June 9, 2005

Out asexuals.

Here an interesting piece in the NYT about the newly found pride of persons who are not sexually attracted to anyone:
They describe themselves as asexual, and they call their condition normal, not the result of confused sexual orientation, a fear of intimacy or a temporary lapse of desire. They would like the world to understand that they can live their entire lives happily without ever having sex.

"People think they need to convert you," said Cijay Morgan, 42, a telephone saleswoman in Edmonton, Alberta, and a self-professed asexual. "They can understand if you don't like country music or onion rings or if you aren't interested in learning how to whistle, but they can't accept someone not wanting sex. What they don't understand is that a lot of asexuals don't wish to be quote-unquote fixed."
"People think they need to convert you" -- that reminds me of the scene on the yacht in "Some Like It Hot," where Marilyn Monroe is trying to help Tony Curtis (who's just pretending).

Go to the link to see a picture of a young man wearing a shirt proclaiming his asexuality. I wonder what sorts of things people say to him when he's parading around in that? I'm sure most people think he's kidding and trying to get attention. But he's quite serious.

24 comments:

Sloanasaurus said...

Maybe they will soon demand their own bathrooms....

JB said...

Argh....The hardest thing about this, is actually believing it as opposed to well...I'll just stop being before I get too cruel.

Can I just say...I never liked playing basketball when I was younger because I was absolutely no good. But now that I'm substantially better I enjoy playing it.

I know! I'm just almost saying what you know everyone's thinking!

Dave said...

"Asexuals party hardest"

That's the kind of t-shirt a wry, ironic hipster would wear to a frat party. Sort of like hipsters wearing those inane WWJD (what would jesus do) tchotchkes.

Subverting messages has a long history (see: Abbie Hoffman and his Yippies, AdBusters, etc.)

Nick said...

I wonder though... if he's quite serious, then why wear the tshirt? Not that he doesn't have every right to express his belief in asexuality... but by wearing the tshirt, he's basically asking people for an argument about it.

If he were truly not interested in the debate, or being converted, why would he advertise it?

Ann Althouse said...

If he's not serious, the Times was had. Not that it never happens, but it would be so lame!

Why be out if you're not subject to discrimination? What's the motivation? He says he wants friends. He wants people to understand him and wants to be thought of as normal. Presumably, there are a lot of people who feel this way and may spend time worrying about it or seeking treatment, so there is a motive to band together with people and assure each other that they are okay and even just fine.

Dave said...

Well, look at the wry grin on his face. Of course he's BS'ing!

The Times has been had!

And I'm ROTFLMAO.

DrTony said...

"they can't accept someone not wanting sex..."

You're right, lady. There's something wrong with you or with the way you do it.

As we say in the south, "That just ain't right!"

Goesh said...

-they give that fellow a wide berth on the street when they see all the lubricant dripping from his hand, that's what people do.

Be said...

Interestingly, I remember my biology teacher in high school stating that sex was a drive to perpetuate the species, but not for the individual's survival. One doesn't necessarily need it like one does food, shelter, water.

In our highly sexualized society, I can see such a want becoming a "need," however. I can also see people who are, for all intents and purposes, asexual taking on "beards" in order to not be singled out - much like gays have in the past.

As for Ann's question - why be out with this if there is no apparent societal discrimination - how many times have you ever tried to engage in a friendship with a male (or a lesbian) and have it turn 'weird,' because there was hope (in spite of your being up front and direct) on the part of the other person that they could 'change' you? How many times have you been force-set-up by well-meaning friends who (like some of my gay friends have dealt with) think that you're just emotionally overwrought because of a bad relationship in the past? How much of your social interactions are centered around other couples/families with children?

If you are a person who is not a breeder (as my gay friends call us) and who is not gay, wouldn't it be good to have a bit of visibility so that others like you might find you?

SteveR said...

Add one more thing to the growing list of things we can't just do (of not do in this case). No, we have to advertise what we do or don't do, demand that society tolerates and accomodates us, require support groups so we don't feel uncomfortable, and dare anyone to stick a hand up as we throw a figurative punch at them.

I have to hope its a joke.

Bruce Hayden said...

If the guy is being straight, and this is an issue with more than him, I would suggest that it is more likely from environmental factors than through genetics.

As noted, the drive to procreate is pretty well universal throughout the animal kingdom. As it has to be, for the survival of a species.

So, in the long run, if this were truly inheritable, it would die out, as those who had it would fail in the competition for offspring with those with a high drive to procreate.

Ann had a discussion going earlier on the inheritability, etc. of female ability to climax and whether or not there was selection pressure involved. I think the last word is going to be that there isn't, based primarily on the shape of the statistical curve or line involved.

