- Category: News
- Published on Tuesday, 01 March 2011 12:15
- Written by Super User
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The Asexual Sexologist took time out of her schedule to answer a few questions from Asexual News. In return, the staff agreed to let her interview us.
Q. Why become a Sexologist? It seems like an odd profession for an Asexual to go into, especially given the treatment of experts in the past.
A.From high school until my senior year of college I wanted to be a high school history teacher. My senior year of college I spent time in a high school history classroom and no one was happy to be there, not the teacher, not the students, it was really depressing and not at all the way I remembered my awesome high school history class. I realized that I wasn’t so sure I wanted to spend my life working with people who were essentially a captive audience. My freshmen year of college I had joined a new student group called the “Alternative Lifestyle Association” (www.washualtlife.org) whose goal, as I recall it, was to “promote healthy attitudes towards sex and sexuality” on campus (that first year it was mostly it was a group of kinky students who sat around and talked about bondage and polyamory). My sophomore year, I kind of accidentally became the president of that group and continued to be president until I graduated. With the help of the other members of the group we expanded the activities of the group to include bringing in speakers, having a resource library, workshops, holding discussion panels and educational events etc. So when I realized that I didn’t want to teach history (but had pretty much already completed my degree in education), I decided that continuing to teach people about sex and sexuality would be way more fun (and way more relevant to people’s lives). Since I had double majored (history and education) I hadn’t taken any formal classes in sexuality and had gotten all my information from the student group’s libraries, speakers, workshops, etc (which was not a negligible education) but I realized I was going to need more education, so right now I’m at the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality working on my Masters and Doctorate. I never identified as Asexual until my junior year of college (when my group co-sponsored a lecture by David Jay) and I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t realize how shoddy the treatment of Asexuals were by the academic sexological community until I started my graduate program, if I had known the attitudes before registering it might have changed my mind, but now that I’m in the field I think I might have the chance to make some changes from the “inside”. One of the big problems might just be that most sexologists have never met someone who identifies as Asexual, which contributes to the “other” mentality.
Q. Does your current focus stem from anger over the treatment of Asexuality at the hands of a profession or a specific individual?
A. Sort of. My original intention was to make Asexuality the focus on my Masters project but then to do my Doctoral project on sex education programs for adults. Now that I’ve realized how big the problem is, I’ve decided to make Asexuality the focus on my Doctoral project as well. While I’ve had one professor who was very eager to flaunt that she knew nothing about Asexuality I have found it just as troubling that no professor has taken legitimate opportunities to even mention it in other contexts. When one of my classes covered the Kinsey study and talked about the 0-6 model they completely left out that Kinsey had also had the option for people to identify as X. The sexological community has a very nasty habit of only paying attention to research done by other sexologists and since other recognized “sexologists” haven’t done much research, it really hasn’t been discussed much. Many sexologists are *also* psychiatrists, therapists and MDs so those individuals may pay attention to the little bit of material that is out there but they rarely bring that into discussions with other sexologists (for instance Dr. Charles Moser who is fighting for tougher standards in the DSM-V also graduated from the program that I’m in and is aware of the current research and papers on Asexuality), which I think is very strange and really leaves the field of sexology lagging behind the times. If I were to make Asexuality the focus of my doctoral project at least it might generate a little more discussion.
Q. As a journalist, a lot of the articles I come across use different, although valid, definitions of the term Asexual. How would you define it when it comes to the sexual orientation? Do you find this adds to the confusion or is the problem that Sexologists use a different definition of Asexuality that does not match with the common current usage of the term?
A. I would say that “Asexual” is “an orientation label meant to indicate that the person does not experience sexual attraction.” Like any other orientation label I expect a variation in the meaning for each person who uses it. It is established that there are people who identify as lesbians and date men, men who identify as straight and have sex with other men and so forth. Labels are not one-size fits all, they’re just meant to try and simplify a very complex topic. I don’t know any sexologist who would tell a man who has sex with men that he *has* to identify as gay or bisexual if his chosen orientation label is straight. It isn’t our job to argue with people about the way they choose to identify themselves or to tell people that the way they conceptualize their sexuality is wrong. We’re supposed to be engaging in the “scientific study of sex and sexuality including both attitudes and behaviors” and by completely denying the right of a whole group of people to exist we’re skewing the data, just like how we now know that all those biologists who were studying animals in the wild were skewing their data when they completely ignored the fact that there’s lots of same-sex behavior in many species.
