Asexuality (sometimes referred to as nonsexuality), in its broadest sense, is the lack of sexual attraction to others or the lack of interest in sex. It may also be considered a lack of a sexual orientation. One commonly cited study published in 2004 placed the prevalence of asexuality at 1%.
Asexuality is distinct from abstention from sexual activity and from celibacy, which are behavioral and generally motivated by factors such as an individual's personal or religious beliefs; sexual orientation, unlike sexual behavior, is believed to be "enduring". Some asexuals do engage in sexual activity despite lacking a desire for sex or sexual attraction, due to a variety of reasons, such as a desire to please romantic partners.
Only recently has asexuality started to become accepted as a sexual orientation and a field of scientific research, and a growing body of research from both sociological and psychological perspectives has begun to coalesce. While some researchers assert that asexuality is a sexual orientation, others disagree, and various asexual communities have started to form since the advent of the Internet and social media. The most prolific and well-known of these communities has been the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), which was founded in 2001.
 Romantic relationships and identity
- aromantic: lack of romantic attraction towards anyone
- biromantic: romantic attraction towards person(s) of two different genders – the romantic aspect of bisexuality
- heteroromantic: romantic attraction towards person(s) of a different gender – the romantic aspect of heterosexuality
- homoromantic: romantic attraction towards person(s) of the same gender – the romantic aspect of homosexuality
- panromantic (also omniromantic): romantic attraction towards person(s) of any gender or lack of gender, including persons of nonbinary gender – the romantic aspect of pansexuality
- transromantic: romantic attraction towards person(s) of variant or ambiguous gender – the romantic attraction to transgender or intersex individuals
- polyromantic: romantic attraction towards multiple, but not all, genders and gender identities – the romantic aspect of polysexuality
- demiromantic: romantic attraction after developing an emotional connection beforehand (the term does not express the gender of these persons)
The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) defines asexuality as "someone who does not experience sexual attraction" and stated, "[a]nother small minority will think of themselves as asexual for a brief period of time while exploring and questioning their own sexuality" and that "[t]here is no litmus test to determine if someone is asexual. Asexuality is like any other identity – at its core, it’s just a word that people use to help figure themselves out. If at any point someone finds the word asexual useful to describe themselves, we encourage them to use it for as long as it makes sense to do so".
Researchers have varied in their attempts to define asexuality, but the term is usually defined to mean the lack or absence of sexual attraction or sexual interest. This may be defined as having little sexual attraction or desire, no sexual attraction or desire, or a combination thereof with or without the characteristic of behavior, as researchers have used the term "to refer to individuals with low or absent sexual desire or attractions, low or absent sexual behaviors, exclusively romantic non-sexual partnerships, or a combination of both absent sexual desires and behaviors".
As an emerging identity with a broad definition, there is an enormous amount of variation among people who identify as asexual; for example, asexual-identified individuals who report that they feel sexual attraction but not the inclination to act on it because they have no true desire or need to engage in sexual or even non-sexual activity (cuddling, hand-holding, etc.). Some asexuals participate in sexual activity out of curiosity. Some may masturbate as a solitary form of release, while others do not feel a need to do so. The need or desire for masturbation is commonly referred to as a "sex drive" and is disassociated from sexual attraction and being sexual; asexuals who masturbate generally consider it to be a normal product of the human body and not a sign of latent sexuality, and may not even find it pleasurable. Some asexual men are completely unable to get an erection and sexual activity is completely impossible for them. Asexuals also differ in their feelings towards performing sex acts: some are indifferent and may even have sex for the benefit of a romantic partner, while others are more strongly averse to the idea even though they do not necessarily dislike other people for having sex as long as it does not involve them.
 Sexual orientation and etiology
There is significant debate over whether asexuality is a sexual orientation or not. It is most comparable to hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), in the sense that both imply a general lack of sexual attraction to anyone, but asexuality is generally not considered a disorder (such as anorgasmia, anhedonia, etc.) or a sexual dysfunction because asexuality does not necessarily define someone as having a medical problem or problems relating to others socially (such as celibacy or abstinence). It also does not imply that lacking sexual attraction causes anxiety; it is the lack or absence of sexual attraction as a life-enduring characteristic. Some scholars, however, opine that asexuality is not a meaningful category to add to the continuum of sexual orientations, and say that it is instead the lack of a sexual orientation or sexuality. Others state that it is the denial of one's natural sexuality, and that it is a disorder caused by shame of sexuality or anxiety, sometimes basing this belief on asexuals who masturbate or occasionally engage in sexual activity simply to please a romantic partner.
