If I had any more conference funding left then I’d be going to this. The early bird post-doc rate is admirably cheap:

A Critical Moment: Sex/Gender Research at the Intersection of Culture, Brain, & Behavior

October 23-24, 2015  – Early Registration is Now Open

UCLA, Los Angeles, California

WEBSITES

http://www.thefpr.org/conference2015/

http://www.thefprconference2015.org

Confirmed Keynote Speaker is Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling, Nancy Duke Lewis Professor Emerita of Biology and Gender Studies, Brown University, and author of the pioneering books, Sex/Gender: Biology in a Social World (2012) and Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality (2000). 

Foundational Talks will place sex and gender within larger historical (Sarah Richardson, Harvard University), biological (Art Arnold, UCLA), and cultural (Gilbert Herdt, California Institute for Integral Studies) contexts, highlighted by a vibrant panel discussion with these speakers and Alice Wexler, UCLA.

Topical Sessions covering the Humanities and Sciences, with several more speakers:

*Evolutionary and Cultural Contexts of Sex/Gender Differences in Brain and Behavior (Donald Pfaff, James Rilling, Kathy Huang, Michael Peletz)

*Toward a Culture-Brain-Behavioral Understanding of Partnerships, Marriage, Sexual Orientations, Desires, and Practices (Daniel Fessler, Sari van Anders, Lisa Diamond, Tom Boellstorff)

*What Counts as Adequate Function? (Melissa Hines, Hillard Kaplan, Marcia Inhorn, Carol Worthman)

*Sex/Gender and Systems of Power (Matthew Gutmann, Carol Worthman)

*Film: Bitter Honey (Robert Lemelson)

Panel discussions and question/answer sessions with the audience throughout this 2-day event. We have 19 confirmed speakers, with more names to be added soon.

Discover the latest findings on sex/gender, from an interdisciplinary perspective. All at UCLA this October 23-24, 2015.

Take advantage of the lower cost EARLY Registration fees and REGISTER NOW. Our last two conferences sold out before the end of Early registration.

EARLY REGISTRATION (lower cost)  ENDS  June 30, 2015 (mere months away!)

http://www.thefpr.org/conference2015/registration.php

Sexuality activists/academics – do consider submitting to this and please pass it on.

Due to the huge interest in the Sexual Cultures 2: Academia Meets Activism conference, we have extended the Call for Papers to 15 January 2015.  Please circulate widely and forward to individuals/networks who might be interested.

Sexual Cultures 2: Academia Meets Activism

April 8-10 2015 University of Sunderland London Campus, South Quay, London, UK

This conference, co-hosted by the Centre for Research in Media and Cultural Studies, University of Sunderland, and the Onscenity Research Network will take place on April 8-10 2015 at the University of Sunderland London Campus, London, UK 

The conference will host several keynote panels, bringing together key academics and activists on the topics of:

  • Sex and disability
  • Trans* and non-binary activism
  • Sex worker and stripper activism
  • Youth, race and sexuality

Panellists will include: Andrea Cornwall, Kat Gupta, Kate Hardy, Laura Harvey, Alex Iantaffi, Jade Fernandez, Tuppy Owens, Emma Renold, Jessica Ringrose, Nabil Shaban, Jay Stewart.

The overriding theme of the conference is the bringing together of academia with activism. Submissions are particularly welcomed from: academics who are also activists, activists who are also academics, academic/activists on the inside and outside of conventional academia, and academics and activists who are working together on projects relating to sexual cultures.

The key themes of the conference are:

Intersecting sex

Many of the most important and current debates around sexual identities, practices and cultures in recent years have cohered around intersectionality. Sex is an area in which we particularly see intersections playing out between various forms and systems of oppression discrimination. For example, key debates concern the possibilities for consensual sex and agency within multiple intersecting structures of oppression; the ways in which ‘sexualization’ operates – and is discussed – in gendered, classed, and raced ways; which bodies and identities are considered to have the potential to be sexual or not, and which are regarded as intrinsically hypersexual or pathologically sexual. Papers in this strand will explore intersectional elements of sexual identity, practice, experience and culture, the ways in which academics and/or activists are engaging and intervening in these areas (online and offline), and the key points of tension and conflict that are emerging around these issues.

Advising/educating sex

Sex advice and education is a key area of concern in relation to sexual cultures. Sex advice and sex education are arenas in which cultural conceptualisations of sex are reproduced and perpetuated, as well as being potential sites for the resisting of dominant cultural understandings and offering alternative possibilities. Sex advice and education occur across various media and diverse professional contexts, including – for example – self-help books, problem pages, websites, online forums, news reporting, TV documentaries, and pornography, as well as school sex ed, youth work, sexual health clinics, sex therapy, sex coaching and sex work. Papers in this strand will explore the kinds ways in which intimacies are being mediated through various forms of sex advice and education, as well as considering the ways in which activists and/or academics are engaging and intervening in these areas (online and offline, in policy and in practice) and the forms of sex advice and education that are emerging from these engagements and interventions.

