Thursday, August 28, 2008

What Asexual People Want

Wow, has it really been a month since my last post?

I just had a cool discussion with a researcher from down the bay, and we go into an interesting discussion about what asexual people, as a community, are out to accomplish. I broke it down into four categories, though I'd love people's thoughts on the issue.

Probably the biggest thing asexual people are looking for is a place to figure ourselves out and be supported in our identity. This is why most people bother to show up to the community, and is probably one of the things that we do best. It means offering an open, accepting environment that makes people feel safe and encourages them to explore themselves in whatever terms fit best. Even the way we that we talk about asexuality (it's just a word that you use to describe yourself) is geared to create a supportive atmosphere.

How we do it: AVEN discussion forums, other online communities, admod team, advisory team, meetup groups.

Most asexual people are peeved at how little asexuality gets talked about in our culture. More visibility is the first step to broader social acceptance, and many of us are tired of giving a 20 minute lecture every time we come out. Most importantly, visibility let's us make the great support systems that we've built available to people who might need them. All of us have knows how much it sucks to not have a community, and we know that there are tons of people out there going through the same struggle. Visibility lets us reach out to them.

How we do it: Media trainings, AVEN Media Guidebook, assisting reporters in finding interviewees for their stories, lectures, informational pamphlets.

The next step after visibility is getting other organizations to recognize us and incorporate us into what they do. To me that's meant getting LGBT and sex ed groups to start including asexuality in their materials, getting scientists to include us in discussions of sexuality and getting doctors to stop pathologizing us half the time. There are two powerful social institutions that we're courting (or at least I'm courting).

The first is the LGBT/sex positive movement (the two movements are pretty integrated at this point.) They make up a huge grassroots network that does education around sexuality and gender and advocates for legal rights. Making friends with them means that that huge grassroots network talking will add asexuality to the list of things that they talk about, which is huge. They tend to be interested in us as a social movement like they are. We gain their respect by talking about our personal stories, our political views, they way that we have emerged as a movement and the amount of people/resources that we are capable of mobilizing. We also have a little hiccup in dealing with this community. Because their politics are all about celebrating sexuality, it sometimes takes them a second to get how they share the same agenda with asexual people. I've been trying to smooth the transition by getting leaders in the sex positive movement, like Carol Queen, to go on record as saying that asexual people are cool.

How we do it: Show up/give talks at conferences, network with educators and organizers, participate in LGBT and sex positive communities, publicly affiliate with LGBT/sex positive leaders.

The second is the academic/medical world. They control not only classroom sex ed, but also the medical institutions which treat asexual people when we have problems. Getting them to see us as legitimate and healthy will mean inclusion in a bunch of classrooms and will make it much much easier for asexual people to go to the therapist (and for people who do might identify as asexual but don't to go to the therapist.) This community is a tougher nut to crack than the LGBT world, they care primarily about academic research and very little has been done on us. Current medical definitions of things like Hyposexual Desire Disorder and Sexual Aversion Disorder kind of graze the question of asexual pathology. An out-and-proud asexual probably wouldn't be considered pathological, but someone struggling to come to terms with their asexual identity probably would. The strategy here has been to encourage academic discourse. Get academics talkign about asexuality, make it known that we want them to research us and help them in any way that we can if they decide to do research. The more research gets done, the easier it will be for us to change the way that the academic and medcial world talks about us.

How we do it: Show up at conferences (we usually don't have the credentials to give talks), give talks on college campuses, assist anyone doing research on asexuality, network researchers together so that they can assist one another and begin to buil a professional community, AVEN DSM Task Force.

Once people get past the need for support, one of the biggest looming questions is around forming intimate relationships. We face some a pretty serious challenge here as a community one that I've spent so much time thinking about that I referr to it as just "The Asexual Problem":

Many asexual people want to form intimate relationships, and in our culture sex is what separates primary intimate relationships (dating and marriage) from secondary ones (friendships). That means that no matter how close I get to someone, that relationship is considered "just a friendship" in the eyes of our culture unless it involves sex. This creates big problems for us, since many of us want to be more than just friends with someone at some point in our lives. There isn't really a perfect solution to this problem, a lot of asexual people that I know are still struggling with it, but there are a few imperfect ones:

1) Just form friendships- This tends to be a matter of personal preference, but a lot of asexual people, mostly those who identify as aromantic are happy this way.

