Monthly Archives: October 2014

Asexuality 101 part 2: Gray-asexuality and the asexual spectrum

This is the draft I have for the sections on the asexual spectrum and gray-asexuality. A point I want to somehow elaborate on, but could use help with, is where’s the cut-off between being asexual, or gray-A, and being gray-A or allosexual? Anything else I could elaborate on in the asexual spectrum mini-section, or is that enough?

Gray-asexuality

“Gray-A” for short. An umbrella term for people who aren’t asexual, but aren’t allosexual either, and their experiences are generally more in line with those of asexual people. Usually considered to be part of the asexuality spectrum.

People who feel that they experience sexual attraction or a desire for sex, but only to a limited degree. Reasons for identifying as gray-asexual include, but aren’t limited to the following:

  • Experiencing it only very rarely, noticeably less frequently than the general population.
  • Experiencing it only at a low intensity, rarely, if ever strong enough to desire acting on it.
  • People who experience sexual attraction, but no libido, may also be considered gray-asexual.
  • Experiencing it only under limited circumstances. Some of these patterns of experiencing sexual attraction only under certain, limited circumstances have names for them:
    • Demisexual: A close emotional bond with someone is the only condition in which experiencing sexual attraction is possible. This emotional bond doesn’t have to be romantic. Demisexuality isn’t the same as someone not wanting to not act on sexual attraction, unless they have an emotional bond with that person.
    • Lithsexual/Akoisexual: Only experiences sexual attraction with no desire for it to be reciprocated; sexual feelings disappear with reciprocation.

Rhetoric to avoid

  • “It means experiencing sexual attraction rarely”: This is a common explanation given for what gray-asexuality is, but the low frequency of sexual attraction isn’t the only reason why someone may identify as gray-asexual.
  • “It’s the area on the spectrum between asexual and allosexual” (without any further elaboration): Mentioning this without further elaboration gives off the impression that the continuum from asexual to allosexual is one-dimensional (i.e: it’s only about the intensity of sexual attraction, or only the frequency of it), and erases the various reasons why someone would consider themselves gray-asexual.

Asexual spectrum

A collective term referring to asexuals and gray-asexuals; asexuality is the point of the continuum defined by never experiencing sexual attraction and/or the desire for partnered sex.

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Asexuality 101 part 1: Introduction

This is the draft I have for the section on introducing what asexuality is, and is not, and the definitions usually used, for the asexuality and related concepts 101 page I got started on here. Libido, romantic orientation, other types of attraction, attitudes towards sex, are mentioned, and each have their own separate sections. This is an early draft, open to suggestions, including a change in the structure, if it’d be better to include other things under the “Asexuality” heading than just the definition(s).
Is there anything you’d want me to put under the “rhetoric to avoid” for this section? The only thing I can think of right now is to avoid conflating asexuality with other things that happen to overlap with it.
EDIT: This is an edited version, based off of suggestions made in the comments. Thanks to luvtheheaven and killerbee13 for the suggestions.

Asexuality

Basic definitions

Asexuality (in English) has two basic definitions that are usually used:

  1. A person who does not experience sexual attraction.
  2. A person who does not experience an intrinsic desire for partnered sex.

The first definition is the most widely used. “Sexual attraction” is usually defined as that feeling of desiring to have sex with a specific person. The second definition is sometimes used, because not everyone understands what “sexual attraction” is supposed to mean, and finds the definition for it either unclear, or not meaningful to them personally.

Some people find the second definition more clear. There are also allosexuals (people who aren’t asexual nor gray-asexual) who say that they don’t experience “sexual attraction” as the asexual community defines it, but they say they’re allosexual, because they desire sex. A comparison that has been used, is that someone who is allosexual will still have desires for sex, even if they lived their life in complete isolation.

There is the added issue that some define asexuality as lacking sexual attraction and/or the intrinsic desire for partnered sex, drawing a clear line between what “sexual attraction” is, and the “intrinsic desire for partnered sex”.

There are other asexual people who feel like the first definition fits their experiences, but the second one doesn’t. These reasons are why a combined definition of “Doesn’t experience sexual attraction and/or an intrinsic desire for partnered sex” has grown in popularity.

An expanded definition

Asexuality is an orientation where an individual does not experience sexual attraction. However, asexuals may have romantic, or other attractions. The lack of sexual attraction does not imply that they is always no sex drive. Asexuals can have ranging libidos. (Credit to Stained Glass from AVEN for suggesting this expanded definition.)