Sex and technology

Technologies of all kinds have been central to the ways in which sex is understood and experienced in contemporary societies. We are interested in papers that explore evolving technologies in the presentation of sex through print, photography, film and video to todays online and mobile media; the ways that technologies are increasingly integrated into everyday sex lives; the expansion of sex technologies in toy, doll, machine and robot manufacture, the marketing of drugs such as Viagra and cosmetic technologies such as body modification and genital surgery for enhancing sex; the expansion of sex work and recreation online; sex 2.0 practices, regimes and environments such as porn tubes, sex chat rooms and worlds like Second Life; and the shifting relations between bodies and machines in the present and in predictions of futuresex.

Working sex

In recent years sex work has become a potent site for the discussion of labour, commerce and sexual ethics, attracting increased academic attention and public concern. Papers in this strand of the conference will seek to develop our understanding of commercial sex, focus on conceptualizing emerging types of sexual labour, and explore the place of sex work of all kinds in contemporary society. They will ask how an investigation of contemporary forms of sex work and sex as work may shed new light on the study of cultural production, industry, commerce, and notions of commodification and labour. We are also seeking papers which are interested in exploring the connections between work and leisure, work and pleasure, sex work as forms of body and affective labour, and the ethics and politics of sexual labour.

We invite proposals for the following:

Panels, roundtable discussions, and workshops of up to four presenters/facilitators (1 hour)

Papers/interactive events (20 minutes)

Short Ignite papers (5 minutes/20 slides)

Posters

We particularly welcome proposals for non-standard types of presentation which question the academic/activist distinction, such as fish bowl discussions, pecha kucha, creative methods workshops, and interactive workshops.

All presenters are requested to make their material accessible to an audience which will include academics, activists, practitioners and community members.

Deadline for the submission of proposals is January 15 2015.

For all individual papers please submit a 150 word abstract and 150 word biographical note. Please indicate which key theme of the conference your paper belongs to.

For panels, workshops and roundtable sessions please submit a 600-800 overview and set of abstracts with 150 word biographical notes. Please indicate which key theme of the conference you want your panel to be considered for.

All submissions should be addressed to sexualcultures2[at]sunderland[dot]ac[dot]uk

Call for papers

 Researching Sex and Intimacy in Contemporary Life:

An interdisciplinary Symposium

July 18th 2014

Hosted by the School of Law, Politics and Sociology and supported by Researcher-led Initiative funding, 

University of Sussex

With confirmed speakers Dr Meg Barker, Open University:

http://www.open.ac.uk/socialsciences/main/staff/people-profile.php?name=Meg_Barker

Professor Andrea Cornwall, University of Sussex: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/profiles/92604

This symposium aims to bring together researchers across the disciplines to address key current questions and explore ways of researching and thinking about sex and intimacy. Currently there is much exciting research and thinking in this area in the UK. Indeed there has been a recent proliferation of research and publication spanning such diverse areas as mediated intimacies, mapping intimacies, asexuality and intimacy, enduring love, liquid love, intimacy and living alone, living apart together, seduction communities, cross-national intimacies, intimacy landscapes, intimate citizenship, sexual citizenship, plastic sexuality, sexualisation, sex work, sex and material culture. There is plenty of scope for interdisciplinary thinking and researching from a range of disciplines including Sociology, Cultural studies, Gender Studies, Anthropology, Politics, Law, International Development, Education, Psychology and beyond. It is anticipated that future networking and opportunities for collaboration will arise from this event. Peers and colleagues at all levels (from doctoral researchers to senior academics) are invited to share their research-in-progress or completed research and reflections on this topic.

Papers will be either 10 minutes (with 5 minutes for discussion) or 30 minutes (with 10 minutes for discussion). Abstracts should be no longer than 300 words and returned to Charlotte Morris by 30th May at cam40@sussex.ac.uk

Presenters may choose to address the (non-exhaustive) questions listed below:

How do we define sex in relation to intimacy and vice versa?

In what ways do ideas about sex and intimacy diverge and or overlap?

What theoretical and methodological frameworks enable us to effectively research sex and intimacy in contemporary life? Are new frameworks needed?

In what ways are sex and intimacy represented, conceptualised and practiced?

Are there any ways in which understandings and practices of sex and intimacy can be said to have changed in recent times and if so, to what extent?

How do intersecting identities influence understandings and practices of sex and intimacy?

Sex Education journal — Special Issue
The media’s evolving role in sex education

Entertainment media have long been identified as having a key role to play in education about sex and relationships.

All too often in studies of sexual learning the media have been assessed for their potentially negative effects on young people. For example, studies have correlated consumption of particular media forms with early sexual intercourse or teenage pregnancy, while parents and schools have been seen as providing a positive corrective.

However empirical research shows that this simple binary is not always accurate: in some instances entertainment media may offer positive information and representations while school or parents often offer more moralizing or conservative perspectives. For example, a young person growing up in a homophobic family may see happy queer characters in a sitcom; or young people attending a school that emphasizes young women’s role as gatekeepers and controllers of men’s sexuality may find helpful TV dramas that explore women’s active sexual agency.

This special issue of the journal Sex Education will engage with these and related concerns, pausing to take stock of where we are now, especially with respect to the positive role that old and newer forms of media can play in learning about sex.
Papers may focus on any aspect of the entertainment media, and on any aspect of healthy sexual development – including, but not limited to, open communication about sex, assertiveness, sexual agency, sexual identity, or an acceptance that sex can be pleasurable.

