How Asexuality Works


Asexuality: Sexual orientation or sexual disorder?
Asexuals don't consider their lack of sexual desire a disorder.
Asexuals don't consider their lack of sexual desire a disorder.
Cavan Images/Getty Images

Since the Asexual Visibility and Education Network went live in 2001, the online community has swelled to between 19,000 and 30,000 members worldwide [source: Cerankowski and Milks; AVEN Wiki]. But the growing recognition and acceptance of asexuality in recent years has also raised eyebrows. In clinical settings, disinterest in sex is more often regarded as a problematic symptom rather than a healthy, acceptable aspect of one's identity [source: Cerankowski and Milks]. Asexuality critics therefore counter that asexuality equates willful disengagement, like a protracted form of celibacy; the product of psychological trauma; or a hormonal imbalance that saps sexual impulses [source: Melby].

To understand how the dearth of a sex drive is so quickly pathologized, one need only flip through a copy of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), mental health professionals' handbook for doling out patient diagnoses. Two disorders are characterized by a lack of, disdain for and avoidance of sexual contact: Sexual Aversion Disorder (SAD) and Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD) [source: Brotto].

Whereas SAD manifests as an anxiety-inducing sexual phobia, which doesn't align with the communal definitions and characteristics of the asexual community, HSDD poses more of a challenge to the acceptance of asexuality as a sexual orientation. Defined in the DSM-IV as "persistently or recurrently deficient (or absent) sexual fantasies and desire for sexual activity," HSDD doesn't sound all that different from the asexual experience. However, pathologizing a sexual identity because it exists beyond the bounds of normative behavior is also a slippery slope toward discrimination.

Though asexuals and people diagnosed with HSDD may share common behaviors, there's one crucial footnote: According to the DSM, nonexistent sexual desire must incite "marked distress or interpersonal difficulty" to meet the criteria for HSDD [source: Brotto]. Since the asexual community embraces the absence of sexual attraction and reports building healthy, solid relationships otherwise, they argue that theirs is an orientation that necessitates no clinical treatment. For that reason, some have petitioned the American Psychiatric Association, which publishes the DSM, to revise its HSDD definition in the upcoming DSM-V edition to allow exception for the asexual orientation [source: Cerankowski and Milks].

Asexuals' challenge to the DSM classification is reminiscent of the successful protest gay rights advocates pitched to remove "homosexuality" as a mental illness from the handbook in 1973 [source: American Journal of Psychiatry]. Yet to be formally recognized as a fourth sexual orientation, such a designation could help solidify asexuality's place within humanity's sexual spectrum, and redefine sexuality beyond merely a measure of with whom or what, to also encompass by how much and how often. And if that happens, the community will most likely celebrate with a mouthwatering slice of cake.

Related Articles

Sources

  • American Journal of Psychiatry. "The diagnostic status of homosexuality in DSM-III: a reformulation of the issues." Vol. 138. No. 2. 1981. (Jan. 12, 2012) http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/article.aspx?Volume=138&page=210&journalID=13
  • Asexual Awareness Week. "Results of the Asexual Community Census 2011." Oct. 24, 2011. (Jan. 13, 2012) http://www.facebook.com/notes/asexual-awareness-week/results-of-the-asexual-community-census-2011/208581089214485
  • Asexuality Visibility and Education Network. "General FAQ." (Jan. 12, 2012) http://www.asexuality.org/home/general.html
  • AVEN Wiki. "Timeline of notable dates in AVEN history." Updated Aug. 27, 2011. (Jan. 13, 2011) http://www.asexuality.org/wiki/index.php?title=AVEN#Timeline_of_notable_dates_in_AVEN_history
  • Bering, Jesse. "Are there asexuals among us? On the possibility of a 'fourth' sexual orientation." Scientific American. Oct. 29, 2009. (Jan. 13, 2012) http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/bering-in-mind/2009/10/29/are-there-asexuals-among-us-on-the-possibility-of-a-fourth-sexual-orientation/
  • Bogaert, Anthony F. "Asexuality: prevalence and associated factors in a national probability sample." Journal of Sex Research. FindArticles. August 2004. (Jan. 13, 2012) http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2372/is_3_41/ai_n6274004/?tag=content;col1
  • Brotto, Lori A. "The DSM Diagnostic Criteria for Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder in Women." Archives of Sexual Behavior. 2009. (Jan. 13, 2012) http://www.dsm5.org/Documents/Sex%20and%20GID%20Lit%20Reviews/SD/BROTTO.HSSD.DSM.pdf
  • Brotto, Lori A. "The DSM Diagnostic Criteria for Sexual Aversion Disorder." Archives of Sexual Behavior. 2009. (Jan. 13, 2012) http://www.dsm5.org/Documents/Sex%20and%20GID%20Lit%20Reviews/SD/BROTTO.SAD.DSM.pdf
  • Cerankowski, Karli June and Milks, Megan. "New Orientations: Asexuality and Its Implications for Theory and Practice." Feminist Studies. Vol. 36. No. 3. Fall 2010.
  • Cox, Paul. "'We're married, we just don't have sex'." Guardian. Sept. 07, 2008. (Jan. 12, 2012) http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2008/sep/08/relationships.healthandwellbeing
  • Havlak, Helen. "I'd Rather Eat Cake." Kitsch. Spring 2011. (Jan. 12, 2012) http://kitschmag.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=409&Itemid=1
  • Kinsey Institute. "Kinsey's Heterosexual –Homosexual Rating Scale." (Jan. 12, 2012) http://www.kinseyinstitute.org/research/ak-hhscale.html
  • Melby, Todd. "Asexuality gets more attention, but is it a sexual orientation?" Contemporary Sexuality. Vol. 39. No. 11. November 2005.
  • Newitz, Annalee. "What does it mean if you don't want to have sex?" i09. June 1, 2011. (Jan. 13, 2012) http://io9.com/5807220/what-does-it-mean-if-you-dont-want-to-have-sex
  • Prause, Nicole and Graham, Cynthia A. "Asexuality: Classification and Characterization." Archives of Sexual Behavior. March 08, 2007. (Jan. 12, 2012) http://www.kinseyinstitute.org/publications/PDF/PrauseGraham.pdf
  • Roselli, Charles E. et al. "Relationship of Serum Testosterone Concentrations to Mate Preferences in Rams." Biology of Reproduction. Vol. 67. 2002. (Jan. 12, 2012) http://www.biolreprod.org/content/67/1/263.full.pdf
  • Saletan, William. "Brokeback Mutton." Slate. Feb. 02, 2007. (Jan. 12, 2012) http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_nature/2007/02/brokeback_mutton.single.html#pagebreak_anchor_2
  • Scherrer, Kristin S. "Coming to an Asexual Identity: Negotiating Identity, Negotiating Desire." Sexualities. Oct. 01, 2008. (Jan. 12, 2012) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2893352/
  • Westphal, Sylvia Pagan. "Glad to be asexual." New Scientist. Oct. 14, 2004. (Jan. 12, 2012) http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn6533-feature-glad-to-be-asexual.html?full=true

More to Explore