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Spotlight on Asexuality Studies

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There's going to a Spotlight on Asexuality Studies on Monday 24th October at the University of Warwick, which will be "an open, friendly and participatory event intended to represent the diverse range of research being conducted on asexuality and breaking down boundaries between asexuality researchers and the asexual community." There will also hopefully be a live stream and a chance to interact remotely, so even if you can't make it to Warwick you can participate.

More info here.

Hope to see some of you there!

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There's going to a Spotlight on Asexuality Studies on Monday 24th October at the University of Warwick, which will be "an open, friendly and participatory event intended to represent the diverse range of research being conducted on asexuality and breaking down boundaries between asexuality researchers and the asexual community." There will also hopefully be a live stream and a chance to interact remotely, so even if you can't make it to Warwick you can participate.

More info here.

Hope to see some of you there!

Oh yes, this really looks interesting :)

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Hi, I'm Mark, one of the organisers of the event :) If you can’t be there in person we’d still love you to be involved. The event will include an ‘ask the researcher’ panel – if you’ve got a question you’d like to ask asexuality researchers then please get in touch with us: researchgap@gmail.com. Likewise if you’ve got a question you’d like to ask a specific researcher relating to their talk (we’ll have descriptions of them up on the page linked above in the very near future) then please get in touch as well. We can’t promise we’ll include every question but we’ll do our best. Though it’s looking like we won’t be able to do live streaming video, all the sessions will be posted online as videocasts after the event so you will be able to see the answer! If you know anyone who might be interested in asking a question then please let them know about this – we’re really keen to break down barriers between asexuality researchers and the asexual community so please send us your questions.

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Bump :) would it be appropriate to post details about 'ask the researcher' in the announcements forum and/or could anyone help us promote this? We're really keen to get input to make this part of the event work but as it is we haven't really had any questions submitted so far.

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This looks very interesting!

I hope to "be" there via livestream.

~Carsonspire

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We'll also have a twitter wall --> all comments/questions will be tweeted onto a big screen at the front of the room. Follow @asexstudies for more information :)

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For those of us who don't have a Twitter account, will questions still be accepted by e-mail?

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Yes definitely :) twitter will be in addition to questions via e-mail

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Excellent. Thank you.

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Ah, it is still so strange to see someone who is not asexual do a presentation on asexuality.

[trigger warning for mentions of rape and conversion therapy]

This is really interesting, I want to know how all the people who filled out his questionnaire found it to begin with, seeing as the majority had not heard of AVEN. What asexual underground were they tapped into?

Transcript under the cut, excluding some "next slide" comments and some things I couldn’t quite catch.

Olivier Cormier-Otaño: “Doing without: a therapist’s findings”, Spotlight on Asexuality Studies, 24/10/11, at the University of Warwick

My name is Olivier Cormier-Otaño. A bit of information about me. I’m an integrative and relational counsellor and a psychosexual therapist, I’m in private practice. I am accredited by the British Association for Counsellors and Psychotherapists, and I’m accredited in advanced integrated sexual minority therapy with Pink Therapy. 99.9% of my counselling clients are gender or sexual minorities. I only have one client who is straight, or heterosexual. I’m French, Spanish and also a UK taxpayer, and I put those three together because I think it’s what I’m going to be talking about – the difficulty to actually work with different identities, and negotiate them, and make them alive, and what the conflict between different identities are. I’ve an interest in gender identity and sexuality and my approach is non-pathologizing to any GSM – any gender and sexual minority.

So I started in 2008 a certificate in sexual minority therapy open to qualified counsellors and psychotherapists run by Pink Therapy, who is based in London. They’re running the independent, leading organization in training therapists in working with gender and sexual minorities, and Dominic Davies, who runs the company and runs the course, interviewed me and said “Well, what is the sexual minority you’re not familiar with?” And he said to me, “Well, okay, it seems like you know quite a bit. What about asexuality?” I thought “I don’t know anything about asexuality” and he says “Fine, you’re going to have to do a presentation to your peers on asexuality.” I was very disappointed, I’m going to be honest, I thought this is not very meaty, it’s not an interesting subject.” This was 2008, I didn’t know anything about asexuality, and I had to present to my peers… And today I’m here.

