Is there a trend toward asexuality? Recently accounts of two aspects of such a trend have appeared in the media.
Asexual Visibility and Education Network
MTV recently reported that there are a growing number of young people who don't like sex. Many seem well-adjusted, socially-active, pro-intimacy - and certainly not victims of abstinence education. They just don’t like sex. Some have had sex partners of both sexes. Some live and sleep with others quite happily. But sex simply holds no allure.
Although The Journal of Sex Research reported in 2004 that of 18,000 people interviewed, one in every hundred said they had never felt sexually attracted to anyone, this phenomenon remained in relative obscurity. However, visibility is growing. In 2001 David Jay created the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN — www.asexuality.org). He doesn’t view his asexuality as a problem, and decided to reach out to others by creating a network. AVEN now has 10,000 members. There are also 12 foreign language sites, the most active of which is German.
Some sexologists are gnashing their teeth and insisting that asexual people are emotionally unhealthy — in part because sexologists’ self-imposed rules define avoiding sexual thrills as immature, or even as a pathology. But are the experts right? In time humanity may recognize that the current obsession with orgasm as a path to good health and trusted companionship is itself distorted. And that the so-called asexuals are merely learning to weight relationships more heavily than sexual thrills. Certainly, that’s what one senses in the words of AVEN spokespeople:
You can take the sex out of relationships and they can have just as much power…because sex isn't just about sex. …It's about people feeling validated. It's about having fun. ... And those are all things that I still do and I still want in my life. ... To me, intimacy is something that happens in almost all my relationships. …[a relationship based on trust, common hobbies] or the fact that you both like to cook can bring two people really, really close without sex ever being a serious issue.
And there’s still plenty of physical contact going on. Many asexuals have "cuddle buddies," or friends they hug and kiss or share beds with. AVEN’s founder freely admits that one’s asexuality may not be forever. "If the term ‘asexual’ fits today, then use it. If it doesn't fit next week, then stop using it."
These asexuals face the same challenge as those of us interested in orgasm-free intercourse: how to reveal to a potential lover why one wants to forego conventional sex. As one asexual put it:
Sometimes I think it would be easier to explain to people if I had lost my penis in some kind of accident instead of telling them that I'm asexual.
In any event, AVEN’s founder says the point is to offer people a different way of defining themselves, one that is not dictated by an orgasm-hungry media that knows sex sells everything from stories to advertising.
The problem in our culture is that there’s a sense that people need sex to be happy…that you need sex to define yourself, to understand yourself, to connect with other people. And everything that’s going on in the asexual community disproves that.
It’s refreshing to see that members of a generation that has been bombarded with constant sexual stimulation are finding a way to protect themselves from the false message that it is urgent to act on sexual impulses. Is asexuality an impairment, as the sexologists would have these people believe, or really just a comfortable way to tread water within respectful boundaries? Perhaps it’s actually an ideal means of nurturing oneself and one’s development in a sweet, safe emotional environment where one can be quite at ease with members of both sexes. Perhaps it also teaches the value of escaping the herd and thinking for oneself.
Certainly such people have a better chance than most of forming honest relationships based on mutual respect, rather than upon seduction born of biological urges. By being ethical and respectful of boundaries, one certainly creates a sounder foundation for a future sexual relationship (should that eventuality arise). And who knows what benefits may flow from avoiding the neurochemical roller coaster ride of constant sexual stimulation for its own sake? Would a bit more peace of mind be amiss in today’s world?
Perhaps young asexuals, tired of watching the chaos in the love lives of their parents, have figured out that casual sex isn’t the healthful balm society would have us believe it is. Perhaps they have figured out that generous touch and relationships are more precious than physical stimulation…if one has to choose.
German newspaper Der Spiegel recently published an article called "Objectophilia, Fetishism and Neo-sexuality." Apparently people can develop lustful feelings for objects...such as the Berlin Wall, musical instruments, trains and buildings. Most assign genders to the object of their affections. Some kiss and caress their beloveds; others take models of their love objects to bed for more intimate contact.
Retired professor Volkmar Sigusch believes this attraction to objects is proof that society is increasingly drifting into asexuality.
"More and more people either openly declare or can be seen to live without any intimate or trusting relationship with another person," Sigusch says, adding that cities are populated by an entire army of socially isolated individuals: "Singles, isolated people, cultural sodomites, many perverts and sex addicts."
Objectophiles may truly be afraid of intimacy and therefore unable to tap the benefits of close, trusted companionship, touch, and the exhange of subtle energies between living partners. One stated that
you can reveal yourself to an object partner in an intimate way, in a way that you would never reveal yourself to any other person.
Yet, if we leave it to sexologists to define healthy intimacy, then we may miss the important distinctions between AVEN-style asexuals and objectophiles.
Perhaps the most important question to ask is "what makes intimacy so frightening?" Could it be that we project onto others the uneasiness and emotional chaos that follow use of another person to gratify selfish pleasure? Certainly poet Willaim Blake thought so.
The Clod and the Pebble
"Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a heaven in hell's despair."
So sung a little clod of clay,
Trodden with the cattle's feet;
But a pebble of the brook
Warbled out these meters meet:
"Love seeketh only Self to please,
To bind another to its delight,
Joys in another's loss of ease,
And builds a hell in heaven's despite."
If the source of alienation is projected uneasiness born of pursuing biology's selfish agenda (more and more varied offspring), then careful union and the integrity not to exploit others to attain fleeting neurochemical rewards in the bedroom may be the key to healthy intimacy. Perhaps the rise of pro-intimacy asexuality is an important signpost after all.