Monday, August 25, 2014

Maintaining the asexuality bibliography

When I first started my bibliography on asexuality, there were very few academic publications out there. Since then, the number of publications has increased enormously, and so has the rate at which articles are published. I've fallen behind in maintaining it. Partly, this is because there is a lot that has come out. Partly, this is because the whole thing is in need of a serious overhaul and I would like to develop a better method for maintaining it (especially now that, in my own writing, I've learned how awesome bibtex is).  I was curious if any readers would be interested in collaborating with me to help maintain the bibliography, and help make it more easy to update in the future.  If anyone would be interested in helping, that would be greatly appreciated.  If anyone who is familiar with bibtex and/or Python is interested in helping out, that would be even better.

Another reason that I've been behind on updating the bibliography is that I'm seriously questioning the value of having an exhaustive bibliography as the primarily bibliography for asexuality publications on my site.

For a long time, I attempted to treat all publications equally regardless of what I thought of the quality. I made a slight modification to this a few years later by putting a couple of recommended starting places at the top of the bibliography. But some of the publications on asexuality are so utterly awful that I feel the authors are doing a disservice to people by publishing them (i.e. they're wasting the time of potential readers), and I feel like I may be doing a disservice to users of the bibliography by even including these.

Something that has become clear to me from following the academic publications about asexuality is that the peer-review process and other quality control methods are failing miserably in at least some parts of academia. I've seen articles that do "history of asexuality" with virtually no use of primary sources. I've seen sweeping generalizations about the field of psychiatry by people who give no evidence of having ever read anything from that field. Probably the most epic example was that one paper who quoted the AVENites "Megan Mitosis" and "Asexy A-postle".*  Evidently, their understanding of AVEN was so limited that they didn't know the difference between the post ranking field and the username field.

More generally, I feel that a lot of the papers and chapters out there...basically fail to make any meaningful contribution to our understanding of asexuality. They don't present any original research (quantitative, qualitative, or historical/archival). They don't present any original ideas about asexuality.  They just...say stuff.

So my question for readers is what would be most useful to readers of my bibliography who are wanting to have a better understanding of asexuality.  Should it continue to try to be as exhaustive as possible (which will likely became unmanagable after a few more years)?  Should there be somewhat greater restrictions on what is included?  If so, what sort of standard would be fair?  (I certainly don't think that "Did I like that paper?" is a good standard.)  Should I have two bibliographies--an exhaustive-as-possible one and another for things that pass some sort of standard of quality control?)

I know that some of these issues are closely related to larger issues in academia today:  Many people feel that the peer-review process is not doing a good job of quality control, but quality control is vitally important for intellectually credible scholarship.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Article: " Sexual fantasy and masturbation among asexual individuals."

A new research article on asexuality recently came out:

Yule, M.A., Brotto, L.A., & Gorzalka, B.B. (2014).  Sexual fantasy and masturbation among asexual individuals. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality. 89-95

Human asexuality is defined as a lack of sexual attraction, and research suggests that it may be best conceptualized as a sexual orientation. Sexual fantasies are thought to be universally experienced and are often understood to represent true sexual desire more accurately than sexual behaviour. We investigated the relationship between asexuality, masturbation and sexual fantasy as part of a larger online study. Self-identified asexual individuals were compared to sexual individuals with and without low sexual desire. A total of 924 individuals (153 men, 533 women, and 238 individuals who did not respond to the query about sex) completed online questions asking about masturbation and sexual fantasy. Five hundred thirty four were classified in the asexual group, 87 met diagnostic criteria for hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), 78 met criteria for subthreshold HSDD without distress, and 187 were a sexual comparison group (i.e., identified as sexual, and had no reported difficulties in sexual desire or distress). Asexual individuals were significantly less likely to have masturbated in the past month and significantly more likely to report never having had a sexual fantasy. Specifically, 40% of asexual participants reported never having had a sexual fantasy compared to between 1% and 8% of participants in the sexual groups. Eleven percent of asexual individuals reported that their sexual fantasies did not involve other people, compared to 1.5% of all sexual individuals. Taken together, these findings suggest that there are notable differences in patterns of sexual fantasy between asexual individuals and sexual individuals with and without low sexual desire.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Don't put much confidence in 'Intergroup bias toward Group X'

