Asexual people find comfort in community

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      In high school, she felt isolated and alienated because everyone else was having sexual experiences that she wasn’t. She did things she didn’t feel comfortable with and pushed herself to be something she wasn’t, simply to fit in. Luckily for her, when she finally came out to her family, her parents were supportive.

      Although this description may sound like the formative experiences of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender person, it isn’t. Vancouver-based web developer Nicole Brown found that she is asexual, or someone who does not experience sexual attraction.

      After learning about the label in her first year of university, Brown, like many asexual people, felt the burden of confusion lift from her shoulders.

      “Upon discovering asexuality—the label, the community, and the resources and information and research that had been done into it—I immediately felt at ease, that I wasn’t broken, that I wasn’t missing something, I wasn’t defective in some way, shape, or form,” she said by phone. “And that’s how I had been feeling prior to being able to have a label that not just said you fit in with a community but also that basically nobody had told me growing up that there were other sexual orientations, period.”

      Brown, who became the webmaster of the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network, said the asexual community helped provide a safe space for her to explore her own identity. Vancouver now has the second-largest asexual meet-up group after London, England.

      Vancouver is also helping to lead the way with asexual research, which still remains limited. UBC Sexual Health Laboratory director Lori Brotto, who focuses on clients with sexual difficulties in her private practice, had not heard of asexuality in humans until 2006, when a psychiatrist in her clinic mentioned an asexuality group on the Internet. At that time, there was only one published study, from Britain, about the subject.

      Since then, the psychologist and associate professor has conducted eight studies of asexuality, ranging from sexual-arousal patterns to mental illness to biological markers. She told the Georgia Straight by phone that she shifted from thinking it was an extreme form of low-level desire to being convinced that it is likely a unique sexual orientation.

      Brotto asserted that asexuality is not a sexual dysfunction, and is neither a choice nor celibacy. She also stated that there are slightly higher rates of Asperger syndrome in asexuals “but really no indication of psychopathology or past trauma or abuse or PTSD or anything like that”.

      In an unpublished study she recently conducted, she showed asexual people erotic films and measured their genital responses. She discovered that they still respond, even if they don’t necessarily feel aroused.

      “So it suggests to us that it’s not that they’ve become asexual because their bodies are not capable of responding,” she said.

      What might be surprising to those unfamiliar with asexuality is that some asexual people do masturbate. But it’s not for the same reasons that sexual people do.

      “They said it’s sort of like scratching an itch or it can be a means of getting to sleep or relieving tension or cleaning out the plumbing, what have you,” Brotto said. “They do not say that it’s a product of their sexual desire or because they’re in the mood or that it leads them to then want to have sex or be sexual.”

      Another interesting facet of asexuality is that some asexual people form emotionally romantic bonds (and identify as heteroromantic, homoromantic, or biromantic) while others don’t (aromantic).

      “The developmental process in our brain of romantic attraction occurs separately from the development of sexual attraction,” Brotto explained.

      Brotto pointed out that because asexual people experience stigmatization, discrimination, and marginalization, like LGBT people, they are also susceptible to mental-health issues due to the pressures of living in a heteronormative world.

      Brown said asexuals don’t experience the same level of hatred or malice that many LGBT people do, but a lack of understanding of asexuality does fuel prejudices.

      “There are always the questions, ‘Well, haven’t you tried it?’ and ‘What’s wrong with you that you want to identify that way?’ or, like, ‘You’re less of a human because you don’t share this genuine human experience.’ ”

      Brotto said she supports efforts to include asexual people in LGBT communities, as it helps to alleviate distress and loneliness.

      Qmunity executive director Dara Parker said by phone that her organization does include asexuality as part of the queer spectrum. Although it doesn’t have any asexual-specific programming, it tries “to include asexual folks within all of the programming that we offer”, for instance by reminding everyone that some people aren’t sexually attracted to anyone.

      One of Brown’s biggest goals is to ensure that future generations know that there is more to life than just being straight. “I want to see kids being taught sex ed in a way that is presenting all facts to children so they can grow up and know that there are more sexual orientations out there rather than just heterosexual, that it’s not just, ‘You are straight or you are broken.’ ”

      In spite of numerous differences between people, Brown said, figuring out who we are is one thing we all share. “It’s a human experience that we all go through: self-identity and the struggle to understand the self. I don’t think this is unique to the queer community, nor do I think it is unique to asexual individuals.”

