In 2009, before I was blogging here at PsychCentral, a reader of another blog asked me to address the topic of asexuality. The post I wrote, “Asexuals: Who are they and why are they important?,” immediately became one of my most popular articles, garnering tens of thousands of page views in short order.
I first learned about the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) while researching that blog post. Because I reviewed some of the basics back then, I’ll just share the opening sentences of the overview at AVEN before moving on:
“An asexual is someone who does not experience sexual attraction. Unlike celibacy, which people choose, asexuality is an intrinsic part of who we are. Asexuality does not make our lives any worse or any better, we just face a different set of challenges than most sexual people. There is considerable diversity among the asexual community; each asexual person experiences things like relationships, attraction, and arousal somewhat differently.”
The new point I want to make here is how far the asexuality movement has come in just a few years. Dave Jay, who founded AVEN, has made the rounds in the media, from MTV to The View. He has been taken seriously in more intellectual venues as well. Just recently, the Atlantic magazine published, “Life without sex: The third phase of the asexuality movement.”
Third phase? Hey, wait, what were the first two?
They were consciousness-raising and mobilization. Phase 3, which Jay believes the movement is heading into now, involves “expanding mainstream beliefs about what a ‘normal’ sex drive looks like.”
If you are asexual, in the midst of the contemporary Western culture that so celebrates sex, you are likely to feel defective. Jay knows that from experience. His mission is “taking that feeling of defect and turning it into a positive identity.”
I have taught introductory psychology courses, but I did not realize, until I read Jay’s quote in the Atlantic article, that “Freud originally defined libido as lust for life, not lust for sex.”
Asexuals are believed to comprise 1% of the population. The vast majority of single (and married) people are not asexual. Still, the message of the asexuality movement is a profound one, and totally consistent with the point of view that guided me as I wrote Singled Out. Rachel Hills, author of the Atlantic article, put it this way:
“If we stop defining our significant relationships only as those that are romantic or sexual, being single will take on a whole new meaning. If we broaden our emotional focus from the person we share bodily fluids with to the sum of our friendships, acquaintances, and colleagues, our communities will grow stronger. If we stop treating penetrative sex as the be all and end all of physical intimacy, we will experience greater heights of pleasure. And if we can accept that although sex can be ecstatic and affirming and fulfilling, it is not all those things to all people all of the time, we will relieve it of some of its cultural baggage.”
Asexual figure photo available from Shutterstock.