The Death of AVEN

My formative years were the tail end of the 1970s and the early 1980s, when the disco sensibilities of people slightly older than me demanded obsessive interest in heterosexual intercourse. I spent many years trying to fit in with that sensibility, always with disastrous results. It wasn’t until 2010, when I was 45 years old, that I discovered a website called the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) that finally told me what I was: asexual. The first thing I did was read their FAQ on asexuality as it existed back then, and nearly everything in it rang true for me. Above all, the website allowed me to believe for the first time that it was perfectly okay not to have any interest in sex with any woman, man, child, animal, plant or inanimate object. In middle age I was finally able to find self-acceptance.

My four-year history with AVEN was stormy. Part of my problem was that, way back at the website’s founding in 2001, the founder had invited LGBT activists to assist with promoting the visibility and acceptance of asexuals. The actual result had been AVEN becoming a de facto LGBT site that ultimately exploited asexuals in order to promote LGBT activism. I always had issues with that, although I wasn’t always articulate in expressing them. That made me a pariah in the hardcore political actifist circles that ran AVEN. At the same time, there were many wonderful people there who were just as apolitical as me, who didn’t spend all day chanting predictable slogans or fighting for special privileges for politically privileged minorities, and who contributed significantly to a shared atmosphere of peace and acceptance. I made a number of posts on the AVEN forum, some of dubious quality but others among the best writing I’ve ever done. I also ended up becoming one of the live chatroom regulars, who enjoyed a safe, moderated environment in which harassment and come-ons were strictly prohibited and carefully weeded out. We talked about anything and everything under the sun, and it was a comfortable community.

But AVEN had significant IT issues. If you count the owner of the website, it had exactly two webadmins for a site that needed a team of more than a dozen in order to function properly. AVEN also archived absolutely all of the posts made in the forum and kept a complete log of the chats in the chatroom, dating back to its founding. Every once in a while, the database would grow so huge that the site would crash until the hardware on which the database was stored had been physically upgraded. A couple of months ago, hardware upgrades ceased to be possible, so the owner and his tech admin sidekick decided to move to a cloud-based database service. The migration of the site to its new webhost was supposed to take about seven to ten days. Unfortunately, the old host continued to have hardware issues that caused all attempts at migration to crash partway through. The webadmin keeps contacting the old webhost for assistance, but, of course, they aren’t responding to her contact attempts.

It doesn’t take a genius to see this situation clearly. The old webhost has no incentive, motivation or interest to assist a soon-to-be-former client in solving their data migration issues. That means the old database will likely remain inertly on their servers until the business agreement between AVEN and that old webhost expires, at which time the data will be deleted in order to make room for other, current clients. A hard core of AVEN users have a backup forum and a somewhat cliquey Skype chat group run by people who personally dislike me, and they are bravely hanging in there; but, eventually, all will have to face the fact that AVEN is dead.

AVEN wasn’t perfect. Because of its political roots in something other than asexuality, it had a political rather than scientific definition of what it means to be asexual, to wit, “the absence of sexual attraction.” It worshipped the dogma of self-identification to the point of being hostile to hard scientific research by medical and biological researchers into asexuality. In my view, during the days of AVEN, its understanding of asexuality was totally pulled out of people’s asses rather than scientifically established. The fact is that no one knows yet what it really means to be asexual because so little hard research has been done on it, with nearly all “research” being in the social sciences and based on self-identification as asexual, which can sometimes be like asking Richard Nixon whether he self-identifies as a crook. Also, lately, the LGBT activist community has begun distancing itself from asexuality, effectively cutting AVEN off at the knees.

Yet the website still had great value. In terms of the wealth of anecdotal evidence of people’s experience with what it means not to want or need sex, for whatever reason, it was the source of many epiphanies by people who had never understood themselves before finding AVEN. The new member subforum abounded with stories of people of various ages being astonished to discover that a name for their true nature existed. I was one of them. And it is for that invaluable public service that I’ll miss AVEN now that it’s gone.

5 thoughts on “The Death of AVEN

  1. “The actual result had been AVEN becoming a de facto LGBT site that ultimately exploited asexuals in order to promote LGBT activism.”

    What do you mean? I’ve heard of a lot of problems with AVEN, but I haven’t heard about this.

    “its understanding of asexuality was totally pulled out of people’s asses rather than scientifically established.”

    What are you talking about? I mean, what would you propose be done? We can’t force neuroscientists to pay attention to us.


    1. That David Jay invited LGBT activists to Trojan-horse AVEN back in 2001 is not in dispute. Jay openly admits it, and I’ve never heard it questioned. My assertion that AVEN promoted LGBT interests at the expense of asexuals would take far more space to elaborate on than is available in the comments section of a blog. The short version is that the language of asexuality as used by AVEN (and by your own website) is founded in political rather than scientific considerations. That, however, no longer matters, as AVEN is gone, and LGBT activists have dropped asexuality like a hot potato anyway.

