Not Wanting Sex in a Sex-Crazed World

Do asexuals read romance novels? Watch pornography? Read stories with oversexualized, click-bait headlines? These are the kinds of mysteries that even a devoted fan of the famously sexless Sherlock Holmes would love to have investigated. And though it may not be elementary, dear Reader, thanks to a decade’s worth of new research into asexuality, we no longer need a Sherlock Holmes to deduce the answers.

In a new review article and in his recent book Understanding Asexuality, Anthony Bogaert, a psychology professor at Brock University and a leading authority on asexuality, goes over some of the key insights scientists recently have learned on the subject, including why asexuality is so important for understanding the broader spectrum of human sexual behavior. Bogaert defines asexuality simply as “a lack of sexual attraction” or “lustful inclinations” toward others, and estimates:

of the general population is asexual. By way of comparison, about
of Americans identify as gay or lesbian, according to one recent survey.

And humans are hardly alone in the animal kingdom when it comes to sexual variability: Researchers, for example, often classify lab rodents as being “studs” or “duds” according to their levels of sexual interest.

“Duds,” however, is a serious misnomer when it comes to asexuals. Their equipment works just as well as anyone else’s does. They do, however, demonstrate lower levels of sexual desire. “As one might expect,” Bogaert tells OZY, “asexual people fantasize at a lower rate than sexual people. Indeed, a significant percentage have never fantasized.”

More research on masturbating asexuals is required. Those poor souls.

Masturbation is thus an important activity (how long have you waited to hear those words?) for understanding the variation among asexuals, and a significant number of asexuals do masturbate. It’s just that there is, says Bogaert, “sometimes a disconnect between themselves and the people in their fantasies,” and many asexuals masturbate more for release or, in some cases, because they are attracted to themselves (a phenomenon known as automonosexualism). More research on masturbating asexuals is required. Those poor souls.

And on the subject of souls: While celibacy has been praised as a virtue in many religious and cultural traditions, asexuality often still gets labeled as a disorder today. The truth, according to sex researchers like Bogaert, is quite the opposite: Asexuals typically demonstrate neither any disability nor any distress from their condition. Something which, in some ways, makes them a fine control group for diagnosing the distresses, risky behaviors and temporary insanity that can afflict those of us in another group: the sexualized majority.

Another somewhat unexpected finding is that many asexuals do want romantic relationships. “They want many of the nonsexual aspects of a relationship,” says Lori Brotto, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of British Columbia, “which often includes physical activity like cuddling and intimacy, but it is not connected at all to feelings of wanting sex.” Indeed, next to the romantic comedy, asexuality research has probably done the most for decoupling romance and sex, which some neuroscience studies now suggest are the product of different processes in the brain. And in a realm of science focused largely on couplings, it is such decouplings that make research on asexuality so important.

In “Silver Blaze,” Sherlock Holmes solves the disappearance of a famous racehorse by observing the dog that didn’t bark. Today’s science detectives similarly hope that answers to some of the mysteries of human sexuality can be gleaned from paying more attention to the dog that didn’t f*ck.