Policing the Definition: Is There a Gold Standard?

I am loathe to write about this, really I am. But I’ve been surprised several times over the past two or three months by certain high-profile members of the community referring to asexuality using a definition that I was under the impression that we had a fairly common consensus going that asexuality is not. I’m not talking about new people who don’t yet understand what we mean when we talk about asexuality, here. It is to be expected that we would always have that kind of conversation going on at AVEN’s forums, as new people come in and rehash old conversations that they haven’t participated in yet. But I generally don’t go on AVEN because I had those discussions six years ago, and at this point I don’t usually find anything new and interesting on the forums. That’s not what I’m talking about.

No, I’m talking about stuff like a casual remark that if a person is asexual, that means that they don’t like sex. Around here, I would think that kind of assumption would be considered quite silly. Is it not? I mean that as a serious, earnest question: is it not? Even among asexuals who have been around the block a time or two, is that question really, seriously up for debate?

A while ago, during a privately conducted debate, I had a disagreement with Pretzelboy on the issue of how asexuality is defined. I had taken it for granted that we were debating with the definition “an asexual is a person who lacks sexual attraction” specifically in mind (I’m taking it for granted also that the “lack” is relative rather than absolute, and whether it is distinct enough to warrant the asexual label can only be determined by the person experiencing it), but apparently that was only my own assumption. He raised the idea that some asexuals actually define themselves as “not sexual” which, not to put too fine a point on it, to me seems just as much a so-vague-it-becomes-nonsensical definition as it would be to claim a definition of sexuality so broad as to make it possible to claim that all humans are sexual (in a non-scientific context).

I dropped the argument at that point, because I couldn’t see how we could get past that point to discuss what we had really been trying to talk about, if we cannot even agree on a standard definition. But it’s been niggling at me for a while since then, and I have started thinking about the topic again recently after reading the discussion about masturbation going on in the asexosphere as of late, as well as this post from Asexual Curiosities. I’d like to highlight one comment that stood out to me, made by Siggy on Ily’s first post:

Well, no one says that asexual means utterly lacking in anything sexual whatsoever.

Except that they do. Because isn’t that exactly what so many sexual people tend to think when they first hear the word asexual? They think asexual = not sexual = lacking anything sexual whatsoever. Because to them, sexuality is a broad term which encompasses EVERYTHING sexual. And to a lot of people, that even includes the physical reality that human beings are a species that is sexed, and reproduces via sexual intercourse. And yes, that definition of what it is to be “sexual” does make sense in at least one context, although I think it is kind of silly to use it just to state the obvious well-known fact that humans reproduce sexually.* And Siggy is right (I hope?) that asexuals have not asserted anything of the sort, but that’s the key misunderstanding, isn’t it? They really think that’s what we’re saying. That is, they think that we are saying that we are utterly lacking in anything sexual whatsoever, something that would necessarily make us not human. They really, honestly think that’s what we’re saying!

* In many cases, I think they are using this statement to infer something else (that it is impossible for a person not to experience sexual attraction given the way that humans reproduce sexually), but that assertion does not logically follow from what they are saying. After all, just because people may experience some aspects of what would be called “sexuality” it doesn’t mean that they must experience all of them (in fact it’d be pretty hard to find someone who does, if you consider how many kinks there are out there). Since it is not a valid assertion and that has been covered extensively elsewhere, I am not talking about it here. I am only talking about the ones who assert that we are not asexual because we experience any one thing that could be considered an aspect of sexuality (including but not limited to the fact that we exist because of sexual reproduction).

Part of the problem, of course, is that the only other exposure people have to the word “asexual” comes from biology class, so in that context it becomes understandable when the idea of hermaphroditic self-fertilizing species or amoebas comes into play. But even when it is understood that we are using a different definition which does not include some new form of human reproduction, people will still tend to think of the word’s meaning in terms of what its root components mean: not sexual. What does that mean? It’s still confusing, because “sexual” is an adjective that is applied to a very broad range of situations and activities, including things (like kissing and dancing) that fall in some sort of gray area where there is no consensus that it should be applied. So, people will tend to understand the word “asexual” each in their own individual way, depending on what they consider sexual. Even if their definition of “sexual” is not so broad as to include the basic physical fact that humans are a sexed species, the vast majority of people will consider acts which physically engage and stimulate the genitals to be sexual even if they do not fit whatever criteria that person thinks of as qualifying as sex. Therefore, to most people it would make sense to consider the masturbating asexual (or the sexually active asexual, for that matter) to be a paradox, and thus conclude they are not really asexual at all.

