INTRODUCTION I. THE EMERGENCE OF ASEXUALITY A. Conceptual: The Fourth Sexual Orientation B. Clinical: Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder C. Empirical: The One Percent Who Wants No One D. Self-Identified Aces Find Themselves and Each Other II. MAPPING ASEXUAL IDENTITY A. Defining Asexuality as an Identity. Elements and Distinctions 1. Principal elements a. Lack of attraction b. Lack of choice 2. Key distinctions a. Distinguishing sex with oneself from sex with other people b. Distinguishing romance from sex and friendship c. Distinguishing aversion and indifference 3. Identity in relation 4. The problem of diversity 5. Responding to the skepticism B. Intersections: Comparing Identity Categories 1. Sexuality a. Homosexuality b. Bisexuality c. Polyamory d. No sexual orientation 2. Gender a. No gender b. Very gendered 3. Disability a. Disability as asexuality b. Asexuality as disability C. Models: Minoritizing, Universalizing, Novel, or Umbrella Category 1. Minoritizing 2. Universalizing 3. Something new a. Quantity axis b. Autoerotic axis c. Narcissism axis d. Romantic-attraction axis e. Orientation-object axis 4. An umbrella category of orientation III. ASEXUAL LAW AND OUR SEXUAL LAW A. Asexuality's Interactions with Law: An Analytic Framework B. Legal Requirements of Sexual Activity 1. Marriage law 2. Looking beyond conjugality in marriage and its alternatives C. Legal Exceptions to Shield Sexuality 1. The sex work debates 2. Marvin and nonmarital agreements D. Legal Protections from Others' Sexual Expression 1. Sexuality as legal architecture 2. Sexual harassment law E. Legal Protections for Sexual Identity 1. Asexuals enter state law: New York's Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act 2. Antidiscrimination protection: a normative assessment a. Discrimination against asexuals b. The stakes of recognition c. Legal implications: will there be any cases? d. The case for antidiscrimination protections 3. Prospects for change a. The criteria: a brief exposition b. The criteria applied to familiar categories c. Applying the criteria to asexuality: difficulties of fit d. The conditions for change CONCLUSION
I'm trying to imagine never being hungry, but still living in a world that's obsessed with food. I can imagine people saying "[H]ey, what did you think of the salmon?"
"[M]eh, it's okay, I don't really like food[.]"
"... [W]ait, you must mean you don't really like salmon ... [W]hat do you mean you don't like food?"
"[I] just ... [I] just don't see what's so great about food."
"[U]hh, it's delicious[.]"
"[S]ee, it's just not that appealing to me[.]" (1)
Asexuality is the middle child of the sexual orientation family, neglected until recently by both sexuality studies and progressive politics. In the last few years, though, those who "do not experience sexual attraction" (2) have inspired increasing research attention and subcultural affiliation. Asexuality has been featured on high-profile news and talk shows, (3) and spurred a popular documentary film, (A)sexual. (4) And the term has begun to enter our legal vocabulary: one state and several localities across the country protect against discrimination on the basis of "asexuality." (5)
What might our legal system look like through the eyes of someone who does not experience sexual attraction? And how might our social practices and expectations--our cultural laws--look to asexual eyes? Ours is arguably a sexual law, casting asexuals on the outside in a range of ways. (6) This Article considers our culture and laws through the lens of asexuality.
Asexuality has thus far received no attention in the legal literature. The Article therefore presents a careful examination of the emergence of asexuality as a conceptual and cultural phenomenon. It introduces the key terms and trends surrounding asexuality in the burgeoning community of self-identified asexuals, and then develops an understanding of the place of asexuality amidst our other identity categories and in the public imagination. Examining responses to asexuality, and the possible analogies to it, draws forth insights both about asexuality and about our broader culture.
In contrast to homosexuality, asexuality has not been expressly punished by the law. For this reason, asexuality may appear to have little connection to law. On the contrary, this Article identifies a broad range of legal intersections with asexuality. Most surprising is that one state--New York--and several localities include asexuality within their antidiscrimination laws. (7) There is a plausible argument for such protections, bolstered by a recent finding that asexuals face bias similar to, or greater than, that faced by homosexuals and bisexuals. (8) Nonetheless, there is a common intuition that asexuality is a poor fit with existing antidiscrimination law. (9) This Article therefore identifies eight criteria that track the degrees of protection accorded to different identity categories and considers asexuality in light of these criteria. Asexuality currently meets very few of the criteria, though this could change over time. (10)
The Article has three parts. Part I explains asexuality's emergence as an identity category through conceptual, clinical, empirical, and identity-based discourses. Part II then maps the rise of asexuality as an identity movement. It introduces asexuality's core definitional axes before examining its linkages with other identity categories, the responses it engenders in contemporary culture, and possible models for understanding it. Part III looks at our laws from the perspective of asexuality, outlining and applying a framework for analyzing asexuality's intersections with law. This Part concludes by identifying a plausible normative case for protecting asexuality under antidiscrimination law and by reflecting on what would need to happen for this protection to become widespread.
I. THE EMERGENCE OF ASEXUALITY The definition of asexuality is "someone who does not experience sexual attraction."
--Asexual Visibility & Education Network (AVEN) (11)
Asexuality emerged as an analytic category only recently. Four discourses shape its emergence: one conceptual, one clinical, one empirical, and one identity based. These discourses intersect and inform each other, but distinguishing them helps to illuminate diverse perspectives on this phenomenon. This Part therefore introduces asexuality by telling the story of its development as a category of analysis through these four contexts.
A. Conceptual: The Fourth Sexual Orientation
The identification of asexuality as a concept is generally attributed to the psychologist Michael D. Storms, whose 1980 article posited asexuality as a fourth sexual orientation, alongside homosexuality, heterosexuality, and bisexuality. (12) Storms challenged the Kinsey scale, which located subjects somewhere on a spectrum from exclusive heterosexual orientation (zero) to exclusive homosexual orientation (six). (13) "On Kinsey's unidimensional scale," as Storms aptly explained it, "an individual loses degrees of one orientation as he or she moves toward the opposite end of the scale; thus, bisexuals are seen as half heterosexual and half homosexual or a compromise somewhere between the two extremes." (14) By contrast, Storms proposed a two-dimensional model--portrayed in Figure 1--in which homoeroticism and heteroeroticism were separate axes, along which any person could have greater or lesser amounts of either, independent of the other.