The paper "Intergroup bias toward ''Group X'': Evidence of prejudice, dehumanization, avoidance, and discrimination against asexuals" by MacInnis and Hodson has gotten more attention in asexual spaces than most academic articles, probably because what the authors claim to have found fits well with some people's politics. I'm deeply skeptical that their data show what they say the data show, and so I think that we need to have a serious discussion about the use of this paper in asexual politics. The paper uses scientific methods to get a politically controversial point that isn't remotely merited by the data. When conservatives do this, the paper tends to get the label "junk science." In this case, the supposed findings are more consistent with liberal biases, and so it has received less criticism. However, people of all sorts of political opinions are quite capable of bad science in the service of politics.

To start with, the title itself is misleading, probably intentionally: The title suggests the article provides "Evidence of...discrimination against asexuals." But how could they possibly make claims about discrimination against asexuals without any data from any asexuals? Probably what they have in mind is this: "Comfort with renting to and hiring a member from each sexual orientation were tapped on 11-point scales," which led to scores ranging from 0-10. Responses to this were then labelled (by the researchers) as "discrimination intentions". Both of these words are inappropriate. They didn't ask about intentions--they asked about how comfortable someone would be. Further, I believe that a major difference between discrimination and prejudice is that discrimination involves (unfairly) treating people differently, while prejudice is a matter of beliefs/attitudes/feelings (these are often related, of course). The question was about feelings, not behaviors, so the word "discrimination" is inappropriate. In the abstract, they state "Heterosexuals were also willing to discriminate against asexuals (matching discrimination against homosexuals)." Not only do they make this statement without any questions actually about willingness to discriminate, here's the actual summary of the data (possible scores range from 0-10).
Question Hetero- Homo- Bi- A-
S1-hire 9.5 8.92 8.61 9.09
S1-rent 9.45 9.06 8.76 8.84
S2-hire 9.68 8.86 8.97 9.05
S2-rent 9.63 8.87 8.87 9.00
From Tables 1 & 3.

If someone is asked, "On a scale from 0-10, how comfortable would you be with renting to an asexual?" I confess that I am not overly worried if people tend to answer, "I don't, maybe 9?" There is a significant difference in the means for the different groups, so there is a finding to be explained, but this doesn't remotely justify the claim in the abstract.

So the claims about "discrimination" are totally unsupported by their data. Next, I want to move to what the study is primarily about: attitudes. Attitudes are something they, in fact, did ask about. Now, it is true that differences in attitudes towards heterosexuals vs. bisexuals and homosexuals in research like this do correspond to how people are treated in the real world, but a VERY BIG QUESTION is whether this generalizes to groups that people have (possibly) never even heard of. MacInnis and Hodson state that one reason for study 2 was "to rule out outgroup familiarity as a potential confound." While this typically would mean, "To test whether the results of their first study are (at least in large part) due to this confound" they actually mean it as "to rule it out as a possible confound regardless of what results they end up getting." In fact, results of study 2 strongly suggest that lack of familiarity is a very large part of why the attitude thermometer scores for asexuals were lower than those of bisexuals or homosexuals. However, they try to hide this, and instead set up the absurd standard of whether lack of familiarity can completely account for the finding. (If the standard is "Does r^2=1?" I think I can rather confidently tell you that the answer is "no" without even looking at your data--or even knowing what you're studying--as long as you've got more than a handful of data points.)

If you take a close look at the paper, here are some things to notice:

Although one of the two main purposes of doing study 2 was to include "sapiosexuals" to test the possibility that familiarity accounts for why attitude thermometer scores for asexuals are so low, sapiosexuals are conspicuously missing from Table 3, showing attitude thermometer scores for study 2. They only report the data for sapiosexuals 2 pages later on p. 14, most likely so that readers don't notice that attitudes towards sapiosexuals are lower than attitudes towards homosexuals or bisexuals (though I don't know if it's strong enough, given their sample size, to be statistically significant).