So how could it possibly be useful for any one of us to define asexuality as simply “not sexual” if that is the conclusion that the majority of people are going to draw from it? Even if people do realize that “asexual” is meant to refer to one specific aspect of sexuality, there is nothing in that definition to indicate which aspect that would be. Why wouldn’t people assume it refers to behavior?

Maybe masturbation is something that may or may not be considered a form of sex, depending on what you think “sex” means. And maybe it’s something that may or may not be considered “sexual” depending on what “sexual” means. But that’s a moot point. It doesn’t matter, because the definition of asexual that we are using isn’t really “not sexual,” it’s “lacking sexual attraction” specifically. Even if we contend that masturbation does not have to be considered sexual, what criteria are we using to determine that? From what I can gather from that discussion, it’s the lack of sexual attraction or interest/enjoyment which leads to that conclusion. You can certainly masturbate without experiencing sexual attraction—at least I sure hope so, because otherwise how could we explain the masturbatory practices of children? I doubt there are many who would contend that a child’s masturbating experience contains sexual attraction to anyone, but people still call it a sexual experience. So we must ask ourselves: are we using the same criteria that most people are using to determine what is or is not “sexual?” Probably not. Most likely, they will stick with their own definition because it makes the most sense to them. If a person defines physical stimulation of the genitals (for purposes of arousal and especially orgasm) as sexual, it is not very convincing to say that it is not sexual just because the component of attraction is missing. Attraction is more of a side point to the physical act, under this definition. I have met sexual people who don’t specifically think of any attractive people while masturbating, but they still consider masturbation to be sexual in general.

Likewise if we say that masturbation isn’t sexual in some cases because the people who are doing it don’t enjoy it, and are doing it only to “scratch an itch” or feel obligated to keep it up for health-related reasons. Let’s replace “masturbation” with “sex” then. Sometimes sex isn’t enjoyable. Sometimes people feel obligated to have sex because they want to maintain the health of their relationships. But does that mean that sex is no longer a sexual experience?

I hope I am mostly preaching to the choir here, but if there really are asexuals out there who say that asexual means “not sexual” in any sense except to explain its component morphemes, I’d like them to consider this: if we use a definition that is so incredibly vague, how can we make important distinctions like the difference between asexuality and celibacy? And how do we avoid non-inclusive, elitist statements like “you’re not really asexual if you have sex/masturbate/like sex” if we use a definition that is so open to interpretation about what is and is not sexual?

On AVEN, that attitude is very much discouraged. Nobody likes it when somebody starts saying “you are not asexual because you do x” and the admod team is quick to warn people who do. That is why I had thought that there was indeed basically a consensus among at least the more weathered members of the community that we are going by the “lack of attraction” definition; if we use the other one, then honestly? We have no business telling anybody to stop telling other people that they aren’t asexual because they do things that those people think of as sexual. By defining an asexual person as simply “not sexual” with no other qualifications, we would be encouraging other people to fill in the blanks with their own ideas. Which may or (more likely) may not match the meaning we intend to get across.

I find it really weird, then, to discover that we have this kind of contradictory state of affairs within the community with regard to our standard definition. Truthfully, it made me wonder whether my perspective is really welcomed by the community or not. If people do accept this definition, then am I not asexual enough? Pondering this question has left me somewhat unwilling to make any blog posts lately.