So what do you do when you have to do research? Well the first thing you do is you interrogate your search engine. And on asexuality what I found was a lot of microcellular organisms and fungi doing things to themselves. And that’s not really what the subject of asexuality is about. But what is interesting, in that already I think, is the idea that we link asexuality and sexuality with reproduction. So that’s already an interesting thing to bear in mind.

So what is asexuality? At that stage, I had no idea, and that’s 2008, there wasn’t much available, even on the internet. I kind of worked out that asexuality was different to chastity, to celibacy, to frigidity, to Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder, and that asexuality actually is not pathology.

The closest thing I could find was from the DSM IV which is a manual that lists all sorts of psychological ailments. Something like that: “A deficiency or absence of sexual fantasies and desire for sexual activity, marking distress and difficulty.”

So asexuality at that stage was about a pathology, was about a deficiency; it was about something going wrong. So I was very frustrated and I didn’t know what to do, because I couldn’t find anything on the internet, couldn’t find any books, couldn’t find any journals, couldn’t find anything, until out of the blue someone came to me and says “I am asexual.” So I said “That’s exciting, I need to do a presentation, would you help me find out about asexuality?” and she said “Yeah, no problem!” and I said “Can I just write, briefly, a questionnaire and send it to you? And you can just send it back to me and I’ve got something to work on.” And she said “Yeah, that’s fantastic.” So I did so, and she contacted me by email and said “Well actually I’ve got two or three more people who want to answer the questionnaire.” and I received five questionnaires. I thought “That’s exciting, I’ve got a little bit of material here.” And a few days later I received another ten, then another five, another fifteen, another ten, and I ended up with 310 self-defined asexuals answering my questionnaire which was only devised for one person. So it wasn’t a research, it wasn’t an academic research, but I ended up with a lot of data, that I had to work with, that I had to do something with.

So I’m going to share a bit of figures with you and then I’m going to share with you some of the voices of these asexuals, what they said to me in their questionnaires. Most of the questions were yes or no, or brief answer, and the last question of the questionnaire was “Is there anything else you want to tell me about yourself?”

So, some figures first. I worked out that 48% of the people responding to my questionnaire were female, and 52% male. So there’s more asexuals in my research, more male asexuals than female. The average age of the people answering my questionnaire was 37. 61% never had experienced sexual intercourse, and 76% decided or realized in their mid-teens, around 15 or 16, that they were asexual.

So we are talking about a sexual orientation here, and I asked “Who are you attracted to? Are you attracted to the opposite sex, to the same sex, to both, to neither?” If we take first the male answers, answers from male asexuals, there’s almost a clear divide, it’s almost a quarter for each; opposite, both, same, and neither. If we look at the female – we’re talking about attraction, who you are attracted to, not necessarily sexually – there’s a huge variation. 41% are attracted to the opposite gender, the opposite sex, 7% to the same, 18 to both, neither for 33%, and 1%, I think, didn’t understand the question.

To this there’s something I would like to bring, which has been written by Lisa Diamond, an American therapist, she wrote about sexual fluidity in women and how women are more attracted to a relationship rather than a gender, so the figure here might be very fluid in themselves if you were to ask, a few months down the line, the same people.

Considering asexual individuals, I don’t know why I considered that they could be asexual, but they could still be in a relationship, and I found some really interesting material here.

59% of the asexual females who answered are not in a romantic or amorous relationship, 53 of the males are. 61 never have been in an asexual relationship, and 70% of the men have never been in an asexual relationship. So that leaves 47% of the males who are in a relationship, though they are asexual, and 41% of the females who are in a relationship, so that is an interesting thing to consider, that one can be asexual and in a romantic relationship.

So 41% of the women, 46% of the men are in a romantic and amorous relationship, what about the partner? For these asexual people in a romantic relationship, 40% have a partner who is not asexual, 85% are in an open relationship. So that brings a bit of what constitutes a relationship, what constitutes a healthy relationship, and is monogamy a healthy way to run a relationship. So already with very little data there’s a lot we can start wondering and asking.