Storms pointed out that his model overcame a problem that had hindered not only Kinsey's work, but also that of Masters and Johnson: the conflation of bisexuals and asexuals. (16)
Kinsey's work had revealed a substantial population of subjects--especially among unmarried females--who reported no desire for either men or women; however, Kinsey had largely ignored these subjects, labeling them "X." (17) (As a sign of the changing times, representatives of the Kinsey Institute now speak publicly in support of the plausibility of asexuality as a sexual orientation.) (18) Storms's 1980 study supported his theoretical model distinguishing bisexuals and asexuals by showing that the bisexuals in his study "actually reported just as much same-sex fantasy as homosexuals and just as much opposite-sex fantasy as heterosexuals." (19) Storms concluded that "these data are better described by a two-dimensional model in which homoeroticism and heteroeroticism are viewed as separate variables and in which bisexuality is defined as scoring high on both dimensions." (20) Although Storms's empirical project did not include asexuals, his theoretical model made a space for asexuals as those individuals who score low on both dimensions. (21) It is worth noting that, while Storms is often cited as initiating the study of asexuality, another scholar--Myra T. Johnson--had published an article more specifically about asexuality shortly before Storms published his. Johnson's article focused on asexuality in women, a point to which I return when discussing the gendered dimensions of asexuality in Part II. (22)
B. Clinical: Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder
Also in 1980, clinical psychology introduced its version of asexuality. (23) The third edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-III) included an entry for "Inhibited Sexual Desire," the title of which nicely captures the underlying clinical assumption that desire always exists, though pathologies may inhibit its expression. (24) In 1987, the revised DSM-III shifted to the terminology of "Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder" (HSDD), replacing the clinical assumption of "inhibition" with a term signaling variation from the norm, "hypoactive." (25) As presented in the DSM-IV--versions of which held strong for nearly two decades, from 1994 to 2013--the "essential feature" of HSDD is "a deficiency or absence of sexual fantasies and desire for sexual activity." (26) Notably, under the DSM-IV, the "disturbance must cause marked distress or interpersonal difficulty." (27)
HSDD is controversial in both feminist and asexual circles. Those who support the diagnosis make bold claims, such as this: "Hypoactive sexual desire disorder ... is a common sexual complaint affecting approximately 1 in 10 adult women in the USA and its prevalence appears to be similar in Europe (7%-16%) and Australia (16%)." (28) By contrast, critics contend that the research in this area is driven by the pharmaceutical industry and a conflation of contemporary discourses surrounding female sexuality and the "healthicization" of sex. (29) One historian notes that "[i]n earlier eras a woman had to worry that her sexual feelings were inappropriate and abnormal," whereas "[i]n the post-sexologist era a woman has had to worry that her lack of sexual feelings is inappropriate and abnormal, and she must hide problems such as asexuality or 'inhibited sexual response,' another modern construct.... In popular wisdom, sexual pleasure has become something of a medical necessity." (30) In the wry words of another scholar, "[T]he pharmaceutical industry alone could not make the diagnosis [of female HSDD] a wider concern if, for example, female sexuality were still generally taken as woman's duty to her spouse and nation." (31)
The overlap between clinical HSDD and self-identified asexuality is also contested. Research on asexuality provides a basis for distinguishing the two, because the feature of "distress" important to an HSDD diagnosis is absent in many self-identified asexuals. (32) Interestingly, researchers drawing this distinction have not emphasized that HSDD requires either "marked distress or interpersonal difficulty" (33) and therefore seems to leave room for diagnoses of HSDD even in the absence of distress in the asexual individual. (34) The changes in the DSM-V, (35) released in May 2013--which include the intriguing decision to create separate low-desire diagnoses for men and women (36)--take care of this, however, by changing the language to "clinically significant distress." (37) Most notably, after significant lobbying, (38) the DSM-V for the first time specifically names self-identified asexuality as a nonclinical alternative to a diagnosis of a desire disorder. (39)
C. Empirical: The One Percent Who Wants No One
The foundational empirical moment for asexuality came over two decades later. In 2004, social scientist Anthony Bogaert analyzed the data from a national probability sample of over 18,000 British residents and found that 1.05% of the subjects agreed with the statement, "I have never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all." (40) This rate was very similar to the rate of those with same-sex attractions (whether homosexual or bisexual), though further analysis revealed more gay and bi men than asexual men, and more asexual women than gay and bi women. (41) Later work by Bogaert and others has found different percentages of people reporting low or no attraction or desire--with some finding less than 1% and a few finding more than 1%--but this initial study by Bogaert retains its prominence as a large probability sample of people across a wide age span. (42)
Bogaert found that the 1% who had felt no sexual attraction--whom he called "asexuals"--had had fewer sexual partners, a later age of first sexual activity (if any), and less frequent sexual activity with others, the combination of which Bogaert found to offer "some validation of the concept of asexuality." (43) Though fewer asexuals than sexuals had current or past long-term relationships, a significant minority of the asexuals (33%) were currently married or cohabiting, and more still were involved in past or current long-term relationships (44%). (44) Bogaert also found the following demographic features of his asexual sample: asexuals were more likely to be female, older, of lower socioeconomic status, nonwhite, religious (in terms of attending religious services), less well-educated, shorter, and with a later age of menarche among the women. (45) (For men, age and race dropped out.) (46) Asexual people were also more likely to have adverse health issues, but this result was apparently linked to social class and education. (47)
The next significant study, by affiliates of the Kinsey Institute, targeted self-identified asexuals, and did not replicate several of Bogaert's key demographic findings. (48) For example, these authors found that self-identified asexuals were more likely to have a college degree than sexuals, and they found no significant difference in lifetime sexual partners or relationship status. (49) The latter finding may be due to their younger subject pool; (50) self-identified asexuals are, on average, rather young. (51) This study also found no significant difference in the sex/gender of the asexual population, (52) though subsequent studies have been more consistent with Bogaert's finding of more female asexuals, as I discuss later. (53) Interestingly, the Kinsey affiliates found that self-identified asexuals were more likely than sexuals to report both benefits and drawbacks of asexuality--though the latter finding is less surprising in light of the fact that a majority of the "drawbacks" suggested to subjects concerned difficult interactions with the (sexual) world. (54) Other research supports the anecdotal evidence that self-identified asexuals are not more likely to be religious than sexuals and that, instead, the contrary may be true. (55)
D. Self-Identified Aces Find Themselves and Each Other
Asexuality as an identity group emerged through Internet-based communities. (56) The most prominent of these is AVEN, the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network, which was founded by David Jay in 2001. (57) AVEN's membership has grown exponentially in the past decade--from 134 members in 2002, to 26,780 members in 2011, (58) to over 70,000 members in 2013. (59) What began as a "small page on [David Jay's] university account" has developed into a focal point for social and political organizing that reaches beyond the Internet to local meetings, workshops, and participation in LGBT pride marches. (60) AVEN is now only one of many websites dedicated to asexuality and asexuals. (61) The reasons for this growth at this particular moment in time are not clear, but what is clear is that substantial numbers of people now identify and organize themselves under the rubric of asexuality. (62)
Many asexuals--sometimes "aces" for short (63)--describe their discovery of AVEN as a revelation. Finding a community of asexuals was a watershed moment--a sign that they are not alone. (64) In some ways this is like gay people talking about finding gay bars, pornography, or people, and realizing there are others like them. (65) But there are unique reasons an online community might be especially important for asexuals. An identity characterized by a lack of attraction means that spontaneous encounters and venues won't arise through sexual desire--by definition, sexual attraction won't bring those without sexual attraction together. So the stories of asexual meetings are more likely to be mediated through the articulation of the identity per se, rather than through common activities. As one prominent asexual writer, who goes by Swankivy, says, "I personally have not accidentally met another asexual." (66) In light of growing numbers and increasing attention, asexuals may not be able to say this for much longer, however.
