On the Sexual Education Network forum you can find entries of users who, describing stories of their lives and relationships, unanimously emphasize one thing: they are not interested in sex. This is a fairly bold and unusual statement, given the fact that contemporary culture is so much sexualized. Is it possible that there are people who do not feel sex drive? And if so, are we dealing with pathology or, on the contrary, is it sexual orientation? The purpose of this article is to present the phenomenon of sexuality and to try to answer the above question.
Asexuality: Pathological coldness or sexual orientation?
A website dedicated to asexuality, known as AVEN, describes an asexual person as someone who is not sexually attracted. The authors of this definition also point out the need to distinguish between sexuality and celibacy. They emphasize the fundamental difference between these two phenomena, i.e. choice. While celibacy is a matter of individual decision, sexuality is something that is an integral part of a person’s identity (website: Asexual Visibility & Education Network). Asexuals do not constitute a monolith. They are an extremely diverse group and the multitude of subcategories they create further complicates the attempt to understand the described phenomenon. Many asexual people are attracted to certain sexes, identifying themselves as heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, but there is no need to implement it in the sexual sphere. The attraction to another person which they expercience, manifests itself as a desire to get to know a person better, to be with him, but in a romantic and asexual relationship. In the case of relationships with sexual persons, intercourse with a partner is possible and is usually a manifestation of love and attachment. Some asexuals experience sexual arousal, but it does not translate into behavior aimed at finding a sexual partner. Others engage in autoerotic behavior but do not associate them with feelings or erotic fantasies, describing them as physiological activity. Finally, there is a group that does not experience sexual arousal at all, considering this state to be normal and optimal (website: Asexual Visibility & Education Network, Pereira, 2007).
Demisexuality, antidemisexuality, semisexuality
It is worth mentioning at this point the existence of a group of people identifying themselves as Gray-A, i.e. those who fall within the dimension of human sexuality between sexuality and asexuality. This category includes people who: do not consider others physically attractive, may consider others physically attractive, but do not feel sexual attraction, may consider others physically attractive and have sexual attraction, but do not seek intimate contact and finally, there are people who engage in sexual contact, but only after meeting certain conditions. The asexual community has separated three subgroups in this cathegory: demisexuals, antidemisexuals and semi-sexuals. Demisexuals may feel sexually attracted to people, but only to those with whom they are in a very close and strong relationship. Antidemisexuals feel attracted to people they are not in love with, while when they fall in love they want to create a romantic asexual relationship with them. Semi-sexuals do not find other people attractive, but they feel sexual needs (website: Sexual Education Network).
Research on asexuality
Research on asexuality has been conducted only recently. The first in which the issue of people not experiencing sex drive to any of the sexes, was raised in 1994 by Johnson (Bancroft, 2011). When asked about feeling sexually attracted to other people, among the proposed answers there was a variant saying that there is no sexual attraction to any of the sexes. 0.8% of men and 1.2% of women chose this option. In a similar study conducted in Australia, 0.2% of men and 0.6% of women chose the asexual option to answer the question about sexual attraction. Johnson’s study, repeated in 2004 by Anthony Bogaert, talked about 195 people describing themselves as asexual, including 57 men and 138 women. These people constituted 1% of the sample studied. What characterized them was their religiousness, short stature, poor education, low socioeconomic status and poor health (Bancroft, 2011; Bogaert, 2004). Another study, conducted on a group of people identifying themselves as asexual, showed a lower level of dyadic sexual desire, lower sexual arousal capacity, and lower propensity for sexual arousal in these people compared to the control group (Bancroft, 2011).
Description of asexuality
Describing asexuality is not an easy task. This is a varied phenomenon that does not seem to be consistent with traditional definitions and ways of thinking about sexuality. Speaking of asexuality, it is impossible not to mention the disturbance of thirst, which it resembles very much. As in the case of sexual aversion, some asexuals report reluctance to engage in sexual contact. Sexual activity, instead of the expected pleasure, causes fear and anxiety, which in turn leads to actions aimed at avoiding intimate contacts. The lack of pleasant sensations during sexual contact reported by many asexualists, in turn interlocks with the diagnostic criteria of anhedonia (Pużyński, Wciórka, 1998). However, the greatest similarity can be seen between sexuality and the lack or loss of sexual needs.
Lack or loss of sexual needs is characterized by reduced interest in the subject of sexuality, decrease in the frequency of thinking about sexuality with a feeling of desire, and decrease in sexual perceptions. A person suffering from this disorder does not initiate sexual activity, either with a partner or alone, which reduces the frequency of sexual activity (Pużyński, Wciórka, 1998). Bogaert (2006) notes that a person with Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD), i.e. one who has never felt sexual needs, probably also never felt attracted to others. Therefore, he can identify as an asexual person. The researcher also raises questions related to the mechanism of HSDD and sexuality. He indicates that the lack of associations between a potential partner and genital stimulation during adolescence and the lack of positive associations and enhancements associated with sexuality can be the common foundation of both phenomena.
Is asexuality a disorder?
