Research relating to asexuality
Allowance for Asexuality in Early Theories
Alfred Kinsey, the father of sexology, was aware of an asexual element in the population but did little to investigate it. His Kinsey scale of sexual orientation consisted of a single axis lying between heterosexuality and homosexuality with bisexuality in between, and thus left no place for asexuality. In the Kinsey Reports of 1948 and 1953, subjects were scaled from "0" (completely heterosexual) to "6" (completely homosexual), but a separate category of "X" was created for those with "no socio-sexual contacts or reactions." He labeled 1.5% of the adult male population as "X"
In "Sexual Behavior in the Human Female," he further explained the category as people who "do not respond erotically to either heterosexual or homosexual stimuli, and do not have overt physical encounter with individuals of either sex in which there is evidence of any response.” The following percentages of the population assigned “X:” Unmarried females=14-19%. Married females= 1-3%. Previously married females=5-8%. Unmarried males=3-4%. Married males=0%. Previously married males=1-2%.
The first explorations of asexuality were based on the presumed existence of an asexual demographic, inferred from a new understanding of human sexual variability brought by researchers such as Kinsey. A 1977 paper entitled Asexual and Autoerotic Women: Two Invisible Groups, by Myra T. Johnson, may provide the first such conjecture. Johnson defines asexuals as those men and women "who, regardless of physical or emotional condition, actual sexual history, and marital status or ideological orientation, seem to prefer not to engage in sexual activity." She contrasts autoerotic women with asexual women: "The asexual woman...has no sexual desires at all [but] the autoerotic woman...recognizes such desires but prefers to satisfy them alone." Johnson's evidence is mostly letters to the editor found in women's magazines written by asexual women. She portrays them as invisible, "oppressed by a consensus that they are nonexistent," and left behind by both the sexual revolution and feminist movement. Society either ignores or denies their existence, or insists they must be ascetic for religious reasons, neurotic, or asexual for political reasons.
In a study published in 1979 in Advances in the Study of Affect vol. 5 and in another article using the same data published in 1980 in the "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology," Michael D. Storms of the University of Kansas outlined his own reimagining of the Kinsey scale. Whereas Kinsey gauged sexual orientation on a combination actual sexual behavior and fantasizing and eroticism, Storms only used fantasizing and eroticism. Storms, however, placed the tendencies of hetero-eroticism and homo-eroticism on separate axes rather than at two ends of a single scale; this allows for a distinction between bisexuality (exhibiting both hetero- and homo-eroticism in degrees comparable to hetero- or homosexuals, respectively) and asexuality (exhibiting a level of homo-eroticism comparable to a heterosexual, and a level of hetero-eroticism comparable to a homosexual: namely, little to none). Storms conjectured that many researchers following Kinsey's model could be miscategorizing asexual subjects as bisexual, because both were simply defined by a lack of preference for gender in sexual partners.
The first study that gave information data about asexuals was published in 1983 by Paula Nurius, concerning the relationship between sexual orientation and mental health. Unlike previous studies on the subject, she used a two-dimensional model for sexual orientation. 689 subjects-most of whom were students at various universities in the United States taking psychology or sociology classes--were given several surveys, including four clinical well-being scales and a survey asking how frequently they engaged in various sexual activities and how often they would like to engage in those activities. Based on the results, respondents were given a score ranging from 0-100 for hetero-eroticism and for homo-eroticism. Respondents who scored lower than 10 on both were labeled "asexual." This consisted of 5% of males and 10% of females. Results showed that asexuals were somewhat more likely to have low self-esteem and more likely to be depressed than other sexual orientations. Also, asexuals reported much lower frequency and desired frequency of a variety of sexual activities including having multiple partners, anal sexual activities, having sexual encounters in a variety of locations, and autoerotic activities.
Further empirical data about an asexual demographic appeared in 1994, when a research team in the United Kingdom carried out a comprehensive survey of 18,876 British residents, spurred by the need for sexual information in the wake of the AIDS epidemic. The survey included a question on sexual attraction, to which a significant 1% of respondents replied that they had "never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all." This phenomenon was seized upon by the Canadian sexuality researcher Dr. Anthony Bogaert, who explored the asexual demographic in a series of studies. The 1% statistic from the UK survey is the one most frequently quoted as the possible incidence of asexuality in the general population, though it should be considered very tentative. Assuming this statistic holds true, the world population of asexual people would stand at over 60 million.
The Kinsey Institute sponsored another small survey on the topic in 2007, which found that self-identified 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. This contradicts the findings of the 1983 study."
Is asexuality pathogenic or a normal variant?
There is disagreement among scientists as to whether asexuality must always show evidence of a disorder or can be properly looked upon as being within the normal range. In accordance with current psychiatric conceptions, a person with no sexual desire may be diagnosed with hypoactive sexual desire disorder (F52.0 in ICD-10, “lack or loss of sexual desire”) or sexual aversion disorder (F52.1). It was not until fairly recently that the basic assumptions of this approach have been seriously called in question: “Is low or absent sexual desire necessarily associated with pathology?” According to DSM-IV, making the diagnosis of the sexual aversion disorder presuppose the presence of marked distress or interpersonal difficulty caused by the disturbance. But most asexuals do not suffer from the absence of sexual drive. This fact allows Anthony F. Bogaert to conclude that that the term asexuality should not necessarily be used to describe a pathological or health-compromised state: “You know what, this guy never has sex, and he seems happy enough — maybe if I’m having sex only three times a month then maybe I’m OK, too.” Currently, evidence does not suggest that cognitions and behaviors associated with asexuality necessarily signal a problem. Special investigations show that there is not higher rates of psychopathology among asexuals; however, a subset might fit the criteria for Schizoid Personality Disorder. Some experimental findings challenge the view that asexuality should be characterized as a sexual dysfunction.
Though comparisons with non-human sexuality are problematic, a series of studies done on ram mating preferences at the United States Sheep Experiment Station in Dubois, Idaho starting in 2001 found that about 2% to 3% of the animals being studied had no apparent interest in mating with either sex; the researchers classified these animals as asexual, but found them to be otherwise healthy with no recorded differences in hormone levels.
- Extant Research on Asexuality, a fairly comprehensive bibliography including papers, book chapters, and conference papers that are either about asexuality or that include asexuality. Found on the website Asexual Explorations.