Not tonight or any or other for that matter

Although sex permeates modern culture, it’s not on everyone’s agenda

Caroline Pukall, assistant professor of psychology, says sexual orientation literature is only recently adding asexuality to the list.
Caroline Pukall, assistant professor of psychology, says sexual orientation literature is only recently adding asexuality to the list.
Journal File Photo

Sex is everywhere. From magazines to billboards to television and movies, sex dominates mainstream culture. But for some people, sex isn’t everything. In fact, sex may not come into the picture at all.

When people think of sexuality, they tend to think of those who are interested in sexual activity, whether it’s with someone of the same sex, the opposite sex or both.

Yet sexuality is no longer as limiting as it once was. Not only does sexuality include those who engage in sexual activity, but it also includes those who don’t.

Assistant professor of psychology, Caroline Pukall, said the literature of sexual orientation is only recently adding asexuality to the list.

“People aren’t entirely sure what the definition is,” she said. “Those who define themselves as asexual usually do not engage in sexual activity and do not experience sexual interest or desire for either gender.”

Pukall said a number of studies on asexuality were done throughout the 1970s and 80s. One particular study, done in 1983 in the United States, involved interviewing 700 university students about their sexual orientation. The study found that five per cent of males and 10 per cent of females experienced very little sexual attraction for either gender.

In 1994, Pukall said, 19,000 people in the United Kingdom were interviewed about their attraction to other people. They were asked if they were attracted to members of the opposite gender. Of these 19,000 people, one per cent stated they had never felt sexual attraction to anyone at all.

Pukall said asexuals define their asexuality early on and tend to stick with it throughout their lives.

“It isn’t like celibacy,” she said. “They’re not sexual people.”

But Pukall said some people who define themselves as asexual sometimes will engage in sexual behavior.

“Their orientation is solid,” she said. “But sometimes asexual people will engage in sexual behavior on account of their partners if that’s what they want. They don’t necessarily experience sexual pleasure but rather the pleasure that comes from making their partner happy.”

Because there isn’t a lot of data on the topic, Pukall said it’s difficult to say who defines themselves as asexual.

“Sometimes people not in touch with their sexuality define themselves as asexual,” she said. “People may explore their sexuality and eventually adopt this term.”

Although asexuality is a mixture of both biological and social factors, Pukall said it’s more likely influenced by society.

“We’re all inundated with sexual messages,” she said. “Everything is sexual. But why does everything have to be?”

With the same question in mind, David Jay, founder and webmaster of the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), has devoted the last eight years of his life to fostering asexual communities across the globe.

“I started the website as a way to find other people because I wanted people to talk to,” he said. “From there, it just grew. It turned out that there were a lot of other people out there like me who were feeling isolated and wanted others to talk to.”

Beginning as early as elementary school, Jay knew he was asexual because that’s when all his friends began talking about their sexuality.

“In the fourth or fifth grade, it really started to come up in conversation,” he said. “It was really confusing and I couldn’t relate to what they were going through.”

At first, Jay said it was scary not being able to relate because many people seemed to define themselves through their sexuality.

“I knew sexuality was supposed to be happening to me,” he said. “Everyone was telling me what I was supposed to be going through. Not only was I not doing what I was supposed to be doing but sexuality was the way people fell in love, the way people defined themselves and validated themselves socially—I didn’t want to miss out on that stuff.”

Jay said it took him until high school to become comfortable with asexuality. “I did some Internet searches and talked to my friends about it,” he said. “I talked to different people but no one really knew anything about it.”

After doing some research on his own and being dissatisfied with the results, Jay created AVEN in 2001.

“No one thought asexuality was possible,” he said. “But the community really took off. People could identify with it.” According to AVEN’s website, “many asexual people experience attraction but feel no need to act out that attraction sexually. Instead feel a desire to get to know someone. For some sexual arousal is a fairly regular occurrence, though it is not associated with a desire to find a sexual partner or partners. Some will occasionally masturbate but feel no desire for partnered sexuality. Other asexual people experience little to no arousal. Because [they] don’t care about sex, asexual people generally do not see a lack of sexual arousal as a problem to be corrected, and focus their energy on enjoying other types of arousal and pleasure.” Jay said, for him, asexuality means a lot of different things.

“The general rule is that there is a lot of diversity within the community,” he said. “People experience very different things. For example, some are asexual and gay or bisexual while some are asexual and don’t want anything romantic. Just friendships.”

Jay said it’s about finding what’s best for you.

“You figure out what works first and you hope that resonates with someone else there,” he said.

The asexual community is working to have asexuality become more acknowledged by the mental health community, Jay said.

“Someone who walks into a doctor’s office and says ‘I’m fine with it,’ could still try to be ‘cured,’” he said. “We’re working to try and stop that and we’re having a lot of success.”

Jay said the asexual community has also been trying to tackle the issue of sexual relationships and debunking the emphasis on sex.

“Everyone has close relationships that don’t involve sex,” he said. “But there isn’t another place in the world where they’re talking about these kinds of relationships. Why is sex necessary in a relationship? The asexual community has been at the center of these very interesting discussions.”


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