If you are not sure whether your article is appropriate for this special issue, please feel free to send an abstract in the first instance to a.mckee@qut.edu.au

Peer review:
Articles for the special issue will be subject to normal peer review in line with the procedures of the journal.

Timeline:
You should submit your article for review by the 24th October 2014. You can find the journal’s instructions for authors at:
http://www.tandfonline.com/action/authorSubmission?journalCode=csed20&page=instructions#.Utent_27yf0

When you submit your article will be asked whether you are submitting for a special issue. Please use the pull-down menu to note that you are submitting your paper for the special issue The Media’s Evolving Role in Sex Education. Please also note in the manuscript of your article that you are submitting it for this special issue.

If you have any questions about the mechanics of submitting a paper for Sex Education you should find the answers in the guidelines for authors mentioned above.

I’m speaking at this and I’m really looking forward to it:

We would like to invite you to get involved in the ‘sexgen’ network.

‘sexgen’ is a collaborative interdisciplinary network bringing together gender and sexuality based research centres around the North of England. We aim to bring academic research, writing and thinking on gender and sexuality into conversation with the ideas, cultural expressions and knowledges of community groups, cultural sites and activist organisations. Series organising contacts are: Sally Hines, Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies, University of Leeds:s.hines@leeds.ac.uk and Surya Monro, Centre for Research in Social Sciences, University of Huddersfield: s.monro@hud.ac.uk.

In 2014-2015 sexgen will hold a series of free seminars, details of which will be forthcoming. Seminars will be themed to reflect current and emerging themes within gender and sexuality studies.

Please find attached the Network flyer and the flyer for the first seminar: Seminar 1: February 28th 2014, The Centre for Research in Social Sciences, University of Huddersfield: ‘Compulsory Sexualities’.

http://sexgennorthernnetwork.wordpress.com/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/SexGenNorthernNetwork/

hashtag #sexgen

We would be grateful if you could publicize ‘sexgen’ amongst your networks.

The Glasgow Human Rights Network, in association with the Gender and Sexualities Forum, is pleased to announce the following event:

The Family, Sexuality, and Human Rights in Global Perspective

Chair: Dr. Vikki Turbine (Politics, University of Glasgow)

Dr. Kelly Kollman (Politics, University of Glasgow)

Dr. Roona Simpson (Sociology, University of Glasgow)

Dr. Matthew Waites (Sociology, University of Glasgow)

23 January 2014, 5:15 pm

Sir Charles Wilson Building, Basement Seminar Room, University of Glasgow

Drs. Kollman, Simpson and Waites will discuss their recent books.

Kelly Kollman (2013) The Same-Sex Unions Revolution in Western Democracies (Manchester University Press)

This book examines same-sex unions (SSU) policy developments in eighteen western democracies and seeks to explain why the overwhelming majority of these countries has implemented a national law to recognise gay and lesbian couples since 1989.  The analysis in the book illustrates that this  wave of SSU policy adoptions across the established democracies of Western Europe and North America is, to a significant degree, the product of international norm diffusion and socialisation.  The first part of the study traces the creation of a norm for relationship recognition by transnational activists and policymakers within the European polity, and describes how this norm has catalysed policy change in many western democracies.  The second part examines these processes in greater depth using two comparative case studies (Germany and the Netherlands; the United States and Canada) to identify how the norm influences domestic policy debates as well as which factors determine the power it can exert in different national environments.

Lynn Jamieson and Roona Simpson (2013) Living Alone: Globalization, Identity, Belonging (Palgrave Macmillan)

This book presents a systematic sociological analysis of the growing trend of solo living across the globe.  Prevalent first among the elderly, living alone has become common at ages associated with partners and children, leading to anxieties about the end of family and community. This groundbreaking and highly original study brings evidence to core debates about contemporary social change in the context of globalization, exploring individualization and social connection, the future of family formation, consumption and identities, the relevance of place in mobile worlds, belonging and ‘community’, living arrangements and sustainability.

Corinne Lennox and Matthew Waites (eds.) (2013) Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in the Commonwealth: Struggles for Decriminalisation and Change (School of Advanced Study, University of London)

Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in The Commonwealth: Struggles for Decriminalisation and Change offers the most internationally extensive analysis to date of the global struggle for decriminalisation of same-sex sexual behaviour, with chapters by academics and activists covering 16 states in detail: United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Malawi, Botswana, Uganda, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and The Bahamas.  The volume is the first to address the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) and all non-heterosexual people in the Commonwealth of Nations, in a context where 41 Commonwealth states still criminalise same-sex sexual acts between adults, due to the British Empire criminalising same-sex behaviour across the world.

The event will conclude with a wine reception.

