they do not experience sexual attraction. Some do however, want to form a long-term bond with a partner and may even desire to have children.
Kinsey, et al. (1948) rated individuals from 0-6 according to their sexual orientation from heterosexual to homosexual. Numbers 1-5 indicated bisexuality. But he also labeled 1.5% of the adult male population as X indicating asexuality. Most researchers indicated the prevalence of asexuality to be around 1.05% (approximately 70 million people); others like Bogaert (2004) believed it to be higher.
Bogaert (2004, 2006) identified some of the characteristics of asexuals as follows:
- More women than men
- Slightly older than sexuals
- Low self-esteem
- Low socioeconomic status
- Weighed less
- Poorer health
- More religious and attended religious services more often
- Social anxiety
While “less well-educated” was also cited, this finding was contradicted by Prause and Graham (2007). This was also not my experience, but my limited data could be a reflection of the educational and socioeconomic status of my clinical practice.
Not all asexuals are necessarily alike.
- Many asexuals can see people as attractive but do not have any sexual need for them.
- Some asexuals masturbate, but in most cases this is purely a physical experience void of fantasy. If they do fantasize about a person, they wouldn’t have the actual drive to be with that person.
- Asexuals can get crushes on people but it is not sexual in nature. Asexuals are generally not turned on by others.
- Some asexuals like hugging and kissing.
- Some asexuals engage in sexual activity simply to please a romantic partner.
- Some asexuals are romantic but not sexual.
- Some asexuals are aromantic (i.e., not interested in romance).
- Some asexuals are romantic toward a specific gender (i.e., the romantic aspect of heterosexuality).
- Demiromantic (i.e., romantic after developing an emotional connection beforehand but not towards a specific gender).
- Grey or Gray-romantic (i.e., vacillate between aromantic and romantic).
- Asexuals can identify themselves as Gay, Straight, or Bisexual.
- Some asexuals have no sexual feelings at all. These individuals are often referred to as non-libidoists.
- I’ll add that most of the asexuals I’ve seen in my clinical practice like “control.” Avoiding sex with someone can serve to maintain a distance and in turn, serve to defend against the certain vulnerability that comes with closeness. Finding a partner with whom they could negotiate control with is vital to achieving a long-term partnership.
While asexuality is gaining some acceptance as “the fourth sexual orientation,” asexuals have not been the subject of legislation as have other sexual orientations. Here are some of the pros and cons regarding orientation:
- While both generalized HSDD and asexuality imply a general lack of attraction to anyone, asexuality is not considered a disorder or sexual dysfunction, or the consequence of a medical or social problem.
- Asexuals do not identify with being sick or demonstrate anxiety about being asexual per se.
- Asexuality cannot be cured like a disorder.
- Asexuality is not a problem-; the problem may be that society does not understand it.
- Asexuals do not choose to have low sexual desire.
- Many asexuals are unable to masturbate even though they reportedly have a normal sex drive.
- Asexuality is a life-enduring characteristic.
- Asexuality is a biologically determined orientation and that this will eventually be proven. Many who support this hypothesis cite Simon LeVay’s (1991) groundbreaking work in Science: “A difference in hypothalamic structure between heterosexual and homosexual men.” LeVay discovered that gay and straight men have differences in the hypothalamus.
- Asexuality is a lack of sexual orientation or sexuality, not an orientation.
- Asexuality is a denial of one’s natural sexuality.
- Asexuality is generalized low libido
- Asexuality is the result of sexual anxiety or shame.
- Asexuality is Sexual Aversion
- Unlike the other major orientations, it is not known when asexuality is determined.
- It is not known definitively whether asexuality is life-long or acquired.
The largest community supporting asexuality as an orientation is, The Asexuality Visibility & Education Network (AVEN). With approximately 30,000 members, AVEN supports the notion that asexuality is biologically determined. Celibacy is viewed as a choice—asexuality is an orientation. Founded in 2001 by David Jay, the organization has two primary goals:
- To create public acceptance and discussion of asexuality.
- To facilitate the growth of an asexual community.
No matter where you stand on the issue of asexuality, asexuals do exist and therefore deserve a forum and a support system. AVEN offers this and it should be applauded. Too often those of difference are discriminated against in our society with too little knowledge and even less empathy. Perhaps continued research will one day lend to our much-needed understanding of the complexities of asexuality.