This is the outline for the special theme issue of Psychology & Sexuality which I edited with Kristina Gupta and Todd Morrison. It was published in March 2013. The editorial and the ‘virtual discussion’ are open access (i.e. freely available without a university library subscription to the journal) until the end of May 2013.
The Editorial for the Theme Issue, including a review of existing literature on asexuality and an attempt to formulate a cohesive agenda for Asexuality Studies
Who reports absence of sexual attraction in Britain? Evidence from national probability surveys
There is little evidence about the prevalence of absence of sexual attraction, or the characteristics of people reporting this, often labelled asexuals. We examine this using data from two probability surveys of the British general population, conducted in 1990–1991 and 2000–2001. Interviewers administered face-to-face and self-completion questionnaires to people aged 16–44 years (N = 13,765 in 1990–1991; N = 12,110 in 2000–2001). The proportion that had never experienced sexual attraction was 0.4% (95% CI: 0.3–0.5%) in 2000–2001, with no significant variation by gender or age, versus 0.9% (95% CI: 0.7–1.1%) in 1990–1991; p < 0.0001. Among these 79 respondents in 2000–2001, 28 (40.3% men; 33.9% women) had had sex, 19 (33.5% men; 20.9% women) had child(ren), and 17 (30.1% men; 19.2% women) were married. Three-quarters of asexual men and two-thirds of asexual women considered their frequency of sex ‘about right’, while 24.7% and 19.4%, respectively, ‘always enjoyed having sex’. As well as providing evidence on the distribution of asexuality in Britain, our data suggest that it cannot be assumed that those reporting no sexual attraction are sexually inexperienced or without intimate relationships. We recognise the possibility of social desirability bias given our reliance on self-reported data, but suggest that its effect is not easily predicted regarding absence of sexual attraction.
Mental health and interpersonal functioning in self-identified asexual men and women
Human asexuality is defined as a lack of sexual attraction to anyone or anything, and preliminary evidence suggests that it may best be defined as a sexual orientation. As asexual individuals may face the same social stigma experienced by gay, lesbian and bisexual persons, it follows that asexual individuals may experience higher rates of psychiatric disturbance that have been observed among these non-heterosexual individuals. This study explored mental health correlates and interpersonal functioning and compared asexual, non-heterosexual and heterosexual individuals on these aspects of mental health. Analyses were limited to Caucasian participants only. There were significant differences among groups on several measures, including depression, anxiety, psychoticism, suicidality and interpersonal problems, and this study provided evidence that asexuality may be associated with higher prevalence of mental health and interpersonal problems. Clinical implications are indicated, in that asexual individuals should be adequately assessed for mental health difficulties and provided with appropriate interventions that are sensitive to their asexual identity.
HSDD and asexuality: a question of instruments
The relation between the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manuals(DSMs) and asexuality is likely to constitute a prolific direction in research, especially because of the diagnostic category ‘hypoactive sexual desire disorder’ (HSDD). This article investigates the concept of sexual desire as outlined by psychiatry and explores the ways in which asexuality disrupts that knowledge. By extension, I consider the model of sexuality that the DSM vehiculates. The manuals themselves provide no measures, no scales, and no defined norms, yet, simultaneously, assume a normative sexuality against which all others can be measured and classified. This article discusses the conceptualisation of ‘sexual dysfunctions’ in the DSM, of which HSDD is a part, and questions how it operates in clinical research into asexuality. I also pay attention to the clause of ‘personal distress’ in HSDD, since it appears to be one of the main differences between HSDD and asexuality. HSDD, asexuality, and the role played by the DSM poses questions such as what discourses, forms of knowledge, and institutions, have shaped, silenced, and eventually erased, asexuality.
Asexuality: from pathology to identity and beyond
This article draws attention to the constitutive mechanisms of asexual identity. It identifies a shift in expert discourse: a move away from pathology towards recognition of asexual identity. While this discursive shift, propelled by recent research in psychology and sexology, could pave the way for the inclusion of asexuals in public culture, it also reaffirms dominant terms and formations pertaining to sexuality and intimacy. The article argues that the discursive formation of a new asexual identity takes place through a process of objectification and subjectification/subjection at the interface between expert disciplines and activism. The recognition of identity is constitutive of subjects that are particularly suitable for self-regulation within the parameters of (neo)liberal citizenship. Yet, at the same time, the discursive shift also makes room for critical intervention akin to queer critique of naturalised gender and sexuality norms. The recognition of asexual identity could serve to destabilise the sexual regime (of truth) that privileges sexual relationships against other affiliations and grants sexual-biological relationships a status as primary in the formation of family and kinship relations. The article concludes that asexual identity encourages us to imagine other pathways of affiliation and other concepts of personhood, beyond the tenets of liberal humanism – gesturing instead towards new configurations of the human and new meanings of sexual citizenship.