2) Date other asexual people- This can work really well. It's easy for two asexual people to get together, decide to form a primary intimate relationship and announce it to the world. A couple of happily married couples have already come out of AVEN this way. The problem is number. Even major metro area have, at best, a few dozen people actively identifying as asexual, which means that the likelihood of finding a good match is pretty low. For this reason most asexual-asexual couples meet online and eventually move long distances to be together. Since many people aren't interested in long distance online dating, this will probably only become a solution once local meetup groups have grown significantly.

3) Date sexual people- Though there are several examples out there of healthy sexual/asexual relationships, this remains a problematic option. Sexual and asexual people are fundamentally incompatible in something that our culture claims to be vital to an intimate relationship's emotional health. Making a sexual/asexual relationship work requires extensive communication. To make matters more complicated, most people see sexual compatibility as a precurser to an intimate relationship. That means that in order to start dating a sexual person an asexual person usually has to stay closeted, making the extensive communication that needs to take place evren trickier.

4) Create new models for intimate relationships- This is my personal favorite. If friendships don't work and traditional dating doesn't work, why not invent new words to describe the relationships that we want? I've had a lot of success with this method. It lets me form relationships with sexual people that are intimate, emotionally expressive and committed but that don't require sexual exclusivity. That means that I avoid the emotional ceiling of just forming friendships, the numbers problem of only dating asexual people and the incompatability problem of being monogomous with sexual people. I get to form close relationships with anyone I want, and there's no limit to how close those relationships can get. The only problems are around communication and jealousy. I have to be cool with my partner forming sexually and emotionally intimate relationships with others (which has never been an issue for me personally). I also have to communicate whatever hairbrained relationship model I've thought up to the other person clearly enough that they understand it, accept it, and get emotionally turned on by it. This is a lot easier in places that have are already accepting of sexual diversity, and could pose a real challenge in places where traditional dating is all that anyone has ever thought about.

How we do it: Discussions on AVEN, meetups, asexual dating sites, blogs discussing relationship issues.


pretzelboy said...

I'm definitely with you on these points. I think one additional thing that I personally would like to see deals with the issue of support. AVEN has been really helpful for me for trying to understand myself and it certainly has been for others, but I would like to see more in the way of resources for those questioning/newly identified as asexual. Right now, there is the FAQ and some static content on the main page, but not all that much. I don't mean to criticize these at all--I think it's a great FAQ and I think it's where everyone should start.

When I first thought I might be asexual, I spent a lot of time trying to read people's stories to see if they were like mine--I wanted to find others identifying as asexual whose story fit the main features that made me think I was asexual. But to do this and to get an idea of the general range that exists within asexuality, it took a lot of time reading lots of posts trying to find something that really spoke to me, etc. The forums are great, but they take a long time to learn to navigate and they aren't a very time efficient way of getting information. Having them is unimaginably better than not having them, but I don't feel that they're the best place to start. So I guess the thing I would like to see is more resources for people newly identifying as asexual.

Queers United said...

All really good points and very comprehensive. I think you are on the right track and your mission is correct. I def agree with siding with LGBT groups and pushing for asexual education within sex-ed courses. Not so sure about aligning with sex-positive movement, they may see asexuals as pathological and not embrace asexuality as a genuine orientation and identity.

grasexuality said...

You know, I always feel like I have nothing to say after reading your posts, just because you always hit the nail right on the head, so much so that any comment I could think of would be a fairly useless nodding-of-the-head. You're right on in this too, I think everything that we want does fall into those four basic categories.

One thing I would add is that I would like to see the development of asexual literature. We have a starting point now with this small network of blogs, but I would like to see the creation of a body of published works relating to asexuality. And by that I mean all manner of works: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, academic studies, and film as well. So in a way, this can be categorized both as visibility and institutionalization, since it would be both a representation of asexuality in our culture(s) and a part of academia (and if we succeed in getting LGBT and sex-positive groups to acknowledge us, there would probably be significant overlap with their literature too). Actually, if you think about it, this really could encompass all four categories, since books could be written to provide support and explore alternative relationship styles as well (and in that area, there's some potential overlap with the polyamorous community). I guess in that sense it's a deeper goal, which will take more time to accomplish but once it is, it will encompass everything else. For me, it's the ultimate goal, because I really want to see our stories out there in the world in a way that right now, they just aren't.

The Impossible K said...

I agree with pretzelboy- I think it would be helpful if we could gather first-person narratives from asexuals in one spot, perhaps organized by tags (age ranges, emotions, experiences)... I think personal stories really help "flesh out" the asexual experience, and while you could dig through the AVEN forums, it would be more accessible to have static content dedicated to this...
That said, great post- as usual :)

Ily said...

