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Position on the Dignity and Rights of Asexual Individuals
Asexuality is a sexual orientation generally defined as those who experience little or no sexual attraction or those who self-identify as asexual (Chasin, 2011). Like other sexual orientations, asexuality can be fluid or fixed and exists on a spectrum that ranges from never experiencing attraction, to experiencing attraction in particular relational contexts. Standard terms that describe variations on the spectrum of asexuality include demisexuality and greysexuality. Demisexuality is a term that describes people who experience sexual attraction after developing an emotional bond with someone (Decker, 2015). Greysexuality is a term that describes people who do not readily identify as asexual. These people may feel sexual attraction, but it is weak, or they may cycle through phases of feeling sexual attraction and phases of not feeling a sexual attraction (Decker, 2015). It is also important to recognize evolving language for identities that have otherwise been unnamed, including allosexual, a term which refers to those who experience sexual attraction and are not asexual.
The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) takes the position that asexuality and ace-spectrum identities are not mental, developmental, or sexual disorders. They are not responses to trauma or inexperience - they are valid and fulfilling identities and orientations. We oppose any and all reparative or conversion therapies that seek to change, fix, or pathologize a person’s sexual orientation. We define reparative or conversion therapy as any service or intervention purporting to “cure” any sexual orientation that is non-allosexual, or services that seek to change non-allosexual orientation because of the assumption that asexuality or ace-spectrum identities are mental disorders. AASECT does not believe that diverse spectrum of non-allosexual sexual orientations need to be fixed or changed. Asexual individuals often face distinct difficulties in obtaining orientation-affirming services due to a lack of cultural sensitivity and a long history of compulsory sexuality within Western cutlures (Flanagan & Peters, 2020). Similarly to the homonegative diagnostic criteria of early editions of the DSM, pervasive cultural stigma has limited the ability for asexual people to experience their orientation in non-pathologizing ways. For allosexual people, the lack of sexual interest may present as a concern or sexual symptom. People who are content with little or no sexual desire toward others commonly experience distress from social stigma and prejudice rather than distress because of their lack of sexual attraction to others (Bogaert, 2006; Flanagan & Peters, 2020). In contrast, psychosexual dysfunctions have additional criteria that need to be present, like marked distress and interpersonal difficulty (Brotto, 2010). Additionally, phobia-like inhibition to engage in desired sexual activity (Brotto, 2010), is a different stress than those who identify as asexual. Providers should assess thoroughly sources of distress when working with people who present with low or no sexual desire, and treat asexuality identities with dignity.
There are many myths perpetuated by popular culture regarding asexuality. Some have derided asexuality as something fabricated, a complex, a form of immaturity, a pathology, or inherent loneliness (Cerankowski & Milks, 2010). Thankfully, most contemporary sex educators, counselors, and therapists recognize the parallels between these allocentric myths and those perpetuated by heterosexism and cissexism. In the same way that the field of sexuality has denounced the pathological positioning of homosexuality, sexual fluidity, queer orientations, trans identities, and non-binary identities, sex educators, counselors, and therapists should do the same regarding myths perpetuated about asexuality.
The estimated percentage of asexual-identified individuals has remained constant at under 2% (approximately 1-1.7%) since the work of Alfred Kinsey was published (Bogaert, 2004; Kinsey, 1948; Miller 2011; Poston & Baumle, 2010; Rothblum, 2019). Many sexuality professionals are unaware Kinsey’s scale included an X outside of the 0-6 to identify individuals with little or no sexual attraction. This is roughly the same population of people globally who have green eyes. Special care consideration should be made to ensure that communities that are marginalized by population numbers are not further othered by discriminatory healthcare practices, misinformation, or social stigmatization. If counselors and therapists are working with asexual-identified clients and not practicing culturally competent care, they may be reinforcing the social stressors experienced by clients outside of the therapy room (Carroll 2020; Chasin 2015; Rothblum et al., 2019).