Various other scholars assert that asexuality is a sexual orientation, as some asexuals are unable to masturbate even though they reportedly have a "normal" sex drive, and that there are variations of sexual preferences, arguing that asexuality ought to be included as well. They stress that asexuals do not choose to have no sexual desire, and generally start to find out their "differences" in sexual behaviors around adolescence. Because of these facts coming to light, asexuality is much more than a behavioral choice, and is not something that can be "cured" like it is a disorder.
Etiology in this context is without implication of disease, disorder, or abnormality. Research on the etiology of sexual orientation when applied to asexuality has the definitional problem that sexual orientation is not consistently defined by all researchers as including asexuality. Asexuality may be considered a sexual orientation, which is defined as "enduring" and resistant to change, proving to be generally impervious to interventions intended to change it. However, while heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality are usually but not always determined during the early years of preadolescent life, it is not known when asexuality is determined. "It is unclear whether these characteristics [viz., "lacking interest in or desire for sex"] are thought to be lifelong, or if they may be acquired."
Non-measurement in some areas of sexual orientation is accepted by the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the National Association of Social Workers: "[S]imply to document that a phenomenon occurs, case studies and non-probability samples are often adequate. . . . Some groups are sufficiently few in number – relative to the entire population – that locating them with probability sampling is extremely expensive or practically impossible. In the latter cases, the use of non-probability samples is often appropriate." In determining etiologies, when asexuals are a small percentage of a large society, asexuals with a given etiology will compose an even smaller percentage, so that etiological information is available only from some individuals, generally not randomly selected.
In the mid-twentieth century, Alfred Kinsey rated individuals from 0 to 6 according to their sexual orientation from heterosexual to homosexual, known as the Kinsey scale. He also included a category he called "X" for individuals with "no socio-sexual contacts or reactions". He labeled 1.5% of the adult male population as X. In Kinsey's second book, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, he reported this breakdown of individuals who are X: unmarried females = 14–19%, married females = 1–3%, previously married females = 5–8%, unmarried males = 3–4%, married males = 0%, and previously married males = 1–2%.
Further empirical data about an asexual demographic appeared in 1994, when a research team in the United Kingdom carried out a comprehensive survey of 18,876 British residents, spurred by the need for sexual information in the wake of the AIDS pandemic. The survey included a question on sexual attraction, to which 1.05% of the respondents replied that they had "never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all." This study of this phenomenon was continued by the Canadian sexuality researcher Dr. Anthony Bogaert in 2004, who explored the asexual demographic in a series of studies. Bogaert believed that the 1% figure was not an accurate reflection of the likely much larger percentage of the population that could be identified as asexual, noting that in the initial survey 30% of people contacted chose not to participate in the survey. Since less sexually experienced people are more likely to refuse to participate in studies about sexuality, and asexuals tend to be less sexually experienced than sexuals, it is likely that asexuals were over-represented in the 30% who did not participate, compared to the 70% who did. The same study found the number of homosexuals and bisexuals combined to be about 1.1% of the population, which is much smaller than other studies indicate. However, Bogaert's sexuality research has been scrutinized in the past, since he was involved in studies that linked race to sexual behaviors as if they had an evolutionary basis. This study was highly debated by the scientific community as potentially constituting a case of scientific racism.
 Sexual activity and sexuality
While some asexuals masturbate as a solitary form of release or have sex for the benefit of a romantic partner (see above), others do not. The Kinsey Institute sponsored another small survey on the topic in 2007, which found that self-identified asexuals "reported significantly less desire for sex with a partner, lower sexual arousability, and lower sexual excitation but did not differ consistently from non-asexuals in their sexual inhibition scores or their desire to masturbate".
A 1977 paper entitled Asexual and Autoerotic Women: Two Invisible Groups, by Myra T. Johnson, may be the first paper explicitly devoted to asexuality in humans. Johnson defines asexuals as those men and women "who, regardless of physical or emotional condition, actual sexual history, and marital status or ideological orientation, seem to prefer not to engage in sexual activity." She contrasts autoerotic women with asexual women: "The asexual woman [...] has no sexual desires at all [but] the autoerotic woman [...] recognizes such desires but prefers to satisfy them alone." Johnson's evidence is mostly letters to the editor found in women's magazines written by asexual/autoerotic women. She portrays them as invisible, "oppressed by a consensus that they are nonexistent," and left behind by both the sexual revolution and the feminist movement. Society either ignores or denies their existence or insists they must be ascetic for religious reasons, neurotic, or asexual for political reasons.