Asexuals are a diverse group

Some asexuals experience romantic attraction, others don’t, and some don’t distinguish romantic from platonic feelings.

Some asexuals are repulsed by sex, while others are indifferent to it, and some may enjoy it. [note: in the “attitudes towards sex” section, this’ll be elaborated on a lot more, including statistics to show that these groups aren’t equally-sized]

Asexuality isn’t celibacy or sexual abstinence, though many asexuals happen to be celibate, and can be for different reasons. Likewise, others are sexually active, and can be for different reasons.

So I’m working on an asexuality 101 thing for my blog

I’m in the process of writing an asexuality 101 page for my blog, to be added as a page in the menu, summarizing different aspects of asexuality, and various concepts related to the asexual community, or often overlap with it (i.e: sex-repulsion, a/romanticism, nonlibidoism), relationships, etc. I know that like many other asexual blogs, this one is written in mind for those who already know of asexuality, and the issues surrounding it, but some other visitors might find it useful.

I also had in mind adding a “rhetoric to avoid” sub-section for most, or every section, highlighting common mistakes discussing them in asexual visibility efforts, within the asexual community, or people outside of it talking about asexuality.

So far, the topics I got started writing about for this:

The definitions of asexuality in English

  • “A person who does not experience sexual attraction”
  • “A person who does not experience an intrinsic desire for partnered sex.”

Gray-asexuality

  • Examples of gray-asexuality

Asexuality and being sex-repulsed, indifferent or favorable

  • How someone feels about having sex is separate from whether they’re asexual or not
  • Estimated percentages of asexuals who are repulsed, indifferent or favorable
  • Rhetoric to avoid:
    • “Real asexuals don’t want sex!” or “Real asexuals are indifferent to sex!” (I doubt that anyone doing 101-level work these days would intentionally say these, but they could be accidentally implied if someone isn’t careful with the wording they use)
    • “Asexuals can enjoy sex” (or rather, this is something to be very careful about explaining, because if done wrong, it can stigmatize those who don’t enjoy sex)
    • Rhetoric that stigmatizes repulsed asexuals, within the asexual community (specific examples?)

Relationships

  • Ace-ace relationships
  • Mixed relationships
    • Challenges on both sides
    • Power dynamics and societal expectations of relationships
  • Rhetoric to avoid:
    • Any that suggests that exclusive, romantic relationships are THE definition of significant relationship, or suggests that everyone desires, or wants one, not looking into other relationship models as being valid.
    • “Ace-ace relationships, and any nonsexual nonromantic relationships are inherently free of problems, because sex and/or romance aren’t getting in the way.”

Romantic orientation

  • Sexual and romantic orientation are separate things
  • Aromanticism, and how it overlaps with asexuality a lot, though not all asexuals are aromantic, and not all aromantics are asexual
    • Aromantic spectrum, including gray-romanticism
  • Should also mention mixed-orientation non-asexuals? Most of them find out from the asexual community that their own romantic and sexual orientations are different from each other.
  • Not everyone finds the concept of romantic orientation personally applicable or meaningful, including those who don’t distinguish romantic from platonic feelings.
  • Rhetoric to avoid:
    • “Asexuals can desire relationships, or fall in love, just like everyone else!”
    • “Alloromantic asexuals are like straight, gay, bi, and pan people, minus the sexual attraction!”
    • Assuming that romantic attraction, or lack of, is clear-cut, because it isn’t for everyone.

Asexuality in other languages: To show that the way asexuality is defined in English, and in Anglophone countries, isn’t the only way.

History of the asexual community: To show that asexuality has always been around, but visibility for it only began to emerge on a large scale in the past decade, and some trends within the asexual community at different points in its history may explain some of the rhetoric to avoid.

Any other topics, or points you want me to cover for this? I’d like to get this done some time in the next week, because it’ll be Asexual Awareness Week!

“I Don’t Have Sex”, a celibacy-affirming song

“I Don’t Have Sex”, by Queer Sounds

I was delighted to find out about this song! It’s positive acknowledgement from the LGBTQ+ community towards anyone who is choosing to not have sex! The topic of celibacy within LGBTQ+ spaces is a sensitive topic for understandable reasons, and it was handled extremely well here. The lyrics are very affirming, and fight against the stereotypes of people choosing to not have sex as being judgmental, sexuality policers, or sexually repressed.