I think this is where the idea of policing each other comes into play. Nobody likes it (except those who are doing the policing) when people police others’ “rights” to call themselves asexual based on their own definition of what is or is not sexual. I think maybe this desire to be inclusive is so strong that many of us don’t want to say, “No, your definition is wrong.” (Yet clearly we do engage in some sort of policing, and attempt to keep people who make such statements out of the community.) So we shoot ourselves in the foot by being so open to whatever way that people want to define themselves that it hurts efforts at making a consistent, coherent, and cohesive education effort. We cannot expect other people to understand what we are talking about if we do not apply a critical standard to our own definitions/discourse as rigorous as the standard that outsiders will most certainly be holding us to.

Honestly, I think that “asexual” is a misleading term, and the only reason why it makes sense at all is in the context of other words that refer to an individual’s sexual orientation, like homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual. If we had a different cultural context which did not include those concepts, most likely none of us would have come to identify as asexual in the first place. Actually, all four of those words sound quite silly if you don’t have any knowledge of their context. I mean, really? Bisexual? What could that mean, that you’re double-sexual? But if you know that “sexual” in this context refers to an individual’s sense of sexual attraction, and if you know that the prefixes all refer to the gendered direction of that attraction, then you begin to be able to decode the word. (Although even once you’ve got that down, you have to also understand why “homo-” and “hetero-” are used instead of “andro-/gyno-” which would make more sense in a non-homophobic culture.) Only then does it become intuitive to invent the word “asexual” to describe a lack of sexual attraction!

The problem, of course, is that other people tend not to understand this context at first, and think we are saying literally what the root components of the word mean. But that doesn’t make sense. We can’t (and don’t) argue that we do not experience anything that could ever be considered sexual whatsoever, so why do any of us even continue to engage in debates over what is and is not sexual, when it comes to explaining to outsiders why asexuality is possible? Why do some of us accept “not sexual” as an appropriate definition, if it is so vague that it could mean anything? Especially, why accept it while still clearly being influenced the pervasive norms of the asexual community, and apparently still using an operative definition that equates “not sexual” with “not having sexual attraction?”

Is our disidentification with sexuality so strong that we are reluctant to admit that any part of our experiences might be considered sexual at all, ever? Is it a reluctance to admit that they might have a point, if we were actually saying that? Are we just being drawn into a straw man debate?

It all boils down to this: if we are to have a chance at being accepted within the wider community—the community of non-asexuals, or those who do experience sexual attraction—then we’ve got to recognize that the binary distinction asexual/sexual that we often use to refer to insiders vs. outsiders is not a literal reference to people who experience aspects of sexuality vs. people who don’t. We need to acknowledge how broad a category “sexuality” is, and make it clear to everyone that we are only referring to one aspect of that, the only one that it seems we really have all got in common: a relative lack of sexual attraction, distinctly low enough to warrant such a classification. If we can’t come to any sort of consensus about the basic definition of “asexual” within our own community (which is completely based around that term!), how can we expect others to begin to understand? How can we expect them NOT to dismiss us as a bunch of people who can’t possibly have a point because we are saying contradictory things?

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18 thoughts on “Policing the Definition: Is There a Gold Standard?

  1. I didn’t even realize I had said anything profound until you mentioned it. :)

    I recall that in David Jay’s Asex 101 presentation, he answered the masturbation question with surprising depth. He said that masturbation requires much less effort than interpersonal relationships, and therefore has much less impact on our identity. At first I was taken aback when I heard this, because I thought, “Asexuality says nothing about masturbation, so what does it matter how much effort it takes?” Then I realized that David Jay was providing a rationale for why we chose this particular definition of asexuality in the first place.

    Just think, we could have defined “asexual” to mean “someone who experiences no attraction and feels no need to masturbate”, but this would have been an inferior definition. The definition would exclude lots of people who relate to asexual experiences 99% of the time, and masturbate the other 1% of the time. That’s a level of exclusivity we don’t want.

    And from what I understand, some of the earlier asexual communities really did limit asexuals to nonlibidoists. I’m glad we’re past that now.

