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Asexual refers to people who do not experience sexual attraction toward others.[1] They may experience other forms of attraction, such as romantic, sensual, or aesthetic attraction. Asexuality is a sexual orientation,[2] not a gender identity, behavior, or medical condition. Some asexual people choose to engage in sexual activities for various reasons despite not experiencing sexual feelings and desire toward any particular person.[3] Asexuality is part of the asexual spectrum (abbreviated "ace spectrum"), an umbrella term and a broad community of identities that are closely related to asexuality when placed on a spectrum ranging from asexual to sexual.[1]

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Etymology

The term 'asexual' comes from the negation prefix a-, meaning 'not' or 'without', with the word 'sexual'. It was initially used to describe biological organisms that had no sex organs or reproduction without sex.[4] Its use as a label was popularized by Alfred Kinsey in his Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale (the Kinsey scale), with X being used to denote people who did not engage in sexual behaviors.[5]

Community

The asexual community is small but growing.[6] Asexuality is part of the asexual spectrum and has been broadly categorized, along with aromanticism, as part of the a-spec(trum).[7] The asexual community has close ties to the aromantic community due to their commonalities. The community of people who are both asexual and aromantic is known as the aroace community.[7][8]

Members of the asexual community have noted that "asexual identities make explicit a romantic dimension of sexuality as distinct from a sexual identity based on lack of sexual attraction" as compared with non-asexual identities. In researched cases, this resulted in greater emphasis being put on an individuals' sexual and romantic orientation as contrasted with non-asexual peers.[9]

Asexuals challenge the idea that sex is the best, easiest, or only route to achieving intimacy or connections with others. The experiences of asexuals call into question normative assumptions about the relationships between sex, physical closeness, romantic experience, and interpersonal intimacy, demonstrating there are a variety of ways to create meaningful intimate bonds with others that do not focus on sex or even necessarily on romantic connections.[10]

There are many key signs that someone might be asexual; however, asexuality is a spectrum, and not all of these will apply to all asexual people:[11]

  • No interest in sex or intimacy[11]
  • Finding others attractive, but not being attracted to them[12]
  • Enjoying hugging/kissing, but don't want to take things further[12]
  • Finding sex scenes boring[12]

History

Early 20th century

Because modern asexual organizing has largely happened on the internet, some commentators have defined asexuality as the first "internet orientation." However, explicit references to the asexual identity can be traced back to the early 20th century. One of the first modern gay activists in the U.S., Carl Schlegel, issued pleas for queer equality that specifically invoked asexuality in a speech composed in 1907. The famous sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld also used the term in “The Role of Homosexual Men and Women in Society” in 1920.[13]

1950s-1970s

Fast-forward half a century, and the emerging literature on queer identity made frequent references to asexuality. In 1952, the magazine Transvestia used the term "asexual", and in 1965 published a short description of what it termed the “A-sexual Range”, perhaps an early prototype of the asexual spectrum. Many feminist conferences in the 1970s let people choose a label for their sexual identity, and asexual was one of the options.[13]

Illinois State University professor Ela Przybylo, in her book Asexual Erotics, highlighted a feminist effort in the 1960s and 1970s to swear off sex. The rise of these sexual critiques inspired one feminist, Lisa Orlando, to publish “The Asexual Manifesto” in 1972. Although Orlando’s interpretation of asexuality is largely framed as a political reaction to the patriarchy, she does mention avoiding sex and feeling her need for sex to diminish, as well as seeing sex as a way of avoiding closeness rather than achieving it. “The Asexual Manifesto" struck a chord with people who more closely matched today’s understanding of asexuality, and even prompted the gay liberationist Greg Turner to cite it in a 1976 essay outlining his search for an identity label. [13]

In 1971, the Village Voice published what it intended to be a parody article titled “Asexuals Have Problems Too!,” but the article prompted a flurry of letters to the newspaper and suggested a widespread curiosity about asexual identity. Soon after, queer zines began making occasional references to asexual identity.[13] In the ’80s and ’90s, punk zines that surveyed their readers accounted for the asexual demographic. Also in the ’90s, asexual people began exploring their identities themselves in riot grrrl zines. There are likely more than 100 zines either wholly focused on or containing discussion of the ace umbrella, and these zines paved the way for the recognition of asexuality as a distinct sexual identity.[14]

