Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Awks SRE Moment No 2 : We Deffo Need To Talk About Asexuality

"If sex without love exists why can't people understand that love without sex exists too". Anon (PinInterest :https://www.pinterest.com/nutellatardis/asexuality-what-you-should-know-what-i-need-to-lea/ )

Mega Phallus LOLs from Natalie at http://ace-symmetric.tumblr.com/ Check her out! 
Takk muchly for those who read my previous blogpost on SRE, namely examining the need for teachers and educators to reflect on the often overlooked topic of Intersexuality  in an impartial but comprehensive manner. Another area that demands an equal amount of attention and scrutiny is that of asexuality. I can remember asking a question in my RE lesson when my tutor was talking about Christian attitudes towards sexuality; I basically asked him whether he knew of "any people who have no sexual preferences towards any gender". He gave me a puzzled look, said "don't be silly God's designed beings are no longer free from desire since the Eve and THAT snake seduction moment in Genesis" (i.e. Original Sin argument) and went on to discuss how homosexual people should be pitied for their sexual desires.

After having done my own research on asexuality for my GCSE exams and then having explored asexual stories during my English Literature study at the University of York, it really dawned on me how bigoted we really are in thinking that human beings must have sexual desires to be seen as a natural human being. That should never be assumed! Just because a friend  doesn't want to talk about sex all the time, doesn't lust after pecs and abs on a seedy gay porn channel like Porntube or
shows no interest in chatting up the blond bird at the bar and hasn't done so for the past year doesn't make them "abnormal" or "needing psychiatric treatment". Asexuality is a perfectly normal form of sexuality. It's time secondary students were taught about such alternative forms of sexuality (or non sexuality).

What Is Asexuality?
Definitions of asexuality vary greatly, which can give a green flag to critics to even recognise it's existence in the world. Few commentators are open to explaining the concept in any great depth. However I'm avoiding that cop-out clause by giving the most concise, recognised definition below:

"Someone who does not experience sexual attraction....another small minority will think of themselves as asexual for a brief period of time while exploring and questioning their own sexuality" Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) (2008).

AVEN are quick to point out that asexuality, just like any other form of identity, is "just a word that people use to help figure themselves out" and encourage those people to use the word for as long as it is useful to do so.

Asexual people may engage in romantic relationships or they may choose to remain alone. Some may feel a level of sexual attraction but not enough to act on it, so you get some who love holding hands and cuddling in public whereas others may only do it in the boudoir or not at all. Naturally like with any form of sexuality there can be a level of curiosity espoused by asexual people, so you may see them having sex because "they want to lose their virginity" or engage in acts of mutual masturbation at college to "fit in" with the frat dudes.

AVEN (2008)  then define the romantic/emotional aspects of asexual relationships by relating it to sexual identity:
  • Aromantic: Lack of attraction to anyone romantically.
  • Gray A: Between aromantic and non-aromantic; some level of sexual attraction but only as a secondary component after an emotional connection has been established.
  • Biromantic
  • Heteroromantic
  • Homoromantic
  • Panromantic
What percentage of people define themselves as asexual?
A popular statistic used by asexual advocates to explain the need to discuss differences in sexuality and sexual desire is that  at least 1% of the world's population are believed to be asexual. This is based on several studies that have carried out on sexual behaviour during the past century:
  1. In his 1948 work "Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male", Albert Kinsey created a scale (between 1 and 6) to rate individuals according to sexual orientation from heterosexual to homosexual. He decided to include an X category for those "with no socio-sexual contacts or reactions". Kinsey found that 1.5% of the adult male population was asexual.
  2. When Kinsey followed up his adult male study with that of women in 1953, Kinsey found that unmarried women were most likely to be asexual at 14-19%, with married women at (1-3%), divorced/widowed women at 5-8%. He also explored male sexuality through the marriage prism and found that 3-4% of unmarried men,  0% of married men and 1-2% of divorced or widowed men were part of the X category.
  3. A 1994 study by Wellings "Sexual Behaviour in Britain" of 18,876 people carried out in the wake of the AIDS crisis found that 1.05% of respondents answered a question on sexual attraction by stating: "they had never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all".
  4. Canadian researcher Anthony Bogaert examined the 1994 study in 2004 and concluded that the research sample size had been subject to bias because 30% of people initially contacted to take part in the survey chose not to participate and that less sexually experienced people would be less likely to take part and as asexual people are less likely to be sexually experienced it is likely asexuals were "under represented". Therefore he concluded there is a much higher percentage of asexual people out there than the survey suggested.
  5. A 2013 study published by Aicken et al that based itself on data from 2000-2001 showed that 0.4% of people identified themselves as asexual in the UK. There was also evidence of prevalent cultural/ethnic attitudes of those who identified with  asexuality: there was a higher percentage of men and women of Indian and Pakistani heritage identifying as asexual and Muslims were more likely to identify themselves as lacking sexual desire than Christian respondents.
Based on the readings of those studies it seems pretty sensible for asexual advocates to suggest a 1% benchmark. SE Smith in the Guardian "Asexuality has always existed, you just didn't notice it" (2012)  has suggested the actual number of asexual people hasn't increased but that it is still important to realise they exist. Whitewashing people sexuality wise just helps the patriarchal Judeo-Christian Conservatives to continue espousing their single binary goodness myths. 

