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Bering in Mind


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Are there asexuals among us? On the possibility of a “fourth” sexual orientation

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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asexuals holding handsGay people are often asked by the curious: When did you first realize you were gay?” In my case, I remember undressing my Superman doll–and being terribly disappointed at the result–as well as being motivated to befriend the more attractive boys in third grade. But hormonally speaking, it wasn’t until I was about fourteen that I first looked in the mirror and thought to myself, ah, that’s what I am all right, it all makes perfect sense now.

It wasn’t much of a mystery. After all, lust isn’t exactly a subtle thing. Back then I derived as much pleasure from making out with my “girlfriend” as I might have from scraping the plaque from my dog’s teeth. In contrast, barely touching legs with a boy I had a crush on sparked an electric, ineffable ecstasy. In the locker room after high school gym class, I forced myself to picture naked girls in my head (particularly my girlfriend) as a sort of cognitive cold shower, a pre-emptive strike against an otherwise embarrassing physical response. I could go on but you get the idea: whether or not we like, hide or accept what we are, our true identities–gay, straight, bisexual–consciously dawn on each of us at some point in adolescence. We all have a natural “orientation” towards sexual contact with others, and for the most part we’re just hopeless pawns, impotent onlookers, to our body’s desires.

At least, that’s what most people tend to think. But actually, some scientists believe that there may be a fourth sexual orientation in our species, one characterized by the absence of desire and no sexual interest in males or females, only a complete and lifelong lacuna of sexual attraction toward any human being (or non-human being). Such people are regarded as asexuals. Unlike bisexuals, who are attracted to both males and females, asexuals are equally indifferent to and uninterested in having sex with either gender. So imagine being a teenager waiting for your sexual identity to express itself, waiting patiently for some intoxicating bolus of lasciviousness to render you as dumbly carnal as your peers, and it just doesn’t happen. These individuals aren’t simply celibate, which is a lifestyle choice. Rather, sex to them is just so … boring.

In one recent interview study published in a 2007 issue of the Archives of Sexual Behavior, a group of self-described asexuals was asked how they came to be aware they were different. One woman responded:

 

I would say I’ve never had a dream or a fantasy, a sexual fantasy, for example, about being with another woman. So I can pretty much say that I have no lesbian sort of tendencies whatsoever. You would think that by my age I would have some fantasy or dream or something, wouldn’t you? … But I’ve never had a dream or a sexual fantasy about having sex with a man, either. That I can ever, ever remember.

 

In another interview study, this one by University of Michigan researcher Kristin Scherrer, an 18-year-old woman put it this way:

 

I just don’t feel sexual attraction to people. I love the human form and can regard individuals as works of art and find people aesthetically pleasing, but I don’t ever want to come into sexual contact with even the most beautiful of people.

 

According to Brock University psychologist Anthony Bogaert, there may be more genuine asexuals out there than we realize. In 2004 Bogaert analyzed survey data from more than 18,000 British residents and found that the number of people (185, or about 1 percent) in this population who described themselves as “never having a sexual attraction to anymore” was just slightly lower than those who identified as being attracted to the same sex (3 percent). Since this discovery, a handful of academic researchers have been trying to determine whether asexuality is a true biological phenomenon or, alternatively, a slippery social label that for various reasons some people may prefer to adopt and embrace.

Sexual desire may wax and wane over the life course or–as many people on antidepressants have experienced–become virtually nonexistent due to medications or disease. There are also chromosomal abnormalities, such as Turner’s syndrome, often associated with an absence of sexual desire. Traumatic events in childhood, such as sexual abuse, can also factor into an aversion to sex. But if it exists as a fourth orientation, true asexuality would be due neither to genetic anomaly or environmental assault; although little is known about its etiology (Bogaert believes it may be traced to prenatal alterations of the hypothalamus), by all appearances most asexual people are normal, healthy, hormonally balanced and sexually mature adults who, for still uncertain reasons, have always found sex to be one big, bland yawn. Asexuality would therefore be like other sexual orientations in the sense that it is not “acquired” or “situational,” but rather an essential part of one’s biological makeup. Just like a straight man or a lesbian can’t wake up one day and decide to become attracted to men, neither could a person–in principle, anyway–“become” asexual. Sexual dysfunctions such as Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD) can also be ruled out if a “preference” towards a gender does not awaken in response to clinical intervention such as hormonal treatment. As Bogaert notes, even those with object fetishes or paraphilias usually display a gender-based attraction, such as men who have a thing for women’s shoes or necrophiliacs who have sex with dead women’s (but not men’s) bodies.

But the story of asexuality is very complicated. For example, as discussion on the AVEN (Asexuality and Visibility Education Network) website forums demonstrate, there is tremendous variation in the sexual inclinations of those who consider themselves to be asexual. Some masturbate, some don’t. Some are interested in nonsexual, romantic relationships (including cuddling and kissing but no genital contact), while others aren’t. Some consider themselves to be “hetero-asexual” (having a nonsexual aesthetic or romantic preference for those of the opposite sex), while others see themselves as “homo-” or “bi-asexuals.” There’s even a matchmaking website for sexless love called asexualpals.com. Yet many asexuals are also perfectly willing to have sex if it satisfies their sexual partners; it’s not awkward or painful for them but rather, like making toast or emptying the trash, they just don’t personally derive pleasure from the act. As researchers Nicole Prause and Cynthia Graham found in their interviews with self-identified asexuals, “they were not particularly sexually fearful … they had a lower excitatory drive.” Others insist on being in completely sexless relationships, possibly with other asexuals. Thus, while many asexuals are virgins, others are ironically even more experienced than your traditionally sexual friends. Some want children through artificial means such as in vitro fertilization; others are willing to have them the old-fashioned way or don’t want children at all.

