Asexuality: The Sexual Orientation You Might Not Know About

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Characters in shows such as Gossip Girl and Skins get approximately 10 times as much action in high school as almost anyone I knew in grades 8 to 12 combined, but I’d bet that most people still consider their college years to be the ultimate time for self-discovery and sexual experimentation. College students may not be falling into a vortex of sex, drugs and indie-rock worthy of CW programming, but they are often questioning what it means to be a sexually competent, confident and comfortable person. For some students, this process entails throwing oneself into physically intimate relationships à la Spring Awakening, while for others it involves far less peeking between the sheets—or none at all.
 
While little research has been done on asexual orientation, increasing numbers of adults now identify as asexual and proud. A commonly cited study published in the Journal of Sex Research in 2004 reports that 1% of individuals self identify as asexual—a figure that seems unimpressive until you enter smaller communities such as Internet havens or college campuses. Since “coming out” as asexual may seem improbable at best to the uninitiated or to anyone who has never met an “ace” (slang for an asexual person), Her Campus decided to investigate how people define asexuality and what it means to be asexual in college.
 
What is asexuality, anyway?
 
Starfish and amoeba jokes aside, asexuality is defined as a lack of sexual attraction, not to be confused with celibacy or abstinence. People who are celibate or abstinent choose not to have sex for various reasons, while people who are asexual just aren’t interested. Many asexuals describe their orientation as being a natural inborn state such as being gay or straight, and AVEN, the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (a 10-year-old online association that hosts the world’s largest asexual community), contends that asexuality is simply “an intrinsic part of who we are.” However, even this simple you-either-want-it-or-you-don’t stance is complicated, since sexual desire can be defined in so many ways. “Everybody will have a different definition regarding all things sexual,” says Dr. Patricia Fawver, a clinical sexologist and member of the American Board of Sexology and American Academy of Clinical Sexologists. “The area of sexuality is ripe for miscommunication so it’s important to start with common language and make sure we’re on the same page.”
 
Dr. Fawver specializes in transgender issues and alternative erotic orientations, yet she is skeptical that anyone can truly be deemed asexual. “The literal definition of asexuality it means ‘without sexuality’, but it is not possible to be without sexuality. We are all sexual beings from the day we’re born until we die, and whether or not we choose to act on that is a choice. We don’t choose to be sexual beings but we can choose to act on asexuality.”
 
In some ways, it is difficult to argue with Dr. Fawver.
 
The AVEN FAQ section gives visitors a glimpse of the array of lifestyle choices to which many of the organization’s members adhere, and many of them include sex. “There is considerable diversity among the asexual community,” the site overview notes. “Asexual people have the same emotional needs as anyone else, and like in the sexual community we vary widely in how we fulfill those needs. Some asexual people are happier on their own, others are happiest with a group of close friends. Other asexual people have a desire to form more intimate romantic relationships, and will date and seek long-term partnerships.” AVEN stresses that whether “aces” have active sex lives or not is a personal decision and it’s pretty clear that asexual people aren’t anti-social just because they may not have sex.
 
Does asexuality really exist?

Sure, says Maria Santos, a facilitator of SAFE Zones, a peer education group on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis, which spreads awareness about LGBTQA issues. “[Being asexual] may have to do with a name that someone comes up with, but I think it’s just different things for different people. Part of the problem is that we try to place identifiers on people based on their actions and based on the person they have sex with. If an asexual person wants to identify that way and be in a relationship, then that’s that. We’re trying to create some sort of vocabulary with these identifiers to empower people, but at all times we should be asking people what they mean when they say they’re asexual.”
 
Dr. Fawver adds that the why someone is asexual matters, too. Instead of jumping aboard a terminological bandwagon, the sexologist encouragespeople who claim asexual orientation to think deeply about their family history, any past sexual experiences or hang-ups, and possible physiological discrepancies that may affect sexual desire. “You would need to explore a full range of possibilities of what is behind [asexuality],” Fawver says. “Is it part of their erotic template? Is it because of bad sexual relationships in the past? Is it because they’re focusing on their studies in college? There [are] a number of things that could be going on, but the person’s sexuality is still present. You could live 100 years and never engage in a sexual or erotic experience with another human being, and that wouldn’t make you asexual. What a person might want to do about a lack of desire depends on what’s at the base, and if they feel like something is unresolved or undiscovered, then they should investigate.”
 
Even so, many asexual people reject the notion that asexuality is just a low rung on the sex drive totem pole.
 

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About The Author

Judith is a senior at Washington University in St. Louis with a double major in English and Spanish and a minor in Creative Writing. She is Co-Editor-in-Chief of Spires, a literary magazine on the WashU campus, and a former features intern for Seventeen and Marie Claire. A proud nerd whose greatest joys include LexisNexis and thesaurus.com, Judith can usually be found looking for new music or espousing the wonders of Twitter, Harry Potter, and late 16th century English Literature to anyone willing to listen. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Judith plans to explore as much of St. Louis as she can in her final year of college--even without a car (or a learner's permit...).