One of the most misunderstood concepts of human sexuality is the avoidance of sex altogether, referred to as asexuality.
Asexuality is a sexual orientation in which people do not feel any sexual attraction toward others. (Even if they have had sex.) While this comes across as a choice that people make, the definition of asexuality and those who belong to the category is complex.
According to the Asexual Visibility and Education Network asexuality is described as an intrinsic part of a person’s identity, in comparison to the choice of being celibate. This suggests that asexuality is neither a choice nor a lifestyle, but rather a disposition. This does not mean that asexuality can be solely defined as averting sexual behavior from birth, as there are choices involved in being asexual.
Choice in asexuality revolves around how people handle intimate relationships with others, should they choose to pursue one.
Asexuals can, despite people seeing them as unemotional toward others, make friendships or fall in love, but they can also choose to be alone when they prefer it. Attraction for an asexual person is based on getting to know another on a deep emotional level, and they can also be defined as heterosexual or homosexual based on which gender they prefer. For some the idea of asexuality may seems confusing and there has been little research on the topic, until recently.
Just how prevalent or uncommon is asexuality?
With a dearth of research into the topic, exact figures cannot be certain, and even estimation is unclear as to the number. One researcher of asexuality, Anthony F. Bogaert, concluded in “Asexuality: What It is and Why It Matters” stated that 1% may be the prevalence rate for asexuality, but then goes on to describe why this cannot be concluded as the definitive number. One of the reasons is that defining people who belong to the category of asexuality is complex and confusing, as I will further explain. Even when a person lives by the definition of asexuality, as not experiencing sexual attraction, there are specific factors to be kept in mind to determine if the person is either asexual or suffering from a problem causing them to abstain from sex.
There is also debate about whether the latter could still be considered the former. It is clear that asexuality, on the whole, is a kind of behavior that remains on the outliers of the human population, given the lack of understanding regarding the people who belong to the category.
Does asexuality involve no sexual arousal at all, or is it just a choice? Sometimes, asexual people do not undergo sexual arousal. For others, the process does occur, but they still choose to refrain from sex. Interestingly enough, some asexuals will admit to masturbation, but nothing beyond that. The recurring theme seems to be that asexual people simply find the idea of sex uninteresting.
How does one differentiate between asexuals and those who are celibate?
Celibacy is understood to be an abstinence from sex. Why people chose to be celibate varies. Is it possible they are asexual? Perhaps. Is it possible sex is something they greatly enjoy but decide to refrain from? Of course. While there is no one reason why one may commit to celibacy, for some the reason is spiritual. Celibacy can be seen as spiritual training done in the name of ridding oneself of desire. The celibate person learns to experience life void of sex, and void of “I want.” Mystics believe that by sacrificing something they take great physical pleasure in, they gain a deeper sense of spirituality. Certain Eastern Spiritual philosophies, would express celibacy in this way.
But what if the celibate person gives up sex simply because they feel unaroused even by the thought of it? Then it may appear that being celibate just happened naturally, as opposed to a choice one makes by their own will, in the name of some sacrifice. In that case, the celibate person might actually be asexual.
According to “Asexuality: Classification and Characterization” by Nicole Prause and Cynthia A. Graham, their study on asexual women has shown different reactions to the idea of sex. Reportedly, one of the female participants had little experience in sexual behavior, while another participant started to consider herself as asexual because they did not enjoy sexual activities. Many of the participants described their lack of interest in, or excitement about sex. They may engage in sexual behavior, either out of curiosity or because of the encouragement of their romantic partner, but their response to sex is boredom. Because these people engage in sex, people might assume that they are not asexual, but if we are to describe asexuality, it should be as a lack of sexual attraction altogether. One could debate on why asexuals do not have interest in sex, which to a majority of people, is a natural part of being human, but it is clear that there are people who do not feel the same way about being involved in sex that most would.
For those who find it difficult to accept the idea of asexuality, they may be curious as to why this occurs.
Some reason that asexuals have experienced sexual trauma in their past, or that they hold bitter feelings due to some encounter. Perhaps this could be said of celibate people or those who could be referred to as genophobic. Genophobia or coitophobia is the physical or psychological fear of sexual relations or sexual intercourse.
Genophobics are not exactly the same as asexuals, in that, while asexuals accept their noninvolvement in sex and can find meaning and fulfillment in their lives without it, genophobics who choose asexuality out of their fear find themselves unfulfilled in contrast. Granted, the website describes asexuality as a choice (probably more fitting of celibacy), but the point is that genophobics are aversive to sex for different reasons than asexuals.
It is possible that they can experience sexual attraction, unlike asexuals, but they respond to it with avoidance because it is also linked to some kind of trauma, such as the unfortunately common example of rape. Psychology also refers to a similar idea compared to genophobia, called sexual aversion disorder. According to “Definitions of Sexual Dysfunctions in Women and Men” by Marita P. McCabe and other authors, sexual aversion is when the idea of sexual interaction with someone is associated with strong negative feelings, producing anxiety that is only resolved when the person avoids sex. One can see how this definition of the disorder is related to genophobia, to the point where they could be considered one and the same. It is interesting however, that the discussion of not engaging in sexual behavior can readily lead down a path in which the asexual person is referred to as “suffering” from a disorder or acts based on a trauma, when it may be far from the case.
