Michelle is not interested in sex – and is completely satisfied with it. Nevertheless, she experiences closeness and intimacy. Asexuality has hardly been researched scientifically.
For most people, sexuality is a natural part of life, much like eating or sleeping. If you describe yourself as asexual, you will perceive it differently: Sex? Unimportant minor matter to disgusting. At best a curiosity that only affects others.
A bit like tiredness or hunger
Michelle sits in the grass on the Tempelhofer Feld in Berlin with a hand-rolled cigarette in her hand. It’s summer, warm, many people are outside today enjoying the good weather. Michelle is in her twenties. She has short hair, piercings and glasses. They shouldn’t be called “pretty”. She annoys that things like “even though she’s pretty, she doesn’t care about sex” are written about her. As if there was a connection. Michelle has a boyfriend. He’s not asexual, and she sleeps with him sometimes.
Her boyfriend gets along with the fact that while they are in love, Michelle is not particularly into sex. They are concerned with intimacy in a broader sense. Sometimes Michelle is physically aroused. But that has nothing to do with her boyfriend or any other person, it just happens – just as she is sometimes tired or hungry.
For many, definition means first of all: self-definition
Anyone who feels this way is asexual. The term appeared about 20 years ago when more and more people began to exchange ideas on the Internet, often anonymously in forums and later on social media channels.
The research deals with the phenomenon relatively briefly. The leading researcher in the field of asexuality is the Canadian psychologist Anthony Bogaert. His book “Understanding Asexuality” is the standard work in the field.
His own feelings are decisive for him – just like with any other sexual orientation. Feeling no sexual attraction is not in itself a disease or deficiency; many people experience this at least at times in their lives.
The Berlin sexologist and therapist Christoph Joseph Ahlers considers asexuality to be a normal phenomenon, even if it was not always as visible as it is today. Scientists perceived asexuality even before the Internet boom – just not under that name, explains Anthony Bogaert. Even famous American sexologist Alfred Kinsey has studied asexual people, calling them “Kinsey X’s” because they didn’t fit his famous 7-point scale.
Online forum AVEN
Today the “Aces”, as they also call themselves, meet in the online forum AVEN – that stands for Asexuality Visibility and Educational Network. It was founded by the American activist David Jay. AVEN now has over 60,000 members who use online forums to exchange information in several languages. The spectrum ranges from the so-called aromantics who do not want a couple relationship and generally avoid intimate body contact, to those who masturbate but do not want to have sex with others, to people who are in a relationship and sleep with their partner, such as Michelle.
The online community serves as an exchange and offers the opportunity to find out something about yourself and to be told: You are ok if it is ok for you. One platform even offers a self-test – for those who are unsure. Belonging to a group and feeling understood and accepted is one of our basic psychological needs. Since Michelle has known that she is not sick, she has accepted herself for who she is.
The hormone levels are normal in most asexual people. Also, physically, they have all the signs of sexual arousal, such as an erection or vaginal lubrication, so there is no organic disease. Only if someone completely avoids intimacy, regardless of the level, and therefore gives himself the label “asexual”, can there be an undetected problem behind it. Because intimacy is a so-called basic psychosocial need.
Intimacy as a basic need
In contrast to breathing, sleeping, eating and drinking, we can do without basic psychosocial needs for a while. But we have to compensate. For example, if I don’t have a partnership, I might look for belonging and intimacy with my friends and family.
So far there is only one study in which scientists asked a cross-section of the population whether they perceive themselves to be non-sexual. This survey was carried out in the UK between 2000 and 2001. Anthony Bogaert evaluated the data for his research: In one of the first studies he did, about one percent of a national cohort stated that they were never sexually attracted to others. Incidentally, probably more women than men are affected.
Nonetheless, among those who replied “never felt sexually attracted to anyone” in this study, 30 percent of men and 25 percent of women were in a relationship, some had children. There are no surveys at all for cultures other than European-North American.
Research on asexuality is just starting
It could offer a change of perspective: Anyone who deals with the absence of pleasure suddenly notices how many scientific questions are still open on the subject of sexuality, says social psychologist Anthony Bogaert. Because for asexual people, for example, romantic feelings are more clearly decoupled from sex, research into how sex and love are actually related gets a new perspective.
Homosexual or transgender people are often discriminated against. Asexuals also often experience social disadvantages. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen to Michelle that often; with her it is more curious questions. But the assumption that she must be sick or have trauma because she doesn’t value sex is discrimination.
Being rejected in this way can lead to great emotional stress. A 2010 US study found that asexual people were more likely to have psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, or thoughts of suicide than heterosexual people. These findings coincide with comparable studies on homosexual people. This in turn suggests that the problem is not sexual orientation per se, but the discrimination people experience.