I would suggest though that, esp. in late teens and early twenties, and esp. with males, the curve has the required peak, and it is extremely sharp at that end, indicating that most guys are extremely motivated at that age to breed.

miklos rosza said...

I think I missed something. Does he masturbate?

Pedro said...

It's funny that the initials for his group are the same as the Adult Video Network, the same group that has annual awards for such performances as, "Best Anal"

www.avn.com

Bruce Hayden said...

Miklos,

I would suggest that if he does so, it is less frequently than average.

I can see three different reasons why someone might be
"Asexual". First, a low libido. Second, a weaker sexual identification or orientation. And third, possibly, history of some sort that has turned him away.

I don't think we see that later in men as much as in women. But still, quite possibly some asexual malesmay be the result of an overbearing mother combined with a strong sexual orientation.

But, still, in my limited experience, the guys I know who have never really connected up with women by their 40's, and now 50's, seem to have lower than average libido.

Eh Nonymous said...

I see the usual amount of inanity in this thread, as in the world.

bruce hayden wrote:
"the drive to procreate is pretty well universal throughout the animal kingdom. As it has to be, for the survival of a species."

Now, without revealing my own lack of biological scientific credentials, could I suggest that this is a naive remark?

If _the whole_ of the species stops being interested in following one of two strategies: 1) reproduction to replace dying members, or 2) prolongation of the lifetime of members, then I would guess numbers of the species would decline. But it doesn't take a genius to realize that not every member of the species needs to have that same drive. It takes only a slight amount of insight to realize that if some don't, that can improve the situation overall for those who do wish to reproduce. Thus, when dolphins have helpers, when gay or lesbian or asexual individuals in other animal species don't decrease, but either have net zero or net positive impact on species survival in other animals, we don't act surprised. We say "oh, Nature is not as simple as I might have thought it was."

Just as homosexuality combined with pre-modern medicine (not going to pass on your own genes if you choose not to reproduce) is likely to stop the passing on of _your own_ genes, but could improve the survival of those related to you- say you help raise your niece or nephew- asexuality might well improve social fitness. Especially if it only appears or becomes prominent when there's a high enough concentration of humanity.

Bruce Hayden said...

ed,

The problem is that you, and all of us, are descended from those with a higher, not lower, drive to procreate - by necessity. The genes of those who didn't died out. By definition.

Yes, if you have a population that can reach or exceed the carrying capacity of its environment with ease, and has no real preditors to worry about, then yes, the pressure to breed is significantly reduced.

And that, of course, describes the current state of human existance. But, we weren't always on the top of the food chain. And we couldn't get by with just 2.1 kids.

Less than two hundred years ago in this country, and within our lifetimes in many other places in this world, women would have to have kids pretty much as fast as they could in order that 2.1 or so would live to have their own kids. And the women would, more often than not, kill themselves (literally) doing this.

We, at least, have been at or near the top of the food chain for 10,000 to 50,000 years now. But even through almost all of that, disease, etc. took their toll.

Most animals don't have that luxury. After all, the food chain is really a food pyramid, with room for very few of us at the top.

So, in most of the animal kingdom, even in times of surplus, it pays, genetically, to keep on breeding, stocking up, as it were, for those times of scarcity (or surplus of their preditors).

So, we have maybe a century or two (in western Europe and their descendants here in the U.S.), less for most of the rest, of a significantly lowered pressure to breed. Hardly time to change our basic genetics, much, if any.

I mentioned earlier about a previous discussion that basically debunked the idea that there was pressure for selecting women who didn't climax as easily. The article I cited pointed out that the biggest indicia here was the flatness of the curve. Traits being selected for tend to have a very sharp peak.

Well, let's look at males in their late teens and early 20s. By all accounts, all that most of them have on their minds is sex. Given the option, they would sow their oats as far and as thickly as they could.

If you were to graph male sexual desire at those ages, I suspect that the curve would be anything but flat. Rather, I suspect, having been a male of that age (half a lifetime ago), that there would be a very large peak down around the "think about sex every couple of minutes" part of the curve, and what the guy called "outliers" around the "don't think about sex much at all" part of the distribution. In other words, a classic case of selection.

Stephanie said...

I can't believe I missed this when it was first posted, since I'm a regular reader here and an asexual. So I'll break my lurkerdom for at least long enough to toss a couple cents in, which hopefully won't be too belated.

Yes, the guy in the picture is serious; I've dealt with him before. I don't think he's an attention whore, either, so much as a zealot on a crusade. (For him, asexuality is about being a rebel and changing everyone's notions of all their romantic relationships -- though this doesn't tend to come through in articles, either because the reporters edit it out or because he censors himself. Frankly, I'd rather he were an attention whore. I'd rather he not make it look like all of us are radicals out to stick our noses into everyone else's lives.)

