Toward a True Understanding of Asexuality

Since this blog is getting lots of views from people who want to read about asexuality, I thought I’d make another post on that subject.

I’ve been on the record for a long time as believing that no one knows what asexuality really is. The AVEN definition of asexuality being “the absence of sexual attraction” is based on political considerations rather than science, and even the political considerations are those of LGBT activists rather than asexuals. With LGBT activists rapidly abandoning asexuals and even becoming hostile to us because of what they wrongly perceive as a turf war (but, then, political activists of all types are obsessed with protecting and expanding their turf), it’s time to ditch the AVEN definition and turn to science for a genuine, fact-based understanding of how we are and what makes us work.

A brief discussion of science and sexuality is in order here. For the longest time, hard science inquiries into human sexuality were suppressed by powerful LGBT activists because they were afraid science would try to “cure” them of their sexual orientations if a firm physiological basis for their orientations were discovered. The unavoidable implication was that a person is born with a certain sexual orientation and that orientation is immutable. Lately, however, the theory has spread that sexual orientation is fluid, and there is broader acceptance of the notion that, like everything else, sexual orientation arises from a combination of natural and nurtural factors. This opens the door to exploration of those factors in a rigorously scientific way that can perhaps lead to a true understanding of what asexuality is, rather than a politically motivated pseudo-understanding pulled out of some activist’s butt purely for activism purposes.

That understanding depends on recognizing the existence of the Introspection Illusion. The Introspection Illusion is a well-documented and widely accepted set of about 60 or 70 ways in which people are wrong about ourselves when we think about ourselves. We cannot arrive at an accurate self-understanding purely through introspection. Yet introspection is the foundation of the political doctrine of self-identification, which is the cornerstone of LGBT activism. The dogmatic unchallengeability of self-identification has greatly harmed scientific research into asexuality, as pretty much all research is based on who “self-identifies” as asexual and who “self-identifies” as something else. Pretty much all research into asexuality to date is therefore unreliable; the simple fact is that, when we self-identify, we deceive ourselves in about 60 or 70 well-established ways. I have no problem with LGBT activists keeping their catechistic dogma of self-identification, but, in terms of asexuality, it desperately needs to be got rid of. What needs to replace it is an objective understanding of what it means to be asexual as established through objective evidence.

Creating a brand new approach to scientific research on asexuality that does not begin with self-identification will take a lot of brutally hard conceptual work, as self-identification is an entrenched hot-button dogma that scares scientists. It is, however, work that definitely needs to be done as soon as possible if one of the communities I belong to, that of asexuals, is to gain any genuine self-understanding.

A New, Practical Approach to Helping Asexuals and the Asexuality-Accepting

NOTE: About 12 hours after this post first appeared, it seems that AVEN has risen from the dead after all, so that aspect of the post is now obsolete.

I just read this fascinating post by a young, female blogger who specializes in giving men advice about women. Why would an asexual man like me find a post fascinating if all it does is tell me how to notice that a woman is sexually and/or romantically interested in me? Read my discussion with the blogger in the comments–or, if you can’t be arsed, I’ll summarize it here. Even an asexual man doesn’t want to hurt a woman’s feelings, or evoke retribution from her for rejecting her, or damage any friendship he already has with her or any potential friendship that might develop. So I asked the blogger to write another post on how a man can discourage such interest from a woman in an appropriate and harmony-promoting way. Once it appears, there’s a good chance that I’ll reblog it here, under my brand new blog category of “Asexuality.”

I also recently found a blog by a thoughtful gay man who writes almost exclusively on gay issues, and does so in a way that I find sympathetic. I haven’t been able to dig out a link to his blog, but I’ll probably ask him to write something on how I can identify and discourage similar interest from gay men. Then I’d probably reblog that as well.

I recently heard insider info that The Death of Aven might not be as final as I thought. Apparently, the real obstacle to the resurrection of AVEN is founder David Jay himself, who could fix the problems with the old host’s hardware but is too busy being out of the country. A former AVEN moderator, whose privacy I’ll choose to protect, described AVEN to me four years ago as “a neglected child,” as Jay no longer finds AVEN to be a good investment for his marketing efforts in the great marketing project of increasing the visibility of asexuals–and has become something of a Kardashian in the asexual community thanks to the popularity of those efforts, leading him to lose interest in the AVEN website. But perhaps he’ll still be motivated to fix AVEN’s problems and resurrect it. In the meantime, the absence of AVEN from the internet creates a golden opportunity to de-politicize and de-marketingize asexuality and found an approach of helping asexuals and those sympathetic to us with our practical issues without any allegiance to any stripe of political activism. It sounds like a great thing to do.

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.