Some time ago I spoke to a-20-year old woman who wanted to talk to me about her belief that she is "asexual". Unlike her friends she's never had a boyfriend and she isn't really interested. She had discovered the Asexual Visibility & Educational Network (AVEN) website, and she thought: maybe that's what my problem is, I must be asexual.
The AVEN website was launched in 2001 by then 19-year-old student David Jay in Connecticut, with the goal of creating public acceptance and discussion of asexuality. When he was a teenager Jay discovered he wasn't sexually attracted to anybody and decided his sexual orientation was asexual. He came out about this to his parents and friends and declared that his sexuality was as valid an orientation as being straight, bisexual or gay.
Jay was featured in The New York Times and appeared on multiple television shows and, with his good looks, became the poster boy for the movement. In 2004 New Scientist magazine in Britain ran a six-page feature that made the movement even more popular. Jay appeared on several BBC radio stations and in 2005 he was featured in a movie (A)sexual Not everybody is doing it.
Relatively little research has been conducted into asexuality and there are no reliable statistics of the numbers of people who identify as such. Most research has been done by the asexual community itself. The AVEN on-line community, after 13 years, has between 50,000 and 60,000 members.
Professor Anthony Bogaert, a consultant at Brock University in Canada, analysed the responses of 18,000 people in Britain to a1994 survey on sexual attraction. He believes that asexuals are under-studied and can feel excluded from our very over-sexualised culture. The result was the publication of his book Understanding Asexuality in 2012.
Another researcher, Canadian sexologist Dr Lori Brotto, who specialises in women with low sexual desire, found evidence in a 2010 study that asexual women have a similar genital response to stimuli as sexual women - in other words a comparable sexual arousal response, partly explained in this video. Research shows there are more women than men identifying as asexual and that asexual men are more likely to masturbate regularly than asexual women.
An asexual person who masturbates regularly may still find interpersonal sex acts off-putting or just baffling. Some think sex is disgusting but they may like other intimate activities such as hugging, kissing or cuddling, but they don't desire intercourse.
Alfred Kinsey, the father of sexology, developed the Kinsey scale to illustrate that human beings fall along a continuum in their sexual orientation and behaviours, from 0 (exclusively heterosexual) to 6 (exclusively homosexual).
The asexual community believes that unlike celibacy, which is a choice, asexuality is not and they want asexuality to be recognised as the fourth sexual orientation.
The literal definition of asexuality means "without sexuality" but it is not possible to be without sexuality. We are all sexual beings from the day we are born until the day we die and whether or not we act on this is a choice.
However what is important is, why someone wants to identify as asexual - I believe people who claim to be asexual should explore a full range of possibilities that may affect their sexual desire. A number of things could be going on, but a person's sexuality will always be present.
I've read many articles about this phenomenon and these are some of the statements made by asexual men and women between 18 and 25, who were interviewed:
"I enjoy physical contact, and I don't find sex offensive. I just don't want to interfere with someone else's bits and pieces or have them interfere with mine."
"For me, sex is revulsion, it really is, just ugh, cuddling is OK but not kissing."
"I don't want to marry, nor have children, because of the sex involved!"
"The thought of penetration, of being touched or having to touch someone makes me shudder."
Statements such as these are not that uncommon; conditions like sex-phobia and sexual aversion disorder (SAD) do exist. In the counselling sessions with my client, I discovered the reason she was not interested in having a boyfriend: unconsciously, she was petrified of having intercourse.
For some women the thought of sexual intercourse may cause extreme anxiety or a panic attack. They fear that sex may hurt, feel embarrassed about the look of their vaginas, will be fearful of being naked in front of somebody else or of having to touch a penis.
The same can happen to young men who may experience some sort of sexual dysfunction that turns into performance anxiety, which then turns into avoiding sex.
I don't want to criticise the AVEN movement, but I'd like to suggest to any young person who is not quite sure, that sexuality is as normal as breathing. Do some exploring, take your time, there is no need to give yourself a label, embrace an identity or feel the necessity to join a community.
- Sydney Morning Herald