I'll note that, for me, being asexual is like being an entirely straight woman in a world with no men. Anywhere. All your hormones and drives work entirely properly, but there's just no one out there you're sexually attracted to, and you don't even know what someone you'd be attracted to would look like in the first place. (And, of course, everyone else has sex and has, at least sometimes, a fantastic time, and you can't ever experience that. Lucky you.)

Though I wasn't interviewed for this particular article, I have been interviewed for others. Why? Because people assume those saying they're asexual are repressed, or secretly gay, or pedophiles, or into animals, or just haven't found the right person, or have been traumatized, or are lying, or are broken, etc. I'd like for this to not happen. (Particularly the pedophilia thing. Being thought of as a late bloomer is one thing; being regarded as a potentially dangerous monster is something else.) Furthermore, before I found other asexuals, I thought I was all alone, and that makes anything that's bothering you worse. I'd like for other people to be able to avoid that. Thirdly, I'd like the scientific community to give us some attention. And okay, I will admit that there's some insecurity thrown into things -- I do wonder sometimes if the people telling me I'm broken or repressed are right, and I do think I'm horribly missing out, so, yes, it's nice to get some validation once in a while. It's not a particularly noble motivation, but there you go.

As for whether it's genetic or environmental? No clue. I wasn't abused or brought up to think that sex was dirty, but "environmental factors" encompasses a lot more than that.

Fox said...

Actually, Ed is right.

Look at wolves. Only the alpha male and female breed. The rest of the pack does NOT breed...they help care for the pups of the alpha male and female.

So, the desire to procreate is at least subdued, or even, in some cases, not even present, in some animals. This has been seen in numerous species.

Don't believe me? Take an ecology class...I'm pretty sure the topic will be touched upon.

Solodric said...

Okay, let me try and encompass all I want to say here in one long post. Then you can all reply to it. Alright, first question, what is Asexuality? Simple. Asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction. So an asexual might get aroused, might get horny in general, might masturbate, might fantasize, etc.,. An asexual might have sex, might even enjoy sex, but apparently without the sexual attraction sex loses it's appeal and simple becomes a boring and tedious exercise for most. I believe that anyone, if they examine logically the process that they are going through in the act of sex, will realize why it is regarded as disgusting by those whos minds are not overclouded by attraction at the time - otherwise there wouldn't be HUNDREDS of products out there to stop the smell and other things that goes off during sex. Many couples, I'm told, have to start foreplay in the shower to have sex for this reason.

Moving along, the next question is, how did Asexuality get here, and when did it? Well, asexuality can be seen in many places. First and foremost, I should say that you can find homosexuality, bisexuality, and asexuality, in animals - and I mean normal animals, not helpers or whatnot. I've spoken with many people who've handled animals all thier lives, and they've told me that they have seen firsthand animals acting in those ways.

Somehow, I doubt these animals, raised in a controlled environment quite often, were scarred for life by some strange trauma. In fact, I doubt that even that would work, since shock therapy certainly didn't work on many homosexuals. While I'm on that topic, neither did hormones or hypnosis.

There are also many histocial accounts, and hints at asexuality all throughout history. Since Asexuality isn't the prescense of an orientation, more like the lack of one (for the most part, though most of us still feel romantic attraction, like crushes and love) so it mostly went under the radar, but there are still plenty of accounts of it. If you're interested in this, go start reading. Search for celibacy in specific, and look for people that weren't really celibate, but just didn't have the desire to begin with.

Now that I think I've established how long asexuality has been around, lets move on to why it's here. What I consider to be the most logical theory is that we formed differently - a common mutation as it were. Perhaps some sort of evolutionary change, which would explain us seeming to become more common now (though as I've already stated, I do not think that's the case)

Assuming it's a common genetic mutation of some sort, another question is whether it will pass on to the kids. The answer to this appears to be no. Logic concludes that the change is physically in the brain in all likelyhood. With a little self observation, as well as asking people about it, I've come to the following conclusion, which is also mentioned on AVEN:

It seems that the most likely cause for asexuality is a change in the addiction part of the brain. I find that I also don't get cravings for food like those that others describe, and neither do several asexuals I've asked. This could just be me and the people I've asked, but it could also be the overall primary cause.

Another question likely to come up is, are we late bloomers. Well, most people seem to know whether they're homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual at about age 8-12, and it becomes extremely prominent during puberty. After these two things have happened, the likelyhood of someone just suddenly blooming is highly unlikely - the most likely time for that is the peak of puberty, and it's already a bit of a longshot if they didn't have any orientation at all before.