Sexuality Summer School 26 – 30 May: Queer Anatomies

Public Events

Monday 26 May – 12-2 – lunchtime public lecture: Professor Jasbir Puar (Rutgers)

Monday 26 May – 6-8 – film screening at Cornerhouse: United in Anger: A History of ACT UP (2012) followed by Q&A with director Jim Hubbard and Dr.Monica Pearl (Manchester)

Tuesday 27 May – 5-7 – public lecture: Professor Valerie Traub (Michigan and Simon Visiting Professorship, Manchester). Co-sponsored by SEXGEN northern network

Wednesday 28 May – evening performance at Contact: Peggy Shaw in her new show: RUFF  (sponsored by Science, Stroke, Art as part of Action on Stroke Month)

Thursday 29 May – 5-7 – public lecture: Professor Mary Bryson (University of British Columbia) and Chase Joynt (Chicago / tbc) on Queer Cancer  

These public events accompany the Sexuality Summer School, a five-day event for postgraduates, organized by the Centre for the Study of Sexuality and Culture (CSSC) at the University of Manchester since 2008. The Sexuality Summer School brings together postgraduates, researchers and international scholars, and also artists and filmmakers, to facilitate dialogue and discussions that speak to contemporary debates in queer and feminist sexuality studies, with a particular emphasis on the interdisciplinary study of culture. In 2014, our focus will be on cultural theories and histories of anatomy.

The Sexuality Summer School will also include workshops with Claudia Castañeda (Emerson), with Erika Alm and Kajsa Widegren (Gender Studies, Gothenburg) and members of CSSC at the University of Manchester, including: Jackie StaceyMonica PearlDavid AldersonDaniela Caselli and Laura Doan.

All public events are open to everyone. The public lectures are free, and tickets for the Cornerhouse screening and Contact performance can be purchased online at cornerhouse.org and contactmcr.com.

The Sexuality Summer School is sponsorship this year by the University of Manchester Faculty of Humanities, Cornerhouse, Contact, Manchester Pride, Stroke Association NW and SEXGEN.

Registration for the Sexuality Summer School is open to all PhD and Masters students and will go live on 14 February 2014 at estore.manchester.ac.uk.

For more information about the Sexuality Summer School, including details of previous events, go to sexualitysummerschool.wordpress.com, email us and get on the mailing list at sexualitysummerschool@gmail.com, find Sexuality Summer School on Facebook or tweet us @SSS_Manchester

Dear Colleagues,

We are delighted to announce the launch of the ‘sexgen Northern Network’.

‘sexgen’ is a collaborative interdisciplinary network bringing together gender and sexuality based research centres around the North of England. We aim to bring academic research, writing and thinking on gender and sexuality into conversation with the ideas, cultural expressions and knowledges of community groups, cultural sites and activist organisations. Series organising contacts are: Sally Hines, Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Studies, University of Leeds: s.hines@leeds.ac.uk and Surya Monro, Centre for Research in Social Sciences, University of Huddersfield: s.monro@hud.ac.uk.

In 2014-2015 sexgen will hold a series of free seminars, details of which will be forthcoming. Seminars will be themed to reflect current and emerging themes within gender and sexuality studies.

Please find attached the Network flyer and the flyer for the first seminar: Seminar 1: February 28th 2014, The Centre for Research in Social Sciences, University of Huddersfield: ‘Compulsory Sexualities’.

We would be grateful if you could publicize ‘sexgen’ among your networks.

We look forward to seeing you at future events.

With best wishes,

Surya Monro and Sally Hines.

Screen shot 2013-12-07 at 07.31.15

This is a pre-print of a paper published in Psychology of Sexualities Review, Vol. 4, No. 1, Autumn 2013. A copy of the final article can be obtained here

While asexuality is usually defined as ‘not experiencing sexual attraction’ amongst those who self-identify as asexual , the question ‘what is asexuality?’ immediately becomes more complex when considered from the standpoint of psychological or sociological research. As Prause and Graham (2007, p. 342) note, the term ‘asexual’ has often been used pejoratively by researchers, deployed to characterise the ‘asexuality’ of older persons, younger lesbians, individuals with physical disabilities or severe mental illness. Likewise, as Bogaert (2012) observes, “women have often been portrayed in art and the popular media as asexual – for example, the iconic virgin” (p. 38). There is a politics of asexuality, existing prior to the contemporary trend for self-identification as asexual, which should ideally be taken into account by those now conducting research in the area. While some have argued that operationalising ‘asexuality’ should proceed from the observable trend to self-identify as asexual, for instance see Carrigan (2012), this will tend to exclude those who have not yet ‘come out’ as asexual and use of the definition ’not experiencing sexual attraction’ remains contested (Aicken et al., 2012, 122). The further methodological risk is that the apparent commonality expressed through this ‘umbrella’ definition can obscure the difference which nonetheless characterises asexual individuals (Carrigan, 2011). Beyond this shared point of identification are a plethora of differences, manifesting in divergent orientations to matters such as romance (those romantic asexuals who experience romantic attraction but not sexual attraction and those aromantics who experience neither romantic nor sexual attraction), the gendering of romantic attraction (those who are heteromantic, homoromantic, biromantic or panromantic) and sexuality itself (those who may enjoy sexual acts without experiencing sexual attraction, those who are entirely indifferent to sex and those who are actively repulsed by it). It is in this sense that the definition ‘not experiencing sexual attraction’ might best be thought of as an ‘umbrella’ covering a spectrum of orientations and identities. This then includes identities such as demisexual (someone whose experience of sexual attraction is conditional upon a prior emotional connection of significant strength) and gray-a (those who fall within the ‘gray area’ between sexual and asexual) within the asexual spectrum. Doing so helps ensure recognition of the phenomenological diversity of asexual identification, particularly in terms of negotiating the boundary between sexual attraction and attraction more broadly (Scherrer, 2008). If asexuality is conceptualised as a simple absence then this risks foreclosing the possibility of understanding the complex ways in which this ‘lack’ is negotiated in everyday life. For instance as Scherrer (2010) writes:

