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.


7 thoughts on “Critiques of the 2014 AVEN Survey summary

  1. onlyfragments

    Overall I appreciated the breadth of the survey, and while I agree with most of these critiques, I do think you folks did a great job with such a difficult topic.

    I’d like to voice my appreciation for two questions; the one about whether you would change your sexuality, if possible, and the one regarding whether your partner is of the same sexual orientation. As someone who struggles with the first question and is heavily affected by the second, I was very happy to see those issues included. I’m interested to see what responses you get for both of those.


    1. Aqua Post author

      Thanks! I’d be interested in those results too.

      I’ve seen a thread on AVEN, asking if someone wants to change their orientation, and I saw that some asexual members said that they wanted to.

      I notice that on asexual blogs, there’s a lot more talk of ace-ace relationships, while on AVEN, there’s a lot more talk of mixed relationships, and it makes me wonder the actual percentages of people in each kind of relationship.


  2. Siggy

    I would also add a few points in our defense. No best survey practices have been established in this area, so most everything was from scratch, which means lots of errors. Most errors we caught, but it was a foregone conclusion that we would miss some of them. Also, many of the critiques are at least somewhat subjective. We were weighing multiple priorities, some of which survey-takers tend not to appreciate, like survey length and usefulness of results.

    I would love to discuss all the different priorities and constraints that go into writing a survey like this, but it’s only really useful to people who write future surveys, and I’m afraid it would come off as defensive. I’m perfectly happy that people are giving us feedback, and I don’t mind when the survey stimulates discussion of people not fitting boxes.


    1. Aqua Post author

      Maybe I was being a bit too harsh on us, but I was just trying to list what the critiques were in one place. That’s true that there are a lot of challenges with doing this from scratch. We were rushed for time too, finally wanting to get it done, after so many setbacks. I find discussions about people not fitting boxes to be useful, because they’ll help us tweak the options for a question the next time around.


  3. Pingback: Linkspam: October 17th, 2014 | The Asexual Agenda

  4. luvtheheaven

    “The sex-repulsed/indifferent/favorable question needed an “unsure” option. I had forgotten that for some people, those labels feel very applicable to them.” – I think you might want to edit your post, because that seems like a typo to me. Don’t the labels feel very inapplicable, not applicable, to them? Or…?



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