Can it be that asexuals are people with HSDD and thus de facto disturbed people? The answer to this question is not obvious. On the one hand, if you look at the sexuality from the point of view of the individual sexological norm created by Julian Godlewski, it turns out that it does not fit within it. This norm assumes that sexual behavior should fulfill biological, psychological and social functions. Godlewski distinguishes certain conditions that must be met for an activity to be within an individual norm. Among them there is the desire to experience sexual pleasure as well as the lack of a persistent tendency to avoid undertaking sexual activities (Beisert, 2012). Otherwise, as has already been pointed out, some asexual people may experience a certain level of sexual arousal, but they do not target it to specific people. It should also be remembered that the percentage of people suffering from HSDD (and thus potential asexuals) is small. Most are those whose problems with sexual attraction began after a period of satisfying sex life. Finally, the diagnostic criteria of the World Health Organization clearly indicate that the individual must experience discomfort associated with the situation. People who define themselves as asexual do not perceive their condition as problematic and do not attempt to change it (Bogaert, 2006). The summary of previous considerations is troublesome. Asexuality does not meet the requirements of an individual norm. However, it is disputable to recognize as a disorder something that does not cause a person suffering.
Asexualism as a sexual orientation
Assuming that sexuality cannot be considered a thirst disorder, can it be expressed in terms of sexual orientation? The layered model of human sexuality proposed by Seligman defines sexual orientation as interests and aspirations directed at persons of the same, different or both sexes underlying sexual desire (Beisert, 2012; Seligman, 2003). Bogaert (2006) gives a similar definition, emphasizing that it is a subjective psychosexual attraction to people of a certain sex. In such defined sexual orientation the emphasis is on sex, sexual desire and the subjective aspect, i.e. erotic fantasies directed at the person who is perceived as attractive. Sexual orientation, understood in such a narrow way, does not include asexuality, which in essence assumes no sexual attraction to any of the sexes. Apart from terminological doubts, are there other arguments that do not allow to include asexuality as a separate sexual orientation? Bogaert (2006) indicates a problem related to the credibility of self-description, which is the main source of knowledge about the phenomenon of sexuality. Asexuals may perceive themselves as not experiencing sexual attraction, and thus as persons with a separate sexual orientation, because they are not aware of it, they cannot isolate it from a number of other bodily experiences, or deny its existence and sensation. Joy Davidson (2004, after: Melby, 2005) believes that asexuality can be explained by several factors. Among them there are disorders of the endocrine system, religiosity, pathological narcissism, negative feelings associated with the sexualization of women, rigorous upbringing associated with punishment for experiencing sexual needs, experienced trauma etc. At the same time she argues that asexuality is a movement created in search for a sense of identity which can bring security in a sexualized world. Other specialists also do not perceive asexuality as part of sexual orientation, pointing to a certain paradox associated with the fact that in essence asexuality questions the basic principle of sexuality, namely that each of us is a sexual being. At the same time, they negate the need to create a new category for asexuals, indicating that it is just one of the variants of complex human sexuality, which may or may not be a manifestation of pathology (Melby, 2005). John Bancroft (2001) also takes the position that asexuality is one of the variants of sexuality, emphasizing the lack of suffering suffered by asexual persons, thus excluding the psychopathological explanation of asexuality.
At this point it is worth mentioning the concept of Michael Storms (after: Bogaert, 2006), which is the only one to describe asexuality in terms of sexual orientation. He distinguishes four distinct orientations: heterosexual, which characterizes people who attract people of the opposite sex (they rank high on the scale of heteroeroticism); homosexual, which is characteristic of people who are attracted to representatives of the same sex (they rank high on the scale of homoeroticism); bisexual, which is manifested by people who are attracted to both sexes (they rank high on the scale of heteroeroticism and homoeroticism); finally, asexual, which is characterized by a lack of sexual attraction to anyone (low score on the scale of heteroeroticism and homoeroticism). According to Storms, asexuality implies a lack of sexual desire for a particular sex, not necessarily a lack of sexual behavior, desire and physiological responses associated with it, or a lack of aspiration for other types of stimulation (e.g. masturbation). In this way of understanding sexual orientation there is indeed room for asexuality. Bogaert (2006) also invokes other arguments that allow asexuality to be considered a separate sexual orientation. He talks about the AVEN movement, which brings together asexuals, provides them with support and actively works to recognize sexuality as a asexual orientation, not a disorder. He also indicates the possibility of the existence of a certain innate, biological predisposition to not feeling sexual attraction to others, which is consistent with the concepts perceiving the basis of sexual orientation in biology. Finally, emphasizing the similarity of HSDD and asexuality, he indicates the low effectiveness of treatment of disorders involving the absence or loss of sexual needs.
The question of whether asexuality can be considered a separate sexual orientation remains open. Both the arguments for and against are not convincing enough or supported by research to make a clear decision. Comparing asexuality to the classic definitions of sexual orientations, which focus on the perception of psychosexual attraction to a specific person and on the selection of a certain object of that attraction, the most trivial statement comes to the fore that asexuality does not fit any of these definitions. It can be located somewhere outside of them. It seems convenient to consider human sexuality as a certain diminution, a flexible category that contains various types and options. Perhaps it would be reasonable to abandon the classic terminology for which new phenomena and socio-cultural trends pose a challenge and replace it with a more flexible nomenclature.
Author: Magdalena Hasiuk
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