The next Part develops a richer account of identity-based asexuality, which intersects with the conceptual, empirical, and diagnostic discourses, and which is the most relevant to legal regulation, as Part III will address.
II. MAPPING ASEXUAL IDENTITY
If you're not having sex, what's there to talk about?
--Star Jones, speaking to David Jay, on The View (67)
The birth of asexuality as an identity category and social movement has not been addressed in the legal literature, although asexuality has begun to enter U.S. law. (68) The previous Part introduced asexuality by discussing four contexts for its emergence. This Part closely examines the last of these--the growing movement of self-identified asexuals--first through the elements of community self-definition, and then in relation to the sexual world and other prominent axes of identity. This analysis of asexual identity lays the groundwork for the legal questions addressed in Part III.
A. Defining Asexuality as an Identity: Elements and Distinctions This Subpart defines asexuality by identifying its important elements as well as the key distinctions that structure its internal diversity. Note that asexuals have defined everyone else as sexuals. In this way, the previously unmarked (and naturalized) category now has a name, little known though it is thus far.
1. Principal elements
The precise contours of asexual identity are not easy to establish. Those who identify as asexuals question the boundaries of the category, and a common theme is the "diversity of experience within the community." (69) But contemporary asexuality is generally defined by two related ideas: lack of sexual attraction and lack of choice.
a. Lack of attraction
First, asexual identity turns on the lack of attraction: "The definition of asexual is 'someone who does not experience sexual attraction.'" (70) Attraction is often distinguished from arousal (or desire); as one researcher put it, "If sexual desire or arousal were present, asexuals argued that they were not 'directed' at anyone." (71) How little attraction is enough to qualify for asexuality is ambiguous. Sometimes AVEN characterizes asexuality as if it involves zero attraction, as in the definition just quoted; sometimes, very little attraction suffices, as in this line from the same AVEN page: "This community is ... [for] people who share the common factor of having very little or absolutely no sexual attraction to other people." (72)
AVEN's information pages are quick to assure readers that "there is no hierarchy of asexuality." (73) But the need to broadcast this claim betrays the anxieties of authenticity that haunt this community. (74) A new member's question about whether most asexuals are "virgins" prompts many relativistic assertions about diversity, but also a few replies attributing false consciousness or excessive compromise to those who have sex. For instance, one member replied, "A lot are. But not all. I think some people try real hard to 'fit in' [in] this society, but are never really happy not being true to themselves." (75) This member implies that having sex with someone else would involve "not being true" to one-self--suggesting that, under one view, the true asexuals have no sexual urges involving other people, and so sex is a pure "compromise" or, in the terminology preferred by some, an "accommodation." (76)
b. Lack of choice
Second, self-identified asexuals understand asexuality to involve no choice about this lack of attraction. (77) "Celibacy is a choice to abstain from sexual activity. Asexuality is not a choice," an AVEN pamphlet reports, "but rather a sexual orientation." (78) The contrast with celibacy is frequently drawn. (79) The following comment, from a participant in a 2008 study, is typical: "I don't desire sex, so I am asexual. I am not celibate, as this implies a desire for sex that is repressed." (80) An important idea among asexuals is that they are not resisting their desires. Unlike many people who choose celibacy--whether for personal, emotional, or religious reasons--asexuals have not decided to avoid sex despite sexual attraction. They simply do not feel attracted to other people. Note that some asexuals choose to have sex, despite not wanting it, typically because it is important to a partner (as sexuals also choose to do sometimes). (81) Thus, for asexuals, it is a choice whether to do sex, but it is not a choice whether to want sex. (82)
Choice is therefore a key axis in the discourse on asexuality. However, the "not a choice" discourse here operates somewhat differently than in the discourse about homosexuality. (83) In the context of homosexuality, gays (sometimes) want to say that gayness isn't a choice, because anti-gay moralism thinks that the "choice" of gayness is immoral. (84) Gays (sometimes) say, in response, that their indulgence in (what some think is) immoral sexual activity is natural for them and therefore unavoidable. By contrast, rather than making immoral choices, asexuals appear to be aligned with the supermoral celibates who choose not to have sex. Asexuals feel misunderstood by this characterization, with many defending the rights of other people to have whatever sex they like, and defending themselves against charges of repression or prudishness. (85) Like some homosexuals, asexuals typically assert that their "sexual orientation" is an essential identity, not a choice. But unlike homosexuals, asexuals argue against an implied accusation of hypermorality rather than against charges of immorality.
