One claim often made in discourses about sexuality is that all people are sexual beings. It seems especially common in the context of sex education. There slight variations in wording, and sometimes phrases are added like “at all ages” or “from birth until death” to emphasize the point. A few quick google searches will find you plenty of examples.
Planned Parenthood says, “All people are sexual beings from birth to death.” They say that their organization “works to ensure that sexuality is understood as an essential, lifelong aspect of being human.”
A doctor writing on MSNBC gives advice to a mother about how to talk to her daughter about sexuality: “All humans are sexual beings who have sexual feelings. Sex is a normal part of life.”
This past summer, I took my university’s class on human sexuality. Our textbook opens, “Being sexual is an essential part of being human.”
The fact that there are some people going around calling themselves asexual raises serious questions concerning this.
In Erwin J. Haeberle’s Critical Dictionary of Sexology, we find the following definition:
asexual. (adj.) Non-sexual; without sex. Generally speaking, the term should not be applied to a person, since every man and woman is a sexual being. However, there are some individuals who, in their entire lives, never show any interest in sexual activity. In these very few cases, the term could be a suitable characterization of their personalities…
[Note: Since writing this post in 2008, Haeberle has updated the entries for "asexual" and "asexuality."]
In one article on asexuality,* Eli Coleman, director of the program in human sexuality at University of Minnesota, said that he thinks more effort should be put into looking at the question of whether asexuality is a sexual orientation. "In a sense, asexuality defies one of the basic tenets of sexuality: That we are all sexual beings. Some people may not have much of a sexual drive. But does that make it an orientation? It’s a very interesting question worthy of investigation."
If asexuality is taken seriously in discourses on sexuality—especially ones in which sexuality is stressed as being an essential, fundamental part of being human—there is a question that needs to be addressed. “Are all humans sexual beings?” If asexuality is accepted as legitimate, there are three main ways to answer the question. 1.) No. 2.) Yes. 3.) Huh?
In this series of posts, I hope to try to think through some of these issues. I personally lean in favor of number 3. Next time I’ll take a brief look at these three options.
*Melby, Todd “Asexuality gets more attention, but is it a sexual orientation?” Contemporary Sexuality. November 2005. vol 39, No. 11.
Edit: Since writing this, an entry for asexuality" has been added to the Critical Dictionary of Sexology.