Thus, on the one hand there seems to be a sociological issue of people of a marginalized sexual identity gathering steam and beginning to form an identifiable community. (And in the process attracting significant media attention, including coverage on the Montel Williams Show, The View and an excellent feature story in New Scientist a few years ago.) On the other hand, there remains–to me–the more intriguing biological issue of asexual essentialism; that is to say, is it really possible to develop “normally” without ever experiencing sexual desire, even a niggling little blip on the arousability radar, toward any other human being on the face of the earth? I have little doubt that there are self-identified asexuals who would fail to meet this essentialist criterion, but if even a sliver of the asexual community has truly never experienced arousal, then this would pose fascinating questions for our understanding of human sexuality and evolutionary processes.

I still have a lot of questions. Scientists have just scratched the surface in studying human asexuality. You can count the number of studies on the subject on one hand. Does asexuality, like homosexuality, have heritable components? Certainly it’s plausible. After all, historically, female asexuals would have probably had offspring with their male sexual partners, thus ensuring continuity of the genetic bases of asexuality. Although Bogaert’s original findings suggested that asexuality was somewhat more common among women, more recent research by Prause and Graham found no such gender difference in their college-aged sample of self-reported asexuals. If some asexuals masturbate in the absence of sexual fantasy or porn, then what exactly is it that’s getting them physically aroused? (And how does one achieve orgasm–as some asexuals apparently do–without experiencing pleasure?) Also, if you’re on board theoretically with evolutionary psychology, almost all of human cognition and social behavior somehow boils down to sexual competition. So what would the evolutionary psychologist make of asexuality? If sex is nature’s feel-good ruse to get our genes out there, is there actually a natural category of human beings that is immune to evolution’s greatest gag?

I must say, the only good way to solve the riddle is also a bit unsavory. But unless psychological scientists ever gather a group of willing, self-identified asexuals and, systematically and under controlled conditions, expose them to an array of erotic stimuli while measuring their physical arousal (penile erection or vaginal lubrication), the truth of the matter will lie forever hidden away in the asexual’s pants. 

In this column presented by Scientific American Mind magazine, research psychologist Jesse Bering of Queen’s University Belfast ponders some of the more obscure aspects of everyday human behavior. Ever wonder why yawning is contagious, why we point with our index fingers instead of our thumbs or whether being breastfed as an infant influences your sexual preferences as an adult? Get a closer look at the latest data as “Bering in Mind” tackles these and other quirky questions about human nature. Sign up for the RSS feed or friend Dr. Bering on Facebook and never miss an installment again. For articles published prior to September 29, 2009, click here: older Bering in Mind columns.

Image ©iStockphoto.com/purapyro





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  1. 1. irresistibledisgrace 2:18 pm 10/30/2009

    "Does asexuality, like homosexuality, have heritable components? Certainly it’s plausible. After all, historically, female asexuals would have probably had offspring with their male sexual partners, thus ensuring continuity of the genetic bases of asexuality."

    Also, in response to this question from Jesse…I’m not a scientist, but I think it glosses over the research in the field.

    When we look for a genetic component to asexuality or homosexuality or anything else, we need not limit ourselves directly to the the effect on the person. So, we need not limit ourselves directly to the effect on the *homosexual* to *have children* or for the asexual to have children. After all, the gene expression in one person could have different expression in another or have some indirectly advantageous effect. For example, with homosexuality, the hypothesis I’ve seen is that whatever genetic basis for male homosexuality just happens to increase fertility in that person’s sisters. This could be either directly from the gene or indirectly, due to some ‘social’ benefit that gay male relatives could have in raising children (nieces and nephews, rather than sons and daughters).

    I don’t know how much this idea has gotten through, so I’m not presenting it as the way things must be, but I think this is an example of how genetics and natural selection aren’t so "simplistic."

    Similarly, genetics are a smokescreen. For example, if it is not *genetic* but *hormonal* (relating to hormones in the womb or outside of the womb), then wouldn’t that be just as valid? So, there has similarly been research that suggests that homosexuality (male, at least) may arise as a result of interactions with the hormonal environment of the womb (which also explains things like why, on average, having older brothers increases the "likelihood" ever so slightly or the differences in finger lengths and other hormonally affected things.)

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  2. 2. wmp82 2:37 pm 10/30/2009

    Wow, it’s pretty sad to see all these ignorant comments on a site devoted to science. Homosexuality is not a choice! Actions are choices, but sexual orientations are not. Evidence is accumulating to demonstrate this (for example, the influence of amniotic fluids on orientation, and the competitive advantage to women bearing children with strong attraction to men, since the females born of those women are likely to reproduce A LOT).

    For the record, I am a straight, married man, and although I sometimes wish maybe my drive was lower than it is (it can be rather inconvenient at times), I can’t change my desire for women any more than any one else can change theirs – for men, or women or shoes.

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  3. 3. katman 2:44 pm 10/30/2009

    Well, could asexuality have a psychological component? Let’s say a person is low on the sexual totem pole so to speak, (short males for example-See scientific study at: http://www.heightsite.com/6_short/6_short-bias.htm) and they don’t find the women that are attracted to them sexually appealing. They are going to pass up the opportunity to have sex with the women that are willing to have sex with them unless they are willing to pay for it. What’s nifty about women is they are genetically pre-disposed to have sex with partners that give them things, like $200.

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  4. 4. irresistibledisgrace 2:53 pm 10/30/2009

    katman:

    That doesn’t make sense. We’re talking about *attraction,* not about availability of sex.

