I have a friend who claims to be asexual. Although women (and occasionally men) have expressed romantic interest in him, he never seems to want to pursue a physical relationship or any kind of intimate relationship at all. He says he's quite happy, but I'm confused. Doesn't everyone have some level of sexual desire? Or is there really an asexual community out there which is happy to be untouched? What do you know about this?
Dear A OK?:
Oh, lots. I wrote about asexuality a few years ago following a big cover story about it in New Scientist [11/03/04], in the course of which I discovered that the movement's Web master and spokesperson, David Jay, is not only local but went to my alma mater with a close friend of mine and therefore is practically family. So I know everything about it!
OK, I don't know everything but I can answer questions. Most people, barring those rarities like the This American Life interviewee I call "The Man with No Testosterone," may have "some level" of sexual desire flickering away in there somewhere. But if that flame is sufficiently dim or sufficiently unappealing to the flickeree, he or she may chose to ignore it altogether. Some, though, have searched their psyches and failed to detect even the faintest flicker of interest, and they may feel fine about that. It seems to me that the most reasonable reaction to people who feel fine is to feel fine back at them. Still, asexuality remains somewhat of a hard sell.
For whatever reason, many people sexual people find it hard to accept the idea that nobody is under any obligation either to feel desire or to act on it. Most of us are accustomed both to wanting sex and to wanting to want sex. (Desire disorders are the new erectile dysfunction expect to see, say, Michelle Obama starring in a commercial for a breakthrough treatment in a few years.) How can people have no desire to feel desire? Aren't they broken? Don't they want to be fixed? Shouldn't they want to be fixed? If you take these sane, rational adults at their word, that word is no.
As I was procrastinating answering your question a friend mentioned she knew an asexual woman who'd been interviewed about it on TV, which led me to this YouTube clip where you can see many of the asexuality movement's big names (well, it's a small pond, but these are the people who are most frequently interviewed and featured on Web sites and the like) telling their stories and proudly proclaiming their lack of interest in getting in your pants. (I can't remember the chant I made up for them the last time I wrote about this: "We're A / We're OK / Now just go away," maybe?) I can't promise that this clip or any of the others available online is any better than any other 4.5 minutes given a serious but potentially salacious subject on a typical TV magazine show. After the interviews the reporter turns to the camera and dutifully chirps, "Of course, some experts doubt even the existence of asexuality!" Of course they do! There are experts who will appear on these shows to doubt the existence of air if it gets them on TV. And then there's the odious sexologist Joy Davidson, who offers this take while wearing an awful lot of lipstick:
Presenter: Can labeling oneself asexual become a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Davidson: You might as well label yourself not curious, unadventurous, narrow-minded, blind to possibilities.... That's what happens when you label yourself as ... sexually neutered.
Well, they didn't label themselves that way, lady.