In a study published in 1979 in Advances in the Study of Affect, vol. 5, and in another article using the same data and published in 1980 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Michael D. Storms of the University of Kansas outlined his own reimagining of the Kinsey scale. Whereas Kinsey measured sexual orientation based on a combination of actual sexual behavior and fantasizing and eroticism, Storms only used fantasizing and eroticism. Storms, however, placed hetero-eroticism and homo-eroticism on separate axes rather than at two ends of a single scale; this allows for a distinction between bisexuality (exhibiting both hetero- and homo-eroticism in degrees comparable to hetero- or homosexuals, respectively) and asexuality (exhibiting a level of homo-eroticism comparable to a heterosexual and a level of hetero-eroticism comparable to a homosexual, namely, little to none). Storms conjectured that many researchers following Kinsey's model could be mis-categorizing asexual subjects as bisexual, because both were simply defined by a lack of preference for gender in sexual partners.
The first study that gave empirical data about asexuals was published in 1983 by Paula Nurius, concerning the relationship between sexual orientation and mental health. Unlike previous studies on the subject, she used the above-mentioned two-dimensional model for sexual orientation. Six hundred eighty-nine subjects—most of whom were students at various universities in the United States taking psychology or sociology classes—were given several surveys, including four clinical well-being scales and a survey asking how frequently they engaged in various sexual activities and how often they would like to engage in those activities. Based on the results, respondents were given a score ranging from 0 to 100 for hetero-eroticism and from 0 to 100 for homo-eroticism. Respondents who scored lower than 10 on both were labeled "asexual." This consisted of 5% of the males and 10% of the females. Results showed that asexuals were more likely to have low self-esteem and more likely to be depressed than members of other sexual orientations; 25.88% of heterosexuals, 26.54% bisexuals (called "ambisexuals"), 29.88% of homosexuals, and 33.57% of asexuals were reported to have problems with self-esteem. A similar trend existed for depression. Nurius did not believe that firm conclusions can be drawn from this for a variety of reasons. Asexuals also reported much lower frequency and desired frequency of a variety of sexual activities including having multiple partners, anal sexual activities, having sexual encounters in a variety of locations, and autoerotic activities.
Though comparisons with non-human sexuality are problematic, a series of studies done on ram mating preferences at the United States Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, Idaho, starting in 2001 found that about 2–3% of the animals being studied had no apparent interest in mating with either sex; the researchers classified these animals as asexual, but found them to be otherwise healthy with no recorded differences in hormone levels.
A more recent paper written by Karli June Cerankowski and Megan Milks, entitled New Orientations: Asexuality and Its Implications for Theory and Practice, suggests that asexuality may be somewhat of a question in itself for these studies of gender and sexuality. Cerankowski and Milks have found that asexuality, by means of feminist and queer studies, raises many more questions than it resolves, such as how a person could abstain from having sex which is generally accepted by society to be the most basic of instincts. The article also states that society has either deemed "[LGBT and] female sexuality as empowered or repressed. The asexual movement challenges that assumption by challenging many of the basic tenants of pro-sex feminism already defined as repressive or anti-sex sexualities." Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) has formulated asexuality as a biologically determined orientation. This formula, if dissected scientifically and proven, would support researcher Simon LaVey's conclusive blind study of the hypothalamus in gay men, women, and straight men, which found that there is a biological difference between straight men and gay men.
A community of self-identified asexuals coalesced in the early 21st century, aided by the popularity of online communities. Dr. Elizabeth Abbot, author of A History of Celibacy, acknowledges a difference between asexuality and celibacy and posits that there has always been an asexual element in the population but that asexual people kept a low profile. While failure to consummate marriage was seen as "an insult to the sacrament of marriage" in medieval Europe, asexuality, unlike homosexuality, has never been illegal, and asexual people have been able to "fly under the radar". However, in the 21st century the anonymity of online communication and general popularity of social networking online has facilitated the formation of a community built around a common asexual identity.
The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) was founded in 2001 by David Jay with two primary goals: to create public acceptance and discussion of asexuality and to facilitate the growth of an asexual community. Since that time, it has grown to host the world’s largest online asexual community, serving as an informational resource and meeting place for people who are asexual and questioning, their friends and families, academic researchers, and the press. The network has additional satellite communities in ten languages. Members of AVEN have been involved in media coverage spanning television, print, and radio and participate in lectures, conferences, and Pride events around the world.