Some asexuals explained to me that they had, they were very resourceful to accommodate the needs of their non-asexual partner. In terms of gay couples where one was asexual and the other one wasn’t, the non-asexual partner would go to saunas and have his sexual activities dealt with outside. Whilst heterosexual couples, a few of them told me that they have this arrangement where the lover of the non-asexual partner would live in the house. So in a way, sex was happening in house, it was completely hidden from the public eye, and the lover was considered as just a lodger.

So where does it hurt? Because we’re talking about hidden things here. And that was, again 2008, people answering, 71% saying that their choice was generating curiosity: so when one comes out as asexual, one has to explain something. 64% feel pressure to justify and explain their choice. 74% feel that people do not respect their choice. 78% found that their sexual orientation was not accepted. 79% experienced oppression or discrimination because of their sexual choice. 64% felt nobody supports them or their choices. That can be from family, from friends, peers, can be from church, can be from all sorts of institutions.

2% find support from AVEN. AVEN is the only forum, at the time, that I could find. An online forum, a website, it’s the Asexual Visibility and Education Network. It has 13 languages, there’s 13 versions of the website and asexuals post a lot of their thoughts and share their thoughts. Of my respondents, only 2% knew about AVEN, 17% had very negative views of AVEN – I think it’s because it is an American website – and the rest have no idea. Thant, in 2008, there was no one to support them emotionally. So that raises the question of community.

Some difficulties that have been brought up by these questionnaires. Some people have… I’ve counted 16 cases of rape. There might have been more. So 16 people have said to me that they have been raped and as a result they decided to – or they realized – they were asexual. Could there be more? I don’t know.

A lot of people are saying “I need to keep my asexuality secret, to keep safe” and I’ll refer you to the previous slide, all the prejudices against asexuality.

A lot of people were hiding behind their relationship: “I’m with a partner, therefore nobody is going to ask me if I am sexual with my partner or if I’m asexual.” People would hide behind work: “I’m too busy working to have a relationship.” Behind their faith: “It’s absolutely fine with my faith not to have sex.” Or their age: “At my age I don’t need to have sexual encounters.”

Other difficulties when you are asexual: Where do you find a partner? And how do you negotiate your asexuality with your partner? You are asexual, you fall in love with someone, you don’t need sex, you don’t want sex. How do you negotiate that?

How to have children? There was a couple of cases which were really, really distressing of asexual couples who approached Social Services to adopt children and Social Services asked them “How come you don’t have children by yourselves,” and the couple said “We are asexual.” And Social Services said “Well this is not normal, if you are asexual, you are not fit to be married.”

So isn’t asexuality more acceptable? How long has it been ¿___? .What is the right amount of sex one should have, and what works for you? In 2008 and 2009 I discovered that there was no interest in asexuality from the ¿__academic__? profession, nor understanding. So maybe something is really happening in here, in Warwick, and we can move it a bit further.

So here’s some voices, some people answering to the last question “Is there something you would like me to know about yourself?” And I must say these, there’s four slides, and they are quite, quite powerful, and I’m going to go through them all. They are quite powerful and when you receive five or ten of them per day, and you open them and you read them, it’s really, really moving. Really, really moving. But they also highlight the fact that people need to find the words to explain what’s going on for them. And where do they find a way to explain what is going on for them if their sexuality is considered as shameful or abnormal or a pathology.

So the first one, a guy said that he caught HIV from his first ever, and only sexual experience, and he is afraid of passing on the virus.

Someone said “I didn’t choose to be asexual, I just am.”

Someone said “Asexuality should be brought out in the open, so people don’t feel oppressed.” That’s a very, very important point. Asexuality is not a pathology, there’s nothing wrong with being asexual, it’s the context, it’s the environment, it is the social pressure which is putting all the stress on asexuals.

“I hope you understand me because no one else does. Please publish a paper that says I’m not mentally ill, I beg of you.” So once again, sexuality is extremely linked to mental well-functioning. Who says?