Our position is consistent with our professional colleagues, including but not limited to: the American Psychological Association’s Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Sexual Minority Persons (2021) and the National Association of School Psychologists’ (2021) position statement on Comprehensive and Inclusive Sexuality Education.
References & Resources for Further Reading
- AASECT. (2017). Position on reparative therapy.
- American Psychological Association. (2021). APA guidelines for psychological practice with sexual minority persons.
- Bogaert, A. F. (2004). Asexuality: Prevalence and associated factors in a national probability sample. The Journal of Sex Research, 41(3), 279-287.
- Bogaert, A. F. (2006). Toward a conceptual understanding of asexuality. Review of General Psychology, 10(3), 241-250.
- Borgogna, N. C., McDermott, R. C., Aita, S. L., & Kridel, M. M. (2018). Anxiety and depression across gender and sexual minorities: Implications for transgender, gender nonconforming, pansexual, demisexual, asexual, queer, and questioning individuals. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 6(1), 54-63.
- Brotto, L. A. (2010). The DSM diagnostic criteria for sexual aversion disorder. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39(2), 271-277.
- Chen, A. (2020). Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex. Beacon Press.
- Carroll, M. (2020). Asexuality and its implications for LGBTQ-parent families. In A. E. Goldberg & K. R. Allen (Eds.), LGBTQ-parent families: Innovations in research and implications for practice (pp. 185-198). Springer Nature.
- Carvalho, J., Lemos, D., & Nobre, P. J. (2016). Psychological features and sexual beliefs characterizing self-labeled asexual individuals. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 43(6), 517-528.
- Cerankowski, K. J., & Milks, M. (2010). New orientations: Asexuality and its implications for theory and practice. Feminist Studies, 36(3), 650-664.
- Chasin, C. J. (2011). Theoretical issues in the study of asexuality. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40(4), 713-723.
- Chasin, C. D. (2015). Making sense in and of the asexual community: Navigating relationships and identities in a context of resistance. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 25(2), 167-180.
- Decker, J. S. (2015). The invisible orientation: An introduction to asexuality. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
- Drincic, R. (2017, November 15). Acephobia, allosexuality, and what it means to be queer.
- Drescher, J. (2015). Out of DSM: Depathologizing homosexuality. Behavioral Sciences, 5(4), 565-575.
- Flanagan, S. K., & Peters, H. J. (2020). Asexual-identified adults: Interactions with health-care practitioners. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 49(5), 1631–1643.
- Jenkins, D., & Johnston, L. B. (2004). Unethical treatment of gay and lesbian people with conversion therapy. Families in Society, 85(4), 557-561.
- Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., & Martin, C. E. (1948). Sexual behavior in the human Male. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders and Company.
- McInroy, L. B., Beaujolais, B., Leung, V. W., Craig, S. L., Eaton, A. D., & Austin, A. (2020). Comparing asexual and non-asexual sexual minority adolescents and young adults: Stressors, suicidality and mental and behavioural health risk outcomes. Psychology & Sexuality, 1–17.
- Miller, T. (2011). Analysis of the 2011 Asexual Awareness Week Community Census. Asexual Awareness Week.
- National Association of School Psychologists. (2021). Comprehensive and inclusive sexuality education.
- Poston, D., & Baumle, A. (2010). Patterns of asexuality in the United States. Demographic Research, 23(18), 509–530.
- Rothblum, E. D., Krueger, E. A., Kittle, K. R., & Meyer, I. H. (2019). Asexual and non-asexual respondents from a U.S. population-based study of sexual minorities. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 49(2), 757-767.
- Turchik, J. A., & Edwards, K. M. (2012). Myths about male rape: A literature review. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 13(2), 211-226.
- Yule, M. A., Brotto, L. A., & Gorzalka, B. B. (2013). Mental health and interpersonal functioning in self-identified asexual men and women. Psychology and Sexuality, 4(2), 136–151.