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    • Haha, yeah, exactly. Your comment really hit on what I think is the main reason why sexual people have so much trouble understanding where we’re coming from, it kinda clarified what I had been mulling over for a while and allowed me to articulate it. :)

      I suspect the nonlibidoist communities didn’t survive because of it being so exclusion-oriented that it reduced the community to almost nothing. And yeah, David Jay is right, it really doesn’t matter all that much identity-wise… so why exclude people who have so much in common with you in the ways that do matter? Besides, our parallel orientation labels don’t say anything about whether hetero/homo/bi people masturbate or not, do they? I think choosing one specific way that we’re not experiencing the same things as “sexual” people are is much better than saying we’re entirely non-sexual anyway, since it leaves us with a solid, reasonable definition and a lot more common ground!

      I think now the question we have to deal with is more along the lines of how clear we can be when we try to explain asexuality to non-asexuals… I suspect that a lot of these off-hand comments I’ve been hearing lately are just that: attempts to educate that are inaccurate because we’re oversimplifying so much that the explanation kinda loses sight of our core definition.

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  2. “Asexual” = Not sexual…I can’t remember anyone seriously asserting this as a definition of asexuality. Were people saying this in a public statement, or in personal correspondence to you?

    I know I said in my post that masturbation doesn’t necessarily have to be seen as sexual, but I also think that whether or not asexuals masturbate is irrelevant to their identities. I’ve experienced things that are sexual myself, and I still know I’m asexual, so if “asexual = not sexual” was implied by my post…it really wasn’t at all what I intended.

    Either way, as a definition, “not sexual” is an odd one– “sexual attraction” has a much clearer definition than “sexuality” does. On AVEN, there are constantly people posting who don’t understand the definition of asexuality, and there are always members repeating that “asexuality means a lack of sexual attraction”. So on that level, I’ve definitely noticed a lot of policing going on. (I just say this because you mentioned you haven’t been on AVEN lately).

    Of course, there’s always the question of how asexuals who aren’t on AVEN define themselves. But in terms of AVEN at least, I see your perspective, at least on the definition, as being in line with the vast majority. Whether or not you consider that a good thing, I don’t know ;-)

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    • Oh, mostly personal correspondences. There were a few things that were public statements, but they weren’t saying that asexual = not sexual, more like “asexuals don’t like sex” and things like that, which kind of go along with the “not sexual” definition in my mind because of the exclusivity of it.

      Don’t worry, I know you didn’t intend to imply that with your post! :) I was just kind of using it as a jumping-off point because it reminded me of the asexual = not sexual thing, and provided a convenient example. I think it’s actually mostly outsiders who think asexual means “not sexual,” really… which leads to the idea of masturbation/arousal/any kind of sexual activity being a paradox, etc. I’ve only met a few asexuals who argue that “not sexual” is a sensible definition, but oh, if I had a dime for all the arguments I’ve had with non-asexual people who don’t get that you can experience “sexual” things and still be asexual!

      Comforting to know things really haven’t changed that much on AVEN, and I’m still with the majority in that regard! :P I find the policing thing pretty interesting, since the mods police the self-appointed policemen, and the philosophy is so oriented towards inclusion, yet there really has to be some kind of exclusion going on in order to maintain that openness. And it really shows how the community creates the definition but the definition also creates the community… Such curious interrelatedness!

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      • Haha, yay, I don’t like confusing people (much) :-). I wish I knew more about how the other orientations came to be defined; all I know is that there was no idea of orientation as we now see it until the 20th century. But I feel like asexuality is probably being defined “from below” a lot more than the others, which could account for definitional issues. But in the long run, I think the way we’re doing it is probably better than having people who aren’t asexual declaring what asexuality is.