Asexuals would likely disagree with the idea that they are acting the way they are because they are psychologically or emotionally damaged in some way.
Based on the aforementioned definition, being driven by fear to avoid sex would be different from not experiencing sexual attraction at all. One could infer that, without the trauma that caused the psychological disorder, those who are sexually aversive or genophobic might (this is not certain, of course) be able to experience sexual behavior and attraction like the majority of people do. Some researchers might agree as they look for a cause that points to an aberration that drives the person’s asexual behavior.
Inability to get pleasure from sex biologically and physically is also considered another kind of disorder. According to Keith A. Montgomery in “Sexual Desire Disorders”, the amount of medical conditions that could induce this symptom are numerous. Some examples include Cushing’s disease, heart failure, menopause, temporal lobe lesions, stroke, and so on. The fact that they cannot experience sexual desire might qualify them to be perceived as asexual, at least technically; But the fact that these people suffering from a biological problem might be a contentious point for asexuals.
Asexuals would describe themselves to be people who simply do not care for, and do not enjoy sex. Whether or not the majority of society understands it, asexuals accept their disposition and their choices, rather then live under the notion that they are suffering from some sort of disorder.
This kind of opinion, that asexuality is abnormal and a problem to overcome, may be prevalent enough that asexuals feel the need to be defensive about it. Not being interested in sex is assumed to lead into being against sexuality or against people having sex. Meanwhile, asexuals live their lives without concern of how others live theirs. According to one forum post on reddit, which was part of an overall series of posts by others on the topic of asexuality one person said:
“Yeah, ignore the ones that say we’re just ‘bitter’, hahaa…no. To sum it up, we aren’t ‘against’ sexual stuff, We just find it as boring as watching paint-dry, There’s so much more stuff to do…that its just a waste of time for us.”
This individual was clearly tired of being confronted with incorrect assumptions about the character of asexuality, as their post was labeled “I’d say I’m sexually indifferent”.
It is clear that asexuality as a label has been misappropriated enough to the point where an explanation about who they are is necessary to have as a counter to those who believe in and perpetuate such misunderstandings. Irritation and calm refutation tends to occur whenever a person explores the forums that are based on and discuss asexuality.
“It takes a lot more mental effort to try to conjure up a fantasy and keep it going…With all effort involved, it typically ends up more distracting than arousing.”
Also on the forum, I read about one individual describe how they struggled with not enjoying sex, unaware of the reason why and believing that there was something wrong with them. Not until the concept of asexuality was introduced to them did it occur to them that there was nothing wrong, and that they were simply part of a group of people who did not see the need for sex.
While they may feel annoyed about the assumptions people make about them, they accept the label as it describes them, and even have a shorter nickname for themselves, such as “ace”, which also refers to asexual people. Overall, one gets the impression that asexuals come to accept who they are and simply want to know about the details of asexuality; In order to understand if they fit into the category, as well as in order to provide an explanation for why they feel and act the way they do.
With a relationship devoid of sex, how could this be considered a positive thing in terms of developing a deeper emotional connection instead?
A person who is asexual is likely to want to focus on getting to know a person intimately because they are not focused on the sexual aspect of the relationship. The probable result is that the person forges an intense emotional connection, with some physical intimacy involved, such as holding hands and cuddling. The partners could get to know each other’s interests, be involved in activities together, learn about one another’s goals, as well as their secrets, and just interact mainly on an emotional level. There would be a lack of pressure with regards to having sex, so they can simply be happy being in each other’s presence. The romantic attraction is there, since this kind of attraction is separate from sexual arousal. The point is that, in any relationship, communication is key, which means that, if the emotional connection here involves getting to know each other well, communication between the two is likely at a high, honest level.
In social psychology, the four horsemen, “criticism, defensiveness, contempt, withdrawal” could be a predictor of divorce because the inability to communicate between partners is usually due to a deficient emotional connection. Being attuned to a partner’s feelings would be the best way to overcome the four horsemen and not be stuck in a cycle of resentment. One can assume the possibilities involved when sex is not the focus or the ultimate goal.
Even when the idea of asexuality seems so alien, perhaps there are lessons that can be learned from asexuals. It seems that asexuality allows a person to forge an emotional connection, being attune to another person’s feelings and taking them into consideration. Perhaps asexuality, which leads to not wanting to be constrained under the social pressures of wanting or getting involved with sex, can instead allow a person to attend to the emotional needs and wavelengths of others. Perhaps wanting sex tends to somehow warp our emotions in a relationship, in terms of getting into a “sexual mood,” of enjoying sex.
Perhaps asexuals can show that we can prioritize things in a relationship other than sex.
There are emotional and intellectual connections that could be cultivated between people. Being physical isn’t limited to sex either. It can be intimate to cuddle, hold hands, hug, kiss, or any number of behaviors that can bring two people closer together without having to directly lead to intercourse. Intimacy and close relationships are more than just sex, and asexuality can remind us of this fact and allow us to incorporate it, even without having to abstain from sex altogether.