What is asexuality, anyway?

By |December 1st, 2016|Quick thoughts|0 Comments

This article that Lori Brotto retweeted presents one of the big problems with asexuality right now. It highlights two things: one, that asexuality is difficult to define, because it’s defined by the absence of something; two, that the asexual community also has problems with agreeing upon this definition.

This battle does legitimise the concerns the Office for National Statistics raised on asking a question about sexual orientation. They said that, “Sexuality is multi-faceted and difficult to define… different conceptions of what constitutes sexual orientation — including attraction, identity, lifestyle, partnership and community — may co-exist within a single study”. That is to say that even for a commonly used term for a sexual orientation (for example, “gay”), how it is interpreted differs between people. To give an example of how subjective this is, consider this example: is a man that identifies as heterosexual, but who has had sporadic sexual encounters with men, right to identify as heterosexual?

There does not appear to be an objective truth by which we can define others as asexual or not; but sexuality has always been a journey of self-identification and self-determination, anyway. While the ONS is concerned by how the public interprets those options, it is set to include a question on sexual orientation in Census 2021 for the first time.

The question remains: is a definition important for a sexual orientation to be a sexual orientation? Well, from a legal perspective, I’m not so sure. The Equality Act 2010 includes definitions of sexual orientations as part of the sexual orientation protected characteristic. However, these definitions are not related to specific terms. The Equality Act does not have any mention of “homosexual”, “gay”, “heterosexual”, “bi”, “lesbian” and so on. Rather it lists sexual orientations in terms of orientations towards persons same and/or opposite sexes. There is a gap here for “no persons”. There is also a gap for “persons of neither sex”, but that is a whole other article…

So there is something troubling with labouring over what asexuality is: whether it describes the compass of drive, or the degree of drive, or with someone’s perception of their self, people will use the label if they feel that it fits. If we have to decide whether asexuality is a sexual orientation or not, and what behaviours merit a person to identify as asexual, then it justifies the need to do the same for other sexual orientations. So if you’re a bi-curious straight person, you may have to prepare for having a label applied to you.