    So, someone doesn’t ‘become’ asexual because they are sexual undesirable…people who are sexually undesirable become *sexually frustrated* and *hindered in their ability to pursue a sexuality they most definitely have*.

    However, for asexuals, it really doesn’t matter how others view them as being desirable or not…because the asexual isn’t attracted to any of those others. The asexual does not experience sexual frustration over not having sex, because he or she doesn’t want sex and/or doesn’t find anyone sexually appealing.

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  5. 5. katman 4:05 pm 10/30/2009

    irresistible:
    You could be right, but I don’t think I expressed myself properly. The article clearly states that some [asexuals] are interested in nonsexual, romantic relationships (including cuddling and kissing but no genital contact), while others aren’t. Some consider themselves to be “hetero-asexual” (having a nonsexual aesthetic or romantic preference for those of the opposite sex), while others see themselves as “homo-” or “bi-asexuals.” There’s even a matchmaking website for sexless love called asexualpals.com. Yet many asexuals are also perfectly willing to have sex if it satisfies their sexual partners; it’s not awkward or painful for them but rather, like making toast or emptying the trash, they just don’t personally derive pleasure from the act."

    So, sex is not fun for asexuals, but there seems to an attraction going on, Some sort of need to be with someone that they like.

    What is also interesting is the article states that most asexuals are women. Sexuality in women is not as straight forward as sexuality in men. What I have found in real life is that the earlier a female is exposed to sex, the more she wants to have sex. If somehow, these asexual women miss the "window" to instill sexual desire, then maybe they don’t acquire sexual desire. Similar to language. Humans have only a given period of time to develop language skills and if they don’t develop them within the give time period, they lose the ability to acquire language skills. Maybe that is what is going on with women.

    As far as my short man example, well, I can see your point. However, if a short man and can only have sex with partners who he does not find sexually attractive, well, sex is not going to be too thrilling. But I agree with you, this may only lead to frustration.

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  6. 6. irresistibledisgrace 4:21 pm 10/30/2009

    re katman:

    "So, sex is not fun for asexuals, but there seems to an attraction going on, Some sort of need to be with someone that they like. "

    Yes, can there not be such a thing as romantic attraction without sexual attraction? That is why certain asexuals do say they are "hetero-romantic" or "homo-romantic" or "bi-romantic," but this doesn’t mean they are sexually attracted.

    "What is also interesting is the article states that most asexuals are women. Sexuality in women is not as straight forward as sexuality in men. What I have found in real life is that the earlier a female is exposed to sex, the more she wants to have sex. If somehow, these asexual women miss the "window" to instill sexual desire, then maybe they don’t acquire sexual desire."

    This is really speculative, I hope you realize…so I hope you aren’t formulizing it as the "way things are." (relating language to sexuality…) Also, you didn’t read the full sentence from the article:

    "Although Bogaert’s original findings suggested that asexuality was somewhat more common among women, more recent research by Prause and Graham found no such gender difference in their college-aged sample of self-reported asexuals"

    So, there isn’t even consensus on asexuality among genders. Research is conflicting.

    "As far as my short man example, well, I can see your point. However, if a short man and can only have sex with partners who he does not find sexually attractive, well, sex is not going to be too thrilling. But I agree with you, this may only lead to frustration."

    The sexual frustration part is really the difference. The short man who can only have sex with partners he does not find attractive *still is attracted to other people*. He simply does not have the opportunity to have sex with them. So, that short man could still fantasize about who his "ideal sexual partner" would be.

    Asexuals are not similar in this regard.

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  7. 7. katman 4:30 pm 10/30/2009

    Do asexual men have wet dreams? I wonder.

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  8. 8. katman 4:45 pm 10/30/2009

    I just cannot believe asexuality is genetic. How do asexuals propagate and what is the darwinian reason for their existence? Maybe they are just depressed. From wikipedia.

    "The first study that gave empirical data about asexuals was published in 1983 by Paula Nurius, concerning the relationship between sexual orientation and mental health. Based on the results, respondents were given a score ranging from 0-100 for hetero-eroticism and from 0-100 for homo-eroticism. Respondents who scored lower than 10 on both were labeled "asexual." This consisted of 5% of the males and 10% of the females. Results showed that asexuals were more likely to have low self-esteem [short man example!] and more likely to be depressed than members of other sexual orientations. 25.88% of heterosexuals, 26.54% bisexuals (called "ambisexuals"), 29.88% of homosexuals, and 33.57% of asexuals were reported to have problems with self-esteem [Short man example!]. A similar trend existed for depression. Nurius did not believe that firm conclusions can be drawn from this for a variety of reasons. Asexuals also reported much lower frequency and desired frequency of a variety of sexual activities including having multiple partners, anal sexual activities, having sexual encounters in a variety of locations, and autoerotic activities.[17]

    Also, while my "sexual exposure" theory is speculative…maybe that would be fertile ground for some enterprising grad-student.

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  9. 9. irresistibledisgrace 4:55 pm 10/30/2009

    re katman:

    "Do asexual men have wet dreams? I wonder."

    Wet dreams are a product of the *mechanics* of the body, so it’s not surprising that the answer is yes.

    The real question is what are they about. For me, they are about really, really, really good tasting food. Literally, orgasmic food.

    "I just cannot believe asexuality is genetic. How do asexuals propagate and what is the darwinian reason for their existence?"

