- This article is about human asexuality; asexual reproduction is a separate topic.
Asexuality is a designation or self-designation for people who lack feelings of sexual attraction and/or sexual desire. There is debate as to whether this is a sexual dysfunction or an actual sexual orientation; furthermore, there is disagreement over the exact definition of the word. The term is also sometimes used as a gender identity by those who believe their lack of sexual attraction places them outside the standard definitions of gender. There has been little research done on asexuality, but those studies that have been conducted suggest that, if it is a sexual orientation, it is the least commonly occurring one.
There is disagreement over whether or not asexuality is a legitimate sexual orientation. Some argue that it falls under the heading of hypoactive sexual disorder or sexual aversion disorder . Among those who do not believe it to be an orientation, other suggested causes include past sexual abuse, sexual repression (of homosexuality or otherwise), hormonal problems, delayed development of attraction, and not having met the right person. Many self-identified asexuals, meanwhile, say that these things are not true of them; they also state that, because their asexuality does not cause them distress, it should not be labeled a disorder. Others argue that, in the past, similar things were said about homosexuality, despite the fact that many people now consider it a legitimate orientation.
Because of the lack of research on the subject, there is little documented evidence in favor of either side of the debate.
A study done on rams found that about 2% to 3% of the individuals being studied had no apparent interest in mating with either sex. Another study was done on rats and gerbils, in which up to 12% of the males showed no interest in females. Their interactions with other males were not measured, however, so the study is of limited use when it comes to asexuality (Westphal, 2004).
A UK survey of sexuality included a question on sexual attraction, and 1% of respondents replied that they had "never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all" (Bogaert, 2004). The Kinsey Institute conducted a small survey on the topic, which concluded that "asexuals appear to be better characterized by low sexual desire and sexual excitation than by low levels of sexual behavior or high sexual inhibition" (Prause, Nicole, and Graham). That study also mentions a conflict regarding the definition of "asexual": the researchers found four different definitions in the literature, and stated that it was unclear whether those identifying as asexual were referring to an orientation.
There are differences among people that identify as asexual, chiefly among them the presence or absence of a sex drive or romantic attraction. Some experience only one of these, while others experience both, and still others neither. There is disagreement as to which of these configurations can genuinely be described as asexual. While a number of people believe all four variations qualify, many others believe that to be asexual, one must lack a sex drive, romantic attraction, or both.
The sex drive of those asexuals who have one is not directed at anything: it is only an urge for sexual stimulation or release. It can range from weak to strong, and from rare to frequent. Some asexuals experience sexual feelings but have no desire to act on them, while others seek sexual release, either via masturbation or through sexual contact, or both.
For those asexuals who experience feelings of romantic attraction, it can be directed towards one or both genders. These asexuals often desire romantic relationships (ranging from casual liasons to marriage) with their preferred gender or genders, but often do not want these relationships to include sexual activity. Because of their romantic orientation, some asexuals describe themselves as gay, bisexual, or straight asexuals; this is related to the concept of affectional orientation.
Those asexuals who do want romantic relationships are in a difficult position, as the majority of people are not asexual. Asexuals able to tolerate sex can pair up with non-asexuals, but even then their lack of attraction can be psychologically distressing to their partner, making a long-term romance difficult. Asexuals who cannot tolerate sex must either compromise with their partners and have a certain amount anyway, give their partners permission to seek sex elsewhere, have sexless relationships with those few who are willing, only date other asexuals, or stay single.
Some asexuals use a classification system developed (and then retired) by the founder of the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, one of the major online asexual communities (abbreviated as AVEN). In this system, asexuals are divided into types A through D: a Type A asexual has a sex drive but no romantic attraction, a Type B has romantic attraction but no sex drive, a Type C has both, and a Type D neither. The categories are not meant to be entirely discrete or set in stone; one's type can change, or one can be on the border between two types. Note that AVEN itself no longer uses this system, on the basis that it is too exclusive, but a number of asexuals still feel it is a useful tool for explaining their orientation.
Note that asexuality is not the same as celibacy, which is the deliberate abstention from sexual activity; many asexuals do have sex, and most celibates are not asexual.
Asexuality and religion
Several religions or religious sects believe that asexuality is a spiritually superior condition, and some asexuals believe that their lack of "base desires" allows them to feel a deeper spirituality, although other asexuals consider that an elitist attitude. In other creeds, children are considered a gift from God that should not be refused, a means of spreading religion, or both; it should be noted, though, that some asexuals do have children. Furthermore, according to some religious beliefs, sexuality itself is sacred or a divine gift; certain varieties of Tantra involve sex, for example, and some types of neopaganism and New Age include the concept of sacred sexuality.
Currently, asexuality faces little religious condemnation; unlike homosexuality, for instance, it is not a target of conservative religious groups.
Asexuality in fiction
In fiction, John Braine's novel The Jealous God (1964) is a good example of sex mainly seen as a sin. On the other hand, in his science fiction novel Distress (1995), Greg Egan imagines a 22nd century world where "asex" is one out of seven acknowledged gender settings. To quote from Distress:
- "Asex was really nothing but an umbrella term for a broad group of philosophies, styles of dress, cosmetic-surgical changes, and deep-biological alterations. The only thing that one asex person necessarily had in common with another was the view that vis gender parameters (neural, endocrine, chromosomal and genital) were the business of no one but verself, usually (but not always) vis lovers, probably vis doctor, and sometimes a few close friends. What a person actually did in response to that attitude could range from as little as ticking the "A" box on census forms, to choosing an asex name, to breast or body-hair reduction, voice timbre adjustment, facial resculpting, empouchment (surgery to render the male genitals retractable), all the way to full physical and/or neural asexuality, hermaphroditism, or exoticism." (Distress, paperback ed., p. 45)
An example of a sympathetically presented asexual character in science fiction is Aghora , one of Alejandro Jodorowsky's Metabarons, who is not only asexual but also a transman.