1990s to present

Most asexual people credit writer Zoe O’Reilly’s 1997 essay, “My life as an amoeba,” with creating the first contemporary asexual community. Before O’Reilly’s piece was published on the now-defunct website StarNet Dispatches.[15]

Four years later, in October 2000, a Yahoo! Group “Haven for the Human Amoeba” was established as place where asexual people could find each other online. However, the biggest breakthrough for the community came in March 2001, when a freshman at Wesleyan University named David Jay launched what is today called the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN). It is a website, wiki, and forum that has connected thousands of asexual people across the world.[15]

Ace Week

Ace Week, formerly known as Asexual Awareness Week, was founded by Sara Beth Brooks in 2010 with the help of AVEN founder David Jay. It takes place annually the final week of October, and its purpose is to spread educational materials, organize community events, and discuss asexual experiences.[16]

The very first Ace Week was mostly conducted online through blogging and social media activity. As part of the campaign to increase asexual awareness within the LGBTQ+ community, members of the asexual community created one minute "Dear LGBT Community" video letters to share on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Asexuals were also encouraged to share information and experiences on social media, change their profile pictures, and start conversations about being asexual both online and off.[17]

Ace Week took a huge leap forward in 2011. Sara Beth formed a 20-person committee that planned and collaborated on the project over the course of 6 months. In addition to focusing on the LGBTQ+ community, the second Ace Week targeted mass media, educational organizations, medical professionals, and sex-positive communities.[17]

Many traditions have developed in celebration of Ace Week, including the Fandom Challenge, which first took place in 2014. On each day of Ace Week, the Fandom Challenge sets out a prompt designed to initiate discussions on social media about canon and headcanon asexual characters.[17]

Flag

The asexual pride flag was voted on by the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) in 2010. It is composed of four horizontal stripes from top to bottom in the colors black, grey, white, and purple. The colors have the following meanings:[18]

Distinction

Aromantic

Aromantic (or "aro") people do not experience romantic attraction toward others. Some aromantic people experience sexual attraction, while others are both aromantic and asexual.[20]

Celibacy and abstinence

Asexuality is not the same as celibacy or abstinence, which are choices to not engage in sexual behavior based on reasons that are not related to sexual attraction. People who abstain from sex may experience sexual attraction and choose not to act upon it, and they may change their minds and become sexually active.[3] Asexuality is not a personal choice that can be changed; it is an orientation. Someone who chooses to practice celibacy, whether for personal or religious beliefs, is not necessarily asexual. Some asexuals may abstain from sex, while others have sex for various reasons, such as the desire to have children or for intimacy with a partner.[1]

Asexuality is not inceldom ("involuntary celibacy"), an online subculture that is associated with misogyny.[21]

Demisexual

Although demisexuality is on the asexual spectrum, it is different from asexuality itself. Asexual people do not experience sexual attraction, regardless of how close they are with someone, whereas demisexual people can and do experience sexual attraction, but only after a close bond is formed with another person.[22]

Nonlibidoist and hyposexual

Nonlibidoist refers to a person who does not experience sexual urges/desires or masturbate.[23] This differs from asexual in that asexual people can still experience sexual arousal, but not attraction. Although some asexual people simply ignore feelings of sexual arousal, others may masturbate in response or seek out sex for the physical pleasure.[24]

Hyposexuality, unlike asexuality, is a disorder, and is characterized by a reduced libido and difficulty becoming sexually aroused.[25]

Perceptions and discrimination

Dehumanization

Although further research is needed, asexual people may be the target of more prejudice, avoidance, and discrimination relative to cisgender and heterosexual people, and possibly to cisgender lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. Asexual people have been perceived as experiencing fewer human emotions and dehumanized by being characterized as both "machine-like" and "animal-like."[26][27]