    Again, as I have noted in a previous comment, natural selection isn’t so "simplistic." For example, we actually can ask the same questions for homosexuality. "How do homosexuals propagate (well, very easily, actually. Just because you aren’t attracted to someone of the opposite sex doesn’t mean you cannot physically have sex with them)? What is the darwinian reason for their existence? (Red herring. As long as the trait isn’t "selected out," it can persist. So, if a genetic basis for homosexuality in men makes for more fertile women, then we could see that it is actually "net" beneficial. There could be similar things for asexuality. It’s all speculative, however…

    Relating to your study, again, very speculative (and not only that, but quite old…it’s suspicious that the study you find doesn’t have modern counterparts to confirm or deny the older results. (Whereas we have seen that other studies do muddy the waters, so to speak. Early studies say more women are asexual than men…later studies say there may not be a statistical difference.)

    Again, correlation does not equal causation. Additionally, we don’t know the *direction*. For example, if one is living in a predominantly sexual world, then wouldn’t it be understandable that one might be more at risk at having lower self-esteem? In this case, it’s not a cause, but a correlation due to a lurking variable (e.g., societal conditions). Consider historical data on depression for homosexuals: society has historically been very intolerant (and is still somewhat intolerant), but over time, as acceptance has increase, depression has decreased.

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  10. 10. katman 5:09 pm 10/30/2009

    Very interesting irresistible. Orgasmic food. Maybe there is something to this idea that asexuality has genetic roots after all. I know this much. Being sexual is a complication. Also, you might consider that asexuality is an adaptive trait in communities having a high incidence of AIDS like diseases.

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  11. 11. jack.123 5:12 pm 10/30/2009

    In nature any crossing other than male-female,with few exceptions-worms,and handfull of others,are genetic dead ends,makes no differance if they are male-male or female-female the results are the same,no offspring.

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  12. 12. pmcgee 5:34 pm 10/30/2009

    I am more than confused by some of the comments. This not an article on gays.
    As a 69 year old married guy, I have always beleived that there are some people who are not interested in sex of any kind. I am glad to see some research in this area. It will eliminate some confusion for this group of people.

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  13. 13. c.harvey 5:44 pm 10/30/2009

    @jack123: sorry, you’re just flat-out wrong. you’ve obviously never heard of the concept of inclusive genetic fitness. look it up and learn something.

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  14. 14. kgrimner 6:13 pm 10/30/2009

    @Neil5150
    You are about as completely wrong as you can be. Some examples from nature:
    - Japanese macaques vastly prefer lesbian relationship, and have heterosexual relationships only rarely.
    - Bighorn sheep males live in essentially constant all-male orgy, mating with females only rarely.
    - Bonobos have gay sex all the time (females have lesbian sexual encounters once every two hours, on average).
    - killer whales, bottlenose dolphins, manatees all have stable homosexual relationships, particularly between males.
    - practically all species that mate for life have a percentage of homosexual couplings. There are even species where threesomes are very common (two males and one female, or two females and one male, all mating with each other).

    Homosexuality is an integral part of nature. Learn to live with it.

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  15. 15. jack.123 7:42 pm 10/30/2009

    I guess Hamilton’s theory’s don’t apply, if siblings are not contributing to the family groups.If most of the males in the species mentioned are not around, how are they helpfull?,I can only hope that human males ,that fit in this category, are not as callous.Rape,and killing anothers offspring are behavior’s seen in other species,but I don’t see this as beneficial in any human setting,just because some other animals are doing something doesn’t mean humans should be.I have nothing against any else’s sexual orientation, as long as no one getting hurt,its nobody elses business.

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  16. 16. openminded 7:51 pm 10/30/2009

    Come on, really – there is a huge amount of research out there to show that asexuality is very common, how can you possibly claim otherwise?

    Check out

    http://www.platonicpartners.co.uk

    and

    http://www.aven.org

    to see just how many go online, never mind the ones that do not.

    Of course it is a fourth orientation, but can ALSO be temporary due to other reasons – why try to put everything into neat little boxes?

    Open you minds, peeps.

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  17. 17. jack.123 7:55 pm 10/30/2009

    Sorry about the missing body.nobody’s perfect.

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  18. 18. Neil5150 8:08 pm 10/30/2009

    I have more than "learned to live with it"
    I am a lifelong Democrat; live in Ma (voted for gay marriage), and was glad to see Obama expand hate crimes legislation.
    I personally believe in civil unions, but if it’s marriage the community wants, I’ll except more rings on male fingers.
    The issue I was attempting to articulate was the fact that the author of the article attached his scientifically flawed logic of homosexuality to "Asexual"….. Where does it stop?

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  19. 19. hotblack 9:32 pm 10/30/2009

    You people are finally starting to get somewhere. A common misperception is that because mating between two organisms does not immediately result in reproduction, means that it is unnatural.

    This could not be farther from the truth.

    1. In every species, humans included, a small percentage of the organisms will not reproduce. The reasons for this are nearly infinite. This one’s attracted to the same sex, that one’s skin is a little too bluish to be considered normal, this one’s a little too smart for his own good and acts like a jerk, that one’s chosen someone who can’t procreate, this one’s been injured, this one doesn’t make enough money, whatever. None of these unions are going to bear fruit. All these pairings are "unnatural"? My friends daughter, who had her ovaries removed due to cancer when she was 14, should never date, have sex, or marry, because she cannot conceive?

    2. Monogamy isn’t natural anyway. If we were going to set out to live "natural" lives, we’d keep harems of girls and sire as many offspring as possible, starting as soon as they reach puberty. Incest, whatever. Anything goes, so long as it yields offspring. That’s natural. It’s not the best, as we’ve learned, but that is our history.

    3. Hormones. Look em up. Not everybody’s running with the same levels there.

    I understand the instinctual motivation that makes people value rampant breeding like crazy til there’s 7 billion of us, and we begin to see the planet fail to support our numbers. What I don’t understand is how so many of you people choose to be stuck in this mindset, instead of rising above it. Want to claim you’re a superior species? Use those big brains, come out of the caves, put down your clubs, and elevate your existence from that of a banana slug.