Heterosexuals: 8.78
Bisexuals: 7.02
Homosexuals: 6.92
Sapiosexuals: 6.81
Asexuals: 6.45

I've never seen anyone using this study to claim that there is more (or at least least as much) prejudice towards sapiosexuals as towards homo- or bisexuals. Probably this is because if we accept that relatively low attitude thermometer scores for sapiosexuals is largely a matter of lack of familiarity (which seems likely), then this suggests lack of familiarity is also a large part of the reason for the low attitude scores for asexuals. There's also another piece of data in the paper that suggests lack of familiarity with asexuality is largely the reason for their "finding" (again, under the assumption that this is largely responsible to low attitudes towards sapiosexuals): Table 4 shows that the strongest correlate of attitudes towards asexuals was attitudes towards sapiosexuals (r=.84). Excluding alpha reliability co-efficients, this is, in fact, one of the two strongest correlations in entire table (the other being attitudes towards homosexuals and bisexuals, which are also correlated at r=.84).

However, rather than being up front about these facts, they don't draw attention to the strong correlation between attitudes towards asexuality and sapiosexuality, and they try to hide the attitude data about sapiosexuals somewhere were most readers are unlikely to compare it to attitude data for homo- and bisexuals.

They present two arguments to "rule out" familiarity as accounting for their findings. The first is by showing that although sapiosexuals have a lower familiarity score than asexuals, asexuals have a lower attitude score than sapiosexuals. In fact what this means is that [the particular measure used in their study for] familiarity cannot completely account for the attitude data towards asexuals. I wouldn't expect it to, but I'll bet that it does account for a large part of it. As a second argument, they state that "In further evidence that familiarity per se does not explain dislike of asexuals, relations between [right wing authoritarianism, social dominance orientation] or ingroup identification with asexual evaluations were relatively unchanged after statistically controlling for familiarity with asexuals (partial correlations equal −.36, −.31, −.24, and ps < .02, respectively). Prejudice-prone persons, therefore, were not more prejudiced toward asexuals as a result of mere unfamiliarity" (p.15). (The original correlations were -.34, -0.30, and -.25, respectively)

First of all, the correlation between attitudes about asexuality and each of these three wasn't all that strong compared to other correlates--in fact, in no case did it exceed the correlation between attitudes about asexuals and attitudes about heterosexuals (r = .36). Second, they never actually provide evidence that people in these groups tended to dislike asexuals. They labeled the endpoints of their attitude thermometers as "extremely unfavorable" and "extremely favorable." The mean attitude score for asexuals in the first study was 4.70, and in the second study 6.45. Possible scores range from 0-9, so 4.5 should mean neutral (or "I don't know"???) They then tell us that various things were negatively correlated with attitudes towards asexuals, so it's possible that if we made groups based on these scales, these people might had average attitudes below 4.5, but they don't tell us. The biggest problem, however, is the data given in the 2nd argument leaves open the possibility that attitude scores for asexuality among the less prejudice-prone people was correlated with familiarity. If they're trying to rule out (un)familiarity as a possible confound, it seems odd that they don't provide data on whether familiarity with X is correlated with attitudes about X, at least in the cases of asexuality and sapiosexuality. If I had to guess, it's because doing so wouldn't support their argument...

In summary, I don't think that this study provides good evidence of prejudice against asexuals. More likely, it shows us something about how people answer social psychologists' questionaires like this when asked about groups they've never/barely heard of before. That finding would much less exciting than their claim about asexuals, and I suspect that publishing pressures in social psychology encouraged them to take the route that they did.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Asexuality: Few Facts, Many Questions (New paper)

Van Houdenhove, Ellen; Luk Gijs, Guy T’Sjoen, & Paul Enzlin. in press. Asexuality: Few facts, many questions. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy.
Although there has been increasing interest in asexuality during the last decade, still little is known on this topic. In order to define asexuality, three different approaches have been proposed: a definition of asexuality based on sexual behavior, one on sexual desire/sexual attraction, one on self-identification, and one on a combination of these. Depending on the definition used, reported prevalence rates range from 0.6% to 5.5%. In this article, characteristics of asexuality are presented and biological, psychological and socio-demographic factors associated with asexuality are reviewed. Given the suggestion of existing overlap with Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD), special attention is paid to similarities and differences between this condition and asexuality. It is further noted that theoretical models to understand (the etiology) of asexuality are underdeveloped.