“Participants described many possibilities for talking about relationships including ‘platonic friendships,’ ‘significant others,’ ‘complex,’ ‘special,’ ‘romantic friendship,’ ‘companion,’ ‘romantic partnerships,’ and ‘friendship with various levels.’ Individuals also point to multiple aspects of relationships, such as time spent together, living situations, or degrees of emotional or physical intimacy, as other factors that could be important for describing intimate relationships. These descriptors all share an interest in rethinking and rewriting the language that is available to describe relationships.” (p. 67)

The forms taken by such ‘rethinking’ and ‘rewriting’, as well as the variability of the reasons for which they are undertaken, offer important insights into the lived lives of asexuals individuals which are easily lost if asexuality is understood as an absence. In this sense it is important to distinguish between the emergence of asexuality as a cultural identity, embedded within a wider discourse which is continuing to evolve (Carrigan, 2011), and the underlying characteristics which lead people to come to identify as such. With regards to the former, Hinderliter (2013) offers a perspicacious overview of the history of the asexual community, leading from its early online presence, through to the formation of the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) which popularised the ‘umbrella definition’ of asexuality as ‘those who do not experience sexual attraction’ and was integral to the establishment of its present form. But while the contemporary discourse of asexuality only began to take form in the early years of the 21st century, it seems untenable to suggest that the individual characteristics which lead people to this mode of thinking and talking about themselves emerged concurrently. Furthermore, as Bogaert (2004) notes, “there may be a number of independent development pathways, perhaps both biological and psychosocial, leading to asexuality” (p. 284). Therefore we can helpfully construe the field of asexuality research in terms of an interconnected series of questions pertaining, on the one hand, to the (digitally mediated) formation of asexual communities and the emergence of contemporary modes of asexual self-identification and, on the other hand, to the (bio)psychosocial processes which causally shape the personal properties constituting the objective referents of asexual self-identification. In practice the two sets of questions are deeply intertwined but distinguishing between them can, at least in the abstract, be a useful aid for making sense of points of agreement and disagreement within the growing interdisciplinary literature on asexuality.

One recurring manifestation of these issues within the literature has been the contested relation between asexuality qua sexual identity or orientation and the absence of sexual attraction qua pathology. Carrigan (2011, 2012) identified a number of recurrent reactions to the public expression of asexuality e.g. “you haven’t met the right person yet”, “maybe you’re just a late bloomer?”, “were you abused as a child?”, “is there something wrong with your hormones?”. The most virulent form this assumption takes is the notion that there must be a childhood trauma which explains (away) a given individual’s asexuality (Bogaert, 2012, p. 155). These pathologizing social reactions went hand-in-hand with a clear tendency for the research participants to have self-pathologized for a period of time prior to coming to identify as asexual, with reports of feeling “broken” or “damaged” recurring frequently (Carrigan, 2011). While much work remains to be done concerning the stigma experienced by asexual individuals, it is  nonetheless clear that, as (Gazzola and Morrison 2012) note, “the current literature suggests the experiences of asexual individuals are excluded from contemporary Western society’s understanding of sexuality and intimate relations in many ways”. This can be seen in the “absence of an English vocabulary to describe their relationships, asexual individuals’ exclusion from peer groups, and the assumptions underlying the development and use of many social scientific scales” ( p. 27). The latter point in particular poses obvious difficulties for further research in the area, as the pervasive marginalization of asexuality within contemporary culture also means that the assumed universality of sexual attraction has shaped many methodological approaches and research instruments commonly used for the study of sexuality. The question of stigma remains empirically under-researched but has indirectly been the object of much theoretical work, with authors such as Gressgard (2013), Kim (2011) and Pryzbylo (2011, 2013) addressing related issues from the perspective of queer theory.

Another closely related issue has also attracted much theoretical attention within the literature. Authors such as Bogaert (2004, 2006, 2012), Flore (2013) and Hinderliter (2013) have, among others, sought to address the relation between asexuality and Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD). While the conflation of the two categories has largely been rejected in the literature, the question of how the relation between them ought to be conceived remains contested. One immediate response to the prima facie overlap between the two categories is to observe that the available evidence fails to suggest the prevalence of the distress or interpersonal difficulty required for a clinical diagnosis (Brotto et al., 2010; Prause and Graham, 2007). Another is to point towards the source of such distress where it does occur (Bogaert, 2010, p. 109-110), with the deeply entrenched lack of cultural visibility and the tendency of many to explain away asexuality as a function of some prior trauma or physical ailment upon  encountering it representing an obvious social origin for the experience of distress. Bogaert (2012) offers a memorable rejoinder to the pervasive tendency to pathologize asexuality:

“Have you ever skydived before? Of course, most people haven’t and have no interest in it. I have, and for me, it was a thrill. But do those who have not had, and do not want to have, this experience have a disorder? So, if you don’t want this experience, should we diagnose you with, say, hypoactive skydiving disorder because you eschew this thrilling life activity?” (p. 113).