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  20. 20. arbutus1440 6:57 pm 10/31/2009

    Neil 5150,

    1. You cannot spell, and this is the first tip-off for someone whose opinion is irrelevant. You are either 11 years old or lacking the intelligence to post on a site like this.

    2. You are calling every homosexual who says he/she felt these feelings from an early age a liar–not just wrong, but a liar. There are millions of them out there. When does the cognitive dissonance inside your head get so loud you can no longer ignore it? You must have an astoundingly high threshold. You must be at the point where you no longer believe your own senses if they contradict your ingrained beliefs.

    3. Find one person who is homosexual or asexual and get to know them. Your bilious hatred and bigotry will melt away as you realize they’re not scary people, just regular folks trying to live their lives. And no–DON’T tell me you already do know such people or vote Democratic or whatever. Someone like you has never, EVER taken the time to get to know someone of a different sexual orientation, and I don’t care how you vote.

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  21. 21. zijws 7:23 pm 10/31/2009

    The idea that this is an orientation is ridiculous. Even if they are born with the genes for this, it’s still a defect. After all we don’t say that people born with other types of birth defects are meant to be that way and not try to help them…

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  22. 22. freakyguy6190 11:47 pm 10/31/2009

    @hotblack: Well I wont be racing to say that either. Where will gay or lesbian come from. We all know a man+man don’t produce a baby or female+female doesn’t not equals a baby/child
    Natural if what u say were to happen there would be no population at all.

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  23. 23. SilverFox2009 7:56 am 11/1/2009

    To Neil5150

    Your display of intellectual genius belies the fact that you are illiterate:

    “this is the kind of stuff a person dreams up when their sexual deviance over takes there personality.” Go back to school and learn about their English classes.

    “choose to be gay; (weather they think it’s a choice or not); ” Maybe you should study meteorology instead, whether you need it or non.

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  24. 24. SilverFox2009 8:00 am 11/1/2009

    To Neil5150

    Your display of intellectual genius belies the fact that you are illiterate:

    “this is the kind of stuff a person dreams up when their sexual deviance over takes there personality.” Go back to school and learn about their English classes.

    “choose to be gay; (weather they think it’s a choice or not); ” Maybe you should study meteorology instead, whether you need it or not.

    PS I can spell, I just can’t type. The last word is not “non” it is “not.”

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  25. 25. Parker307 12:04 am 11/2/2009

    Interesting. One note for those judging what it natural and unnatural. Perhaps the evolutionary unit is not the individual person but the social group or tribe. Gay and asexual individuals make perfect sense in this evolutionary perspective. Say a group of people live on an island(or a place that functions as such), how would the limits of resources effect the group? Perhaps like some other species on islands the reproduction rate drops. This could happen many ways but having some individuals being non-breeding would be one way. Also having non-breeding, gay or asexual individuals in the group or tribe could be advantageous in other ways as well. These individuals could take over child care if parents died for some reason or they could specialize for example they could more completely devote themselves the the knowledge of the plants in the area to the benefit of the social group. People are social creatures and perhaps like those well studied social creatures, the ants not all of the individuals need to lay the eggs for them to be a successful and natural species.

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  26. 26. royniles 6:57 pm 11/2/2009

    I suspect most of these "desireless" types have been turned off from the development of attractions to any sex by some emotional disturbance to that development rather than biological.

    And note one woman who first denied an attraction to women before what one would expect would be a denial of such to men. Sounds like a repressed lesbian in there somewhere.

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  27. 27. Telrunya 12:00 pm 11/3/2009

    The interesting reprecusions of these types of studies go far in proving that engaging in sexuality is more of a choice than ever before. You may feel oriented towards men, women, animals or minerals, but to act on such feelings is a choice. Thats why despite my own proclivities I feel that the puch in the US for "Equal Rights" for homosexuals is a joke at best. People can’t help being men or women, young or old, handicapped or non, of one ethnicity or another but they can choose who they sleep with or (as the article suggests) if they choose to sleep with someone at all.

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  28. 28. chunkylimey 4:24 pm 11/3/2009

    "There are NO homosexuals in nature; only opportunistic homosexual acts. When given the choice they all choose the opposite sex."

    However sadly there are morons who nothing about nature posting comments. There was even a US Army research project into the mating habits of sheep that found a percentage of male sheep would prefer male to female sex.

    However you can keep on living in denial (the biggest state in America) because if your kids inherit your personality eventually the line will die out. Natural selection eventually weeds out those unfit for the species.

    Also it’s spelled "WHETHER" not "WEATHER" if you’d pay more attention to facts and information you might also have learned how to use the correct word.

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  29. 29. chunkylimey 4:30 pm 11/3/2009

    You won’t see any other species in nature denying absolute facts; because they believe their imaginary friend told them, what happens in every other species, is "Sinful".

    Also I personally find that a sick and twisted cult’s opinion should be tolerated. A cult that: worships a zombie that rises from the tomb 3 days after being killed as a terrorist; that believes it is perfectly acceptable to ritually drink the blood of, and eat the body of this terrorist; that believes that genocide is acceptable when told to commit it by your imaginary friend; worse of all one that believes believing something to be true is more important than being able to test if it is true or not.

    We need to ban Christianity; it’s just not natural.

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  30. 30. MUNDIALIZACION 4:55 pm 11/3/2009

    No way, there exists at least 7 000 000 000 sexs to speak of human beings at the most.