      Comments

      18 Comments

      zarg

      Aug 1, 2013 at 1:39pm

      humans are individuals... I don't think there is such a thing as straight, gay, or asexual, just boxes folks like to call themselves

      0 0Rating: 0

      Katherine

      Aug 2, 2013 at 3:02am

      I get your comment Zarg- but saying that is like saying "there is no such thing as black people- we're all people"... the issue with that is you erase the pain, triumph, and stories that come with the label. By saying there is no such thing- It comes from a place of privilege that can wipe out an entire history... Lesbianism exists for me because I have fought my life battling to be seen and heard.

      Ben Sili

      Aug 2, 2013 at 9:37am

      I took a portion of your text and replaced "sexual" by "drinking":

      "What might be surprising to those unfamiliar with adrinkingness is that some adrinking people do get plastered. But it’s not for the same reasons that drinking people do.
      “They said it’s sort of like scratching an itch or it can be a means of getting to sleep or relieving tension or cleaning out the plumbing, what have you,” Brotto said. “They do not say that it’s a product of their drinking desire or because they’re in the mood or that it leads them to then want to have a drink or be drunk.”

      Really, once applied to another situation your text makes no sense and comes out as a comical justification for anything!

      Nicole Brown

      Aug 2, 2013 at 10:31am

      Hi Ben!

      I'm not sure what you're trying to prove with that statement, because I can clearly see that, if I were to switch "sexual" to "banana", it would also make zero sense. I get the point though; you don't think asexuality exists or you think that it's some sort of label to hide behind. Perhaps I can give you a better analogy, so that you can understand my perspective better.

      You have participated in activities you didn't enjoy, yes? Say you met the perfect partner, and, lo and behold, they like to do something that you really don't care for. Perhaps they like the Toronto Maple Leafs and you just can't stand them. But, you love your partner. You support them, and it makes you happy when you make them happy. So, they get tickets to the playoffs to root for the Leafs, and with the Canucks out early on, you decide, sure, you'll go with them. You'll sit in the stands, you'll buy a beer, and, hell, maybe you'll even cheer if they score. But doing that doesn't mean that, all of a sudden, you love the Leafs and are forever their new biggest fan. You participated in an event for something other than the event; you were there for the partner you love, not the hockey team you hate.

      For asexual people, sex is that hockey game. The event they would rather not participate in, but do so for the benefit of someone or something else.

      Perhaps that analogy helps clarify the issue for you!

      Best,
      Cole

      Craig Takeuchi

      Aug 2, 2013 at 11:10am

      Ben: Your comparison is amiss because drinking alcohol is not equivalent to the biological function of sex. Drinking alcohol is optional. Asexual people don't choose to be asexual.
      It wouldn't even quite be equivalent to thirst or hunger because failure to fulfill those drives would result in physical depletion.

      Ben Sili

      Aug 2, 2013 at 11:17am

      Nicole, I appreciate your viewpoint and honestly we've all been more or less in similar situations yet without feeling the need to have it defined as a special category.
      Besides my post wished to expose the writing of articles that are so far immersed in their advocacy that they do not take a step back to appreciate the rationality of their arguments, using irony as a powerful rhetorical tool.

      Ben Sili

      Aug 2, 2013 at 11:53am

      Hi Craig, how about that one:

      "In an unpublished study she recently conducted, she showed asexual people erotic films and measured their genital responses. She discovered that they still respond, even if they don’t necessarily feel aroused."

      Wiki definition: "Arousal is a physiological and psychological state of being awake or reactive to
      stimuli."
      So fact is they are reactive to stimuli of sexual nature. The rest is denaturing the word "arousal" of its meaning, attributing a narrow definition that can later on be subverted. Simply put: creating a straw man.

      Craig Takeuchi

      Aug 2, 2013 at 12:08pm

      Ben: Dr. Brotto explained that the purpose of the study was to determine whether or not there was a biological problem with their genitals, which there was not. She said that in previous studies, women have shown to have arousal while watching sexual content, even if it isn't their preferred stimuli (such as straight, lesbian, gay male, etc.) and in spite of not feeling motivation to have sex.

      Perhaps you are overthinking the subject and losing perspective.

      Ben Sili

      Aug 2, 2013 at 12:30pm

      Thank you Craig for the precision about Dr. Brotto's research, however, regardless of the nature of sexual content, watching a film is a brain stimuli not a mechanical stimulation. Thus in no way can it determine if there was or not a problem with their genitals's physiology.

      Martin Dunphy

      Aug 2, 2013 at 12:53pm

      Ben:

      An area of study that you might want to look into is the propensity for some people to have the last word.