Exclusion

Asexual people can face prejudice from within the LGBTQ+ community, such as being refused entry to LGBTQ+ spaces, receiving inappropriate treatment from LGBTQ+ services, or being excluded from the LGBTQ+ umbrella.[26] One belief is that the inclusion of asexuals and aromantics in the community will cause others to lose access to needed resources.[28]

Myths

There are a lot of misunderstandings when it comes to asexuality. It does not necessarily mean having an aversion to sex[29] or fear of sex, although some asexuals do. A common myth is that people "become" asexual after either being sexually rejected or sexually abused. Asexuality is a natural orientation that is generally unrelated to traumatic experiences a person may have suffered. Some asexual people may experience changes in their desire or attraction due to trauma, but trauma and mental health are not exclusive and decisive "causes" of asexuality or other sexual orientations. Some asexuals may know their orientation from an early age, while others may not discover they are asexual until after one or more sexual experiences.[29][30]

Another myth is that asexuality is caused by a hormone deficiency. Asexual people who have their hormone levels tested are generally found to be within normative ranges. Some asexuals have received hormone therapy for reasons unrelated to their sexuality, but they have not reported changes in their sexual orientation. Available evidence does not support the conclusion that asexuality is caused by hormone imbalances or deficient sex drives.[30]

Assaults and abuse

Many asexual individuals report experiencing sexual harassment and violence, including corrective rape, designed to eradicate their asexuality.[26] In the 2015 asexual community census, a volunteer-run project, 43.5% of nearly 8,000 asexuals surveyed reported having experienced some form of sexual violence.[31] These crimes occur because people see asexuality as a "challenge", and they believe they can "change the person's mind" or "fix their orientation".[27]

Asexuals frequently experience verbal abuse and violence from neighbors or strangers, in person or online.[26] This can include:

  • Saying there is something “wrong” with the victim or that the victim is “broken” because they are asexual[32]
  • Telling the victim that something is “wrong” with their body, and that is why they are asexual[32]
  • Mocking the victim’s body or making the victim feel bad about their body responding or not responding to sexual acts[32]
  • Telling the victim that they are asexual or are confused about being asexual because no one wants to have a relationship or sex with them[32]
  • Threatening to tell the victim’s friends, family, or coworkers about their asexuality without their permission[32]
  • Stopping or forbidding the victim from speaking to other asexual people, talking about asexuality, or attending in-person or online support groups for asexual people[32]

Many asexual people are wary of coming out because they fear they may face interrogation from people who don’t believe them.[31]

Media

Literature

Kerewin, from Keri Hulme's 1986 The Bone People, is asexual, and uses the word to refer to herself.[33]