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  31. 31. HawaiiBill 3:52 pm 11/4/2009

    The matter of masturbation was ill-treated in your essay. Unless I missed something in there, you indicate asexuals have no pleasure though the act can lead to orgasm. Take another look. There is rapture a`plenty in our world — from art, the overwhelming beauty of nature, etc. — and that is pure asexual pleasure. Perhaps it is possible to induce orgasm without pleasure but I don’t think so. And I don’t think it’s impossible to have pleasure of many sorts without it being sexual in any manner except the organs involved in reaching the goal.

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  32. 32. Ravencloud 6:34 pm 11/4/2009

    “never having a sexual attraction to anymore” I think that ‘anymore’ should probably be ‘anyone’, that are I’m reading it incorrectly.

    Anyway, I do think there are true asexuals. I have a friend who is a self-proclaimed bi-romantic, meaning having an attraction to both genders, but feeling no sexual pull whatsoever.

    And to those flamers thinking that homosexuality is a "choice", I want you, yes you, to choose to be only sexually attracted to your gender for an entire month, feeling nothing for the opposite. Come on, I want you to try it; or are you too "sick" with heterosexuality?

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  33. 33. contactgordon 4:37 pm 11/5/2009

    @Richleo: If you don’t like gay relationships then don’t be in one. If the people in society worried about themselves as much as they cared about what others were doing we would not be in the situation we are in today. Also I find it funny when someone says that being gay is a choice well unless they have gay tendencies how can they truely understand. One must walk in someone else’s shoes before you know what the journey entails.

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  34. 34. gidwa 10:13 pm 11/5/2009

    I find it odd when people say homosexuality isn’t "natural". I think the god-fearing conservatives make more sense. At least they have the excuse that they don’t think for themselves (or believe in nature), they just follow what they believe the Bible and their ministers are telling them.

    If you believe in nature, natural selection, etc. it seems logical to me that both homosexuality and asexuality would be built into all sexually-reproducing species as a population-control mechanism. I haven’t really read whether there has been research into the subject, but it just seems logical to me. And, if it is true, then being homosexual or asexual is just as "normal" and "natural" as being heterosexual.

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  35. 35. A_Rock 7:30 am 11/6/2009

    This is interesting enough. There is always a sense of uneasiness when discussing sexuality of any kind regardless of ones point of view. People tend to be very prudish, timid, almost witch-hunter-esk when it comes to debating the topic. That being said… My opinion on the matter is that almost everyone is, for the most part, in fact, right. There is a degree of genetic predetermination that could heavily coerce someone in the direction of any of the four sexual orientations. There is also a great deal of choice involved. (look up peptides and cell reproduction to get a better idea of how we are an actual biological product of our repeated personal decisions) phsycological trauma is a large factor as well.
    Without being too revealing. I myself have another sexual orientation. I call it the allsexual. I have no quarrels with anyones sexual view and I am willing to engage in basically any sexual behavior with no feeling of guilt whatsoever as long as all parties are consenting. I enjoy feeling good and helping others feel good. I’m not a sex addict, I don’t allow sexual activities to interfere with my public life (i do sometimes wish others would do the same, no hate though) To support the genetic argument, I have always been this way. Ever since I could walk I was naked and I was getting all the other children naked. I have also been aware of what i was doing and at any point even still could decide to conform and change. I am after all in control of my own life.
    I guess my point is that all of us just need to let go of our judgements. Let go of the niches that society has presented us. Stand back, be empathetic, don’t live with hate, let people enjoy themselves, whether that be having sex or not, with humans, animals, aliens, trees or not. Don’t bring god or evolution into it at all.
    Ye who has the most fun… Wins…
    Thanx for listening ^.^

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  36. 36. A_Rock 7:33 am 11/6/2009

    All valid views but it may be more simple then that still.

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  37. 37. Suklaakrk 9:30 pm 11/9/2009

    To answer the question "If homosexuality is genetic, why does it still exist?"

    Everybody has the same genes. There is no such thing as a "blue eye gene" instead, there is a version of the eye color gene which would mean a person would have blue eyes.

    These copies are called alleles. So to take the eye color example, there would be an allele for brown eyes and an allele for blue eyes. Everybody has the eye color gene from both parents, but if the brown allele is dominant then if a person got a brown allele from their biological father and a blue allele from their biological mother, the person’s eyes would be brown, but they would be a carrier for blue eyes, so if they had a child, and gave the child the blue allele, and the child got a blue allele from the other parent, the child could have blue eyes. That child could have a sibling though who got one blue allele and one brown allele, and so would have brown eyes. (There are very few traits which are controlled this simply, and by one gene only) but even if there was one "sexual orientation gene" it would be quite possible that two straight parents could be "carriers" of the gay allele and so they could have a gay child.
    Of course, since most traits are controlled by multiple genes, and hormones can have an impact on how genes are expressed, it is entirely possible that sexual orientation could be based in genetics, and we just haven’t found all of the genes yet.

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  38. 38. no quizzle 12:21 am 11/10/2009

    kgrimner 6:13, is bang on.
    Anybody who knows anything about the natural world, realises that homosexuality, asexuality, any sexuality is perfectly in accordance with nature. It’s well documented (repeatedly!). Just because the majority of humans are heterosexual doesn’t mean that is all there naturally is. I live in a country where the majority is white, doesn’t mean because i’m not i’m not natural. I’m heterosexual, I find the female body as beautiful as a sunset, and even i can see that other orientations are natural. Just because you don’t understand something, is no reason to be a bigot!