Someone said “I’m very normal.”

A Catholic priest, from Ireland I believe, said “I’ve more problems with the whiskey than thinking about sex.” Has no questions about his about his asexuality.

“I always hated sex. Now I’m a respectable widow. I’m able to be myself, and it is wonderful.” This is a woman who had been in an abusive relationship for years, and years, and years. And her husband was forcing himself on to her, and now she’s finding her identity. But has she got words and has she got someone to talk to?

A man said “How do you tell a woman you want a sexless relationship? I don’t want to go to therapy.” So there is an expectation that because we are human beings, we have to have sex, so if we don’t want sex, how do we manage that, how do we explain it? Do we have to go to see a therapist?

“How do you say you find sex revolting to people? Surely I can’t be the only one.”

Someone said “I don’t like being touched, but I would like to meet.” So there’s a need for relationship, there’s a need to be social animals, there’s a need to be with others, but that doesn’t mean we need to have physical contact, or sexual contact.

Someone suffered pressure from his parents when he said he was asexual and he received ten shots of ECT, electric convulsive therapy, so electricity running though his body, to make him sexual.

Someone said “I might not be asexual forever.”

Another one says “Doctor says I’m a deviant, the priest says it’s a holy union.” He is married. “I suffer pressure to have children, so my wife pretends she’s Arab.” So again, people are having to cover their asexuality, and lie.

Someone said he’s very lonely and would love a partner, but he has been called a freak, and he is gay, but he has been thrown out of gay bars, because he doesn’t want to have sex. So that brings an interesting question. Can one be a gay man if one doesn’t have sex with men? Can a woman be a lesbian if she doesn’t have sex with other women?

And the last slide “We’re not lesbians. My girlfriend...” That’s an interesting concept here, an asexual couple together, but they are not lesbians.

“My counsellor says I’m questioning my sexuality, but what if I don’t have one? What do I do then? I hate being like this, I think there must be something wrong with me.” That’s a typical process, we don’t understand what’s going on, therefore we turn it against ourselves: “It’s my fault. There’s something I’ve done wrong.”

“Thank you for taking me seriously and not thinking I’m a psychiatric case. I’m longing for a relationship, but touch is electrical and can be very erotic.” Interesting idea, what constitutes eroticism?

“People think something must have happened, sex seems to be the reference these days.” Is there an over-sexualisation of our society these days? Is that healthy?

Someone has been rejected from the gay community. “It’s not very open-minded and it seems very sex-orientated.”

Someone has been beaten up by boyfriends for not sleeping with them. “never heard of asexuality. Is it recognized as a valid sexuality? Or am I a deviant in some way? I’m afraid to ask my doctor.”

The last slide of voices… very powerful statement: “asexuality will never be accepted [while] it remains clouded in secrecy.” So a bit like other GSMs, other gender and sexual minorities – gay, bisexual, queer, kink, whatever – we have to come out, we have to expose ourselves, so that we are going to be recognized. So if asexuality remains invisible, how can asexuality be known, recognised, and accepted?

“I do not want people to know I’m not normal. How can I be accepted when doctors say I’m not normal? I’m very disappointed, I’ve let my family down.” This person had expectations from his family that he should be married, he should have kids, once again re-linking sexuality with procreation.

A psychotherapist that identifies as asexual said “I’m not sure if I hate my partner for having sex or needing sex, or if I hate myself for not being able to fulfill his needs.”

And the last one: “I think it is fantastic that someone is interested in asexuality. It makes me feel I am not alone. Do you know how good that makes me feel? You will never know.”

So once again, in 2008, the only forum, the only place where asexuals could share anything was through websites. Though AVEN is the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, remaining anonymous on blogs and forums, I just raise the question: How visible is that?

So what about masturbation? Is that considered as a sexual act? Do asexuals masturbate? Well, there’s a lot of debate about it, and a lot of asexuals consider that masturbation is just a mechanical thing, it’s just a release of energy, it’s just a feel-good factor, and that’s their way of having sex, not needing to share it with anyone. Other people think that it’s mechanical, it’s boring. According to a study by Prause and Graham in 2005, 2% of asexuals masturbate.

