Asexuals—The Unnoticed Sexual Minority

Sherlock Holmes famously solved the “Silver Blaze” case by noticing what no one else had—the dog that didn’t bark. What grabs our attention is seldom the absence of something, but rather its visible presence.

And so with sexuality. Various sexual-attraction patterns capture our fascination . . . except one: asexuality—the absence of sexual attraction to others.

But Brock University psychologist Anthony Bogaert (a Sherlock Holmes of sex research) noticed. In a new review article, he reports what has been learned since his 2004 paper reporting that one percent of a British national sample acknowledged they had “never felt sexual attraction” to others. Some highlights (also reported in his book, Understanding Asexuality):

  • The numbers: In the aftermath of several other subsequent surveys, one percent still seems “a reasonable ‘working figure.’”
  • Asexuality in animals: Like humans, lab rodents vary in sexual interest, from hypersexualized to disinterested. Ditto rams, with 12.5 percent of 584 tested by Charles Roselli and colleagues displaying no attraction either to ewes in estrus or to other rams.
  • Asexuality does not equal lack of sexual desire. “A significant number of asexual people masturbate,” although “at a lower level than sexual people.” For asexual people, masturbation is more an expression of solitary desire, without fantasizing any attraction or desire for others. Some asexuals have—my new word for the day—“automonosexualism” (a sexual attraction “turned inward” onto oneself).
  • Gender. “There is evidence that more women than men are asexual.” But among asexuals, more men masturbate, and “asexual men may have elevated paraphilic [atypical] attractions” that accompany their masturbation.
  • Biology and asexuality. Asexual men and women tend to be shorter and more often non-right-handed than average. But there’s no evidence that asexual rodents and humans differ from their sexualized counterparts in levels of circulating testosterone.
  • Is asexuality a disorder? Men’s Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD) and women’s Female Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder (FSIAD) become DSM-5 disorders only “if the patient/client is in distress.” Thus, asexuality, unaccompanied by distress, is not a disorder.

Indeed, muses Bogaert, everyday sexuality—an occasional “form of madness”—might better qualify as a disorder, given its association “with extreme and risky behaviors along with impaired cognitive function.”