Addressing some misconceptions around asexuality:
  • Asexuality is definitely NOT a gender identity. There may be transgender, non-binary or queer asexuals but asexuality in and of itself is not part of gender.
  • Being asexual doesn't mean you've made some abstinence pledge a la Kooky Conservative Christian College style. There may be some that choose to abstain but plenty just have no desire to have physical or intimate relations full stop.
  • Some asexuals masturbate because they need a form of sexual release. Yet that doesn't mean they are attracted to a specific person enough to have physical relations with them.
  • Asexuality does not equal celibacy. Plenty of promiscuous asexuals out there even if their sexual attraction is not permanent and there are those out there who don't mind sharing a bed with people they like!
  • Asexuality is not a medical disorder. You may have asexuals who suffer from known psychiatric problems like schizophrenia but that is not entirely due to their asexual feelings.
  • Asexuality is not a choice for some but for others may choose to be asexual after years of sexual relationships.
  • Not every asexual person fears having sex but there are asexuals who do fear it. Some asexuals may engage in sex acts because they want to make their partner happy. Others will not entertain the idea of seeing sexual images let alone thinking about sex. Most asexuals seem to not dislike people for wanting to have sex though as proved by Shelley Bridgeman in her article "No Sex Please, We're Asexual" in The New Zealand Gazette (2011).
  •  Some will carry out solo masturbation as a form of release regardless of whether they believe they have sexual desires. This is because some asexual people believe masturbation is linked to sex drive or libido as opposed to desire. They may masturbate because it is a natural impulse even though they dislike the act of masturbation. Some asexual men can't even get an erection in the act of penetration but can do so when masturbating.
So Sherlock, how can you tell whether someone is asexual or not?
If an individual self-defines as asexual and we accept the principle of basic human rights to express ourselves as we see fit, then we have to accept that person's definition of themselves whether we truly understand it or not. Most critics of asexuality say that there has to be a question that they must ask themselves so they can label them as asexual; usually that question is "Do you feel any sexual attraction?". That question is rather inherently vague because if a person has actually never experienced sexual attraction, how would they know what any meaningful difference would be?

A blog looking at "What is Asexuality?" (2014)  has tried to come up with a list of questions that are asked by asexual people themselves to help people better understand their feelings. I reprint the "crib sheet" content below:
  • Are you generally disinterested in sex?
  • Is your interest in sex more scientific than emotional?
  • Do you feel left out or confused when others discuss sex?
  • If you had sex, did you think it was dull or boring, and not the amazing experience other people made it out to be?
  • Have you ever had to pretend to be interested in someone in order to fit in?
  • Have you ever felt “broken” because you don’t experience sexual feelings like those around you?
  • Have you ever felt that you were straight “by default” or that you were bi or pan because you were equally (dis)interested in all genders? 
  • Have you ever gone out with someone or had sex because you felt “that’s what you’re supposed to do?”

  • Stark Truths from https://www.tumblr.com/search/coming-out-as-asexual 

    My feelings re Asexuality and mainstream LGBT responses to it:

    I'm disgusted at the reluctance of some in the LGBT community not to include Asexual people as an essential part of the community. The fact asexuals are often afraid to be open about their feelings for fear of being incarcerated in a mental asylum is enough to justify why we should accept them, acknowledge their existence and welcome them with open arms. The 2012 study published in Group Processes and Intergroup Relations" showed that there is a level of prejudice and discrimination faced by asexual people by members of the LGBT community that should be unacceptable; calling them "unrestrained and animalistic" is an attempt to dehumanise them based on their differences.

    Handy Guide from Pinterest : "Asexuality What You Need To Know".
    I cannot ignore asexual blogger Julie Decker's comments about there being cases of "corrective rape" amongst the asexual community when I myself was oral raped and know what it is like to suffer self esteem issues as a result of an act of hate- a hate crime. When I read about asexual activist Sara Beth Brooks being targeted by LGBT activists because "asexuals are mistaken in their self identification" and seek undeserved attention within the Social Justice movement it reminded me of the battle trans people are facing trying to get self-recognition laws through national parliaments to remove the requirement for medical diagnosis prior to treatment. It's a travesty to think little specific protection exists for asexual people in case they are discriminated against; even our current Equality Act in the UK does not specifically mention protection for those who may be attacked for saying they have no sexual feelings or romantic attraction! Even New York State is ahead of us in the protected characteristics stakes!

    So I say to those  transgender people out there who argue asexual people shouldn't be afforded the same rights and amount of respect for our cause by being included within the LGBTQIA spectrum, you should be in no doubt that there are asexual transgender people out there. If gender and sexuality are fluid but inherently separate concepts, you have to accept that someone may wish to change their gender without there being a need to do it to "normalise" their sexual orientation or to attract more people purely for sexual reasons. I'm not transitioning to make myself more "datable" for straight guys; I'm doing it because I want to change my appearance for myself and my own wellbeing. If you want others to take the transgender cause seriously you have to be willing to engage in and promote other issues, such as those surrounding intersexuality or asexuality. Otherwise who will be bothered to take us that seriously as individuals striving for progressive changes for all with laws surrounding gender recognition, identity and equality?