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.


*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.


6 thoughts on “The making of the 2014 AVEN Survey

  1. onlyfragments

    Hi! Just out of curiosity, did you tag this with “LGBT” and “queer” as well? I think you’ll reach a wider range of readers here on WP who may not think to check the asexual tag, but who otherwise might be interested in taking the survey. Just a thought. 🙂


  2. luvtheheaven

    The celibacy questions made me think of you, fondly. I thought overall they were quite well worded, honestly. The choices seemed good to me and overall that section worked for me. I still had a small amount of difficulty deciding how best to answer it, but that’s mainly because I’m still somewhat undecided over the “do I identify as celibate” issue.

    I think the hardest parts of the survey for me to answer were the parts about romantic attraction and about which parts of the community I’m in.

    I had to answer how often I have found myself romantically attracted to men, and to women, and to other genders, and as a WTFromantic person who is confused about… well, all of my feelings and when/if they are romantic or whatnot… Let’s just say it ended up being one of those questions that I might’ve answered differently had it been a different time of day when I was completing the survey. 😛 I hesitated a bit too long before deciding on my answers.

    And, as for the other thing… some of what made it difficult for me was the fact that I had questions such as: does coming out as asexual on my own Facebook Wall/as a status update count as “posting/writing” in the Facebook asexual community? Probably not. But I was on Facebook. And so it crossed my mind.

    What about being in the YouTube fanvideo community but creating and posting these two videos about asexuality: and ? I wanted to say yes, I posted in the YouTube asexual community. But did I? That was more me posting in the fanvideo YouTube community.

    What about having been on AVEN in the past quite a bit before discovering all these WordPress blogs and the tumblr asexuality community, and pretty much never going on AVEN anymore for months and months now, but still going on AVEN once in a while when I get an email update about an AVEN thread I’m tracking? And why were none of the wordpress/other similar blogs allowed to be places where I could have heard about the survey (because I did find out about it from The Asexual Agenda blog, honestly), or why couldn’t they be the parts of the asexual community you hang out in most often? Because really… for me… you know. 😉

    So yeah, these two parts of the survey ended up being a bit difficult for me to answer, but overall I was happy with the survey. It was easy enough to understand the questions and I could tell a lot of effort was put into making the survey as straightforward as possible, while being as inclusive as possible. 😀


    1. Aqua Post author

      Thanks! I remember that there were questions in the celibacy section that were heavily changed, before getting distilled to their finalized form, and some things had to be trimmed to be better understandable. That process was a struggle, but I’m very glad to know that it was worth it!

      For the first question, I agree that there should’ve been a “Maybe” or “Sometimes” option, and possibly an “unsure/undecided” option. That’s another problem I dealt with first-hand, because sometimes I do identify as celibate, though it’s not my main choice.

      The romantic attraction section was also one of the hardest for me, for the same reason it was for you. I ended up leaving those questions blank. Would it have been a good idea to include a “I don’t distinguish romantic and non-romantic attraction” option? I think it would have, because of multiple people struggling without that option, and in order to be consistent with the relationship questions which had an option for not distinguishing romantic from non-romantic relationships.

      Good points on what counts as participating in a community or not, and how the things you mentioned blur the lines between what counts, or doesn’t. I was surprised that the asexual blogs weren’t listed as one of the parts you hang out in most often too, since 3 people on the survey team are highly involved in the asexual blogs!


  3. Siggy

    Reading through my old e-mails, I’m reminded that AAW also tried creating a survey in 2013, but it lost momentum too quickly. Committees always have obstacles and setbacks, and it’s good that we were eventually able to see it through.


  4. Pingback: Linkspam: October 10th, 2014 | The Asexual Agenda

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