This is a review article about asexuality, and overall I think it does a good job of reviewing the literature on the topic, although a consequence of the relatively slow speed of academic publishing is that by time it's published, it's already out of date. Obviously, the most recent research articles (i.e. the analyses of NATSAL-II by Bogaert and by Aicken et al. both published this year, Yule et al.'s paper on asexuality and mental health issues) aren't covered. I'm not really sure why Mark Carrigan's work isn't discussed--they mostly rely on Scherrer's qualitative work regarding asexual identity (in my view, Carrigan's 2011 paper gives a more accurate picture of asexual discourse and identity than does Scherrer's). They also do a good job of covering the main findings reported, how confident (or not) we can be in those findings, and the various possible explanations that have been proposed for these.

It seems that, to help somewhat speed up the process, they have published a version online not only ahead of print, but ahead of submission of corrections along with the galley proofs. [Note: Typically, at some point after an article has been accepted, authors will be sent galley proofs with editorial comments to be addressed, generally about grammar and references.]

One of my biggest complaints about the paper is that they keep citing "asexuality.org" as a source for claims about the asexual community. For example:

In this respect, it is urgently needed that the validity of some ‘new’ categories that are widely used in the asexual community (www.asexuality.org), i.e., hetero-romantic, homo-romantic, bi-romantic and a-romantic, is being tested.

Now, I have long hoped that researchers would investigate the scientific validity of these (and other) categories devised in asexual discourse, but I have no idea what part of AVEN they're citing.

AVEN is a big site. As of a couple weeks ago, the English language forums on AVEN viewable to non-members (minus Off-A and JFF) had around 76 million words. If you included hotbox, meet-up mart, the wiki, AVENues, and the static content, my guess is that this would come to around 100 million words of English language content. (By comparison, all 7 Harry Potter books combined have around 1.1 million words.) So what part of AVEN are we talking about?

Some of the AVEN-citations are of questionable veracity:

While most asexual persons indicate they have always felt this way, others report possible ‘causes’ of their asexuality in their history (www.asexuality.org). Within the asexual community, there is an ongoing debate on whether persons with a potential cause in their history, such as an experience of sexual abuse, can be considered as ‘truly’ asexual.

And then there are ones like this:

Within the asexual community, it is questioned whether asexuality and masturbation can co-occur (www.asexuality.org).

I believe it would be more accurate to say, "About 10 years ago, it was debated whether..." There was a time when this was debated, but the matter had more-or-less already been settled by time Tony Bogaert's 2004 paper was published.

The other main aspect of the paper that I took issue with concerned future research on the etiology of asexuality, possible negative reactions from the asexual community should the evidence suggest pathological/pathology-related causes. I think that this is an important topic, but the handling of the conceptual issues seems rather muddled, in my view. If I get time, I'll try to put together a post on that topic.

In general, I think the paper is a fairly good review article on asexuality, which is something for which there was a need, and I agree with the authors' hope that "this literature review may be a source of inspiration for other researchers to contribute to a better understanding of asexuality."

Friday, July 12, 2013

New Chapter on Asexuality

Bogaert, Anthony F. 2013. The demography of asexuality. International Handbook on the Demography of Sexuality, ed. by Amanda K. Baulme, 275-288. New York, NY: Springer.

As with many chapters in edited volumes, this one doesn't have an abstract. The bulk of the chapter is an analysis of the asexuality data in NATSAL-II, primarily examining the same things that Bogaert's 2004 paper on asexuality examined with the NATSAL-I data.

For those unfamiliar with it, the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles
is the largest scientific study of sexual behaviour since the pioneering studies of Alfred Kinsey in the US in the 1940s and 1950s.

Natsal was originally set up because of an urgent need for information about sexual lifestyles in the context of the HIV/ AIDS epidemic.

Natsal first took place in 1990, with the second study taking place in 2000. The third Natsal began in 2010 and its results will be published in 2013.



Thursday, July 4, 2013

A second survey on asexuality-related terminology.

In May, I started running the first of two surveys on asexuality-related concepts and terminology, which was the first of two surveys I will be running this summer.  I am now running the second one.

To participate, you must be at least 18 years of age or older, be proficient in English, and identify as asexual, gray-A, or demisexual.

Most of the survey consists of a series of questions about a number of terms.  It is expected that some will be familiar and others unfamiliar to you.  Please do not look things up while taking the survey.

Click here to participate