Q. Asexual News has ignored the recent NYU and Her Campus article because the existence of Asexuality, is in the opinion of the staff, simply not news. What would you have to say about Dr. Fawver's comments which mirror almost exactly the comments made by the expert quoted in the NYU article?
A. I think the reason that Dr. Fawver’s comments bothered me more than Dr. Sadock’s comments is because MDs typically get very little class time on the subject of sexuality, so even though she’s the director of the Human Sexuality Program at NYU Medical Center I expect doctors to try and use those “cut and dry” definitions (like that people can’t masturbate and identify as Asexual) because the medical community is all about being able to classify people with very specific labels and they don’t do well with people who don’t seem to fit their pre-determined labels. Also, one message that we get a lot in my current program is that one of the goals of medicine is to convince people they’re sick so they can medicate them (Flibanserin anyone)?, that’s how you make money (similar lines of thought are given in relation to therapists – just think about DSM’s pathologizing of just about everything)!. The message I’ve gotten as a sexologist from the program I’m in now has basically said “you’re going to encounter a lot of different types of sexuality and sexual expression and a lot of what you encounter may not be common but if no one’s being hurt, then your job is to help your client be okay with who they are.” It’s a little more complicated than that of course but that’s the over-arching message as I understand it. Sadly that message seems to be amended with the statement “unless of course the person doesn’t seem interested in sex at all, now they have real problems!” So Dr. Fawver’s comments sound to me very much like the field of sexology trying desperately to make a group of people feel insecure and uncomfortable about their sexuality so that we can “fix” them- which goes against everything I’ve come to understand about the field.
Q. Do you sometimes feel hampered by the lack of Asexual resources out there? How would you overcome for this lack of information? What about people who confuse Asexuality with celibacy? Do you find the assumption that Asexuals are automatically celibate annoying?
A. I’ve found that there are a lot of great resources out there but many of them are in the forms of blogs and forums and those are often overlooked by researchers. There’s actually so much out there being written about it that it’s overwhelming! My site is an attempt to consolidate what’s out there. I think my next big goal is to try and go through all the blogs I’ve listed and find the posts in those blogs that seem to be the most representative and list those posts on one page to create a collage of the Asexual experience so that when I want to suggest that sexologists look at blogs I can give them a specific list of posts as a place to start. On the other hand of course there is very little in the way of research and I’ve found that with a lot of the research I’m left thinking “they asked the wrong questions”. It could be worse, there could be a lot of really terrible research out there instead of just some terrible articles and some mediocre research.
Confusing Asexuality with celibacy is unforgivable in a field where we don’t confuse “gay men” with “men who have sex with men.” Being able to grasp the difference between behavior and orientation is pretty fundamental.
I don’t find the assumption that Asexuals are celibate to be as annoying as the assumption that if you aren’t celibate then you can’t be Asexual, as if suddenly we can’t think of any reason that anyone would have sex other than sexual attraction. We know that people have sex for reasons other than sexual attraction all the time, so I find it obnoxious that with this particular subcategory, we assume that if they have sex it must mean that it’s related to sexual attraction. Furthermore we know that it’s even more complicated, that sexual interest, sexual desire and sexual capacity are all completely independent of each other. It’s as if sexologists hear the word “Asexual” and the ability to understand those concepts goes right out the window.
Q. How do your fellow Sexologists, and I gather from your blog, your classmates, react to you openly declaring yourself Asexual? How do they view you?
A. I wish I knew (or maybe it’s better that I don’t). Honestly I haven’t gotten much feedback. I’ve gotten a little support from some sexologists (which is greatly appreciated). I’ve had a few classmates who came to me (months after I came out to them), to ask me for more information- which was a relief. I came out to a group of 30 classmates and some people asked a few questions but then no one said anything about it for a long time but having some classmates come to me for more information means that they did actually hear what I said and have been thinking about it, and that’s a start!