Being repulsed and “compromising”? (part 2)

I hate when this happens. I was working on a part 2 to this post, shortly after I published it. The first part was about the ways that considerably high statistic of repulsed asexuals being willing to compromise on sex should be taken with a grain of salt, because of the methodological issues surrounding the survey question it was from.

The second part was intended to be based off of observation and personal experience, my concerns about those who actually say they’re willing to compromise. This is a major rewrite, and pardon me if the writing style for this post is so disjointed. There were a bunch of different things I wrote about in my original draft before scrapping it, because I couldn’t figure out how to tie them together. If there’s anything that’s unclear, feel free to say so in the comments.

(TW: sexual coercion, talk of repulsion-shaming, blaming the coerced)

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Critiques of the 2014 AVEN Survey summary

The survey has been a success! It’s still open to new responses, and the number we have so far is much larger than that of the 2011 AAW Census, and that was a survey remarkable for the sample size it got! Generally, it was well-received, covering a lot of topics without being too long, though not without problems.

Demi Gray, the tumblr user who was the first to share it there, had a list of critiques in the following post, which I responded to.

We made some big mistakes with the religion question, which Nextstepcake explained: the write-in answer for other religions was originally included, but left out by mistake.

Residence should be used instead of citizenship, since it erased people with dual citizenship, and expatriates. Using citizenship was a mistake for those reasons, and country of residence is what we’ll be switching to next time.

The sexual activity section was ambiguous in two ways. Redbeardace points out that “sexual activity” was left undefined. The section was intended to be about sexual activity with a partner, but that should’ve been more clear.

Another point was made about not including anything about nonconsensual sex. Queenie says that the sexual activity section of the survey might not be helpful for people who have experienced both consensual and non-consensual sexual activity.

WTFromantic/quoiromantic respondents were happy to see their romantic orientation included! However, it’s inclusion wasn’t perfect, because some respondents reported that they ran into the problem of not knowing how to answer the romantic attraction questions, as Ace Theist pointed out. I was one of those respondents who ran into that same problem!

Another problem of the survey was its inconsistencies, because while there was no option for those who don’t distinguish romantic and non-romantic attractions, although WTFromantic/quoiromantic was listed as a romantic orientation, and in the relationships section, there were options for those who don’t distinguish romantic from platonic relationships! Siggy commented that we may have originally had that option there. I can’t remember if we did in an earlier draft, because the only earlier draft of the survey I could find didn’t have that option, but we know now that it’s a useful option to include for next time.

The sex-repulsed/indifferent/favorable question needed an “unsure” option. I had forgotten that for some people, those labels don’t feel very applicable to them. An example of this is from a recent thread on AVEN. What do those who like the idea of sex in theory, or in the abstract, but are uncertain about it in practice consider themselves? Could someone be afraid of sex without being repulsed?

I also would’ve liked a question asking about different degrees of sex-repulsion, if applicable. I think there was an attempt at such a question, but it got scrapped because of the difficulty.
I think it’s a problem that not all of us on the survey team worked on each section equally. Some of us are more knowledgeable about some of the topics than others, but even if one of us didn’t feel like we had anything to contribute with writing a question for a section, any one of us still could’ve checked for consistency of the questions, or point out ambiguities, or questionable word choices. Some of these sections were worked on at different times. We also should’ve paid more attention to the wording.

Ser of Queereka said that the wording of the relationships section reinforces the relationship hierarchy, despite our acknowledgement that ‘significant relationships’ can be non-romantic and non-sexual. I see the problem with “…beyond just family and close friends”, and agree that the ‘just’ part needs to be removed next time to avoid implying that familial relationships and friendships aren’t significant. Using ‘partner’ instead would be better next time; the way it’s used in the context of relationships has the same meaning that we gave for ‘significant relationship’ without implying that there are insignificant relationships! Why not? We already used ‘partner’ in some of the relationship questions, so scrapping the ‘significant relationship’ term would make the section more consistent!

EDIT: Queenie gave a detailed explanation on how the Sexual History section may not be helpful for sexual violence survivors, showing the ramifications of not distinguishing between consensual and nonconsensual activities, and the way it was written. A major mistake that could’ve been prevented if we used a clear definition of consent, and building it into the questions. Another post of hers says that the first question doesn’t allow survivors to determine for themselves if they count as sexually active.