2. Key distinctions
Three distinctions also help to illuminate the category of asexuality: sex with self versus sex with others, romantic versus aromantic, and sex-averse versus sex-indifferent.
a. Distinguishing sex with oneself from sex with other people
Lack of sexual attraction is importantly distinguished from lack of sexual activity. Some self-identified asexuals are sexually active, whether with themselves or with others, and some are not. (86) One recent study found that the rates of masturbation among asexuals were not much different than the rates in the non-asexual population, (87) although other research has found substantially lower rates of masturbation among asexuals. (88) Whatever the precise numbers, it is clear that some, though not all, (89) self-identified asexuals masturbate. (90)
Various writers have observed, however, that asexuals often talk about masturbation in ways that are highly clinical or mechanical, using metaphors like "clean[ing] out the plumbing." (91) "Physical" urges are distinguished from erotic attraction. For instance, these questions about masturbation posted on AVEN--"Do asexuals masturbate? Do they want to?"--engender replies like, "Sure, many do. Most seem to do it for a physical need, or like I do, to sleep"; (92) or "I have no sexual urges or sexual needs. Some asexual people feel physical 'urges' and some don't. I don't." (93) On the one hand, one might ask how robust this tonal distinction between sexuals and asexuals is; in other words, how erotic is the language that sexual people use to describe masturbation? (94) On the other hand, some descriptions of masturbation by asexuals would be more surprising among sexuals; for instance, one AVEN member writes, "Yes, I masturbate ... but my mind is blank when I do so. No hot guys or girls or anything in there...." (95)
b. Distinguishing romance from sex and friendship
Asexuals divide themselves into the subtypes of romantic and aromantic. Some asexuals feel romantic attractions, fall in love, and pursue romantic relationships; (96) some do not. (97) (Some also have sexual relationships, but cast in the language of compromise or accommodation rather than desire, as noted earlier.) (98) Romantic asexuals often identify themselves by the sex/gender of those they (romantically) desire--gay, straight, bisexual, or pansexual--and in the language of "romantic orientation"--as in a "heteroromantic orientation." (99) The axis of romantic versus aromantic is an important one among self-identified asexuals.
This axis of identity raises the question of what distinguishes romance from sex, on the one hand, or from friendship, on the other. As to what counts as sex, one scholar thinks that asexuals have an unusually narrow idea of sex. (100) There is something to this. A broad definition of sex would presumably include masturbation, which asexuals generally do not consider sex, and which many engage in, as discussed above. (101) Moreover, many asexuals explicitly embrace a traditional definition of sex as requiring penetration. In theory, some asexuals might identify as asexual because they define sex narrowly. But it seems more likely that many asexuals define sex narrowly because they understand themselves to be asexual. That is, because they are not very interested in sex and its details, they choose the prevailing cultural definition of "sex"--which still seems to be vaginal or anal penetration. (102) Other asexuals take a broader definition, however. (103)
On the other hand, what distinguishes romance from friendship? One asexual answered this question with another question: "What is the difference between a romantic sexual partner and a friend with benefits?" (104) This rhetorical question draws an analogy to the sexual world, offering only the answer to both that,
They're not the same. Romance and friendship just feel qualitatively different, even without involving sexual attraction. The difference between an asexual romance and a friendship is in the type of attraction experienced. This can also translate to behaviour like wanting to give and receive hugs, kisses, cuddles, etc.--many asexuals enjoy physical, non-sexual closeness whether they are romantic or aromantic. And no, sex is not necessary for romance. (105)
As this passage suggests, the question of the difference between friendship and romance appears no easier to answer in the asexual world than in the sexual one. But the asexual context sets the question more starkly into relief, inspiring innovative and interesting thinking. For example, David Jay recently wrote a powerful short essay arguing that we need a more robust vocabulary for distinguishing types of nonsexual touch. (106)
c. Distinguishing aversion and indifference
Asexuality is a capacious category, encompassing many varieties, as indicated by the foregoing. A further distinction, which will prove important to the discussion of law in the next Part, concerns an asexual individual's attitude to sex, whether averse or indifferent.
Some self-identified asexuals report feeling highly averse to--"repulsed" by--the idea of sex. As one site puts it, "Repulsed is a term used by some asexual individuals to indicate that they find sex disgusting or revolting, as in, 'I'm a repulsed asexual' or simply 'I'm repulsed."' (107) Repulsion can be a reaction only to "the idea of engaging in sex" or instead to "sex in general." (108) In an example of the latter, one asexual writes, "I'm repulsed by it, so much so that I feel physically sick when I see a couple kissing." (109)
As with gay men and lesbians--some of whom are indifferent to, rather than repulsed by, straight sex (110)--many asexuals are indifferent to sex. The following quotations are representative: "I'm not disgusted at the thought of sex, I just don't have any desire to engage in it myself. Just like I have no desire to engage in mountain climbing or bungee jumping. I'm not disgusted at the thought of those activities though." (111) Or, "I'm pretty familiar with sex and kinks, it'd take some hard work to gross me out, and I could (and did) have sex ... but it just doesn't do anything for me, and I don't experience sexual attraction in the first place anyway. I guess sex is just like cars in my book...." (112) Like aversion, indifference can refer either to having sex oneself or to the idea of sex more generally. (113)
Some have suggested this distinction should be understood as a spectrum, rather than as a binary. (114) Expanding the analysis further, one researcher proposes four categories of asexual attitudes to sex, rather than two, to cleave apart the options and to recognize their breadth: sex-positive ("endors[ing] sex [for others], ... without experiencing sexual desire or seeking to engage in it"), sex-neutral (being "simply uninterested in sex"), sex-averse (feeling that "the idea of [personally having] sex, let alone the actual practice of it" is, at best, "mildly uncomfortable" or, at worst, "disgusting and deeply distressing"), and anti-sex (evincing a more "generalized response to sex," even for others to engage in, as "deeply problematic"). (115) These distinctions are helpful analytically; however, the trend within the self-identified asexual community is more toward indifference or neutrality than aversion or negativity. (116)
3. Identity in relation
I was twenty-six when I learned I was very tall. For most of my life I had been considered normal height. But at twenty-six, suddenly, strangers in elevators began leaning toward me conspiratorially and asking, "How tall are you anyway?" as if we'd been having a conversation on the subject....
What had happened was that I'd started being read by others "as a woman."
In many ways I imagine what happened to me is not so much different from what happens to many teenagers once their bodies hit puberty and are seized by the cultural machine.
--Riki Ann Wilchins (117)
Asexuality is importantly shaped by its position on the outside of a sexual society. This interplay has implications both for our understanding of the identity and experience of asexuality, and for our understanding of the contours of the broader culture. This Subpart analyzes that interaction, laying the groundwork to examine intersections and analogies with other identity categories that have some overlap with asexuality.