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  3. Very interesting blog and well thought-out replies.
    It makes me wonder if perhaps there might be a way to make some sort of logo-like, aesthetically pleasing, concise summary in the form of a short list of definitions. Something along the lines of:
    _____________________________
    Heterosexual humans: People who are sexually attracted to the opposite sex.
    Homosexual humans: People who are sexually attracted to the same sex.
    Bisexual humans: People who are sexually attracted to either sex.
    Asexual humans: People who are sexually attracted to neither sex.
    _____________________________

    Even this list will probably be problematic, since, for the sake of brevity, I had to leave out pansexuals, androsexuals, gynosexuals , probably some others I have never heard of, and any reference to gender-based attractions. People who identify with those rare sexualities will feel as if they have been overlooked, but brevity in a list like this is important.
    It would seem that most people could grasp the reasoning behind the use of the term “asexual” as long as it were linked with the term “human” and considered only in context with other sexual identities.
    Having to rely on an entire list of definitions in order to clarify only one is cumbersome and inefficient, but it may be many years, possibly several generations, before the asexual movement has become well known enough that such a crutch can be completely discarded.
    When, or IF, human asexuality can automatically be grouped together with other sexual orientations when people consider it, and when it is considered in that context ONLY, then the recurring questions about masturbation and etc. can be answered very easily, along with the questions about whether or not asexuality is a pathological condition that needs to be cured.
    When the term is used by itself there will always be the possibility of it being confused with the scientific definition, either unintentionally, or deliberately – by those with the intention of using ridicule to invalidate human asexuality by making it seem impossible.

    It is apparent to me that the “E” from AVEN still needs a great deal of work. We have to continue to STRIVE to educate the public as well as the medical profession. If we stop trying, the enormous inertia of society’s assumption that all healthy people MUST want sex will very quickly erase all of our progress to date.

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    • Agreed for the most part, except:

      I had to leave out pansexuals, androsexuals, gynosexuals , probably some others I have never heard of, and any reference to gender-based attractions. People who identify with those rare sexualities will feel as if they have been overlooked, but brevity in a list like this is important.

      I don’t think those are so much “rare sexualities” as words that have been proposed to replace the words we currently use to describe sexual orienations, which are kind of stupid. Even though “homosexual” and “heterosexual” are supposed to describe what people are attracted to, if all you know about a person is that they’re “homosexual” you still won’t know what gender they’re attracted to, which is the entire point of describing the attraction. All you’ll understand is that they’re an oppressed minority, because for some stupid reason that matters in our culture. And “hetero” and “homo” just completely don’t work for trans people, except maybe for those whose attractions completely flip after transition. Which from what I understand, it may be possible but really doesn’t happen very often. (C says she was reading something about that along the lines of ‘your sexuality only shifts a value of 5 out of 100 from where it’s currently at’ yesterday.) Most likely, if you’re attracted to men before transition, you will still be attracted to them after. But the word to describe your sexual orientation will change even though the orientation basically hasn’t. If you were considered homosexual before, you will now be considered heterosexual, etc.

      It’s even worse for intersex or intergendered people (depending whether you think sexual orientation is based on sex or gender)… there is no “opposite sex” for them, is there? So what label would they use? If they are considered “homosexual” does that mean they are only attracted to people who are also intersex/intergendered?

      So in order to solve all those problems as well as to get away from homophobia, these two labels have been proposed:
      androsexual – sexually attracted to men
      gynosexual – sexually attracted to women
      The terms would apply to people who are considered “homosexual” or “heterosexual” today, except they would be more specific in the way that should matter, and would remove a layer of bias from the words. Androsexual men are in our culture considered to be homosexual. Gynosexual women are also considered to be homosexual, but they’re definitely not the same thing as androsexual men. They’re only grouped together because homophobia is such a big issue. In a culture where that didn’t matter, it wouldn’t make any sense to comment on whether the people in a relationship are the same sex or not.

      So yeah, if you understand what those terms mean, you’ll understand that they’re not “rare” sexualities at all! :D

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  4. Fascinating post. You definately drew out a lot of things which I wasn’t quite aware I was thinking and made them clearer.

    I completely agree with you. Asexuality has to be defined in reference to the other ‘sexual’ suffix words. Someone figured out what the suffix for “sexually attracted to ___ gender” is, and it’s not as snappy. For some reason, asexuals think they can break the rules, and have both meanings. I’ve always suspected its wrong, but never quite known why.