This question has obvious political implications, particularly when considered in terms of the visibility and media activism undertaken in an organised fashion by some within the asexual community. As Hinderliter (2013) observes, “a major goal of the asexual community is for asexuality to be seen as part of the ‘normal variation’ that exists in human sexuality rather than a disorder to be cured” (p. 167). The contested relation between the categories of ‘asexual’ and ‘HSDD’ follows inevitably from the radically divergent cultural history of each, as Hinderliter (2013) goes on to argue,

“HSDD was created by clinicians to talk about patients, making it a category imposed from above. References to things that patients say may be made in articles about HSDD written by clinicians, but very little of the HSDD discourse comes from people self-identifying as having HSDD [..] By contrast, asexuality is a category largely constructed by those identifying as such (or considering identifying as such). In discourses about asexuality outside of asexual spaces (E.g. academic work and media articles), it is often necessary for authors to actively work with members of the asexual community, who are then able to have varying degrees of influences over how asexuality is talked about. Furthermore, members of the asexual community often actively seek out means of promoting visibility as well as research on asexuality” (p. 175)

How many people are Asexual?

One understandable preoccupation of media coverage of asexuality has been the disputed question of population size: how many people are asexual? As discussed in the previous section, the issue of how ‘asexuality’ should be conceptualised and operationalised remains contested, with obvious ramifications for how the question of prevalence is addressed. Bogaert (2004) offered an early attempt to address this issue and is the source of the claim, frequently reproduced in the media, that 1% of the population is asexual. This conclusion was reached through a secondary analysis of the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAl-I) stratified probability sample conducted in the UK. 1.05% of NATSAL-I respondents reported having “never felt sexual attraction to anyone at all”. His secondary analysis of the follow-up study NATSAL-II found 0.5% of respondents reporting having “never felt sexual attraction to anyone at all” (Bogaert, 2012, p. 45). Aicken et al. (2013) raise a number of important points in their analysis of the divergence between the NATSAL-II results, which they also reanalysed, and those reported in Bogaert (2004):

“Social desirability bias is particularly interesting in relation to absence of sexual desire, as there are compelling arguments for its operation in either direction (or differently among different individuals or groups): resulting in either over- or under-reporting of sexual attraction. For instance the reduction in prevalence between surveys may reflect a genuine change over time in the experience of sexual attraction in the population. Alternatively, there may have been changed affecting the reporting of sexual attraction. The social desirability of reporting an absence of sexual attraction may have decreased, and/or the social undesirability of reporting it may have increased. While widely recognised as ‘normal’, depending on an individual’s circumstances and values, it could be seen as undesirable to report either sexual attraction or its absence. Though changes in societal norms could increase pressure to report some sexual attraction, it may be argued that an absence of sexual attraction has, until comparatively recently, been viewed as a virtue.” (p. 131).

How does someone come to identify as Asexual?

As discussed earlier in this article, the ‘umbrella definition’ of asexuality as a ‘person who does not experience sexual attraction’ is a self-identification which has been taken up by individuals with a diverse array of experiences. Carrigan (2011) reported on qualitative findings from a multi-methods study which involved in-depth interviews, online questionnaires and an online ethnography. The following is an extract from a story told by a questionnaire responded, selected for its typicality:

“The year I was sixteen (and for some time after) I spent a lot of time in the company of a few people who were very sexual and it was through their near-constant talk of sex that I was finally convinced that sexual attraction was real. I had heard that something would happen to make you want to have sex with another person, but I had never experienced it myself. In fact, I did not really believe that a person could have physical feelings ‘down there’ that they identified as sexual feelings, despite having learned what erections etc. were in my health class. I thought everyone was like me, until my classmates and friends begin to talk about sex. Then I realised that I was not like them, and for a while I thought I must be immature . . . except that in every other way they seemed so much less mature than I. I thought there might be something wrong with me, except that I am otherwise in perfect health. Then, one night while I was surfing the internet, I came across an embarrassingly girly website which included, as one of its pages, a ‘definitions’ page. I suppose the point was that was that sheltered girls with internet access could look up all the words they were afraid to ask their parents about and get solid, medical definitions. The first word on the list was ‘asexual’ and it caught my interest, because I had never heard it before. I clicked on the link which read the same thing AVEN does, ‘Asexual: a person who does not experience sexual attraction’ and it was like coming home. I knew immediately that this was me and that I wasn’t alone.”

