AVEN's Flag
Source: AVEN's Flag

First, let’s define several terms, and in this I rely heavily on the Asexual website: http://www.asexuality.org and on AVEN, the national organization for asexuals. These are outstanding, fundamental resources for anyone trying to understand asexuality or who wants to connect with other asexuals.

Asexuals do not experience sexual attraction. Asexuals are not all of one “kind” in terms of both experiencing romantic and physical arousal. As expected, in the general population there is a continuum of sexual attraction, from absolute zero to way over the top. At what point along the continuum one stops being asexual is debatable, but there are a variety of terms to identify such individuals.

Graysexuals place themselves in the area between asexuality and sexuality. They may experience sexual attraction very rarely, only under specific circumstances, or of an intensity so low that it can be easily ignored.

Demisexuals only experience sexual attraction after an emotional bond has been formed, and that bond need not necessarily be romantic in nature.

It’s important to emphasize that asexuality does not mean a-romantic, though for some individuals the two co-exist (zero sexual and romantic attraction). Others are hetero-romantic, homo-romantic, bi-romantic, pan-romantic, or any modification along the romantic continuum—for example, mostly hetero-romantic (okay, I just made that one up).

Asexuality is an orientation, an intrinsic part of who one is. There is increasing evidence of a biological component to asexuality (see Yule, Brotto, & Gorzalka, 2014 for an excellent example). Furthermore, it is not that asexual individuals have an abnormal subjective and physiological sexual arousal capacity—it’s normal. And, counter to many beliefs, asexuality is not a sexual dysfunction—though some with mental and physical health problems may not engage in sexual activities. Neither is asexuality a matter of celibacy—asexuals are not asexual because they’ve decided to abstain from sexuality.

The AVEN website says it quite clearly: “Asexuality does not make our lives any worse or any better, we just face a different set of challenges than most sexual people. There is considerable diversity among the asexual community; each asexual person experiences things like relationships, attraction, and arousal somewhat differently.”

Famous people are asexual, including the character Sheldon on the “Big Bang Theory,” actor Alan Rickman of Harry Potter movies, the surrealist artist Salvador Dali, the environmentalist Ralph Nader, and the scientist Sir Isaac Newton are known or believed to be asexual.

The prevalence of asexuals is difficult to determine because one, the question is seldom asked; two, there are a variety of reasons individuals might claim to be asexual; and three, it depends on whether one is referring to asexual desire or behavior. Here is a rough estimate—perhaps an undercount given the difficulty some might have identifying their orientation as asexual:

Ranges:

 Women: 0.8% (desire) to 4.8% (behavior)
 Men:  0.7% (desire) to 6.1% (behavior)
 Generally: 1% to 2% of the population

In terms of researchers, Anthony Bogaert stands out primarily for his early research and his book, Understanding Asexuality, that summarizes the research literature. Also, considerable scientific information has been provided by Lori Brotto and Morag Yule regarding the assessment of asexuality, the biology of asexuality, and mental health issues.

However, in the vast number of studies, asexuals are eliminated from the datasets, either because the number is too small for analyses or because the researchers don’t know what to do with them. Thus, data on asexuals are quite sparse.

In my next post, I review a recent study that focused on asexuals—Brotto and Yule on research that answers the questions: Do asexuals masturbate? Do they have sexual fantasies?

References

Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) http://www.asexuality.org

Bogaert, A. F. (2012). Understanding Asexuality. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Inc.

Brotto, L. A., & Yule, M. (online). Asexuality: Sexual orientation, paraphilia, sexual dysfunction, or none of the above? Archives of Sexual Behavior. doi: 10.1007/s10508-016-0802-7

Yule, M. A., Brotto, L. A., & Gorzalka, B. B. (2014). Biological markers of asexuality: Handedness, birth order, and finger length ratios in self-identified asexual men and women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43, 299–310. doi: 10.1007/s10508-013-0175-0 

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