Asexuality: Society and Culture

It’s Pride season. What used to be a one day event has stretched into a week, and now the entire month of June is dedicated to LGBTQ celebrations. As the event has grown, so has the acronym, to the point where people have forgotten what the letters even mean. Discussion continues over whether or not there’s an ‘A’ at the end which stands for ‘allies’ or for ‘asexuals’. Some people compromise so we get LGBTQAA+, with the plus sign functioning as an advance apology to anyone who feels left out.

In recent years, we’ve become accustomed to the image of asexual representation at Pride events. So alongside the flamboyant, semi-naked, and party-ready LGBTQ crowd we have images of conspicuously nerdier-looking asexual contingents carrying signs featuring lame jokes about how they don’t like to bone. Now I’m all for the concept of asexuality as counterculture, but may I suggest that trying to shoehorn ourselves into the in-your-face sex-positive LGBTQ scene isn’t exactly the way to look cool?

Perhaps the image of the asexual community should be that we’re just like everyone else but for the fact that we’re not so much into sex. Asexuals who experience romantic attraction, who are into cuddling, and who want to adopt children. This is the picture that was advanced in the 2000s by David Jay, founder of AVEN, progenitor of a sex alternative known as ‘high energy cuddling’ (I’m not making this up), and asexuality’s foremost representative.

Perhaps our image should be that provided by the second most well known asexuality spokesperson, Julie Sondra Decker (author of The Invisible Orientation). Aromantic asexuals who are perpetually single and who dislike physical contact. Decker dresses according to what may be described as a ‘fairy tale princess’ fashion sense. She collects stuffed animals, and enjoys fantasy, manga, and anime. She avoids eating meat and isn’t really into drinking alcohol. She attended driver’s education while in her late 30s. And she created an Animorphs fansite. I know all this because she maintains two personal websites plus a YouTube channel. Her personal blog is a literal ‘what I ate for breakfast’ step-by-step daily narration.

I’ve always thought it would be appropriate to feature more realistic presentations of asexual culture at Pride events. Which is to say that we should organize round table debates regarding the definition of asexuality, since that would cover about 75% of what participating in asexual communities actually entails. And as a corollary to info sessions on advanced sex positions and innovations in sex toy technology put on by the LGBTQ crowd, we could have seminars on how to sleep on the sofa while our friends have sex in the bedroom. Meanwhile, I’m still trying to figure out how to portray the endless stream of sexless soap opera worthy online drama that is AVEN’s stock-in-trade.

The asexual community is too new and too online for us to have developed a distinctive society and culture. It is hard to distinguish between asexual culture and online culture. Are so many asexuals introverted and into anime because they’re asexual, or is it because we only hear from that percentage of asexuals who like to lead online lives? Or is it some mix thereof? Research to date is limited. But a 2017 paper published by Anthony F. Bogaert, Michael C. Ashton, and Kibeom Lee offers some insights. They conducted an online survey designed to compare asexuals to members of other sexual orientations according to the HEXACO Personality Inventory. Their study was based on a huge sample size of 96,381 people, 2.6% of whom self-identified as asexual. They found that asexuals were on average less extroverted and less emotional compared to heterosexuals. They also found that asexuals – like other sexual minority groups – scored higher on levels of openness compared to heterosexuals. For each difference, they offer a couple of potential explanations. Regarding higher levels of openness, they suggest that this may be an outcome of conditions whereby members of sexual minorities band together in response to marginalization and discrimination. In the alternative, they suggest that high-openness people may be more willing to accept and associate with a minority sexual identity. Regarding decreased levels of emotionality and extroversion, they suggest that this may be due to the fact that asexuals are missing sexuality which for other people operates as an important cause of sociality. In the alternative, they suggest that people who are less emotional and more introverted to start with may be less interested in pursuing interpersonal connections through sexual relationships.

So, where does all this lead? The research discussed above is preliminary, and the authors are careful to state that their conclusions are tentative. It does, however, lend some support to the notion that certain common personality traits may underlie both asexuality itself and asexual participation in online communities. Low population density is the most obvious explanation for why most asexual interactions happen online. I’ve read a number of anecdotal reports, however, which suggest that even where numbers permit, organizing asexual events can be difficult as introversion and social anxiety entails that many asexuals prefer to remain in their houses. There may also be a significant difference in the asexual community between those who are biologically hardwired towards the orientation and those who are too shy and too anxious to seek out sexual relationships. At the moment, insufficient evidence entails that discussion of these matters must remain speculative.

Alongside the question of how people become asexual remains the even more important question of where the asexual community is going and why we should care about the answer? In other words, what is asexuality good for? I would suggest that asexuality’s most interesting aspect is the challenge that it poses to the traditional narrative of lifestyles focused on sexual romantic relationships and childrearing, and the opportunities it creates for alternative approaches to living the good life. In this way, asexuality offers a pathway that may lead to greater social experimentation and creativity, through the freedom to adopt alternative lifestyles and alternative relationship structures. Thus, despite the cynical tone of this piece, I am optimistic and enthusiastic. There is, after all, a chance for asexuality to look cool.

I would like to acknowledge the following source:

Anthony F. Bogaert, Michael C. Ashton, Kibeom Lee, Personality and Sexual Orientation: Extension to Asexuality and the HEXACO Model, The Journal of Sex Research, February 2017, pages 1-11.

About the Author

I blog about whatever interests me. Originally, my focus concerned satirical food reviews documenting the hipster trend (hence the name). I've since branched out into writing about politics and philosophy. Lately, I've been covering asexuality/aromantic themes. HFP

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