Asexual Explorations

Research Agenda

As asexuality becomes more visible and more prominent in academic work, I expect that it will be studied in a variety of disciplines. I provide some thoughts about interesting and/or useful topics for future research, especially in psychology and/or sociology. Topics are subdivided into quantitative, qualitative, historical/cultural, and education.

1) Qualitative

Qualitative studies have two major advantages. First, they don't suffer from the sampling problems that quantitative studies have. People can freely be recruited from AVEN and from the community Asexuality on Livejournal (hopefully) without creating too many problems. (Except the problem caused by the fact that the sample will be strongly biased towards people who spend a lot of time on the internet vs. people do don't.) Second, these will probably be more helpful for generating acceptance and understanding of asexuality than quantative studies--especially given that most people have very little understanding of asexuality at the present.

1.1) Forming an asexual identity. Using some kind of narrative approach, ask how asexuals came to identify as asexual. (Also, people who currently don't identify as asexual but have in the past could be included, though finding many of them would be difficult on a practical level.) What specifically in their experience caused them identify as asexual? Were there some particular expereinces that caused them to start questioning? Did they decide on their own that they are not sexual? Or did they only come to call themselves asexual after finding about it online? Did they go through a questioning phase? If so, what were the particular issues that made them think they might be asexual? What made them think they might not be asexual?

1.2) Maintaining an Asexual Identity. Even if they currently identify as asexual, was there anything that made them think they might not be asexual? Do they have ongoing doubts about being asexual? If so, what experiences/feelings cause these doubts? Why do they identify as asexual? Do they find it helpful in thinking about their lives? Is it a matter of feeling solidarity with other people identifying as asexual? Is it because they find it helpful for communicating their experiences?

1.3) Coming out as asexual. How out are they as asexual? Who did they first out themselves to? How do they find others reacting? Many asexuals find that their experience is somewhere in a gray area between sexual and asexual--not enough "sexual" feelings to feel sexual, but not entirely "asexual" either. In coming out, do people consciously omit these out of fear that others will attempt to use these to "prove" that they aren't really asexual?

1.4) Asexuals' experiences with sex-ed. Open ended questionnaire aimed at self-identified asexuals regarding their experiences with sex education, including both abstinence until marriage and comprehensive sex education, as well as both formal instruction and informal education from seeking out materials on their own or being given materials by others. What messages, if any, did they receive about asexuality through these? About low sexual desire? Did the information they received affirm their experiences? Did they find it painful or alienating? Did it convince them that they were repressed or dysfunctional or erotophobic? Did it persuade them that they needed to try out sex to convince themselves that they are "normal?" If so, what effect did that have on them?

2) Quantitative

2.1) Asexuality and Gender Identity Within the asexual community, people have long observed a connection between asexuality and gender identity. There seems to be a disproportionately high number of asexuals who are a) transsexual, b) agendered, or c) have a sense of being neither very masculine nor feminine but do not disidentify with their biological sex. A study along the lines I am suggesting was proposed by Storms (1978) (for bibliographic info, see Extant Research on asexuality) though he was not interested in asexuality. He suggested giving people a question to self-rate a) how masculine they perceived themselves to be and b) how feminine they perceived themselves to be. Questions would be used that that a) establish sexual orientation using a 2-dimensional scale like the one Storms proposed, b) a question about biological sex (allowing for intesex as an option), c) a question about gender identity, and d) questions on how masculine and how feminine they perceive themselves to be. Other questions could be added.

To illustrate this trend, there is some data from an informal survey done by AVEN. There were about 288 meaningful responses in which all but about 20 respondents identifying as asexual, the following data is given, though responses are not separated based on being asexual or not:
Of those born female (199),
169 (85%) identify as female. This included a few responses such as "femalish" and "nominally female."
10 (5%) are FTM
19 (9.6%) identify as genderless, androgynous, etc.
Of those born male (82)
66 (80%) identify as male (though sometimes with qualification.)
2 (2.4%) are MTF
14 (17%) identify as genderless, androgynous, etc.
While these data are merely from informal sampling methods and lack a reliable control group, they do suggest that asexual demographics are wildly disproportionate with the general population and merit further, more controlled, study.

3) Historical and Cultural
For historical & cultural work, there are a number of interesting research questions that arise having to do with how has lack of sexual interested and/or behavior have been understood/represented by different people, at different times and in different cultures.

3.1) The history of Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder
A brief history can be found on a blog entry titled Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder and the Asexual Community: A History. That post cites some of the important sources for this topic, and only begins to scratch the surface of a number of interesting questions.

4) Education

4.1 Portrayal of low/no sexual desire in sex-ed materials
How do existing material present asexuality (if at all)? How do they present low sexual desire? How about "erotophobia",which lumps sexual disinterest, homophobia, and negative attitudes towns sex into the same category? Hypoactive sexual desire disorder? Sexual aversion disorder?

4.2 Asexuals' experiences with sex-ed
This could include experiences with comprehensive sex education and abstinence until marriage sex education, and could include experience with formal education in school, information given by parents, religious leaders or other authority figures in their community outside of school, or materials they were given to read.