If you’re a sexologist and you’re looking for information about asexuality that’s a good start!
I’d like to take this chance to clear up a few of the most common misconceptions I’ve encountered from the sexological community:
1. Being asexual means you’re claiming not to have a sexuality in the way that sexologists conceptualize sexuality. – For me and for many other people who identify as asexual there is no claim of not having a sexuality at all. the “a-” on the front of “sexual” means “no” in the same way that “bi-” means 2 in “bisexual.” Bisexual doesn’t mean you have 2 sexualities (amendment: I appreciate hearing from those of you who do use bisexual to indicate that you feel you have two distinct sexualities. My point is meant to me that that isn’t how “bisexual” is commonly used, not that you couldn’t use it that way. 6/16/12) and asexual doesn’t mean you have no sexuality. “Asexual” is an orientation label and the “a-” prefix refers to who the person is typically sexually attracted to. I have heard some people who identify as asexual say that they don’t have a sexuality at all, but when I ask what they mean by sexuality it is often revealed that they are using “sexuality” and “sexual orientation” interchangeably. If your conceptualization of sexuality includes more components you’ll just have to address those components individually with each person. If you’ve got a really broad conceptualization of sexuality (including things like biological sex, gender identity, auto-erotic behaviors, fetishes/kinks, romantic attraction, sexual attraction, sexual behaviors, etc) and someone tells you they think of themselves as not having a sexuality it should be obvious that there’s a language barrier.
2. People only identify as asexual because they haven’t “matured” yet. – Many people do experience changes in how they perceive their orientation and their interest in and desire for sex over the course of their lifetime. Some people may experience big changes and others minor changes. But just because a person’s sexuality may one day experience changes doesn’t mean that they aren’t “mature.” If you had a client who had always identified as straight and then came to you because they had met someone of the same gender who they were sexually attracted to you wouldn’t tell them that all along their sexuality just hadn’t “matured” yet, right?
3. Being asexual is the product of abuse/hormones/societal influences. – There are certainly cases of people whose orientation identity was affected by trauma they experienced, but my perception is that those cases are relatively rare and are certainly not the first thing you conclude about a person when they tell you how they identify. “You’re gay? Oh my god, what happened!?” We are all products of our past, good and bad, but that doesn’t mean that our orientation is just the result of a bad experience- is yours?
We are all also products of our hormones, it’s true, and hormone levels can influence a person’s interest in sex, that’s true. But I have yet to see a study that concluded that hormone levels change who you are sexually attracted to (amendment: Yes, I understand that hormones can decrease a person’s sex drive but sex drive and orientation are not the same things. I understand your concern that we’re all just suffering from low sex drive but the only available studies on the subject suggest that we have the same variation in sex drives as other orientation-based groups so you’re really just assuming that we all have no sex drive, which is not the case. 6/16/2012). Let’s imagine for a moment that gay people were found to have different hormone levels than straight people. Would you expect them to take hormones to change who they are sexually attracted to? If someone is happy with their sexuality then why is it so important to you to insist that they should change it? I’m not sure I even understand the theory behind the idea that by giving someone hormones it will change their orientation. If they are telling you that they aren’t sexually attracted to anyone (amendment: if a person says they used to experience sexual attraction and now they don’t experience it at all it may be a sign of a trauma or a hormone experience, yes, but we’re talking about people who have never experienced these things to begin with. 6/16/2012), who do you think they will become sexually attracted to when you give them hormones? Who would it be acceptable for them to be sexually attracted to since you’ve decided it isn’t acceptable for them to not be sexually attracted to anyone?
We experience a lot of societal influences, both sex positive and sex negative. But are you only straight/gay/bi/trans/cis/kinky because of societal influences or do those qualities come from something you feel is more inherent to you? Why do you assume that a person who identifies as asexual is any more a victim of societal influences than anyone else? If they’re asexual and they’re upset about their sexuality there’s a pretty good chance that they’re upset because they feel broken because no one accepts them the way they are. Take a few minutes to think about being surrounded by messages that say that if you feel the way you feel there must be something wrong with you even though you don’t feel like there’s something wrong with you… how long do you think people can go before their defenses are worn down and they start to believe they really are broken?
3. People who masturbate aren’t really asexual. The only official study I’ve seen on this subject showed that self-identified asexual women masturbate with about the same frequency as straight and bisexual women (ie some masturbate regularly, some frequently, some rarely and some never). I understand that many people think of masturbation as a “place holder” for sex, but I also know people who enjoy having sex and also enjoy masturbating just because it is an enjoyable activity in its own right and not because they just don’t have sex readily available. Some asexual people fantasize while masturbating and others think about totally non-erotic things. Some people associate masturbating as a sex-drive-related release (and as an erotic behavior even though they aren’t sexually attracted to others) and others think of it more as an itch to be scratched without any particular positive or negative feelings about the act. Whether or not a person masturbates doesn’t change if they are sexually attracted to others or not. We know that sex-related behaviors and fantasies don’t always match up with a person’s orientation and asexuals are no different.
Also, not only do some asexuals masturbate some of them have sex! People have sex for a variety of reasons (peer pressure, wanting to please your partner, experimenting, procreating, for fun, because it feels good, etc). Having sex with a person is not the same thing as being sexually attracted to them. Because asexuals are so few and far between (about 1% of the population), those who are romantic (as opposed to aromantic) often end up in relationships with partners who are not asexual (edit: this used to say “partner who are sexual” but I find the linguistic dichotomy of “sexual” and “asexual” to be problematic because it leads people to forget that we’re talking about orientation. 6/16/2012) and many compromise with their partner to come up with mutually enjoyable activities or work out a plan that gives each partner what they need without creating resentment over the mis-matched needs (ideally).
My intention is to create a list of blog posts that I’ve seen which I feel are the most representative of the experiences of asexuals and post it here. On the resource page there is also a list of research papers that have been published on the topic of asexuality. Browsing the blogs and reading the research papers are both a good place to start.
This page replaces my original rant to sexologists, written in a fit of frustration. While I feel that it is a bit strongly worded I did not delete it when I decided to post something new because I got a lot of feedback from other asexuals who said that it was exactly what they wanted to say to people. I think it’s worth reading, if obviously in an angry tone.