Asexual communities such as AVEN can be beneficial to those in search of answers to solve a crisis of identity. In many cases of asexuality, an individual goes through a series of emotional processes that end with that person identifying with the asexual community. The individual first realizes their sexual attractions differ from the majority of society. This individual difference leads to questioning whether the way they feel is acceptable, and possible reasons why they feel this way. Pathological beliefs tend to follow where, in some cases, a person may seek medical help because they feel they have a disease. Self-understanding is usually reached when the individual searching for clarity finds a definition that matches their feelings. Asexuality communities provide support and information that allows newly identified asexuals to move from self-clarification to identifying on a communal level, which can be empowering, because they now have something to associate with, which gives normality to this overall socially-isolating situation.
At this time, asexual organizations and other internet resources play a key role in informing people about asexuality. The lack of research makes it difficult for doctors to understand the causation. Most people who say they are asexual are self identified. This can be a problem when asexuality is mistaken for intimacy or relationship issue, or other symptoms that do not define asexuality. There is also a significant population that either does not understand, or does not believe in asexuality, which adds to the importance of these organizations to inform the general population.
After a period of debate over having an asexual flag and how to set up a system to create one, and contacting as many asexual communities as possible, in August 2010 a flag was announced as the asexual pride flag by one of the team involved. The final flag had been a popular candidate and so had previously seen use in online forums outside of AVEN. The final vote was held on a survey system outside of AVEN where the main flag creation efforts were organised.
Since election has become widely popular as an asexual symbol, starting to overtake the AVEN triangle. Outside of asexual dominated forums and online hubs, it has seen use in pride festivals. The flag colours have been used in artwork and referenced in articles about the sexuality. It has been used in bracelets, scarves, badges and so on, much like other pride flags.
The colours of the flag were decided early on in the flag creation process with each one having their own meaning. Black represents asexuality itself, grey represents demisexuality and the grey-asexuality, white represents sexual allies and the purple represents community. These colours themselves are a reference to the AVEN triangle and its gradient, whilst it's assumed by many but not certain that the purple originated in the colour scheme of AVEN.
 Legal protections
Currently, the U.S. states of Vermont and New York have labeled asexuals as a protected class. Asexuality does not typically attract attention of the public or major scrutiny. Thus it has not been subject of legislation as other sexual orientations have.
 Notable asexuals
- See also Category: Asexual people
- Edward Gorey, writer and illustrator. Gorey never married or had any known romantic relationships and responded to an interviewer's questioning of his sexual orientation with, "I'm neither one thing nor the other particularly ... I am apparently reasonably undersexed or something." He agreed with the interviewer's suggestion that the "sexlessness" of his books was "a product of his asexuality".
- Keri Hulme, author of The Bone People, winner of the 1985 Booker Prize, discussed asexuality and her involvement with AVEN in a 2007 interview.
- Bradford Cox, an American musician, leader of the bands Deerhunter and Atlas Sound.
- Emilie Autumn, an American singer-songwriter, poet, and violinist who is best known for her wide range of musical styles and her usage of theatrics.
- Tim Gunn, an American fashion consultant and television personality. He considers himself asexual and has not had a boyfriend since 1982.
- Janeane Garofalo, an American stand-up comedian, actress, political activist and writer. During her filmed stand-up show in Seattle, she brought up her ten-year asexual relationship with her boyfriend, describing herself as having no interest in sex whatsoever.
- J. M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan
- Kenji Miyazawa, Japanese poet and novelist
- Paula Poundstone, stand-up comedian.
- Fictional characters and persons
- Rudy Waltz from Kurt Vonnegut novel Deadeye Dick
- A patient and her husband in a January 23, 2012 episode of the TV series House.
 See also
- Androgyny: the mixing of masculine and feminine characteristics, personality, fashion, or culture
- Antisexualism: the views of someone who is antagonistic towards sexuality
- Affectional orientation: alternative views on attraction not based on sexuality, but more on purely romantic relationships
- Erotophobia: psychological fear of sexual intercourse and sexual feelings in general
- Genophobia: the fear of sexual intercourse
- Hypersexuality: is extremely frequent or suddenly increased sexual urges or sexual activity.
- Platonic love: a nonsexual affectionate relationship
- Sexless marriage: a marriage in which little or no sex is performed throughout the marriage
- Sexual anorexia: is a term used to describe a loss of "appetite" for romantic-sexual interaction.
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