This narrative foregrounds a series of elements common to many biographies of asexual individuals. The individual came to experience themselves as different relative to a given peer group. This often occurred at adolescence upon encountering a culture which stresses sexual experience as a marker of maturation and self-exploration. The nature of this difference is assumed to be pathological, often described in terms of feeling ‘broken’ or ‘fucked up’, with this tendency compounded by the aforementioned pervasiveness of the propensity to explain away asexuality as a function of some prior trauma or, more benignly, as being a ‘late bloomer’ or having ‘not met the right person yet’. This assumed pathology engenders a tendency towards self-questioning, pursued through activities such as seeking medical and/or therapeutic consultation, exploring sexual subcultures or searching the internet. Amongst those who took part in the research reported in Carrigan (2011, 2012), which predominately relied on online recruitment of self-identified asexuals, discovery of the asexual community online led to self-clarification, frequently expressed in terms such as “I finally understood what I was” or “I knew then how I fitted into the world”, constituted through the depathologisation of ‘not experiencing sexual attraction’ as a local reference group, in terms of which this trait was regarded as problematic, came to be replaced by a geographically dispersed reference group, in terms of which this trait was regarded as normal (Carrigan, 2011). There are obvious risks which obtain in talking of ‘stages’  and, in this case, the term is simply intended to indicate empirically identifiable commonalities in experience rather than to homogenise these experiences. Such a construct can help sensitise us to differences within the data as, for instance, in the process of self-clarification which, in spite of the homology within reported experiences, was nonetheless constituted differently by age. Younger participants in the research reported the use of internet search engines as a first port of call for seeking to clarify this trait which they assumed to be pathological, rapidly finding asexual resources online when searching for ‘not sexually attracted to anyone’ or some variant thereof. In contrast, older participants in the research had a much more prolonged process of self-clarification, lasting years or even decades, in which various strategies were pursued and resources consulted but none were able to engender the self-clarification which was being sought after.

What is the broader significance of Asexuality?

In a relatively short period of time, the burgeoning literature on asexuality has attracted significant attention from both inside and outside the academy. Many researchers working in the field have found themselves in frequent contact with journalists within both print and broadcast media, with the ensuing features tending to be subjects of widespread discussion within asexual community spaces online. AVEN actively works to facilitate such collaborations, with a media team elected through an online vote proactively working with the media and helping solicit academic responses if and when this is required. AVEN also has a project team, which takes the lead with ‘asexuality visibility and education’ beyond engaging with media. In this sense we can identify the existence of an embryonic social movement, arising from though not identical with the ‘asexual community’, which seeks to transform social attitudes and increase the visibility of asexuality to that enjoyed by other minority sexual identities. While significant in its own right, the potential complementarities between the social claims emanating from the asexual community in this sense and those emergent from, inter alia, the trans, poly and queer communities are certainly deserving of future study. More mundanely, Bogaert (2012) is certainly correct in his claim that “there is value in the opportunity for members of an overlooked and under-studied group to be able to read about and understand issues relevant to them” (p. 5). From my own  perspective as a researcher who has studied asexuality for a number of years, the absence of ‘those who do not experience sexual attraction’ (regardless of whether they are culturally identified as ‘asexual’) from the sexualities literature is retrospectively startling. The growing asexuality studies literature is valuable internally, in that it fills this gap in the wider literature, and externally, in the attention it gives to a group whose marginalisation in contemporary culture has, until recently, been reproduced in their absence from the academic literature. Furthermore, as Bogaert (2012) goes on to note of the public role such research can play, “such glimpses into new worlds may have have health and social benefits, as exposure to sexual minorities may help to increase general tolerance and acceptance” (p. 6).

Nonetheless it is important to note that research itself, as well as the public interventions made on the basis of it, have also been the object of criticisms from within the asexual community and this, in itself, represents an aspect of the topic which is of broader significance. Given the crucial role the internet has played in the formation and reproduction of the asexual community (Carrigan, 2011), research on asexuality has become an inevitable topic of news and debate within these online space, with blogs and forums frequently highlighting new papers and often hosting discussion of them. This trend has been intensified by the growing number of asexual scholars, some already publishing in the area and others preparing to, actively engaged in the development of the literature. There is an identifiable homology between the formation of the asexual community and the formation of what asexual research community presently exists, with digital communications facilitating contact and collaboration between geographically dispersed individuals, ultimately leading to ‘online’ communication having ‘offline’ offshoots. Certainly the asexual community is far ‘ahead’ of the research community in this respect, though it is notable that ‘offline’ meetings (e.g. conference sessions) seem to be becoming more frequent. This reshaping of the field of research, with the same trends identifiable in the groups of researchers as in groups of the researched, represents an important issue to be addressed by digital scholars (Weller, 20§11) and challenges existing models of how researchers relate to the communities they study. While the asexuality community is certainly an outlier in this respect, it nonetheless illustrates some of the possible ethical and methodological challenges posed by the new ‘politics of circulation’ being brought about through the digitalisation of social life (Beer, 2012). Practical examples of this can be seen in the formalisation of AVEN’s gatekeeping function, with well formulated criteria now governing the use of the space for participant recruitment by researchers (Asexuality Visibility and Education Network, 2011), as well as the Open Letter to Researchers written by the Asexuality Awareness Week Committee (Asexual Awareness Week Committee, 2011) which criticised a number of trends within the research literature, not least of all an over-reliance on online methods. Instances such as this point to the challenges likely to be faced with increasing frequency by researchers, as well as to the opportunities digital communications presents to develop new repertoires of relating to research communities. For instance I recently found my own work criticised for the occlusion of sex positive asexuals in an article in AVEN’s online magazine which was further commented upon in a number of blog posts. I found the criticism extremely thought-provoking and wrote a response which was posted on my personal website, which in turn was linked to on the AVEN forums and other blogs, leading to a range of helpful comments which helped me highlight important questions I needed to address in future writing. This is a mundane example but one which is indicative of the potential gains to scholarship which can be accrued through more open and collaborative engagement with research communities online, as well as to the enthusiasm for this sort of interaction which is common within the asexual  community.