Can't disagree with any of that, although you might not want to use "Institutionalization" in the broader world, as it kind of has straitjacket connotations... :-)
Someone (I forget who it was, apologies) told me that aces need to do "content generation", and I attached myself to that idea like a barnacle on a pier. Pretty similar to what Gray Lady is saying...we need more ways to be "findable" even if you're not looking all that hard. For instance, I think it would be really cool to have some kind of intro video to asexuality or AVEN...I'll probably be working on some such thing when I reach the fine day of obtaining a video camera.

(You need to post more, sir!)

Anonymous said...

Have you ever considered making Youtube video posts?

Tanya said...

Thanks for writing this.

delebrode said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
delebrode said...

Hey, I was reading and I've been really depressed for a long time. It's seemed like people have never been interested in being close to you unless it had something to do with sexual things which I'm really not interested in. I love people more than anything in the whole world. I get miserable because it feels like it's impossible to be important to people unless they get "something" out of you. Sometimes I've been tempted to let them do what they will so that I'll be important, but I just go away and then they go away because they see it as nothing to be gained. Thanks for the blog, It gives me hope that the're people out there who will love me for me instead of the usual people who are only interested in using me. However, I still think it is important to have children. How else would the world have people. Not only that but children deserve a loving home. That's why I'll have a family if I meet the right person, but I just don't want to be used.

Anonymous said...

i'm a sexual person who has been struggling trying to have a satisfying relationship with an a-sexual person. until now, i've been feeling rejected by a partner who an only say 'i am just not sexually attracted to you' without further explanaton. this has been confusing as he seems to want a romantic relationship and to mean, that would include sex. a couple of times he did refer to himself as being 'a-sexual' but i didn't really 'get it'. so i am hoping to learn more from reading your site. your information does makes sense to me, but is new to me and so it might take me a while to 'get it' and/or accept 'it'... thanks anyway.

Anonymous said...


i was never familiar with asexuality until the person i am i love with confessed to me that he thinks he may be asexual. ive been a longtime supporter/ activist in the lgbt/ sex positive movement and when he first said this, i felt that he was trying to hurt me or push me away. but after more communication, i realized that he was 'coming out' to me because he trusted that i wouldnt run away and leave him alone.

he's trying to learn more about asexuality at the moment and ive shared the AVEN link with him- it helped me learn a lot. that said, i feel pessimistic about the future, because i am such a sexual person, and jealousy, exclusivity and so on are so hardwired into my way of thinking about the world. i am beginning to become more attuned to asexual intimacy though, and our amazing communication has helped me have insights about how much my own sexuality/ the sexual component of my relationships has often just functioned as a way to make up for the tragic lack of connection in other ways.

i guess im a little low because i love sexual chemistry, but also learning a lot and challenging my own perceptions- because we have mad mental chemistry which is really amazing and electrifying in a different way.

if you can help me get in touch with sexual/ asexual pairings and relationship models that have worked, i would like that.


Anonymous said...

I wish I was Asexual honestly i do if only there was a way.

Anonymous said...


these past few days I've been looking for more informations about asexual people. The reason is that I met a really nice guy and we start to hang out.. He is the most beautiful person Ive met in all my life.. He is so kind and pure!! I like to be with him, I feel in peace.. but Im terrified now, after we tried to have sex and he told me that he is asexual, but Im not terrified about NOT having sex, but in losing him, as he told me (and I read) that asexual people dont feel atract for anyone.. he said he likes me, but he doesnt know if its just bcs Im cool.. I dont know what to do.. I wouldnt mind in live all my life without sex, I dont really enjoy it! its just the idea of no having the same feeling back.. I would love to hear anything from you about my story.. thank you!

my e-mail is
I would love to talk more about this by email.

thank you so much!

PleaseStopGropingMe said...

Hi again. Found the post with the advice I was seeking, here it is! Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Hello,i dated this man for 11/2 years, we were very , honest about our feelings, he suffers from prostate cancer, and has no desire for sex,i also suffered from cancer, i did notice that and realize and have studied, researched prostate cancer and have educated did point out to me that he has had a problem with his ability to sustain an erection, as far back as he can remember..he broke up with me, let me back up we have known each other for 38 yrs but have become very close,,, what I'm trying to get at is, he wants to be with me all the time, calls me every day. He confides in me.I'm confused as to maybe he it's asexual and doesn't know it.i have brought to his attention that the sex part means nothing to me.but the caring, loving, part is more important.where this issue has been going On for so long in his life i was wondering how and if i should bring this up.i love him dearly and would be happy just being in a asexual relationship.he has gone to sex therapist to try an understand