For many self-identified asexuals, puberty was a critical developmental moment. The particular importance of that period for aces is less about their own physical changes, though, than about other people's emotional and behavioral changes. "I realized I was asexual about the same time I realized I was short, when I was about 15," said one female asexual, who is five foot one; "I realized I was short when everyone grew taller than me, and I realized I didn't have sexual feelings when everyone else started expressing and experimenting with theirs." (118)
Asexuality as an identity need not involve distress, as discussed earlier, (119) but some degree of friction seems to characterize asexuals' interactions with a sexual culture. Many asexuals lament the constant barrage of diagnoses they receive whenever they disclose their asexuality. (120) Most prominently, Swankivy, who was mentioned earlier, made a name for herself with what she calls the "Asexuality Top Ten." (121) This list of the "top ten most common misconceptions" about asexuals nicely captures the typical interpellations, at least of a female asexual (122):
10) "You hate men."
9) "You can't get a man."
8) "You have a hormone problem."
7) "You're overly involved in your busy life."
6) "You just never had me in your bed."
5) "You are afraid of getting into a relationship."
4) "You were sexually abused as a child."
3) "You are a lesbian."
2) "You just haven't met the right guy."
1) "You just got out of a bad relationship."
Honorable Mentions [include] "You must be religious." (123)
Each item links to a set of responses to the particular accusation. The list has multiple purposes: Swankivy explicitly aims to educate "sexuals" who do not understand asexuality, but also to "help others in similar situations understand that asexuality isn't an illness and they are not alone." (124) In this way, the list serves a community- and identity-building function among asexuals, through humor and indignation about a common set of interactions with the surrounding sexual world.
Comments like those on Swankivy's list plague many asexuals. (125) For example, in the recent documentary (A)sexual, David Jay confronts a series of questions and challenges at the asexual community's first time participating in an LGBT pride march. (126) These responses include simple disbelief from one person, "But you do eventually? ... never ever?"; a guy who asks for Jay's number and whose friends remark, as Jay walks away, "He's a Christian"; and finally, one person who says with real feeling, "I pity your poor soul." (127) Appearing as a talking head in the film, sex columnist Dan Savage describes asexuals' marching in the pride parade as "hilarious"; (128) he observes,
I know from giving people advice about their sex lives for eighteen years that there's a lot of people that are deeply conflicted about their desires and really conflicted about their sexual orientations and for a lot of these people it'd be easier to just not have a sexual orientation ... and to say that "I'm just asexual." (129)
Disbelief is the usual way to describe the response to asexuality, (130) but the demand for explanation may be a more apt characterization of the typical response. Many people may be perfectly prepared to believe that asexuals exist; openness to the diversity of human experience may eliminate surprise at any new identity claim that emerges. But, implicitly or explicitly, they may nonetheless want more of an explanation for asexuality than they would expect for other identities. (131)
4. The problem of diversity
These kinds of comments are a source of great frustration to self-identified asexuals, but they also raise a real issue. There are many reasons that someone might identify as asexual. (132) Some asexuals claim their asexuality is "hardwired." (133) Others surely identify as asexual on their way to some other identity, or because they are struggling with their sexuality due to negative experiences or repressive influences. (134) As one asexual put it in an interview:
I think there are some people who identify themselves as asexual who have a fear of sex, who may have had something traumatic in their past that's put them off. I'm not denying that they may make up a proportion of the asexual population, but I do think there's many who are also physiologically different, wired not to be attracted to other people. (135)
Acknowledging the prospect of multiple paths to asexuality, as this individual does, is relatively unusual in asexual community forums. The conflicted types are a particular challenge for the asexual community, since they seem to confirm the assumptions that the sexual world typically has about asexuals. Note that it is hard even to call these assumptions "stereotypes" since that term suggests a category that people use to organize the world; asexual is not a widely recognized category yet, so many outsiders' responses to an asexual are the reaction to a first encounter, rather than a developed stereotype about the group. (136)
Thus, while AVEN explicitly embraces a diverse community, as noted earlier, the website also tries to draw some lines. (137) For instance, the site's "Frequently Asked Questions" page explains, "If you're turned on by other people then you don't fit the definition. Asexuality is about lack of attraction to other people, not about lack of activity." (138) Although many identity groups struggle with their boundaries, the diversity covered by the label asexual presents particular difficulties because, for many asexuals, explaining themselves in response to widespread disbelief is a defining issue.
5. Responding to the skepticism
How might one respond to the disbelief in asexuality? Possible responses set into relief the assumptions of our sexual world, as the following examples illustrate.
Other Hobby Horses. The epigraph that began this Article compared asexuality to a lack of interest in food, but perhaps the better analogy is indifference to a particular food. (139) We generally recognize that individuals have different affinities for various activities and foods. Perhaps it helps, then, to think of sex as a kind of hobby or taste that appeals to some and not to others. For instance, one asexual writes, "Personally, it doesn't puzzle me why sexuals want/enjoy sex--it's just not for me. Similarly I can appreciate why people play golf or go fishing, but they're not for me either." (140) Is there really anything else, other than sex, that we are so inclined to believe that everyone wants? (141)
Hypothetical Universes. Imagine living in a world where everyone was obsessed with some form of physical interaction that you find decidedly unappealing or baffling--reaching inside each other's noses, for example. (142)
Attraction Lacunae. People who are not bisexual ("monosexuals" (143)) presumably have a way to relate to asexuality, since they are not attracted to half the population. (144) Combining this fact with the hypothetical universes approach, we could ask gays and straights to imagine that the whole world was made up only of the sex they didn't desire. (145) Even those who aren't pure monosexuals can find a similar way to relate: Surely everyone can think of at least one person to whom he or she is not sexually attracted. What if the world were filled with people like that?
Happy Communities. The previous three answers focus on convincing the sexual outsider that asexuals actually exist. Even if successful, these approaches may leave the outsider with a no less pathologizing, pitying, or at least unhappy view of asexuality. Thus, the approach taken by David Jay tends to focus instead on the potential for intimacy and happiness in nonsexual relationships and, especially, among asexuals. (146)
Historical Analogies. Many of the comments made to asexuals are reminiscent of what gay men and lesbians used to hear when they came out. (147) This brings us to the next Subpart.
B. Intersections: Comparing Identity Categories
Asexuality has a set of intriguing intersections with other identity categories. These relationships between identities open up questions about how to think about asexuality and also how to think about these other categories. This Subpart examines the interplay between asexuality and the categories of sexuality, gender, and disability.