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  39. 39. Neil5150 11:51 am 11/10/2009

    The scientific jury is still out on the genetic influence of sexual orientation.
    When the author of the article states there is no "choice" in sexual orientation as fact, he does a disservice to the people who have psychological disorders and sexual confusion.
    Even if there turns out to be a “gay-gene” and a person is predisposed to become gay no one is born gay.
    To state unequivocally genetics is the sole factor in sexual orientation, and social influence has no bearing is counter-productive.
    Behaviors are NOT inheritable; behaviors are social choices. Sexuality is a behavior.
    You can argue that all day long label me a bigot, call me ignorant, or a bible thumping freak, however it doesnt change the science.

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  40. 40. WordPower 12:43 am 11/12/2009

    Dr. Bering, so sorry for all these asinine comments; this is a well-written, sensitive article. Well said! thank you.

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  41. 41. Suklaakrk 5:03 pm 11/13/2009

    Sexual orientation is not a choice. When did you choose to find the opposite sex attractive? People don’t choose who they find attractive. They can choose whether or not to act on that attraction. Sexual orientation is not behavior.

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  42. 42. GodsScienceChild 10:49 am 11/15/2009

    This is absolutely rediculous, the only way a human can be Asexual is if they are able to bare offspring by producing their own seed, egg, and fertilizing themselves without exterior influences.

    Worms are asexual, humans are not. People, think logically. The closest thing humans could be to being asexual would be hermaphrodites.

    A good case of a hermaphroditic society is a pack of hyiennas. If there is a pack with a low male population, then the Alpha Female’s "male genitalia" will begin functioning appropriately. She had both working reproductive organs for male and female. When she was born, she was female; however, due to survival needs of the pack, she became male.

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  43. 43. Seal 7:11 pm 11/20/2009

    @GodsScienceChild

    Hyenas are not hermaphrodites, god where the heck are you reading your material? The idea that hyenas were hermaphrodites dates back to the middle ages. Female hyenas have a pseudopenis, it is true, and its is through this organ that they urinate and give birth, but they are certainly not producers of sperm at any point in their life. Though the alpha female may have more testosterone than a male, it is not enough to change her biological sex. Please research your topics more carefully before posting. And yes, people can be asexual, its an asexuality that carries a different definition than the one employed by biologists. Likewise, the term "bisexual" applied to some whiptail lizards merely indicates that they have two distinct sexes rather than just ones sex "unisexual", as is the case with many other whiptail lizards that lack a male sex and reproduce through parthenogenesis. However, in topics of sexology, bisexual and asexual clearly have different meanings when referring to human sexual orientations. There should not be anything shocking about the concept of people that do not experience sexual desires in response to other humans. No one gets in a tizzy about amusical people (those that do not understand or enjoy music), why should this be so controversial?

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  44. 44. juliemarie 12:02 pm 11/24/2009

    hotblack,

    yes, heterosexuals and homosexuals mate for fulfilment reasons so, one does not over ride the other. Pleasure and fulfilment that is the cosmic effect, reproduction is an all together different spectrum. I am heterosexual and I enjoy my sex life with my partner because it leaves me fulfilled, I also enjoy lively sexual debates with my gay and lesbian friends who are in sexually active relationships, it all boils down to fulfilment. So if heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals and asexuals need to carve the importance of being accepted then they need to accept themselves soly. For goodness sakes, protesting, arguing and debating over morality is just pointless. Our morals are just what they are ‘our morals’ which should not damage our souls as well as others, by others I mean "If no one is attacking you, why do you need to retaliate?" I let my straight friends chew on that, I for one see the individual within you and for that I respect you what is my business with your sexual orientation? I DID NOT CREAT YOU so ENJOY YOUR LIFE! To my non-heterosexual friends, if you did not commit a freaking crime then why write the first chapter? Just go on and ENJOY YOUR LIFE. Why there are threatening and insulting debates about such matters, I will never know!

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  45. 45. Nic Hendricks 12:27 am 11/25/2009

    Haven’t we learned by now that pretty much everything in nature is on a spectrum?! Spectrum. Not ‘category’. Height, weight, skin color, taste preference, mental capacity (think: debunked mental ‘disorders’)…sexual preference? Even species: arctic birds, for example. We really need to expect spectrums.

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  46. 46. c.harvey 7:05 am 11/25/2009

    @Nic Hendriks: On the "spectrum" versus "category" distinction. I don’t think that’s really very important. Another way to look at it is this: if you’re anywhere on the "spectrum" between being exclusively homosexual and exclusively heterosexual, then you’re pretty much "bisexual." Still a category.

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  47. 47. JaneDoe67 9:16 am 01/17/2010

    I am an asexual and yeah it’s not covered or studied because we don’t really want it to be. It would be more like torture than a study involving what you described just to better "understand" us. We understand us, what does it matter for other people to?

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  48. 48. MrMarley 3:27 pm 11/14/2010

    I definitely agree with you arclyte.
    There are so many psychological reasons for asexuality. Maybe people who claim to be this indeed have physical abnormality’s like an extremely small penis, or have ‘vaginitas’. Maybe people who say they are asexual find it easier to say this, than to say my penis is to small, or I am so fat i will crush my partner!
    Another point, why do some asexuals masturbate? If they need a sexual outlet I really don’t get why they can’t do it with men or women. (Oh, and masturbation is still sex.)
    I just find it very hard to believe that this has any biological underpinning, apart from physical mutation like a deformed penis.

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  49. 49. Bee3zz 11:35 pm 01/21/2011

    I am always boggled by the incomprehension of sexuals. You do remember being young children right? I assume you didn’t want to have sex with anyone then?
    I think, ‘penetrative sex’ sounds very gross. back in middle/high school I remember when all the people I had considered sane suddenly lost it and started giggling at everything vaguely cylindrical or donut shaped. Does the concept occur to you on your own?? Or do you have to be told/see animals do it/see it on tv?