Is it hormonal/situational? No - flat out, no. I can say this in all honesty because I've had hormonal tests and also taken adrenal formula for a sickness I had. I can attest to the fact that, while my general sexuality increased, I still lacked a SEXUAL orientation (not a romantic one). Once again bringing us to the idea of it being a psychological change. Now, you might also ask if it has something to do with our sexual organs, but I seriously doubt it as you can castrate a male, or remove his sexual organs ENTIRELY (including the penis itself, rendering him incapable of proper bladder functioning) and some have still have sexual attraction, in some. So the chances of it being a really common physical mutation in the sexual organs seems slim.

To try and put asexuality into perspective for you, we have about the interest in sex with anyone that a person has with someone or something outside of thier orientation. For example, I have about the same sexual desire for a female that I do for a male - namely, nada. The idea disgusts me - and many heterosexual people report that the idea of homosexual sex disgusts them. Many homosexuals, conversely, find the idea of heterosexual sex disgusting. For the bisexuals in the audience, find something else not in your range - like a really unnattractive person, or an animal, if either of those work. If they don't, I'm afraid you'll just have to be openminded.

Without the sexual attraction, the sex act suddenly has to be reviewed only for what it is. And now, for the last question:

Is all of this for real?
Yes, yes it is.

Any more questions, feel free to ask here or on AVEN.

Solodric said...

On a sidenote, I forgot one small related article. A lot of women do become somewhat confused as to whether they are asexual or not, because they typically do not experience sexual attraction until they experience romantic attraction, based on the people I've asked about it. then again, men with a low drive or a drive similiar to females can have similiar confusion. However, it seems that quite often, this is figured out before, during or a little after puberty. It isn't entirely unreasonable to think that some asexuals fall into this category - those who have not yet experienced sexual attraction - but that number will still be very very low since a lot of asexuals have experienced romantic attraction, up to the point of love, without any sexual attraction.

Bruce Hayden said...

Solodric made a lot of good points. Interesting, the distinction he makes between low labido, which he claims not to have, and just no real sexual orientation.

In a different day and time, when there were significant social pressures to mate and have kids, the later would probably have worked better than the former. One could do one's duty, no matter how distasteful. And, thus, this would not really be that great of a survival burden for one's genes.

Stephanie said...

I'm reluctant to comment on old threads, but if Bruce can reply this late, I can too!

I find that I also don't get cravings for food like those that others describe, and neither do several asexuals I've asked.

As another asexual, I do get food cravings. I'm currently trying to lose weight, and it's throwing a wrench in things. So I don't think that "no sensual cravings" theory is right.

Also, I would consider it a sexual orientation. I know the objection to considering it as such seems to mostly be that it's based around a lack of attraction, but so are homosexuality and heterosexuality -- what distinguises them from bisexuality is a lack of attraction to the opposite and same sex, respectively.

Loki said...

Sex is a very funny thing. I'm one of those people what considers himself asexual. Well, sort of. Thing is, I've probably just got a low libido, but sex doesn't make me happy. It's much of an anticlimax for me.

Some people like sex. Some people only like it if whips and chains ar einvolved. Some people like it between two men, or two women. Some people like group sex, anonymous sex or sex tied to a bed. And then you get people who just don't like sex.

Some people are content with masturbation, and some people don't even want to masturbate.

I do think that asexuality should be considered to be an orientation. Sure, many people would consider me to a be a bit weird, but at the end of the day, I'm a 20 year old beer drinking student. I'm normal enough. I'm just a bloke that ain't too keen on sex.

I think it would be good if more people were made aware that some people don't like sex. It doesn't make someone weird. OK, it does make them different, but it's not harmful in any way. Sex is just a bit of fun, and some people would rather have fun other ways.

As I say, it doesn't matter if you're drinking beer or wine, or even if you're just on the soft drinks, as long as you're enjoying the night.

Solodric said...

The primary reason I posted was because of things like Sloanasaurus said. Seriously, our own bathrooms? We don't have a different gender. Homosexuals don't ask for our own bathrooms - though if we were a seperate gender, we'd have every damn right to ask for one. It's that type of jump to conclusion and assumption about someone that annoys the hell out of me. And JB's follow comment isn't very well thought out either - did they not realize many asexuals are older people who HAVE tried sex? Goesh managed to make an ass of himself or herself as well. Stever acted like we're out to get society.

We're people just like the rest. We just don't have any sexual attraction. What people find hard to understand about this, what about this "just ain't right", I'll never understand. But, moving right along, I'll say two things. First and foremost: The lack of the addiction part of the brain is a likely cause of many asexuals, but I'm not going to say that's definite - it's just a cooked up theory. So I hope you didn't take offense, Stephanie :P I've gained a lot more understanding about the deal since then. Also, someone mentioned genetics.......asexuality is almost certainly not rawly genetic. You can take two entirely straight parents - like mine - and get an asexual. I have - am - proof of that. Libido, on the other hand, seems to be mostly inherited, resulting in asexuals with very high libido but no person that attracts them.