Many have also suggested that asexuality studies has conceptual and methodological ramifications for the study of sexuality more broadly. Bogaert (2012) has argued that the “study of asexuality offers a unique opportunity to view sexuality through a new lens, but, perhaps more importantly, this new lens affords a distant, wide-angle view of its subject” (p. 8). Pryzbylo (2013) offers a similar thought in a discussion of the implications stemming from “an asexual method, lens or perspective” which she contends can be found in the work of researchers from a variety of disciplines. On Pryzbylo’s (2013)  account a dynamic cultural politics is incipient within the growing literature on asexuality, one which questions dominant norms, diversifies sexual options, challenges pathologization, problematizes sex liberation rhetoric and “insists on the legitimacy, viability, positivity and possibility of absence or low levels of sexual attraction, desire, arousal or pleasure” (p. 210). For instance Scherrer (2008) argues that asexuality problematizes common assumptions regarding the universality of sexual desire, theorised in Carrigan (2011, 2012) as the ‘Sexual Assumption’: the tacit presupposition of the universality and uniformity of sexual attraction. Similar themes have also been explored within the work of Kim (2011) and Pryzbylo (2011, 2013). Bogaert (2012) summarises the substantive point effectively when he writes that “in the same way that homosexuality allows us to understand heterosexuality, and vice versa, asexuality allows us to make broad comparisons to understand sexuality as a whole” (p. 6). Asexuality Studies offers a novel and productive framework through which to analyse human sexuality, rethink longstanding assumptions relating to it and to study the diverse array of social and cultural phenomena which encompass it in a variety of ways.

References

Aicken, C. R., Mercer, C. H., & Cassell, J. A. (2013). Who reports absence of sexual attraction in Britain? Evidence from national probability surveys. Psychology & Sexuality, 4(2), 121-135.

Asexual Visibility and Education Network. (2011). Rules for research requests: New policy. Retrieved 11/6/2011 from http://www.asexuality.org/en/index.php?/topic/59868-rules-for-research-requests/

Asexual Awareness Week Committee. (2011). Open Letter to Researchers. Retrieved 23/10/2013 from http://asexualitystudies.org/2011/11/27/open-letter-to-researchers/

Bogaert, A. F. (2004). Asexuality: Prevalence and associated factors in a national probability sample. Journal of Sex Research, 41(3), 279-287.

Bogaert, A. F. (2006). Toward a conceptual understanding of asexuality. Review of General Psychology, 10(3), 241.

Bogaert, A. F. (2012). Understanding asexuality. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Brotto, L. A., Knudson, G., Inskip, J., Rhodes, K., & Erskine, Y. (2010). Asexuality: A mixed-methods

approach. Archives of sexual behavior, 39(3), 599-618.

Carrigan, M. (2011). There’s more to life than sex? Difference and commonality within the asexual community. Sexualities, 14(4), 462-478.

Carrigan M (2012) How Do You Know You Don’t Like It If You Haven’t Tried It? Asexual Agency and the Sexual Assumption’(pp 3-19). In T.G. Morrison, M.A. Morrison, M. Carrigan and D. T. McDermott (Eds.) Sexual Minority Research in the New Millennium. Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science

Flore, J. (2013). HSDD and asexuality: a question of instruments. & Sexuality Psychology, 4 (2), 152-166

Gazzola, S. B. and Morrison, M. A. 2012. “Asexuality: An emergent sexual orientation”. In Sexual minority research in the new millennium, Edited by: Morrison, T. G., Morrison, M. A., Carrigan, M. A. and McDermott, D. T. 21–44. New York, NY: Nova Science.

Gressgård, R. (2013). Asexuality: from pathology to identity and beyond.Psychology & Sexuality, 4(2), 179-192.

Hinderliter, A. (2013). How is asexuality different from hypoactive sexual desire disorder?. Psychology & Sexuality, 4(2), 167-178.

Kim, E. (2011). Asexuality in disability narratives. Sexualities, 14(4), 479-493.

Prause, N., & Graham, C. A. (2007). Asexuality: Classification and characterization. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 36(3), 341-356.

Przybylo, E. (2011). Crisis and safety: The asexual in sexusociety. Sexualities, 14(4), 444-461.

Przybylo, E. (2013). Afterword: some thoughts on asexuality as an interdisciplinary method. Psychology & Sexuality, 4(2), 193-194

Scherrer, K. S. (2008). Coming to an asexual identity: Negotiating identity, negotiating desire. Sexualities, 11(5), 621-641.

Scherrer, K. S. (2010). Asexual relationships: What does asexuality have to do with polyamory. Understanding non-monogamies, 154-159.

Weller, M. (2011). The digital scholar: How technology is transforming scholarly practice. A&C Black

The next Gender and Sexuality Talks event (formerly Gender and Sexuality in the Pub) is on 19 November. It will be a panel discussion on “Fat Sexualities” — speakers on the panel include Dr Charlotte Cooper, Dr Caroline Walters, Ingo Cando of Wotever World and Bethany Rutter of fashion blog “Arched Eyebrow”.

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The first paper I ever wrote has finally been published, only  2 1/2 years after I wrote it, feels like so long ago now:

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.