Tuesday, September 22, 2020
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College kids add a new sexuality classification: Asexual

In addition to the sexual identities of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) and straight, some groups on college campuses want to insert the letter “A” for a new designation: Asexual, Inside Higher Ed reports.

Forget, for the moment, that the term “asexual” has been borrowed from biology, where it describes a mode of reproduction that doesn’t involve gametes. The definition of the term is now changing to a non-technical one, and this sort of thing happens all the time in our language when we move words from the medical or legal professions into general use. For the purposes of this story, the word “asexual” describes people who do not experience sexual attraction for either women or men and has nothing to do with gamete production.

“There’s a pretty strong belief in our society that if you don’t experience sexual desire or sexual attraction, there’s something wrong with you,” Laura Haave, director of the gender and sexuality center at Carleton College, was quoted as saying.

I’ve never heard of this belief, which Ms Haave says is “pretty strong in our society,” that there’s something wrong with people who don’t experience sexual attraction. The reality is, I think, it’s more of a gamut or a spectrum. Most strong beliefs in our society don’t put as much emphasis on sex as Ms Haave suggests, simply because there’s such a wide diversity among us humans.

I definitely believe there’s something wrong with people on the other end of the spectrum: those who are addicted to sex. That’s because sex addicts have been known to murder, betray, and exploit others, even when no such passionate submission was intended on the part of the other person. For sex addicts, “the amount, extent, and duration of behavior regularly exceeds what the person intended,” writes Patrick Carnes in his 1992 book Don’t Call It Love: Recovery from Sexual Addiction.

Published studies about (a)sexual identity, though, suggest that, while labeling oneself (as anything) tends to put an end to a woman’s questioning phase about her sexual identity, the labels often get assigned exactly at a time when many women should probably keep the question open.

“Sometimes I worry that I will never settle down with anyone, because the way I feel about guys is mainly sexual, and the way I feel about women is mainly emotional. So I’m always going between the two, and I don’t know what to call that, you know?” one woman was quoted as saying in Lisa M Diamond’s paper in Sexual Identity Development (2005) entitled, “What we got wrong about sexual identity development: Unexpected findings from a longitudinal study of young women.”

Three themes that usually enter the debate about asexuality, identified in a study published in April in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, are the following:

  • Coming to an (a)sexual identity (labeling)
  • Experiencing physical intimacy and sexuality
  • Experiencing love and relationships

The study, out of Belgium, used women who were recruited from the website for the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network as well as several other health-related websites. Ellen Van Houdenhove et al found a “great variation” among women who identified themselves as asexual in terms of how they experienced intimacy and how they experienced love and relationships.

“Engaging in sexual behavior was mainly based on a willingness to comply with partner wishes. Whereas some longed for a relationship, aromantic asexual women did not. Some participants separated love from sex,” they wrote.

The spectrum, then, runs from sex addicts, who don’t connect their behavior in sexual situations to the desire of their partner at all, to asexual people, who connect their behavior completely to their partner’s wishes.

Explain why you think any boys at your school may regard girls as “prey.” See Common Core writing standard WHST.11-12.7 for more information.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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