Gay identity discourse provides key language and models for asexuality, as it has done for other sexual identities. Aces speak of "coming out" about their asexuality, and about the significance of finding other people like them and forming communities. (148) Psychologists explicitly draw on models of identity development for homosexuality to examine the formation of asexual identity. (149) Whether asexual identity is a "queer" identity is another topic for debate within asexual circles. (150)
Moreover, as noted above, many of the common responses to asexuality sound familiar: they sound like comments made to gay people not too long ago (or still in some places). For instance, recall Swankivy's "Asexuality Top Ten." (151) Or as one reporter writing about asexuality put it, "[I]sn't that how people thought about homosexuality 100 years ago, that they could pinpoint the reason as to why it existed?" (152) Of course one striking difference between the responses to homosexuality and asexuality is the violence of the state's reaction, a topic to which we'll return in Part III.
In some ways, though, a closer analogy than homosexuality is bisexuality. From one perspective, bisexuality is the opposite of asexuality, in the sense that a bisexual could potentially be attracted to anyone, and an asexual is sexually attracted to no one. From another perspective, though, both bisexuality and asexuality lie outside the cultural norm of "monosexuality" (desiring one sex). Many of the common assumptions about asexuals--for instance, that they just haven't come out as gay yet, that they are in denial, or that they just haven't met the right person yet--echo those made about bisexuals. A prominent theme in scholarly writing about bisexuality has been its erasure. (153) Kenji Yoshino has argued that both gays and straights (that is, monosexuals) have an interest in erasing bisexuality, because of their shared interests in "the stability of sexual orientation categories," "the primacy of sex as a diacritical axis," and "the preservation of monogamy." (154) To help support the argument that monosexuals erase bisexuality, Yoshino points to the vast disparity between the lesser presence of bisexuality in the mainstream media (compared to homosexuality) and the greater percentage of bisexuals in the population (compared to homosexuals). (155)
Relatedly, we might compare the number of people who exhibit asexual feelings with the percentage of people who identify as asexual. (156) Think here of Bogaert's one percent--the people who say "I have never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all" (157)--compared with the small number of people who identify as asexual--which hasn't been studied on a large scale but is suggested anecdotally by how few people have heard of asexuality much less met someone who so identifies. (158) This is all the more striking since the percentage of people in Bogaert's original study who reported feeling no attractions was very similar to the percentage of those with same-sex attractions. (159)
There is another link between asexuality and bisexuality: though the data are far from definitive, early studies seem to suggest that a disproportionate number of asexuals identify as bisexual--or, rather, biromantic--in their romantic attractions. (160) "Bi-asexual" and "biromantic asexual" are terms for the combined identities (as distinguished from people who are sometimes asexual and sometimes not, who are instead labeled "gray-A" (161)). Some asexuals observe that it would make sense if romantic asexuals were often "bi" "[s]ince sexual attraction is not a factor," (162) or as one subject who so identified put it, "[t]he things I find attractive, I find attractive in both sexes." (163) Note that this perspective seems to depend on the assumption that bisexuality means not caring about sex/gender; however, some bisexuals report feeling decidedly gendered desires for men and for women. (164)
Polyamory--the term for multiparty sexual, loving relationships (distinct from traditional polygamy) (165)--might also seem to be the opposite of asexuality. Whereas polyamorists (polys) typically want more sex with more people than is usual, asexuals want less sex with fewer people than is usual. Interestingly, though, the two identities overlap at some points.
According to David Jay, sexual people who identify as highly sex-positive, after overcoming their initial skepticism about asexuality, often end up the strongest allies and supporters of asexuals. (166) This might seem surprising, until one considers the common interests at stake. For starters, aces and polys have a shared interest in relationship forms other than monogamous sexual pair-bonds. These may include complicated networks of relationships, some of which have specific names in the poly community, such as "vee" and "triad." (167) Moreover, many asexuals share with polyamorists and other sex-positive thinkers a deep commitment to freedom of individual variation from the dominant expectations of asexual culture. These affinities can be seen vividly in two moments in the documentary (A)sexual. In one, David Jay rollerblades through the San Francisco Pride Parade shouting to bystanders, "I love that you love sex!" (168) In another, a polyamorist comments about Jay, "We want the freedom to say yes as much as possible, and he wants the freedom to say no as much as possible. It's pretty much the same thing." (169) Saying "yes" and saying "no" to sex are far from the same thing. (Consider the role of consent in each context, for starters.) The differences make it all the more striking, then, that some polys could see the two identities as aligned.
d. No sexual orientation
Asexuality bears some resemblance to a variety of sexual orientations (and models (170)), but one could also view it as challenging the whole idea of sexual orientation. (171) We will consider this view in the discussion of models for understanding asexuality at the end of this Part. (172)
a. No gender
Some work suggests that asexuals may be more likely to resist gender identity labels. One of the larger empirical studies to date made gender self-identification as "male" or "female" a threshold question for inclusion in the study, and a surprising number of people (27 out of 214) declined to answer the question and were therefore excluded from the analysis. (173) Tacitly acknowledging their oversight, the authors speculate that respondents may have "deliberately left this item blank because they did not label themselves exclusively as male or female (i.e., agendered, gender queer, homoaesthete asexual, panasexual gender-free, gender-fluid girl born with an outie) or perhaps they identified equally as male and female." (174)
There are several reasons asexuality could be correlated with a refusal to identify with the male/female sex binary. First, and most obviously, asexuality may lead to gender noncomformity. As one scholar put it, "[i]t is possible that sexual attractiveness standards govern gender presentations and behaviors, and that without the desire to attract a sexual partner, asexual people may have more freedom to explore their own genders." (175) This passage seems to assume a precultural multiplicity of gender identities, such that the genders asexuals claim are "their own." One wouldn't need to make such a contentious claim in order to surmise that, in the absence of sexual attractions, people might be interested in exploring a wider range of gendered and genderless identities. This view would be consistent with classic work in gender theory that identifies the categories of male and female as deeply bound up with their uses in heterosexuality. (176)
Second, gender noncomformity may lead to, or otherwise influence, self-identification as asexual. One scholar claims that "there exist (historical) pressures on transsexual people to be 'asexual' pre-transition in order to access medical services, with the implicit expectation that the treatment will lead to their becoming (hetero/sexual) people." (177) In addition, in a world organized around sexual orientation defined by whether one desires males or females, trans and intersex people may be treated by many as less sexual beings, and this could back form into some degree of asexuality. (178) Finally, and relatedly, being trans or intersex might well matter less for finding partners in an asexual community, notwithstanding the sex- and gender-specific romantic attractions expressed by some asexuals.