And I was reading a book recently on asexuals. It’s recognized that there might be 60 million asexuals in the world, that’s 1% of the population.

So what is intriguing, what is difficult to understand, is complicated in what can come up with, the first for them was invisibility. Is that, if we don’t speak out, we don’t get power, so if an asexual is repressed not to speak out, where does an asexual get power?

From community I suppose, but in 2008 there didn’t seem to be an asexual community. There seemed to be a population of asexuals linked via various websites, but there was not really forums and places where asexuals could meet.

No vocabulary! And I’m thinking now, more particularly in the mainstream discourse. Could one be hetero-asexual? Trans asexual? Homo-asexual? Homoromantic? There’s all sorts of words that facilitate the way we can describe ourselves – words that have not been described yet, invented, or they are still not mainstream.

Relationship values. I talked about that earlier on. What constitutes a relationship? Can we have a relationship without sex? Can we have a relationship with sex only?

Sexual identity. Does a gay man who doesn’t have sex with other men still call himself gay, or do you have to perform sexually to claim a sexual identity.

And then there’s loads of different cultures that accept asexuality, and we’re not talking about abstinence, we’re talking about just being asexual: Kenya, Maoris, the American Indian, some Muslim faiths, the Free Church of Scotland.

So in the absence of sex, some negative messages permeate. First, it’s not normal not to want sex. Another one, that couples need sex. And the other on is that something is wrong, let’s fix this. So there is a pathology, there is a cause for it.

Just questions to think about, I’m not saying I have the answers to it.

Some positive ideas: We’ve seen that there is communication in asexual couples, or in a couple where one of the partners is asexual. There’s intimacy, there’s choice, values, commitment. There’s the idea that sex is not love and love is not sex. And that’s really interesting, to talk about all this, and open the debate. This is going to start challenging our own sexuality and our own identity.

In terms of resources, books, there’s not many things. I found the Boston Marriages, published in ’93 in the States, which is taking the title from the play, the “Boston Marriages”, about romantic and asexual relationships between women. Three French books, don’t know why the French have such an interest in asexuality: No sex: avoir envie de pas faire l’amour by Peggy Sastre, very, very good book for those who can read French, and “No sex last year: La vie sans sexe” by Fontaine. Quite recent books, 2010, 2006, strangely enough they both have an English title, I have no idea why. And the last one, La révolution asexuelle by De Tonnac.

Some authors to mention who wrote a lot about asexuality, Prause and Graham, Scherrer, Erwin (Irwin?), and a couple of websites that I’ve found at the time in 2008 and 2009 on asexuality.

Another interesting thing about those who answered his questionaire: this data lacks the gender skew towards more females that polls recruiting from the asexual community tend to have.

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Hi :) thanks for doing the transcript! Would you be ok if I posted on asexualitystudies.org? More videos, audio and slides to follow as soon as possible (everything was recorded). Apologies for the delay, coming to the end of my PhD and drowning in work a bit...

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Thanks for the transcript!

I have a question though:

According to a study by Prause and Graham in 2005, 2% of asexuals masturbate.

I haven't had a chance to go through and watch yet, but is that actually what he said? B/C they most definitely did not find that only 2% masturbate. The study that I think he's talking about found that asexuals had comparable rates to sexuals - quite a bit higher than 2%.

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Hi :) thanks for doing the transcript! Would you be ok if I posted on asexualitystudies.org? More videos, audio and slides to follow as soon as possible (everything was recorded). Apologies for the delay, coming to the end of my PhD and drowning in work a bit...

Sure, do whatever with it! Thanks for posting things to begin with, I’m really interested to see what else you’ve got.

I haven't had a chance to go through and watch yet, but is that actually what he said? B/C they most definitely did not find that only 2% masturbate. The study that I think he's talking about found that asexuals had comparable rates to sexuals - quite a bit higher than 2%.