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  50. 50. Solipsist 2:36 am 03/5/2011

    Actually, that may be the best way to explain asexuality to sexuals — when you were a child, you simply didn’t look at people ‘in that way’. Oh, yes, you ~knew~ all about boys and girls, and you may even have seen nudie mags, or seen people naked. It just didn’t ‘do’ anything for you.

    Later, when your peers began to feel stirrings, and started doing seemingly insane things to attract the attention of members of the opposite sex…well, you simply remained the same.

    Unfortunately, while that makes asexuality sound like a stunted or undeveloped thing (like something that never grew along with the rest of you, and remained in a juvenile state), it still might be a good way to explain the subjective experience.

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  51. 51. Annvdb 2:29 am 11/28/2012

    There are actually more asexual people than you might think. I am one, Always been it, you get born like that and the desire for seks with another person just does not come up. Together with that, I also have no desire for relationship or children. So I choose to remain single.

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  52. 52. Ealeman 1:41 pm 12/7/2012

    As an asexual, I can say that this is by far the worst article I’ve seen on the topic. From misconceptions to denigrating statements, it seems as this “Scientific American” is anything but scientific. No research was done and it puts us in a bad light.

    First of all, the only defining aspect that unifies the spectrum of asexuality is this:

    The lack of sexual attraction.

    Arousal, romantic attraction, the choice of masturbation, sexual fantasies and other things like this are all variables and do not define the asexual person. By the way, physical stimuli will obviously cause a response, even if there is not any attraction involved.

    The so called experiment you describe will fail because not all asexuals are not affected by suggestive pictures, nor do all erections happen because of attraction. Has anyone gotten one at an inconvinient time or place without notice nor cause?

    In my specific case, I lack any sexual attraction for women nor men (and it has been this way since I was born), but a romantic attraction prevails for women. This is called being asexual heteroromantic (being myself a man). Also, I find no arousal from the beauty of a woman, but a fantasy of a sexual situation, even from a faceless imaginary woman, no matter her figure, may cause me arousal. However, I have no clue if this would be the same in a real life situation.

    And to that guy who said we must be deformed down there, all my parts are normal, and fully functional, for your information.

    I suggest you make research before writing such an awful article. There is the AVEN forums and wiki for such info, easy to find on a first google of the word asexuality.

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  53. 53. timestart 5:05 am 12/28/2012

    Wow, as an asexual, I am rather offended by all of this.

    First: hormones!
    When there is an egg inside my fallopian tubes that wants to be fertilized, I get the urge to fertilise it. This is hormone based arousal and is rather like what I imagine getting an awkward boner in math class is like. I am no more aroused by men/women/other in this situation than this hypothetical man is aroused by math.
    Seriously. I’ll just be casually sitting or watching a completely non-sexual movie and bam[!] I’m aroused.

    Personally, I don’t masturbate unless it’s really strong or I’m rather bored. And what do I think about when I do so? The weather, or my plans for tomorrow.

    Second, asexuality has links to the population of the earth in the same way that homosexuality does (which is none). Place heterosexual explicit material in from of homosexuals and they will probably become aroused. It’s a hormonal response.

    Third, I do not have to defend every single sexual encounter or feeling. Some homosexuals sleep with the opposite gender, it doesn’t mean that they’re not homosexual. I’m sure some straight men have had dreams of having sex with a man, or some homosexual men have dreamt of having sex with a woman. I’ve had dreams that I’m being chased by a dinosaur. It doesn’t mean I’m hiding a deep seated phobia of large reptiles.

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  54. 54. jenefer 2:28 pm 12/4/2013

    I think its the idea of vanishing the second than appearance of the fourth. I read something I want to share
    “Scientists have somehow missed definitions of gender in human beings,” states Dr. Makarand Fulzele. Insights gained from years of practice as surgeon makes him wonder if indeed we have overlooked facts staring in our face. Nature has a tendency to hide many secrets but at the same time it provides enough clues to unravel its mysteries. Dr. Fulzele picks up loose threads from life to stitch together the theory that man is an extension of woman in his new book, “Man Is the Extension of Woman: Know the Ultimate Truth about Yourself” (published by iUniverse). Dr. Fulzele’s book explores similarities between men and women against the backdrop of their genetic differences, physical variations, and emotional and intellectual dissimilarities. Dr. Fulzele who is a successful surgeon further explains in his book: The main hypothesis I discuss in this book is that, if a woman lives long enough she will be converted into a man physically. A similar thing can also be stated about man. It is wrong to categorize humankind into two genders as it implicates that they are extremely dissimilar and physically opposite to each other. I try to prove that man and woman are just two different stages of one developmental process. And physically they are very similar. The ideas presented may sound unconventional but Dr. Fulzele implores readers to consider his point of view with an open mind. “Your world will not change if you do not agree with me. But if you agree with me, how does it change your world? If more people agree with you and me, how does it change our world? The possibilities are limitless.”

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  55. 55. vanizorc 12:06 am 05/2/2014

    I’m asexual. Being asexual simply means that one does not have sexual attraction to another person and/or people in general — asexuality says nothing about sex drive (libido) however. One can indeed have a high sex drive, but yet still be an asexual because they do not desire (or are even repulsed by the thought of) experiencing sexual activity with someone else. To asexuals who have a sex drive, the experience is analogous to an itch or being hungry: they prefer to scratch the itch or eat by themselves, and would think it strange to have somebody else scratch or feed them. Indeed, the act of masturbation — and any sensations derived therein — is a neutral act. It is not inherently sexual, and is only construed as such by society because of the long-standing, artificial connotations it has to partnered sexual desire.

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