b. Very gendered
Alternatively, we might conclude that asexuality is a highly gendered phenomenon. (179) Some, though not all, studies suggest that more women than men are asexual. (180) The study by the Kinsey affiliates did not find a significant gender difference between asexuals and sexuals. (181) But the original Bogaert study found that, while 1% of people in general were asexual, further analysis revealed more gay and bisexual men than asexual men, and more asexual women than gay and bisexual women, as noted earlier. (182) Brotto and Scherrer both had more female asexual subjects in their studies. (183) And an AVEN study conducted in 2007 found that approximately 65% of subjects identified as female, 31% identified as male, and 4% opted for "intersexed" or "transsexual." (184)
Participants on the AVEN website ponder why more women so identify. (185) One theory is that more women than men feel comfortable identifying as asexual. (186) Indeed, some posts seem keen to supply cultural explanations such as this--as opposed to concluding that more women actually lack sexual attraction--but I have not seen any empirical work exploring this question. Scholarly theories include, for example, that women are generally more receptive than proceptive in their desires, so an understanding of sexual identity organized around "attraction" is less of a fit for them. (187)
Of course, the gender divide among asexuals overlaps with a broader cultural presumption that men want more sex than women do. (188) The stereotype of women's lower level of desire--"Not tonight, honey, I have a headache"--was captured vividly in the classic scene from Annie Hall, where the couple Alvy and Annie are seeing their therapists at the same time on a split screen:
Alvy Singer's Therapist: How often do you sleep together?
Annie Hall's Therapist: Do you have sex often?
Alvy Singer: [lamenting] Hardly ever. Maybe three times a week.
Annie Hall: [annoyed] Constantly. I'd say three times a week. (189)
The male and female partners report the same amount of sex, but with a completely different affective sense of its frequency. (190) The idea that male and female sexual desires--or at least a lack thereof--differ substantially is implicitly endorsed by the proposed DSM-V, which creates separate diagnostic categories for low desire in women as opposed to in men, as noted in Part I. (191)
If more women than men are asexual, what does that mean for how we view asexuality as a cultural phenomenon? Historically, such a difference might help to account for asexuality's relatively recent emergence as an identity category receiving (even limited) recognition. Perhaps no one took note of asexuality until men did it--that is, until men claimed it as an identity. (192) As noted earlier, Michael Storms's article tends to be cited as the first scholarly work on asexuality, although Myra Johnson's article, Asexual and Autoerotic Women, preceded it. (193) The fact that Johnson was a woman writing about women may have rendered her work on asexuality relatively unremarkable to many--though the content of her argument certainly warrants remark.
Johnson offers an account of the ways that female asexuality has been denigrated--as "'ascetic,' 'neurotic,' 'unliberated,' or 'politically conscious"' (194)--and concludes that the "sexual preferences [of female asexuals] are explained away in the rhetoric of whatever sexual ideology seems currently to be in vogue." (196) Ultimately, Johnson is critical of political pressures on female sexuality and female asexuality:
A consensus which praises women who do not have sex with men as politically conscious might alleviate the oppression of traditionally assigned female functions, but would probably create new oppressive functions. The woman who still wants to have sex with men might function as "scapegoat" and the woman who feels asexual or autosexual might function as a political symbol--her identity still lost in the slogans, and her reality going unnoticed. (196)
Evincing a related concern for the sexual pressures placed on girls, one scholar has asked whether asexuality might be a boon for some: "[w]hat kinds of resistance do people face related to their asexuality and what kinds of protection might their asexuality afford them (e.g., do asexual/potential-asexual adolescent girls, like adolescent lesbians, show a smaller developmental drop in self-esteem than heterosexual girls)?" (197)
a. Disability as asexuality
Various writing about disability laments the desexualization of disabled people. (198) The prism of asexuality has recently brought an important critique to bear on this disability scholarship, by pointing out its tendency to cast asexuality in highly negative terms. (199) Eunjung Kim has written the most thorough study of the subject thus far, drawing on provocative and powerful writing by several disabled people who affirmatively claim their asexuality. (200)
b. Asexuality as disability
A lack of interest in sex can also be caused by any number of physical conditions and illnesses, which the AVEN website acknowledges, urging people to explore this possibility if their sexual desire has recently dropped. (201) There are also some interesting potential intersections between asexuality and autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). (202) More work is needed in this area, both to assess and understand any connections and to examine the attitudinal implications for both aces and aspies (203) (and others with ASDs).
In a kind of mirror image of the "disability as asexuality" discussion just above, the writing about asexuality often casts disability in a negative light. As noted earlier, the clinical diagnosis most closely associated with asexuality--Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder--has been highly controversial and much criticized for pathologizing female patterns of desire that don't satisfy male partners. (204) Asexuals tend to be keen to distinguish their identity from this clinical diagnosis of mental disability.
C. Models: Minoritizing, Universalizing, Novel, or Umbrella Category
Asexuality might be understood using any one of several existing models of sexual orientation, or it might lead to entirely different models for thinking about sexuality. This Subpart briefly sketches several such possibilities, before Part III turns to the law's relation to asexuality.
Some of the discourse in this area suggests that there is a distinct minority of individuals characterized by their lack of sexual attraction to others. (205) Storms's model posited asexuality as a fourth sexual orientation, akin to heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality. (206) Asexuals often say or imply that they have always been this way, that they were hardwired asexual. (207) This "nature talk" is reminiscent of gays who want to find the gay gene, (208) and of other sexual minorities who piggyback on this narrative of essential identity. (209) Researchers in this area report on the eagerness of asexuals to participate in research studies; (210) study participants presumably surmise that research validation will help to make asexuality "a thing" that the rest of the culture believes in. (211)
There is a big secret about sex: most people don't like it.
