1) How did this process get you started on the study of Asexuality?
My first reaction when I came across the idea of asexuality was actually non-comprehension. In common with a lot of the sexual people I’ve spoken to about asexuality since then, I found it very interesting but I just didn’t ‘get it’. I’d recently completed an MA dissertation project on sexual identity & I was struck by the extent to which much of the academic literature I’d been reading had taken sexual attraction as a given, yet here was the most obvious counter-point to that assumption. It was in the process of talking to these two friends about asexuality that I began to get interested in it from an academic stand point, all the more so when I found out (via Andrew H’s excellent Asexual Explorations site) how little academic research had been conducted on the topic at the time.
2) During this time, you said it caused you to question your own sexuality? What did you encounter when you went down this path? What did you discover about yourself?
It was the first time that it had ever occurred to me to think about my own relationship to sexual desire and sexual attraction, rather than simply taking these things as a universal given. Actually my partner at the time became rather concerned that I was going to end up identifying as asexual myself when she saw how fascinated I was getting by it. But it was more a case of the research prompting me to think about aspects of myself that I hadn’t before, opening up a space to put into words things which I hadn’t really properly articulated previously.
Whereas people often take asexuality as a ‘lack’ of sexual attraction, implying that it’s a small group characterized by the absence of something which the majority have, my research and my personal experience led me to a very different conclusion: sexual attraction is not a uniform thing, nor is the moral significance we place upon it in our lives. Until studying asexuality, the question of what significance sex had for me wasn’t something it had ever occurred to me to wonder about. Cue the realization that, though I’m not asexual and I enjoy sex, it’s just not something I see as particularly important in the context of my life as a whole.
I’ve been fascinated ever since by how asexuality might provoke an increasing awareness of sexuality (there’s no good counterpoint word for this) in non-asexuals. Much as the word heterosexual only became a common identifier once there was public awareness of homosexuality, I suspect that increasing visibility for the asexual community will provoke a much more nuanced and personalized understanding of sexuality amongst non-asexuals. At the very least this was my personal experience. There’s a complexity and richness to sexual experience which our everyday languages for talking about these things, rooted as they are in the scientific (and often psuedo-scientific) study of sex, just doesn’t currently do justice to and this has real consequences for how people understand themselves and how they relate to others.
3) How does Asexuality fit into the field of Sociology? What topics would Sociologists cover that would be of interest to Asexuals?
Although i think Asexuality Studies both is and should be an interdisciplinary field, I’ve long maintained that sociology – at least of a particular sort – offers a unique vantage point for studying asexuality because of the analytical resources it provides for exploring the relationship of the individual to wider society. In this sense it looks at the experience of asexual individuals, as well as the emergence of an asexual community more widely, in terms of wider trends which are underway in contemporary society. So it could be said, at least ideally, to combine the big picture with the little picture (or the ‘macro’ and the ‘micro’ to use sociological lingo).
4) How do you feel about the current state of Asexual research? Most of it focuses on the medical or mental health fields. It seems there is almost no research about how Asexuals live and the problems they face. How are you and others working to change this?
Asexuality research is becoming a lot more diverse but, given what a long term process academic publishing is, it hasn’t yet made an impact simply because it’s not in print. It’s also a field which, interestingly, seems to draw grad students to it much more than established academics – with a few notable exceptions, some in print, others in progress – though obviously there comes a point where the former group become the latter. There’s an edited book of feminist work on asexuality studies due out later this year, as well as my own edited book and a special issue of the journal Psychology & Sexuality due next year. 2012 promises to be an exciting year for asexuality studies.
5) You are appearing at the Sexualization of Culture Conference in London, if you have not already. You are forming what you hope to be the first International Panel on Asexuality. (I believe there /has /been one at USC Berkley, but you may want to contact Sara Beth Brooks or David Jay to confirm this information.) What disciplines will the panel include? Will prominent researchers be on the panel?
We haven’t actually got confirmation about this yet but hopefully we’ll hear soon. Ela Pryzbylo from the University of Alberta had the idea of putting in a proposal about asexuality and sexual culture – so the credit very much goes to her for what could be a hugely exciting event – contacting me a few months ago to collaborate on the submission. CJ Chasin, an asexual academic whose work I’ve drawn on extensively in my research, will be the third person on the proposed panel, so it’s a mix discipline wise: sociology, women’s studies and psychology. I’m hugely excited about this both because it’ll be a huge opportunity to promote asexuality research – particularly in terms of wider debates about sexualization which I’ve been convinced for a long time that asexuality studies has a unique perspective on – as well as meeting and working with two people whose work and interests extend in a very similar direction to my own.
6) You have launched an Asexuality Studies website. You would like it to become a hub for researchers interested in Asexuality. How do you plan on achieving this goal?
It’s still very much a work in progress (asexualitystudies.org) but I’m hopeful it will be up and running by the start of the next academic year. I’m arranging a series of online seminars about asexuality research which will be recorded and posted on the site as podcasts – there’s a draft schedule up there at the moment. It’s also hosting the asexuality studies discussion list, which I setup quite a while ago now, as well as research profiles, other podcasts and (eventually) resources for the media.