Q. You mention others in your classes attempting to shut you out of discussions about masturbation, which seems to be a valid topic for your study. How do you convince others in your field that sex drive and sexual attraction are not related?
A. What’s weird is that even the professor who is most vocal about Asexuality not being real is also big on emphasizing that interest in sex, desire to have sex and ability to have sex (or orgasms) are totally different things. We also hear frequently that for lesbians the most common fantasy is having sex with men and for women the most common fantasy is rape and we all accept that just because people use these types of images as masturbation material that it doesn’t mean that lesbians are sexually attracted to men or that women really want to be raped (or are okay with other people being raped) or are sexually attracted to rapists. Yet when I conceded that some Asexuals may be fantasizing about sex while masturbating (I don’t have any idea what the numbers are, that hasn’t come up in any of the research that I’ve read), everyone seems to jump to the conclusion that it must be because they are repressed, even though that line of reasoning doesn’t extend to any other explanation of fantasies used during masturbation.
Regardless of what a person is fantasizing about or whether they are fantasizing at all my classmates seem to assume that masturbation is just something you do when you really want to have sex but can’t for whatever reason. I know lots of people who aren’t Asexual who just enjoy masturbation for the sake of it. I don’t understand why people have a hard time accepting that some people masturbate because it feels good on its own terms and not because it’s a place holder for sex. Also, no matter how many times I say that it’s an “orientation” many still believe my professor when she says that “Asexual means you don’t have a sexuality at all!” and of course they would expect that someone who doesn’t have a sexuality wouldn’t masturbate and so they assume that I must not be Asexual rather than that my professor must be talking out of her ass on the subject of Asexuality.
I think it’s also important to try and clarify the difference between sexual attraction and romantic attraction since those terms aren’t commonly used in sexology so I’ve tried to come up with analogies they may already be familiar with. Men who have sex with men (who identify as straight) may be sexually attracted to men but they aren’t romantically attracted to them (typically), whereas they are more likely to be moth romantically and sexually attracted to women which is why they form relationships with women. People who are gay (sexually attracted to their gender) but don’t realize it until later in life after they’ve already been married to someone of the opposite gender may have been romantically attracted to their spouse without necessarily being sexually attracted to them and just weren’t able to tell the difference (there are lots of possible explanations for why that kind of thing happens but an inability to tell romantic attraction from sexual attraction I suspect plays a role in many cases).
Basically all of the necessary theories and lines of thought for being able to conceptualize Asexuality already exist in the sexological community, people just need help connecting the dots.
Q. What prompted you to start your own Wordpress blog? Have any other people in your profession noticed it or have only Asexuals responded to it?
A. The interview I did was Sex Positive St. Louis was actually the 2ndnd interview/article I was asked to do and I had passed that first request on to Swank Ivy for 2 reasons: 1)Swank Ivy is a clever wordsmith from whom I’ve learned a lot and whose work I really enjoy reading and 2) I didn’t have a website at the time and wanted to wait until I had something up (If you haven’t read Swank Ivy’s articles for Good Vibrations Magazine I highly suggest them! I don’t think I could have passed the offer on to anyone better). So when Sex Positive St. Louis (sexstl.com) wanted to do an interview with me I figured I should stop thinking about making a site and finally do it. I posted my response to Dr. Fawver’s comments in a discussion group made up of my classmates and asked them to read my response so that if they were ever asked to be interviewed on the topic of Asexuality that I wouldn’t have to hang my head in shame that we went to school together and I also posted my “For Sexologists” rant in a discussion group for sexologists. I got practically no response from the sexological community but my site stats tell me that the links from facebook were clicked 50 times and generated a few hundred page-hits (so most didn’t just read the rant, they checked out the page) – so at least some of them are aware.
Q. Did you experience the situation, experienced by many Asexuals born before the birth of the World Wide Web, where you did not have a term to describe your orientation?
