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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. You did. Davidson's insistence that people who don't want to have sex must be in some way damaged reminds me, irritatingly, of another well-known sex therapist I heard claiming that Viagra and friends cause as much damage to a relationship as they repair, and that if you really want to overcome erectile dysfunction you have to see a therapist. But Davidson is meaner.
So, yes, your friend is probably telling the truth, and yes, there is such a community of "out" asexuals, albeit largely online (but there's no shame in that all hail the Internet's awesome community-building powers!). The one thing you're wrong about is the supposition that such people eschew intimacy of any sort. There are folks like that, of course, but we'd do better to call them "hermits." Asexuals have intense friendships and even romantic relationships. They identify, in many cases, as straight or gay, although it's hard not to imagine an asexual lesbian, for instance, as someone who's particularly interested in not having sex with women. You could get a little woozy thinking that way.
I do have to admit wondering whether asexuals like David Jay could be having as much "fun" as they routinely claim to have. "We're having too much fun to have sex!" How much fun does anyone have, really, who isn't, say, a professional skateboarder or a four-year-old? Who has the time?
For an older column on this subject, see www.altsexcolumn.com/index.php?article=373 
Andrea is home with the kids and going stir-crazy. Write her a letter! Ask her a question! Send her your tedious e-mail forwards! On second thought, don't do that. Just ask her a question.