      As for “forc(ing) neuroscientists to pay attention to us,” hard science tends to find certain subjects of research forbidding for political reasons. For example, there is a paucity of research on the biology of homosexuality and bisexuality because gays and bis have been afraid of being “cured” of their orientations and have therefore historically militated against such research. Thanks to AVEN, the same has occurred with regard to asexuality. It’s not that hard science researchers don’t want to study asexuality and figure out what it really is. It’s just that the now-established political language of asexuality will have to be replaced with openness to hard science. I see that beginning to happen already, as someone reported on AVEN about a recent research study involving MRIs of the brains of self-identified asexuals. Yet that is also based on the political dogma of self-identification, which requires us not only to ignore the fact that people sometimes lie, but the must more dangerous fact of the introspection illusion, which often leads people to misunderstand themselves and/or not see themselves clearly.

      tl/dr the depoliticization of asexuality is clearly called for now that the major obstacle to such depoliticization is gone, and it’s time for a rational, factual understanding of people who don’t want or need sex.


      1. “That David Jay invited LGBT activists to Trojan-horse AVEN back in 2001 is not in dispute.”

        Trojan-horse? What, they were deploying viruses? What are you talking about? Maybe you can write another post to spell this out for me. I’m still relatively uninformed on the history of the asexual community.

        “the language of asexuality as used by AVEN (and by your own website) is founded in political rather than scientific considerations.”

        My own website? …Oh, you mean my blog. Well, yeah, I dunno what else you expect me to use. Anyway: So you consider the political and the scientific to be mutually exclusive?

        “hard science tends to find certain subjects of research forbidding”

        “Hard” science. Mind being more specific? I mean, presumably you don’t care for surveys and social research, so — you want brain scans? autopsies? I like specificity in these conversations, is all.

        “It’s not that hard science researchers don’t want to study asexuality and figure out what it really is.”

        While we’re on the subject of hard evidence, do you have any evidence that the people you’re talking about have any interest in pursuing the subject of asexuality? Just curious. You sound pretty certain of yourself here, and I was wondering what was backing these statements.

        “the now-established political language of asexuality”

        Can you specify?

        “Yet that is also based on the political dogma of self-identification,”

        We’re talking about internal experiences and feelings. If you don’t want self-identification involved, what is the alternative?

        “which requires us not only to ignore the fact that people sometimes lie”

        Here is where I conducted a rough cost-benefit analysis regarding motives for lying about sexual orientation. My conclusion was that, by and large, when someone identifies as asexual it’s more logical to believe them.


        1. I’m reluctant to write another post on the AVEN model now that AVEN is history. I also don’t have access to AVEN’s archives to provide evidence. My responses below will reflect that.

          I do consider politics and science to be mutually exclusive. As I memorably put it in an AVEN post, “the whole scientific function of politics is to piss in your apple juice and crap in your spaghetti sauce.” Politics makes factual questions indeterminate, which means incapable of being answered factually any more. Political understandings are necessarily ANTI-scientific, and that can’t change.

          By “hard science” I mean research that is not rooted in subjectivity. The subjective is not accessible to researchers and is therefore unverifiable through research. That’s the chief problem with first asking people whether they’re asexual and then assuming that they are if they say so and aren’t if they don’t. This does not constitute a distinction between physical and social sciences, because both can be either rooted in subjectivity or avoidant of subjectivity. The kind or research that needs to be done is the kind that enables us to define asexuality in terms of observable traits rather than self-reports. I can’t provide examples because I’m not a scientist, and I don’t believe such research has ever been done.

          Your demand for “evidence” that hard scientists “have any interest in pursuing asexuality” is combative, aggressive and a veiled assault, especially considering the personal comment that follows it. I consider your question to be nonsense that, in the language of lawyers, assumes facts not in evidence, and choose not to respond.

          The established language of asexuality starts with the definition of asexuality as “absence of sexual attraction.” There is no objective evidence that that is what asexuality is, or even of what “sexual attraction” really means. Everything follows from there, including the alphabet soup of romantic and aromantic and homoromantic and panromantic orientations, the gray and demi categories, the entire ingrown and convoluted pseudo-technical terminology of what amounts ot a self-involved cult. But I’m hoping that, with AVEN’s death, such nonsense is out the window.

          I don’t know what the alternative to self-identification is, but it’s time for the real experts in these things to develop one. It’s not advisable to base one’s understanding of the world on pretentious pseudo-objective etherealities of subjectivity such as self-identification. I have no problem with people calling themselves asexual, just with pretending there’s any objective understanding behind the word right now.

          I had a look at your article. My own reply to you did say that lying about being asexual is much less of a concern than the introspection illusion and the way people necessarily deceive ourselves about the way we really are when introspecting. It’s the introspection illusion that makes self-identification problematic. And, not to keep raising AVEN back from the dead, but many newcomers to the site expressed confusion about their sexual identities, and in quite a few cases their confusion was never resolved, either because they just never decided which label to slap on themselves or because the way they felt about themselves kept changing.


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