A. Definitely. I tried every term, straight, gay, bi, and queer without ever feeling like it fit or like I was lying in some way before I ever heard the word Asexual. You can only get away with “I just don’t think I’m ready yet” for so long and once you’ve reached almost a year it’s hard to convince someone that you just “don’t feel like the relationship is serious enough…” I tend to be ok with long stretches of relationship-free periods so I’ve only had a few relationships since I realized that I may just never be interested but my experience being up front with people has been relatively positive and it’s certainly less stressful on the relationship than resenting my partner when really I wasn’t being honest with either myself or them.
Q. You have described yourself as kinky on Sex Positive Saint Louis. Have people in your field challenged you on that notion as well? What did you think when Fetlife, a social networking fetish site, allowed users to select Asexual as their orientation, a move which Facebook and Myspace have yet to consider.
A. I think FetLife is very responsive to user requests and it probably took them all of 3 minutes to add “Asexual” to the drop-down list so it was just a matter of getting people to ask for it. On one hand I’ve found many of the people in the BDSM community to be hyper-sexual (not in the BDSM kind of way), but also very aware that sexuality is a super-complex concept and that when someone tells you how they describe themselves you accept what their label means to them.
Language is a big deal in the BDSM community and if I took someone new to an event I might introduce them to “slave Sarah” and “submissive Shawn”* and explain that Sarah’s definition of slave and Shawn’s definition of submissive are pretty much identical but Beth in the corner identifies as a submissive and you better not call her a slave because she has two totally different definitions for the two words and would be really offended if you implied she was a slave when she identifies as a submissive. When you meet someone new and ask them how they identify it is very common for that to be followed up with the question “and what do those labels mean for you”? so there’s already the framework for accepting both that sexuality is uber-complex and that labels may mean different things to different people, so just because one person’s definition isn’t the same as another person’s doesn’t mean that one of them must be wrong (ie asexual #1 doesn’t masturbate and Asexual #2 really enjoys getting off – they can both be right).
Q. I'm assuming that you, like me, visit news sites and conduct searches on the word Asexual. How do you feel when some entertainment reporter uses it as an insult or wild speculation about another person?
A. Mostly I roll my eyes when it comes to the wild speculations. It’s almost as if “Asexual” is the new “gay.”
Q. Do you have plans to go beyond the blog? What are they?
A. Well, I don’t know that I’ll get a lot of business as a sexologist if that’s my main page. I own another web address which I’m working on that will eventually be my professional page. I’ll link to my Asexual Sexologist blog from my main page but I’d like to not have to spend all my time defending myself (I don’t mind it as a hobby but it’d be an exhausting career). The school has an atrociously out-dated survey which everyone must complete in order to get a masters or doctorate so I’ll be publishing that on my site in early march and I’ll need 100 people who self-identify as Asexual to take that survey. The survey has a lot of forced-choice questions so I’ll be adding a “free response” section to all of the force-choice answers and my project will have two components: 1) I’ll compare the answers I get to the Kinsey studies and 2) I’ll use the information to demonstrate that the survey is practically useless when used with only the forced-choice options because that means they can only ever collect responses that will validate what they’re already expecting to find.
Q. What is the focus of your thesis? Can you give us more details?
A. As far as the focus for my thesis for my doctorate I don’t have many details because until very recently I was going to do my thesis on sex education programs! I’m totally open to suggestions from the Ace community about what kind of research people would like to see done!
Q. Does your thesis involve Asexuality. If so, did you have to struggle with your instructors to accept it?
A.I haven’t yet told any of my instructors that I’ve changed my mind about my doctoral thesis but when I met with the dean of students to talk about my masters project and told her that I had decided that the population I wanted to survey was “self identified Asexual” she told me I’d never be able to find 100 people because even though people might think they’re Asexual “they just need help.” When I asked about whether or not she thought it would be alright for me to use the web address “asexual sexologist” she warned me that that may not be a good idea because people might think that I was Asexual and “there’s no such thing as an Asexual sexologist, they don’t exist!” … obviously she wasn’t aware that I was Asexual, (she must have missed my big coming-out talk with my classmates).