Response to Dr. Fawver’s comments about asexuality in HerCollege.com article.

The following is my response to Dr. Fawver’s comments in the article “Asexuality — Not Just for Amoebas: What it’s like to be “ace” in college

I am frequently ashamed of my fellow sexologists and their ignorance on the subject of asexuality but Dr. Fawver has really outdone herself. Dr. Fawver is quoted as saying “the literal definition of asexuality it means ‘without sexuality’ “ but we could also say that “asexual means being able to reproduce without sex (without the involvement of medical science)” and just like my example uses an obviously inaccurate definition of the word, so too does Dr. Fawver. Asexual in the context of this article is a label used to describe a person’s sexual orientation, which is a relatively small part of what makes up a person’s sexuality. Just like when a person describes themselves as “heterosexual” that only tells us that they are sexually  attracted to people of the opposite gender (or at least that they present that way) it doesn’t mean that that is all there is to their sexuality (far from it)! Likewise, when a person says that their orientation is “asexual” they are merely describing who they typically experience sexual attraction towards- it is not an attempt to say that they have no sexuality (some people may be more in touch with their sexuality than others and some people may conceptualize it differently but yes, everyone has a “sexuality.”).

Regarding Dr. Fawver’s encouragement that asexual people should “think deeply about their family history, any past sexual experiences or hang-ups, and possible physiological discrepancies that may affect sexual desire” everyone should be self-aware of these things and the fact that some people identify as asexual, I have found is the result of being hyper aware of what they are feeling, not the opposite. In a world where people are expected to be sexually active and the default assumption is that all people are sexually attracted to others it takes a lot of self-awareness to say “you know, I don’t think my experience is the same as my friends’…” and to think about why that may be the case (like, for instance, that you might be asexual).

Dr. Farver also talks about self-identified asexuals as if they need to be fixed when she says that “what a person might want to do about a lack of desire depends on what’s at the base.” She’s assuming that people are broken and must surely want to be fixed, they just need to figure out exactly what’s wrong so they can figure out the best way to fix it despite all the people who live very happy and satisfying lives as self-identified asexuals. This is like saying that people should figure out what problem made them gay so they can get the right kind of treatment to fix them (this is a valid comparison because in most cases we’re talking about changing who a person is attracted to, not just a low desire for sex).

Generally in helping professions (including sexology) it’s accepted that people need treatment if they are experiencing significant distress about their behavior (ie if a person feels really guilty and distressed about masturbating then they need to get help- whether that help will come in the form of helping you feel like it’s okay to masturbate or in the form of “fixing” you so that you just don’t masturbate anymore is where you see a big split in the methods of many practitioners). The first question to a person who feels distress over something should always be “if this was socially acceptable, if it was okay to do what you do or to feel the way you feel would you still be distressed?” The vast majority of the time the distress that people feel about their sexuality comes from the disapproval and lack of validation they get from peers, society and worse “professionals.” The vast majority of people who are unhappy with their sexuality just need PERMISSION to be happy with it (I’m sure Dr. Fawver is familiar with the P-LI-SS-IT model).

For asexuals who are in relationships with partners who aren’t asexual (or who want to be better able to enjoy sex for whatever reason) I completely understand and support their decision to see a professional for help with that, but both the client and the professional need to understand that while such treatment may help modify behavior it isn’t necessarily going to change their orientation (just like ex-gay programs help previously self-identified gay men be able to have sex with women or make it able for them to have a better relationship with a woman, if that’s what they want, then that’s what they can work on, but therapy/counseling/coaching doesn’t change your orientation).

Towards the end Dr. Fawver says that “if a young person has thought about her own sexuality and has chosen to not be sexual or engage in sexual activity with another person, that’s alright” she seems to be confusing asexuality and abstinence/celibacy. Many people who are asexual (which means that they aren’t sexually attracted to others) still have sex for any number of reasons (it might feel good, they might like the intimacy, they might feel peer pressure, whatever). Choosing not have sex is not the same as not feeling sexual attraction – one is a behavior and the other is an orientation. Asexuality and abstinence are entirely independent of each other.

The second part of Dr. Fawver’s statement that I just quoted is actually the best (read: worst) part: “You don’t have to pre-diagnose yourself some trendy label.” A) Right, because being asexual is so damned trendy. B) DIAGNOSE? We’re talking about an orientation label, not a DISEASE!! I’m disgusted, but not necessarily surprised by the use of the word “Diagnose.”

Dr. Fawver’s closing statement that it’s “a choice not to engage with another person, rather than a diagnostic condition that will be with you forever.” …where to begin? Yes, whether or not to have consensual sex with people is always a choice, experiencing or not experiencing sexual attraction to other people is an involuntary process, not a choice (gay men may choose not to have sex with women, but they don’t choose whether or not to be sexually attracted to women). More great language with her use of “diagnostic condition” – what the hell is that supposed to mean? And finally the “[this] will not be with you forever” …. Okay, yes, everyone experiences changes to their sexuality throughout the course of their life, sometimes big changes, sometimes small changes, that’s normal and expected. But do you tell straight clients that “this won’t be with you forever”? Where the hell do you get off saying something like that? We went to the same school graduate school and Dr. Fawver probably had Dr. Epp as a professor too and I keep hearing from her that “clinical sexologists” only deal with things that can be scientifically proven and blah blah blah so let’s see your evidence that all these people are going to “outgrow” not being sexually attracted to others…. I’ll wait while you go get your research which I’m sure totally validates that statement.

Note: There’s another great response to this article  on Writings From Factor X which can be found here:  http://writingfromfactorx.wordpress.com/2011/02/19/this-college-ace-is-unimpressed/

Here’s another great response I found on Tumblr: http://melonella.tumblr.com/post/3389157431/the-thing-is-you-have-no-right-to-debate-whether

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5 Responses to Response to Dr. Fawver’s comments about asexuality in HerCollege.com article.

  1. Shawn Landis says:

    Linguistically, she is correct the a- definition means without. The definition used by AVEN is not widely accepted or used outside of AVEN. Although I personally do not much care for the wording, it is by now well-established and I cannot change it.

    As you should also know well, asexuality challenges deeply held notions of most sexologists and sex therapists. It would be interesting to go back and see many of the same debates used by this expert being used against Homosexuality before it got removed from the DSM.

    • No one using that term is claiming they don’t have a sexuality and for sexologists to say (as I often hear them say) that asexuality isn’t a valid option because everyone has a sexuality is a willful ignorance of what people mean when they identify as asexual. As problematic as the language is (and as woefully inadequate as language is for trying to describe all there is to a person’s sexuality in one word) we have to work with the language we have. For sexologists to continue to promote the idea that people who identify as asexual are claiming they don’t have a sexuality is practically criminal.

      P.S. Thanks for letting me know about the broken link last week!

    • No, Shawn. Etymologically, maybe that’s what asexual means. In English, asexual is a word built on the model of heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual, which mean “sexually attracted to people of _____ gender”, not ‘opposite sexuality’ ‘same sexuality’ ‘two sexualities’.

      Even aside from the semantic arguments, the point is that using linguistic misunderstandings to create a false and condecending view of someone’s sexuality and then deliberately publishing that false view especially to attack it just to gain some cheap points while making life more difficult for everyone else is not acceptable behavior. I don’t know why I should have to spell that out.

  2. Pingback: @Kirshizzle. The short answer is Yes. The long answer is still yes, full response here: | The Asexual Sexologist

  3. Pingback: So Drake University’s DragMag is doing a piece on asexuality… | The Asexual Sexologist

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