Yeah, he said that

. I was thinking about adding a note saying there is no way that is accurate, but then I didn’t find actual hard numbers to back it up. I agree with you though:

Asexuals reported significantly less desire for sex with a partner, lower sexual arousability, and lower sexual excitation but did not differ consistently from non-asexuals in their sexual inhibition scores or their desire to masturbate.

If it isn't a simple misspeak, I have suspicions that the 2% figure came from table 2 in the study... which is actually the standard deviation for the frequency of masturbation.

Nosos, it might be a good idea to note that if you are going to post it on your site. These kind of things can propagate. Like the belief that spinach has more iron than other leafy vegetables, due to a misplaced decimal point back in the 19th century.

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I'm a bit confused about him referencing the paper as 2005.

The only paper I know by Prause and Graham is this one: http://www.springerlink.com/content/y1g68862317t1825/fulltext.html

Does anyone know of any others?

I need to clarify exactly where he was making that claim from & work out an editorial policy for the website (particularly balancing my own views as a researchers vs creating the site as an open forum for other researchers*) before I can do anything but, yeah, I'd want to note a correction for just that reason if it's necessary. It's bad enough when headline grabbing statistics that are referenced accurately from papers propagate online, let alone when inaccurately referenced ones do so.

*I don't want to host harmful or inaccurate research but I also don't want it to just host people who agree with me. I'm still not sure how to balance this in terms of a practical process so any suggestions would be welcome! :)

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More generally, if anyone has any ideas for how I should develop the website, I'm really keen to hear them - in another bit of my academic life, i'm a social media geek interested in how social media can & should change how universities work. As well as being a bit of an experiment in alternative forms of academic publishing, I'm hoping the site could be a point of connection between researchers and the asexual community. Kind of like Andrew's Asexual Explorations site (which helped me so so much when I was starting my research a few years ago) but in the opposite direction, if you see what I mean. I'm still not entirely sure what this would mean in practice though.

One thing I'm hoping is to encourage people to document their research process through blog posts, podcasts and videocasts they produce during the work. I'm not sure how much luck I'll have encouraging others to do this as well (though if they want to, the site can be a forum for these - please mention this to anyone you know who might be interested!) but when I finally finish my PhD and start writing the book about Sexology, Capitalism and Sexual Culture I've been planning for a year now, I want to try and do as much of the development in public view as possible.

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I'm a bit confused about him referencing the paper as 2005.

The only paper I know by Prause and Graham is this one: http://www.springerlink.com/content/y1g68862317t1825/fulltext.html

Does anyone know of any others?

You’d have to ask him to be sure, but I think it is that paper. It was received on December 6, 2005 and published in 2007. So the study was probably done in 2005. Glad you are considering things carefully! I’m definitely excited to see what comes out of the site.

It simultaneously amuses and drives me crazy watching the media using statistics in slightly/very off ways. There's nothing quite like bad headline statistics.

More generally, if anyone has any ideas for how I should develop the website, I'm really keen to hear them - in another bit of my academic life, i'm a social media geek interested in how social media can & should change how universities work. As well as being a bit of an experiment in alternative forms of academic publishing, I'm hoping the site could be a point of connection between researchers and the asexual community.

Silly question, are you on tumblr? If there is one thing the Asexual Awareness Week census revealed, it is the power tumblr has to reach a broader audience. Kind of free advertising really, if you post something that catches enough interest that people reblog it. There are many people tracking the asexual tags on there.

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Recruitment from AVEN for the Prause and Graham study began in late December 2002: Kinsey Survey is Here!. This is a previous discussion in a thread started in July 2002: Kinsey Institute Study. It's possible that a conference presentation or something was sited?

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Has anyone watched this Olivier Cormier-Otaño presentation? I found it on Pink Therapy.

"One of our Graduate students Olivier Cormier-Otaño was given the platform to present some information on Asexuality at the LGBT Health Summit in Cardiff in September 2011. You can watch his keynote presentation here": http://www.switchnewmedia.com/lgbt/VOD/Olivier_Cormier_Ortano_Day2_Video_Archive.htm

Just wondering what your thoughts on it are. Even though it's from Sept. 2011, the language he uses about asexuality seems primitive. But maybe I'm just crazy...

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