Television

Comic books

Other people

Resources

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Asexual Visibility and Education Network: "General FAQ". Asexual Visibility and Education Network. (Archived on January 8, 2022).
  2. Asexual Visibility and Education Network: "Overview". Asexual Visibility and Education Network. (Archived on December 17, 2021).
  3. 3.0 3.1 The Trans Language Primer: "Asexual". The Trans Language Primer. (Archived on October 28, 2021).
  4. Dictionary.com: "Asexual Definition & Meaning". dictionary.com.
  5. Kinsey Institute: "Prevalence of Homosexuality study". kinseyinstitute.org.
  6. Lighthouse: LGBTQ+ Affirming Care: "The Asexual Community is Growing – Here's What You Need To Know". The Lighthouse Blog.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Cook, K.: "Allo-Aro Friendly A-Spec Terminology". aroworlds.com. Aro Worlds.
  8. Ace & Aros: "About". acesandaros.org.
  9. Scherrer, Kristin: "Coming to an Asexual Identity: Negotiating Identity, Negotiating Desire" (2008-10-01). ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. National Center for Biotechnology Information.
  10. Andrea Miller, Brandy L. Simula, J.E. Sumerau. Expanding the Rainbow: Exploring the Relationships of Bi+, Polyamorous, Kinky, Ace, Intersex, and Trans People. Brill, 2019. ISBN 9789004414105.
  11. 11.0 11.1 "10 Signs You’re Probably Asexual". slice.ca.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 January Nelson: "10 Signs You Are Asexual — Someone Who Does Not Experience Sexual Attraction". thoughtcatalog.com.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 Michael Waters: "Finding Asexuality in the Archives". slate.com.
  14. Julie Kliegman: "How Zines Paved the Way for Asexual Recognition". them.us.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Michael Waters: "The Tumblr bloggers building a canon of asexual history". theoutline.com.
  16. "What is Ace Week?". aceweek.org.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 "The History of Ace Week". aceweek.org.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 "Asexual Flag: And the winner is ...". Asexual Visibility and Education Network. (Archived on December 15, 2021).
  19. "The Asexuality Flag" (2012-02-20). Asexuality Archive. (Archived on November 28, 2021).
  20. Holleb, Morgan Lev Edward. The A-Z of Gender and Sexuality: From Ace to Ze. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2019. ISBN 9781784506636.
  21. Michele Theil: "11 asexuality myths and misconceptions debunked by an asexual" (2021-12-18). Metro.
  22. "The Only Facts You Need To Know About Asexuality Vs. Demisexuality". readunwritten.com. Unwritten.
  23. "Sexual attraction vs. arousal". asexualitytrust.org.nz.
  24. Suzi Godson: "Ten Things You Need to Know Before You Tell an Asexual Woman She Hasn't Met the Right Person Yet". huffingtonpost.co.uk.
  25. Olivia Petter: "What is hyposexuality and how is it different to asexuality?" (2018-05-17). The Independent.
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 26.3 "Acephobia and anti-asexual hate crime". galop.org.uk.
  27. 27.0 27.1 Sarah Doan-Minh: "Corrective Rape: An Extreme Manifestation of Discrimination and the State ’s Complicity in Sexual Violence". repository.uchastings.edu.
  28. "Why aromantic and asexual people belong in LGBTQIA+ community". news.temple.edu.
  29. 29.0 29.1 "What Is Asexual?". webmd.com. WebMD.
  30. 30.0 30.1 "Ace/Aro Mythbusting". oulgbtq.org.
  31. 31.0 31.1 Julie Kliegman: "When You’re An Asexual Assault Survivor, It’s Even Harder To Be Heard". buzzfeednews.com.
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 32.3 32.4 32.5 "What forms of abuse are unique to asexual victims?". womenslaw.org.
  33. http://www.postcolonialweb.org/nz/kerihulme/kh6.html
  34. "Everything's Gonna Be Okay Asexuality". variety.com.
  35. "Asexuality. Sex Education clip". youtube.com.
  36. "Genera+ion co-creator responds to show's cancellation, answers most-asked finale questions". ew.com.
  37. "Liv tells Mandy she's asexual". youtube.com.
  38. "Tweet from Cassandra Clare". twitter.com.
  39. "Shadowhunters confirms Raphael asexual". hiddenremote.com.
  40. "Tweet from Cassandra Clare". twitter.com.
  41. Kliegman, Julie: "Todd's Asexuality On 'BoJack' Isn't A Perfect Depiction, But It's Made Me Feel Understood" (2018-09-27). bustle.com. Bustle.
  42. "Sirens 1.06 Asexuality". youtube.com.
  43. Stein, Ro and Brandt, Ted. "Think of Me". DC Pride 2022. DC Comics, 2022-06-08.
  44. "Chip Zdarsky opens up about Jughead". comicbook.com.
  45. Pantony, Ali: "People think I must be unlovable, fussy or mentally ill. Here's what it really means to be asexual and aromantic" (2021-02-12). glamourmagazine.co.uk.
  46. "Tweet by Cavetown" (2019-09-16). twitter.com.
  47. "Being Aro Is Fine (Advice #5) video by Cavetown" (2018-09-15). web.archive.org.
  48. Laura: "'Loveless' author Alice Oseman on why aroace representation in fiction is important" (2020-07-08). aces & aros. (Archived on February 21, 2022).
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