EDIT (10/14): Another explanation of how it wasn’t helpful to sexual violence survivors. I apologize that I reacted badly at first, and what I said pressured her into having to explain this issue further, when she already explained a lot. The feeling of making a major mistake on the survey that I can’t go back on, because it’s too late to change it is terrible, but that was no excuse for me to lose my cool.

Most of the critiques are related to us accidentally leaving some useful options out (“other” religious category, “maybe/unsure” option for some questions, “I don’t distinguish romantic from nonromantic attraction” for the romantic attraction questions), not clarifying things (there were some people who weren’t sure if they could leave questions blank, some respondents unsure how to interpret the frequency of sexual attraction question, unsure what counts as ‘sexual activity’), or not quite using the right word choices (the problem with the relationship section). Most of those were easily preventable mistakes, yet some of them had considerable ramifications. Other critiques had to do with controversial sections, and there was quite a bit of controversy surrounding the suicide question, and whether to include a section, or questions on nonconsensual sexual activities. I’m in favor of outside help for the controversial sections.

Another edit for clarification: I don’t know who will all be on next year’s survey team, but they/we will read through the feedback, and will do their/our best to use those to improve the next survey.

The making of the 2014 AVEN Survey

The AVEN 2014 Survey is up, and you can take it here!

This is the second official AVEN survey in English*, and we hope to make it yearly, as was originally intended. The other English AVEN survey was in 2008.

The whole process of working on the survey had its share of trial-and-error. It was slow at first, because while I have a background in statistics, research methods, and know how to write survey questions, I never coordinated anything of this scale before. I’m fortunate that I had such a good team helping me along the way!

I learned a lot along the way while working with the survey team, but we had our share of setbacks. Communication, and being able to coordinate when we could work on the survey at the same time, was the most difficult part. Often times, I found my schedule clashing with everyone else’s, because of the hours I was working earlier this year. During the months of May and June, making progress was difficult, because many of the people also involved in the survey were also involved in preparations for WorldPride. It would’ve been perfect to get the survey done in time for WorldPride, so it could’ve been announced during the beginning of the International Asexuality Conference, but we suffered another schedule slip.

Coordination could still use some work, because the survey’s announcement on AVEN didn’t come immediately after its addition to the front page, nor did we get to sharing it on tumblr right away, but thanks to Demi Gray for picking up where we didn’t, by being the first to share it there! Because of timezone differences, the survey’s addition to the front page happened while I was away from the computer, so the announcement was made hours later, after several people already took the survey.

Another difficulty was two of the survey’s sections: The one on attitudes towards sex, and the one on celibacy/sexual abstinence/long-term sexual inactivity, because of the sheer difficulty of writing concise, clearly-worded questions for them. I’ve seen some comments on tumblr already on how some of the questions have confusing wording, and I suspect that either of those sections are the worst offender when it comes to confusing wording. We’ll definitely need help to improve it for next time.

When writing for the celibacy or sexual abstinence section (it was obvious that I wrote most of this section, isn’t it?), there were a lot of times I fumbled over the wording, thinking “Is ‘abstaining’ really a good word choice for this, because I’ve heard asexuals say that sexual abstinence isn’t a meaningful concept to them!”, and “What if calling this ‘celibacy’ will cause people who don’t identify as celibate, but other terms instead, to be under-represented?” “Referring to this as ‘not having sex’ is too clunky”. I don’t know if I was worrying over nothing with those thoughts, but I know how much wording can affects the results of a survey, so I was trying to be careful.

It was important to work on both of these though. The ‘celibacy’ section is a completely new addition, that’ll give some numerical data to some observations (i.e: what percentage of sexually inactive asexuals find the celibate label meaningful for themselves, and if they don’t, why?) and the “attitudes towards sex” section was created to be much more clear and detailed than the question that the AAW 2011 Community Census asked.

The AAW 2011 Community Census question about the respondent’s attitudes towards sex was methodologically flawed. As the new analysis on the AVEN Wiki described it, it was asking three questions at once: What’s someone’s personal attitude towards sex, their attitude towards others having sex (or attitude towards sex in general), and if they’re willing to have sex. That was a triple-barreled question! Another problem it had was with using specific terms for different sexual attitudes; in particular, ‘sex-positive’, ‘sex-negative’, and ‘antisexual’. In practice, those labels have a lot of ambiguity to them, because some people identify with those terms, but don’t mean the definitions given. Those definitions given may have been ambiguous too.**

Because of this, the questions were written in a way to avoid using specific terms, and instead describe the specific attitudes. Showing just how important this issue is, is one of the worst (read: misleading) interpretations of the answers to the AAW 2011 question, in an otherwise very good article. Queenie wrote a post prompted by that article, explaining the different ways each of those terms are highly ambiguous in practice, and I’m glad that something like that was finally written!

