Recognize asexuality as its own, unique sexual orientation, experts urge

Recognize asexuality as its own, unique sexual orientation, experts urge
Asexuality — never feeling sexually attracted, to anyone — should be formally recognized as a distinct, fourth sexual orientation, Canadian researchers say.

Half a century after zoologist Alfred Kinsey lumped people with no interest in sex into group “X” on his one-to-seven heterosexual-to-homosexual rating scale, a new review by University of British Columbia researchers concludes asexuality isn’t some form of “psychopathology” or an extreme version of low sex drive.

Rather, “we surmise that the available evidence points to asexuality being best conceptualized as a unique sexual orientation,” as legitimate as being straight, gay or bisexual, the authors write in the latest edition of Archives of Sexual Behaviour.

They and other international sex scholars are also backing a move to have “asexual” added as a response option to questions around sexual identity in the next U.K. census, arguing it would validate the experience of asexuals and challenge the assumption all humans are sexual animals.

“The best-known figure at present suggests that around one per cent of the population is asexual,” states an open letter to the U.K. Office of National Statistics, which is reportedly considering adding asexuality to its 2021 census questionnaire. The letter is supported and signed by Brock University professor Anthony Bogaert — who resurrected the field of research on the topic a decade ago — and 14 othersex academics andsocial scientists.

“Therefore, it is most likely that the best part of a million British residents are asexual, yet we have almost no data that sheds light on the causes of asexuality, its correlates or the implications of identifying as asexual,” the sex academics write.

Making asexuality a unique sexual orientation group “would challenge much of the stigma and myths that suggest asexual individuals are just celibate, or that this is some kind of manifestation of psychopathology or trauma,” Brotto, lead author of the newly published review, said in an interview.

“It might lessen that debate around ‘this is due to something else,’ and not that the individual is simply born this way.”

Limited research suggests about 70 per cent of asexuals are women. However, it’s not clear whether that stark gender difference is more a function of bias. Brotto said studies have shown women tend to be more “fluid” in their sexual attractions and orientations, and are more likely to “bounce betweendifferent sexual orientation categories.” However, men also might be more reluctant than women to identify as “asexual.”

Bogaert, author of Understanding Asexuality, thinks asexuality is partly rooted in biology and early development, and that it represents a “kind of missing fourth category” of sexual orientation.

People can be attracted to the opposite sex, the same sex or both sexes. “But what about people who aren’t attracted to anyone? That’s where the asexual people fall,” said Bogaert, who, in his book, raises the possibility Isaac Newton and Emily Bronte were asexual, “although we can’t be sure of this, of course.”

Some asexuals have a “non-specific” sex drive, he said. They may still masturbate, for example, “but they don’t direct their attractions to others, because they really don’t have those attractions. They may just use masturbation as a way of release.” A significant proportion is romantic, he added, but prefer to “de-couple” the sex part.

Unlike people seeking treatment for a sexual dysfunction disorder, asexuals aren’t distressed by their indifference to sex, they have no wish to improve their desire, “and, even if they were asked, ‘suppose there’s a hypothetical way to restore your desire and attraction, would you want this,’ they would unanimously respond, ‘no,’” said Brotto, a professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at UBC.

According to one woman writing on the website Asexuality Visibility and Education Network, “my ‘condition’ can be summed up in one sentence. I don’t want to have sex.’”

Psychiatry’s official diagnostic criteria for “female sexual interest/arousal disorder” specifically exclude asexuals. Still, asexual women are being tagged with “low desire” and prescribed hormones, psychotherapy or experimental drugs because of the medical and cultural belief that they should be sexual, Brotto said. In our sexualized culture, asexuals are somehow seen as “less than human.”

One 2012 study found heterosexuals expressed more bias and negative attitudes toward asexuals, wanted less contact with them and were less likely to rent an apartment or hire them, than any other sexual minority group.

Another study by Yale University researchers published in April on the “coming out” experiences of 169 asexuals found many met with skepticism and dismissiveness. One woman was told, “You’re not a tree.” Another said her lesbian friend told her she was being “ridiculous.”

Canada’s census has no questions on sexual orientation of any kind.

In an email, Statistics Canada said the government would consult with Canadians to evaluate “if there are new ways to collect data for respondents (on the 2021 census) who do not identify themselves with the current response options.”

On both the long and short 2016 census, the “response options” for Question 2, What is this person’s sex?, were 1. Male. 2. Female.

Bogaert said sexual orientation would be a reasonable question to add. “More understanding is better than less understanding.”
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