    However, I also agree with Ily. There are a maximum of two people I’ve heard talk about this- Pretzelboy has made the occasional short comment, insisting that whatever definition suits you is the best (I’d like to hear more on this from him) and Henrik, of the A Life team, may have mentioned it occasionally. The standard definition is largely still ‘no sexual attraction’, and I think it’s a definition which everyone recognises as the one to rally around.

    Also, to play the devil’s advocate, there is a certain extent to which asexuality should embrace its contradictions. I think it was Ily who mentioned a while ago that asexuality is different from the other sexualities, in that it doesn’t yet have a pre-planned story that people have to conform to. We should embrace that as much as possible, and it’s arguable that the idea of ‘not sexual’ is one of those areas of contrast (although you’ve pointed out pretty well how flawed that definition is in the self-referentialness of sexuality and the difficulty in communication that it causes).

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    • Your posts really spurred me on to articulate all of this, and helped considerably when I was feeling kinda stuck. :)

      I think I understand what you’re getting at for the most part re: embracing contradictions, but I’m not totally sure. As long as it’s understood that “not sexual” isn’t absolute, and can’t be the definition we present to the world, then sure, I’d agree that there’s plenty of room to explore the contradictions.

      Hmm, your comments are making me think again! I’m actually wondering now if maybe there IS an “asexual narrative” that people feel pressured to conform to. I know Venus of Willendork posted something about how there isn’t really an asexual narrative yet about a year ago, and I remember agreeing with her at the time, but now?

      I don’t know. It seems to me that, while we do have some options in how we present ourselves, there is a lot of pressure to be as non-sexual as possible while still being as clearly well-adjusted as possible, with no history of trauma or anything. There is a sort of “ideal asexual” or ideal asexual story that is very clear-cut and difficult to undermine, which I think the media in particular tends to really want us to give them. I’m thinking of what happened with the Tyra Show in particular, if you remember that. She withdrew her plans to have a show featuring asexuality when she couldn’t get a married couple willing to come on the show. That to me does speak of a pre-planned story that we are being expected to conform to.

      Although most cases have not been that extreme, I think there is distinct pressure not to say certain things when coming out as asexual. There are certain things that people tend to think of as undermining credibility. Enjoyment of sex strikes me as one that even the asexual community itself seems to have trouble with. It seems to me that while it is perfectly acceptable to have tried sex, there is some pressure even coming from some members of the community to say that you didn’t like it. Maybe a lot of that comes from conversations with sexual people who are thinking of asexual people as “not sexual” rather than “not sexually attracted.” It seems to me like there is just so much pressure to prove ourselves that is totally based on the wrong definition!

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      • I’m enjoying this discussion. :-) As far as the media goes, there is definitely a narrative they want. I remember Henrik from the A-Life saying that some media people didn’t want to talk to him because he wasn’t in a romantic relationship. And I’ve noticed the same thing myself. I’m willing to talk to interviewers, but as someone who’s always been single, I’m often not deemed newsworthy enough. I guess people are thinking that a lone asexual isn’t going to provide the drama needed to draw viewers/readers.

        If you took the media completely out of it, I wouldn’t be so sure about the narrative. It’s hard to know the true number of asexuals that enjoy sex. I think most of us who have been involved in some sort of asexual discourse for awhile are aware that asexuals can enjoy sex, but maybe for a newer person, it would seem counter-intuitive. We could really use semi-accurate numbers in a lot of areas…

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        • Yeah, that is true. I’m sure I don’t have the best grasp of what it’s like these days for the newly-identified, maybe (hopefully!) it’s lessened some since I first joined AVEN. It’s kinda hard to figure out how to get any kind of semi-accurate numbers anyway. I figure we can do surveys sometimes, and just take the results with a grain of salt.