The Asexual Agenda linkspam that linked to the article has some commentary on it, including a link to an analysis showing further flaws behind the original question.

There were a lot of challenges creating the survey, but I’m glad that after all those challenges, it’s up! One of the goals behind the 2014 survey is to overcome the shortcomings, or what was left out in the AVEN 2008, and the AAW 2011 surveys. I agree with what Nextstepcake (another of the survey team members) said about it, and hope that the results will show who is being represented, and who is being left out, and work for a more inclusive survey next time.


Footnotes:

*The Spanish-language AVEN board has had a survey every year since 2011, and had their newest one released earlier this year.

**Another reason why I took those labels and their definitions the wrong way in that question, was because it wasn’t specified if those definitions referred only to consensual sex or not! It feels odd saying that, but as I’ve explained in some of my other posts, my first impressions of sex-positivity were from extremists who were ignorant of what real consent is.

Being repulsed and “compromising”? (part 1)

A new analysis of the 2011 AAW Community Census data yielded various findings. One of them which sparked further questions, is the considerable percentage of repulsed asexuals who said that they’re willing to “compromise” (that was the wording used), and have sex with their relationship partner.

On the flip-side, some asexuals who enjoy sex, and some who are indifferent to it, aren’t willing to compromise.Of the 659 respondents who said they’re indifferent towards having sex, 6%, or 40 people, said they aren’t willing to compromise.* I don’t know how much I can say about this, because of the 54 respondents who said that they enjoy sex, 4% said that that they’re not willing to compromise. Rounded down, that’s 2 respondents. It can however, show that just because someone may find sex enjoyable, there are reasons they may still find sex to not be worth it for them, that outweigh what enjoyment they could get from it.

However, I find it troubling that there are sex-repulsed people who say they’re willing to compromise on having sex in a relationship, particularly that it’s not 100% of completely repulsed people saying that they’re not willing to!**

The Asexual Agenda asked some questions about this part of the survey results. As noted in some of the responses, the “somewhat repulsed” category is ambiguous; it’s not clear if it means:

  • A moderate degree of repulsion, that someone who is willing to have sex with their partner, can push aside temporarily, or there are times when they aren’t feeling that repulsion.
  • Being repulsed by some acts, but not others, and be willing to do the acts that the individual doesn’t find repulsive.
  • Some who know that they’re repulsed by sex, yet have their doubts, because they never had it, and are thinking in the hypothetical about that question. These respondents could’ve responded that they’re somewhat repulsed, because they didn’t want to rule out the idea of being okay with something, under some circumstance, or to some extent. Luvtheheaven gives an example of this doubt from her own experiences, despite knowing of not having sex to be an option.

It’s possible that that the “somewhat repulsed” group included respondents for all of these reasons (plus others!), and that there are different degrees of repulsion, that couldn’t have been captured simply under an indifferent/somewhat repulsed/completely repulsed framework.

The results could in part be due to the ambiguity of that question, but I wonder how many of them said that they’re willing to have sex, despite how repulsed they are, just because they don’t want to feel like they’re disappointing their real or hypothetical partner, and feel upset at the thought of not being open to any sex with them?

It’d be better to drop the term “compromise”, and ask multiple related questions. would be something like “Under what circumstances are you willing to have sex, if any?”, to try and capture the various nuances that weren’t accounted for in the original question.


Footnotes:

*I suspect that percentage of indifferent asexuals who are unwilling to compromise on sex, is low. It could be because of the indifferent-repulsed dichotomy. As Sara K. notes, it assumes that indifferent asexuals are open to sex, and it’s an assumption even made in asexual spaces. Being repulsed by sex is just one of the possible reasons why someone wouldn’t want to have it.

**Some people who are repulsed by sex, are distressed by their feelings of repulsion; they want sex, and are distressed that they’re too repulsed to go through with it. However, such people are very unlikely to seek out asexual sites for support. What’s much more likely in asexual spaces, are sex-repulsed respondents, who may feel distress over the social pressures to have, or enjoy sex, not from the repulsion itself. They don’t want to change the fact that they’re repulsed, the problem is with the social pressures.