Category Archives: Surveys

About the making of the 2015 survey

The survey for 2014 was officially called “The 2014 AVEN Community Census”, while the 2015 survey is officially called “The 2015 Ace Community Census”.

The 2015 survey is online, and will be open to responses until November 15th. You can find more information about it here, from the asexual census blog ran by the AVEN Survey Team.

I’m part of the Survey Team this year, and I also was last year. The publication date ended up being later in the year than last year’s survey (which was published October 6, 2014, while this year’s was published October 22, 2015), but we worked hard to get it finished during AAW.

Several changes were made this year from last year, including:

  • Changing the citizenship question to primary residency.
  • Expanded on the “mental health” and “sexual attitudes” section.
  • Added “unsure” options to several questions that didn’t have it, but should have.
  • Expanded a lot on the “sexual history” section, and adding a separate section about sexual violence, including a screen that asks the respondent if they want to answer those sections, or skip them.
  • Replaced the “celibacy” section with the expanded “sexual history” section: I liked the celibacy section from last year’s survey. I thought it was interesting, but since any changes weren’t expected from last year, it didn’t seem necessary to include twice in a row, especially since other sections have been expanded. The survey would’ve been too long.
  • Cut the questions asking about strength and frequency of sexual attraction, how strongly someone identifies with their orientation, and whether asexuals consider themselves to have a sexuality or not. Some of these questions were confusing, or were asked for political reasons.
  • The questions asking about experiences with other asexual communities were cut. There was some potential with those questions, but it wasn’t used. I liked the idea of these questions being used to assess current ties between different parts of the asexual community have been, and how leaders of the different groups could improve their relations with the others, but nothing came of that.

The biggest challenge on the survey itself was writing the updated “sexual history” section, and the sexual violence questions, particularly finding the way to word them, so for the latter, we sought outside help. I don’t know if the people who helped us want to be mentioned, but I thank them for taking the time to look over the questions we had, and helped us refine them.

The mental health questions were also very difficult to write. There have been quite a few responses about it already, which I’ve responded to, looking for input on how to further refine those questions if they’ll be kept next year.

I’m also open to feedback and questions about the survey, but it may take me some time to respond since I’ll soon be back to working 40+ hours per week.

One more thing: Preliminary findings of the 2014 AVEN survey are up!

I should’ve waited a bit before making my last post, because there was one more thing I was involved with during AAW, and that was helping out with writing the Preliminary Findings Report for the AVEN 2014 survey (now called the 2014 AVEN Community Census)! The results have just been posted up!

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.