Afterword: some thoughts on asexuality as an interdisciplinary method
A mystery wrapped in an enigma – asexuality: a virtual discussion
Contributors to this thematic issue were requested to answer six questions related to asexuality as a phenomenon and also the research therein. All responses received were collated into a ‘virtual discussion’ with the hope of spawning new ideas and also identifying any gaps in the current research and general knowledge regarding asexuality.
Review of Sex, lies and pharmaceuticals: how drug companies plan to profit from Female Sexual Dysfunction
Review of Understanding Asexuality
And here are some of my favourite papers that have been written elsewhere on asexuality:
Coming to an Asexual Identity: Negotiating Identity, Negotiating Desire
Sexuality is generally considered an important aspect of self-hood. Therefore, individuals who do not experience sexual attraction, and embrace an asexual identity are in a unique position to inform the social construction of sexuality. This study explores the experiences of asexual individuals utilizing open ended Internet survey data from 102 self-identified asexual people. In this paper I describe several distinct aspects of asexual identities: the meanings of sexual, and therefore, asexual behaviors, essentialist characterizations of asexuality, and lastly, interest in romance as a distinct dimension of sexuality. These findings have implications not only for asexual identities, but also for the connections of asexuality with other marginalized sexualities.
What Asexuality Contributes to the Same-Sex Marriage Discussion
While same-sex marriage debates have captured public attention, it is but one component of a broader discussion regarding the role of marriage in a changing society. To inform this discussion, I draw on qualitative, Internet survey data from 102 self-identified asexual individuals. I find that asexual relationships are complicated and nuanced in ways that have implications for a GLBTQ political agenda, including same-sex marriage recognition. In addition, findings indicate that assumptions of sex and sexuality in relationships are problematic and that present language for describing relationships is limiting. Findings suggest a social justice agenda for marginalized sexualities should be broader in scope than same-sex marriage.
There’s more to life than sex? Difference and commonality within the asexual community
Asexuality is becoming ever more widely known and yet it has received relatively little attention from within sociology. Research in the area poses particular challenges because of the relatively recent emergence of the asexual community, as well as the expanding array of terms and concepts through which asexuals articulate their differences and affirm their commonalities. This article presents the initial findings of a mixed-methods research project, which involved semi-structured interviews, online questionnaires and a thematic analysis of online materials produced by members of the asexual community. The aim was to understand self-identified asexuals in their own terms so as to gain understanding of the lived experience of asexuals, as well as offering a subjectively adequate grounding for future research in the area.
Crisis and safety: The asexual in sexusociety
This article provides a discussion of the implications that asexuality, as an identity category emerging in the West, carries for sexuality. Asexuality provides an exciting forum for revisiting questions of sexual normativity and examining those sex acts which are cemented to appear ‘natural’ through repetition, in the discursive system of sexusociety. Drawing especially on feminist and postmodern theories, I situate asexuality as both a product of and reaction against our sexusocial, disoriented postmodern here and now. This article also addresses the question of whether or not, and on what terms, asexuality may be considered a resistance against sexusociety.
Asexuality in disability narratives
This essay explores normative regulations of disabled people’s sexuality and its relationship with asexuality through narratives of disabled individuals. While asexuality has been persistently criticized as a damaging myth imposed on disabled people, individuals with disabilities who do not identify as sexual highlight the inseparable intersection between normality and sexuality. Disabled and asexual identity and its narratives reveal that asexuality is an embodiment neither to be eliminated, nor to be cured, and is a way of living that may or may not change. Claims for the sexual rights of desexualized minority groups mistakenly target asexuality and endorse a universal and persistent presence of sexual desire. The structurally and socially enforced asexuality and desexualization are distinguished from an asexual embodiment and perspective disidentifying oneself from sexuality.