          You know now that I think about it, for some reason, to me it just doesn’t seem right to think of any kind of narrative that a certain group is expected to conform to as originating from within the group itself. I was thinking about the origins of that idea last night, which I think was the “transgender narrative” that anyone wanting to transition had to recite for gatekeeper psychologists in order to be allowed to do so. Obviously there’s a great deal of diversity within the trans community, but to reveal any deviation from the standard story to a psychologist could have meant the difference between life and death for trans people… and so, that gave rise to the stereotype that all trans women are androsexual and all trans men are gynosexual, for example. (The ones that weren’t were never considered trans in the first place, after all. They were just transvestic fetishists or whatever, according to the gatekeepers.) I think there was also some homophobia within the community itself in that case, but if the larger community hadn’t been so homophobic to begin with, and if there hadn’t been such extreme consequences for any trans person who revealed themselves, there probably wouldn’t have been such a homophobic dynamic within the trans community itself.

          Then take the standard “gay/lesbian narrative,” whatever that means (I remember Venus talking about this, but not being all that familiar with the community myself, I don’t really remember the specifics). Somewhat less extreme than the trans stuff (everything is less extreme than trans stuff), but still. Gay people try to present themselves in a certain way that would (hopefully) make people take them seriously, so that they will be given equal rights. Another case of stretching the truth to the point of stereotype in order to convince a more powerful class to give them soemthing that it is withholding. Internally, I’ve seen some sniping if someone happens to question common tropes, but I’m thinking that wouldn’t be so common if the community didn’t have to fight for credibility to the world at large.

          And then there are asexuals. Even less extreme than the other two, because the stakes aren’t really as high. Instead of rights, what the more powerful community of outsiders is holding over our heads in this case is the potential for visibility and outreach. We’ve still got to present ourselves a certain way, or we won’t get on the news. We lose a lot of opportunities to educate others because outsiders don’t deem us credible enough (in a lot of cases because they are holding us to their definition instead of listening and accepting ours), and I think the outside pressure seeps into the community still, even though we try to dispel it. I don’t think our internal dynamics would otherwise be affected by it too much, since we all seem to be pretty open-minded in general. And we should be grateful that it’s only the media that serve as our gatekeepers… in the age of the internet, we can take things into our own hands! ;)

          I guess what I’m thinking is that the two are totally interconnected, like two sides of the same coin. Or really, the internal pressure is more of a side effect of being expected by outsiders with more power to tell a certain narrative or NO COOKIE FOR YOU! Took a lot of typing for me to figure out what I was thinking there, didn’t it? :P But I hope you get what I mean! :3

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          • I get ya. And as it is today, I don’t think the asexual community is really capable of pressuring its members to do much of anything. If you (generic “you”) already know there are other people like you, and you don’t have the desire to meet other asexuals IRL or do visibility, it would be easy for you to dissociate with the community if ideas there bothered you. I’ve always had a strong motivation to interact with other asexuals, but I don’t know if this is a majority opinion– somehow, I doubt it is.

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            • I think there can be a little pressure on AVEN to fit a certain model at times, although it might just be me. I’m someone who identifies as asexual, yet is sexually active and enjoys sex for the most part. I think it can be viewed as a little strange for someone like me to join a community like AVEN and to identify as asexual when it doesn’t seem to have any major impact on my life. Why identify as asexual and with this community when I’m ok with doing sexual things? After all, I have sex, I like sex – what makes me all that different from a “sexual” person?

              When people form/join communities or subcultures like AVEN, it’s usually because they feel disconnected in some way that is significant enough for them to seek out others like them. So I can understand why there’s resistance to accept that some people might identify as asexual yet still “act the part” as a sexual person. It’s almost like I’m helping to dilute the asexual community and keep it from having any real meaning to the outside world. I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, since I’m still unsure at times whether I really should be identifying as asexual or be active on AVEN because of this. I don’t think my (a)sexuality has as big an effect on my life as other asexuals because I’m able to adapt in certain ways.

              In the past couple years, I’ve felt much more reluctant to do interviews because of these issues. I’m not a model asexual!

              At the same time, I can be so stubborn in remaining an example of someone who identifies as asexual and can still have and enjoy sex that I’ve become reluctant to discuss any doubts or problems that I might have in my sexual relationship on AVEN. And that is pressure that I put on myself (as well as a general reluctance to discuss things that are really personal and specific to my life and relationships). Even though I might not feel as strong a need for a community like other asexuals, I’m reminded of why I came to AVEN in the first place – confusion about why I felt the way I did about sex. I think it’s important to have a place for asexual people who are sexually active or thinking about having sex to talk about any issues they might have – both the positive, the negative, and the confusing. Well, I think I’m going a bit off topic, so I’ll end it here.