--Leo Bersani (212)
By contrast to a minoritizing conception of an identity, a universalizing conception of an identity posits that the category is substantially important in the lives of many people, even those who do not identify with the sexual minority. (213) Is there universal asexuality? Bersani would tell us that "most people don't like" sex--that that is the truth we're all hiding from. For many people, a strong form of this claim is simply implausible. But a much milder version of a universalizing account might have something to it. Some work suggests that many people go through more or less sexual phases of their lives, and even of their days. (214) Moreover, it seems plausible to think that everyone---or, to be safe, let us say nearly everyone--has at some point felt a lack of sexual attraction. And sometimes that lack of attraction has had painful consequences: it might have hurt someone else's feelings, damaged or ended a valued relationship, or made a person unable to partner with a highly compatible friend. Struggling against this unwanted lack of attraction, individuals might have engaged in what Thea Cacchioni calls "the labour of love"--or, more tendentiously, "sex work"--to try to bolster their attraction to another. (215)
In this context, a universalizing model might lead us to ask whether the common disbelief or skepticism in response to asexuality could be defensive. I have argued elsewhere that a "paradox of prevalence" contributes to the negative reactions to polyamory. (216) Mainstream culture seems to resist--typically through laughter or disgust--the very idea of polyamory, not so much because mainstream people really feel so far away from polyamory but because they feel so close to it. That is, monogamy is already so plagued by its failures that people who aspire to monogamy are anxious that they (or their partners) might be or become polyamorists. Could something similar be true for asexuality? Possibly. Perhaps some of the laughter ("hilarious," says Dan Savage (217)) and aggressive erasure (I know better than you: You're really gay! Or really just repressed! (218)) that arises in response to the topic of asexuality is partly, or at least sometimes, motivated by people's anxieties about their own moments of past, present, or future lack of attraction, or a partner's, or both.
Could a paradox of prevalence really characterize the responses to both asexuality and polyamory? Perhaps so. If our quantity of attraction--whether too much or too little--is an underappreciated feature of our (sexual or asexual) selves, then anxieties surrounding it might be driving us to alienate those who have gone too far, or too openly, in either direction. (219) This brings us to the possibility of novel axes, beginning with quantity.
3. Something new
The newly claimed identity of asexuality invites us to imagine some new ways to think about sexuality, identity, and ourselves. (220)
a. Quantity axis
The most obvious axis that asexuality forces us to examine more closely, as I have just been discussing, is the axis of quantity. How much sex does a particular person want, compared to another, or compared to the norm? Recall that the early sexual orientation studies were so oblivious to quantity as an axis of sexuality that they unwittingly managed to conflate bisexuality and asexuality. (221) This does not mean, however, that talking about quantity of desire or attraction is new: we talk about quantity in relation to times in life ("[h]orny teenager" (222) or times of the month ("I've been noticing that I become horny during my period" (223)). The word "horny" comes up regularly in quantity examples, but more often to describe a mood or moment than a character. (224) But we also classify people along this axis either for high quantity (such as "horndog" (225) or "sex addict" (226)) or low quantity (such as "frigid" (227) or "cold fish" (228)). Our quantity terms also imply the gendered dimensions of this axis discussed earlier. (229)
What is arguably new is that asexuality, as an identity category, pushes us to consider this quantity axis as potentially significant to our identities--that is, as a meaningful part of "sexual orientation." (230) Various work suggests that many aces embrace this idea that everyone is on a spectrum of attraction levels--from low to high quantity of sexual attraction--even while they recognize that the discrete identity category of "asexual" may usefully serve personal and political purposes. (231)
b. Autoerotic axis
Self-identified asexuals apparently masturbate at rates not far from the rates of the general population, or at least in significant numbers, according to the (admittedly imperfect) data gathered thus far. (232) But the idea of an identity category organized around the lack of sexual attraction for others, even in the presence of sexual activity with oneself, presses the question of what counts as "sex," how important masturbation is to everyone else, and what meanings masturbation may have. (233) Asexual discussions of masturbation also highlight the variability in how sexual (or not) masturbation feels to different people or at different moments to the same person. (234)
c. Narcissism axis
Some asexuals talk about not being put off by the idea of sex unless they are personally involved, as noted earlier. (235) This leads to an axis we could affectionately name after Narcissus, who, at one end of this spectrum, so wanted only his own image that he melted into it. (236) Here we might ask: how much does an individual's desire depend upon her presence (or absence) in the sex (or sexual fantasy) that she is having? This overlaps with the autoerotic axis, but the idea here centers on the erotic impact of one's own presence in the sexual activity (in reality or fantasy). (237) For instance, men turned on by lesbian sex could differ sharply on this axis; one man could like the fantasy of watching lesbians have sex for his benefit or as a prelude to his entering the scene, whereas another could prefer to imagine lesbians having sex oblivious to him. A likely example of the latter type of disposition is the popularity of gay male pornography among lesbians. (238)
d. Romantic-attraction axis
Thinking about asexuality sets into relief the matter of romantic attraction, as distinct from sexual attraction, as an axis of identity in the sexual population as well. Some work has gestured in this direction already, observing, for example, that people may have romantic attractions toward one sex and sexual attractions to the other. (239) But asexuality pushes us to consider people who may have one and lack the other in ways previously overlooked. Romantic asexuals have romantic attractions but not sexual ones. "Might researchers discover," as one scholar writing about asexuality suggests, "a population of aromantic sexual people hitherto misunderstood?" (240)
e. Orientation-object axis
Romantic asexuals might do well to be romantically attracted to other romantic asexuals, (241) which highlights the significance of what we might call the orientation-object axis of a person's sexuality. By this I mean the sexual orientation of those to whom one is attracted. For homosexuals and heterosexuals, as for asexuals, it is quite useful to desire those of their own orientation type. For bisexuals, however, it matters less. (242) In informal settings, certain types along this axis of identity have been given names--such as "girlfag" (243) and "guydyke" (244)--but I have not encountered any naming of this axis of sexuality.
4. An umbrella category of orientation
Finally, asexuality could be an umbrella category of orientation--asexual orientation--alongside sexual orientation. (245) Typically, asexuals instead claim asexuality as a type of sexual orientation just like gayness. (246) Importantly, though, as discussed earlier, many (romantic) asexuals also claim an orientation based on the sex of those they romantically desire, such as gay, straight, or bi. (247) In this light, one scholar has proposed that--rather than viewing asexuality as a particular sexual orientation--we instead see "asexual" as an umbrella or "meta-category." On this view, asexual functions as a rubric "just like sexual, encompassing the same kind of smaller categories," such as romantic and aromantic, and gay, straight, or bi. (248)
Of all the models, the recta-category version of asexuality arguably poses the most substantial challenge to the pervasive cultural assumption that our sexual selves importantly define US. (249) An asexual umbrella category pushes us to imagine a mirror on our sexual world, replicating each of society's components, but without sexual attraction defining any of them.
This perspective brings us to the next Part's examination of our sexual law.
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|Title Annotation:||asexuality as means to broaden antidiscrimination law framework; Introduction through II. Mapping Asexual Identity, p. 303-344|
|Author:||Emens, Elizabeth F.|
|Publication:||Stanford Law Review|
|Date:||Feb 1, 2014|
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