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Asexuality is a general term or self-designation for people who find sexual behavior unappealing. 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 among the least common.

Debate

There is disagreement over whether 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, heterosexuality or bisexuality), hormonal problems, delayed development of attraction, sublimation, and not having met the right person. Many self-identified asexuals, meanwhile, deny that such diagnoses apply to them; others argue that because their asexuality does not cause them distress it should not be viewed as a medical or emotional disorder. Others argue that in the past, similar things were said about homosexuality and bisexuality, despite the fact that many people now consider these to be legitimate orientations.

Because of the lack of research on the subject, there is little documented evidence in favor of either side of the debate.

It is also claimed that asexuality is a side-effect to a lack of social ability, such as autism. Others claim that asexuality is simply the internalization of involuntary celibacy.

Research

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. [1]

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." [2] 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" [3]. 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.

Variations

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There are differences among people who 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 usually not directed at anything, and is only an urge for sexual stimulation or release; the exception is those asexuals who are also fetishists, whose sex drive is focused on the fetish object rather than a person (though many fetishists do not identify themselves as asexual). In either case, the level of sex drive 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 through sexual contact.

For those asexuals who experience feelings of romantic attraction, it can be directed towards one or both genders. These asexuals generally desire romantic relationships (ranging from casual liaisons 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 or desire 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, date only 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. For example, it is likely that in past centuries, many Catholic priests, popes, monks, and nuns were asexuals, including many canonized saints.

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, and some religions have praised both asexuality and 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.

In a research piece on the subject, Anthony F. Bogaert found that asexuals may exhibit higher rates of religiosity than sexuals. He takes this as support for his hypothesis that some asexuals may have internalized religious attitudes regarding sexual prohibition and abstinence "to such a degree that they may not admit to arousal, or at least not label it as sexual attraction". [4]

Asexuality in fiction

Perhaps the earliest example of an asexual character can be found in Hippolytus, who shuns all women and devotes his life to chastity.

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)

Aghora, one of Alejandro Jodorowsky's Metabarons, was an asexual transman.

Samuel R. Delany's 1969 short story "Aye, and Gomorrah..." depicts a society where astronauts become sexless because cosmic radiation renders their reproductive organs useless.

Ryan A. Morgan's 1997 novel John-Jack Christian tells about a teenager struggling to deal with his asexuality in a normal teenage environment, before resorting to bodybuilding to keep himself sane.

In the original Doctor Who television series (1963–1989), the Doctor was almost always depicted as asexual despite his regular stream of attractive young female companions. Since the First Doctor's initial companion, Susan Foreman, was introduced as his granddaughter, it is often assumed, but never confirmed, that the Doctor had had at one time in his early life a partner of the opposite sex with whom he had at least one child. The 1996 Doctor Who television movie caused some controversy among Doctor Who fans by having the Eighth Doctor passionately kiss, more than once, his companion Grace. In the new series (2005–), the Doctor is occasionally flirtatious, and has a romantically tinged relationship with his companion Rose Tyler. See also The Doctor and romance.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes is often regarded as another quintessentially asexual character. While his friend Doctor Watson is portrayed as charming and very much attracted to and, in the manner of a stereotypical Victorian gentleman, gallant towards various female characters, and indeed marries at least once, the detective dismisses dealings with women outside of his specific business as 'Your department, Watson' and even once sneeringly tells the doctor that 'the most winning woman' he ever knew committed infanticide for the insurance money. The story A Scandal in Bohemia (first published in the Strand Magazine in July 1891), however, introduces a female character whom Holmes admires excessively (she outwits him), and it opens with a frank explanation of the character's asexuality as it is seen by the narrator – as (almost) always, Doctor John Watson:

"To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer – excellent for drawing the veil from men's motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his."

In the long-running Granada television series starring Jeremy Brett as Holmes, one feature-length episode, The Master Blackmailer (1992) – expanded from Conan Doyle's short story The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton – had the detective seemingly developing feelings for a woman for once, but only while in character: disguised as a working man in order to infiltrate the household of the blackmailer, Milverton. Embarrassed and uncomfortable, he is nevertheless prepared to go as far as engagement in pursuit of the villain. Once out of the disguise, though, he reverts to normal and is dismissive of the poor girl.

In the K. Sandra Fuhr's online strips Boy Meets Boy (ended) and Friendly Hostility (ongoing), the cynical Collin Sri'Vastra claims to be asexual. He later forms a relationship with his best friend Kailen "Fox" Maharassa, but his romantic/affectionate levels appear to be rather low, at least at the beginning.

One of the central characters of Isabel Allende's The House of Spirits, Clara, could be construed as asexual. In her later years, she expresses a lack of interest in coitus, commenting that it only makes her bones ache.

The eponymous central character in Kurt Vonnegut's Deadeye Dick is asexual due to childhood trauma.

Many fans of Neon Genesis Evangelion believe that Rei Ayanami is asexual, since she never shows any signs of having a sex drive, the closest thing she comes to doing so is her platonic love for Shinji Ikari. Another Evangelion character, Shigeru Aoba, is strongly implied to be asexual in The End of Evangelion.

Jughead Jones is perhaps the only character of the Archie gang that is not explicitly interested in girls.

In Ian Fleming's From Russia With Love, Red Grant is described as being an asexual. However, it is unclear whether or not this trait is passed over into the film version.

See also

References

  1. Westphal, Sylvia Feature: Glad to be asexual. New Scientist. URL accessed on 23 May, 2006.
  2. Bogaert, Anthony F. (August 2004). Asexuality: prevalence and associated factors in a national probability sample. Journal of Sex Research 41: 281.
  3. Prause, Nicole, C.A. Graham Asexuality: A preliminary investigation. (ppt) URL accessed on 23 May, 2006.
  4. Bogaert, Anthony F. (August 2004). Asexuality: prevalence and associated factors in a national probability sample. Journal of Sex Research 41: 280.
  • Egan, Greg (1995). Distress.

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