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              • Mm, yeah. I’ve felt much the same way. Even though I’m not actually active on AVEN and hardly ever even bother to go there anymore… I’m still part of the community, and quite a large portion of the blog’s traffic comes from there. A while back, I stopped posting here for a while because I had this sense of “well, how is my life really all that different from sexual people’s lives?” A lot of the issues that most asexuals have are not ones that I have, and vice versa. I wonder occasionally how relevant my posts are to the majority of the community. And yet… part of the reason why I continue to post is because I do express a different point of view. I know others in the community are in a similar situation to mine, but it’s not something you hear about all that often. Somebody has to talk about it! Might as well be me.

                One question that occurs to me: how well does AVEN fulfill the need for this place for asexual people who are sexually active/thinking about having sex to go to talk about those issues? It’s always struck me as rather awkward to bring up issues about having sex on a forum where the majority of users don’t have sex, especially when quite a few of those users get squicked out by it or really just don’t want to talk about it at all, and some are actively opposed to it. I know there are some users who are willing to talk about it and give good advice, but it seems like the better threads on those issues happened on Apositive (which has a forum for sexuality) rather than AVEN… In fact, Apositive seems to have been specifically designed for and motivated by the desire for such discussion, since it was very difficult to have on AVEN and most attempts seemed to get frustratingly derailed by the “not sexual” crowd. I can’t really figure out where you would post such a topic if you wanted to bring it up on AVEN. Best I can guess is the Relationships forum, but that’s still kind of awkward because it’s not really supposed to be about sex, it’s supposed to be about relationships. You’d still get a lot of people on that forum who are uninterested in talking about sex, and possibly not attract the attention of those who might be. Maybe it would be a good idea to have a new forum on AVEN specifically for discussion about sex? That way, you could kind of ward off the users who are particularly bothered by such discussions, and attract the attention of sexuals and sexually active asexuals who might have really great insights to bring to the table but otherwise may not even know that the topic exists. If that happened, I might even visit the forums occasionally! ;)

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  5. Maybe we need to move away from the whole ‘sex’ attraction. It should be gender based! Since that’s the basis of sexual attraction, usually.

    So then people could be:
    Homogender
    Heterogender
    Bigender
    Agender

    On a more serious note, I think one of the problems of people understanding the term ‘Asexual’ wrong, is because it’s used wrong in general. The same applies for homosexual, heterosexual and bisexual. The correct term for these are sexuality.
    If you actually look up the definition of ‘Bisexual’ for example, it shows that it’s either for a species to have 2 sexes or for an individual to have both sexes.

    So the definition of Asexual does imply you lack a sex. So, I think it would be better to explain asexuality to people that are not part of the community by using the term ‘Asexuality’ instead of ‘asexual.’

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    • You’re a goof.

      See, I didn’t even KNOW that bisexual had that definition, because I’m so used to hearing it in the context of sexual orientation. I think the vast majority of people understand that context. I understand your point about avoiding “asexual” but there’s still a problem: asexuality refers to the concept, the state of being without sexual attraction… asexual refers to individuals who are not sexually attracted to anyone. And when coming out to people, you’re explaining something about yourself as an individual. I think actually, “asexual” was invented BEFORE “asexuality” because people were trying to think of a way to describe themselves (which would fit with the standards for sexual orientation labels). I’m not so sure about the other three labels, but “bisexuality” is listed as a derivative of “bisexual” in the dictionary, and not the other way around, so I’d conclude that the label was probably invented before the word to describe the concept. It’s more common to run into a situation where you have to describe yourself than where you get to talk about being or not being attracted to x group of people in general. And I suspect that if in a coming out situation you said “Have you heard of asexuality?” people would (after figuring out what it is) say something like “Oh, so you’re saying you’re asexual then?” I’m not sure it would be any easier for people to understand, really.

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