Apr 08

Asexual Identity: Its Validity and Orientation Explained

For me, the worst thing about being asexual is other people trying to fix me all the time. They develop this completely inappropriate obsession with my sexual and romantic life, which can manifest as anything from aggressively propositioning me for sex to searching for what’s “really” wrong with me through invasive questions. Some of them maintain that these attempted interventions are about my health and happiness, apparently unaware that they’re compromising both by refusing to respect my identity. Julie Sondra Decker, interviewed by Tracy Clark-Flory, Salon

Julie Sondra Decker, a writer who happens to have an asexual identity, is the author of last year’s The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality, which Library Journal called ” the first substantial book for the nonprofessional to emerge from the small but growing community of individuals who identify themselves as ‘asexual’—i.e., not sexually attracted to anyone; a portion of the population quoted as being approximately one in 100 people.”

More specifically, the author identifies herself (on her blog) as “an asexual aromantic woman—’aromantic’ meaning I also don’t feel romantic attraction. Romantic orientation is separate from sexual orientation for a great many asexual people, and some do want romantic relationships even if sexual attraction doesn’t develop for them.”

Her own self-description serves as just one indication of the lack of easy pigeonholing of members of the asexual community. The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), who states that the “’A’ stands for Asexual, Aromantic and Agender people as well as Allies,” lists other examples of related identities:

Demisexual: Someone who can only experience sexual attraction after an emotional bond has been formed. This bond does not have to be romantic in nature.

Gray-asexual (gray-a) or gray-sexual: Someone who identifies with the area between asexuality and sexuality, for example because they experience sexual attraction very rarely, only under specific circumstances, or of an intensity so low that it’s ignorable.

And when Karli Cerankowski, PhD, and Megan Milks published the groundbreaking Asexualities: Feminist and Queer Perspectives last year they also spoke to this issue. Stanford News: “…(A)s Cerankowski points out, the pluralization of the term in her book’s title is no accident, as it aspires to encompass the intricacies involved in the vast spectrum of asexuality, to be compatible with the ‘more commonly understood model of fluid and multiple sexualities’.”

In one scenario, an asexual person might be married, living with a partner and having regular intercourse. This person might be a romantic asexual, meaning someone who experiences strong, intimate and romantic feelings for another person but engages in sexual behavior only for procreative purposes or as a means of experiencing intimacy.

Another scenario might involve an a-romantic asexual, who is completely uninterested in romantic attachment or sexual encounters altogether, but finds satisfaction in other arenas of life. To debunk a common myth about sexuality, this a-romantic, asexual person is not necessarily any less fulfilled than a person with romantic and sexual drive.

How can you figure out if this so-called “fourth orientation,” i.e., the asexual spectrum, is where you fit? Click on an excerpt from The Invisible Orientation (in Time) for some questions you can ask yourself.

Unfortunately, people in general, including many in the mental health field, not only lack awareness of asexuality but also resist accepting the concept. In a recent Psychology Today post, “Asexuality Is Not a Diagnosis,” Decker addresses some of the prevalent misunderstandings and lists “six basic problems with unreasonable expectations from detractors who claim to be driven by ‘science’.” Click on the link for more details.

1. These “scientific” objections to asexual people’s orientation are virtually never levied at heterosexual people.

2. Sexual orientation isn’t a science. “It is, by definition, a description of a subjective experience.”

3. Identifying as an orientation other than heterosexual generally suggests some measure of critical self-examination.

4. Attempting to change ourselves is not easy, painless, quick, or cheap. “The message here is that we should spend money, risk our health, endure pain, and subject ourselves repeatedly to experiences we don’t intrinsically want just to make sure we couldn’t be happier conforming to somebody else’s ideals.”

5. “Scientific objections” are frequently uttered by people who don’t know anything about science.

6. Skepticism is not the practice of vocally doubting and aggressively mocking something you think is unproven. “A real skeptic knows that the best thing to do with an untested claim is to fully understand the claim and then look at all the data.”