Saturday, February 28, 2009

Wikipedia update

Several weeks ago, I reported on Asexual Wikipedia fights between the Spongebob-adders and the Spongebob-deleters. Since then, the situation has escalated. (I sort of wonder if my blog had some impact on the matter.)

In mid Febuary, one of the Spongebob-adders struck again, and, as usual, one of the Spongebob deleters quickly retaliated, this time, escalating the fight by adding note on the edit page (visible to editors, but not on the page itself.)


Not to be beaten, the Spongebob-adder changed "Famous Asexuals" to "Notable Asexuals" and created a subsection for "Fictional characters and persons," in which to add Spongebob. So far, he has been permitted to stay.

This incident highlights the ignorance of many Spongebob-delters: There is a very good reason not to include Spongebob (He's a cartoon character!) but the Spongebob-delter, rather than citing this, cited the completely wrong justification for spongebob-deleting: Spongebob is asexuals in the sense that he reproduces by himself. (Um...what?)

I have a confession to make: I once engaged in a bit of Spongebob adding myself, just as a bit of fun. There is a note to editors of "Famous/Notable Asexuals":


I had a source, so I added Spongebob, curious how long he would survive in the asexuality article. About one minute according the the article's history, when some ignorant spongebob-deleter came along, justifying the reversion of my edits by saying, "Mr. Squarepants is male, I think." WTF? Did that guy even read the article before making that change? I guess I was hoping that at least he would get deleted for a good reason. Since then, I have given up that fight altogether. Now, I am merely a commentator.

There was a recent wikipedia fight, however, that I did get involved in. The opening of the article has been a casualty. A Wikipedia-editing member of the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (formerly the Clark Institute of Psychiatry) decided to screw the article. (It's about asexuality; didn't he realize it's not into that?) He changed the opening to
Asexuality is the lack of any sexual orientation, according to researchers.[1][2][3] There are asexual individuals, however, who have claimed that asexuality is itself a sexual orientation.[4]
. He gave three sources, so I had to out-cite him. One of his sources is a paper that's not yet published, but he seems to be on the editorial board to the journal it's in press for. One of the articles simply didn't say what he said it said, and the third did say what he says is said, but that author took a different perspective in a subsequent paper. Changes were made; emails were sent. If anyone wants to clean up the introduction, feel free to do so.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Are asexuals nonreligious?

In 2004, a paper on asexuality was published titled ) Asexuality: Its Prevalence and Associated Factors in a National Probability Sample. If you’ve ever heard the statistic that about 1% of the world’s population is asexual, that comes from sensationalistic journalists misinterpreting this paper. (If you actually read the paper, the 1% is only supposed to be representative of the U.K., and the author believed it to be low.) It has been hugely important because it gives journalists something scientific to cite in articles about asexuality, and they can interview the author—who is both knowledgeable about and sensitive to asexuals’ concerns.
There is another statistic in that paper that strikes me as particularly interesting. One question that was asked is whether asexuals were more religious than sexual people. Two measures of religiosity were used—religious affiliation and frequency of religious participation. There wasn’t compelling evidence that asexuals were more likely to be a member of a religion (the proportion was slightly higher than for sexuals, but p=.398 hardly constitutes compelling evidence, but the difference in religious attendance was statistically significant.) Bogaert proposed two possible explanations for this: extreme religiosity makes asexuality more likely (or less likely to admit to feeling sexual attraction) or religious asexuals are more likely to be more religiously active because they feel more welcome than sexuals in contexts with strict sexual prohibitions. There is another possibility, related to the second: it is possible that religious asexuals are more likely to be active in a religious community to find community in the absence of a partner.

Yet, in the asexuals community, a very different trend has been found. In early 2008, AVEN conducted a survey of its members, and out of 205 answers to a question about religion, 51% reported having no religion, 28% reported affiliation with a Christian group, and 11% belonged to another religion (i.e. Jewish, Buddhist, Pagan.) Although there is no “control group” (for lack of a better word) of sexual people to compare it to, the impression that many in the asexual community have is that these numbers are very much disproportionate with the general population. As such, there is a widespread belief that asexuals—as seen from AVEN—are less likely to be religious.

As part of a study conducted in 2006, some researchers from the University of British Columbia conducted interviews with 15 asexuals (11 female and 4 male), and then analyzed the interviews for themes. (Some of the results can be found in a presentation they did at the Kinsey Institute.) One of the themes they reported concerned religion, noting the trend seen on AVEN that there is a disproportionate number of atheists, though it isn’t clear if this was found by looking at their sample of interviewees or by accepting at face value comments from the interviewees, one of whom they quote:
“I think [atheism & asexuality] might be related. I do think that because asexuals are forced to realize that they are different and they know they are different than everybody else, they have to think about something that is perfectly natural for everybody else, I think it does sort of encourage a nonconformist streak in people to where if they have any tendencies whatsoever to be skeptical, then they are going to go that way…And a lot of religions place a lot of value on marriage and appropriate gender roles to include sex, so you can imagine somebody growing up asexual who doesn’t want to have a relationship or who doesn’t want to get married or doesn’t want to be fruitful and multiply…It would be easier for them to reject the religion and become atheist.

So we have an inconsistency: in the probability sample, asexuals were not less likely to be non-religious, and those who had a religion were more likely to regularly participate, but on AVEN the exact opposite seems to be found. How do we deal with this?

The main ways to account for this are either 1) differences in methods for determining who is asexual and 2) differences in how someone came to participate in one of the polls. (In a study, these would be called the operational definition and sampling procedure respectively, but I don’t feel these terms are appropriate for discussing participation on AVEN and informal observations made there.) It is unclear how reliable the results of Bogaert’s paper are because of numerous methodological shortcomings. (If you want to know what these are, I would recommend simply reading the paper because his discussion there of these problems is quite good. The only major problem I know of that he didn’t deal with is the practically problematic nature of his operational definition—people who’ve never felt sexual attraction don’t know what sexual attraction feels like, so assuming that everyone understands the same thing by “sexual attraction” is a flawed assumption, especially for this population.) On AVEN, by contrast, there are people who have experienced sexual attraction and identify as asexual, including people who used to feel it but no longer do and people who have felt it but only a little and rarely.

My guess, however, is that the difference does not stem from this. Rather, I suspect it to arise from differences in “sampling.” First, there is the question of where. In Bogaert’s study, data came from people living in the U.K. Even if the connection between asexuality and religiosity is correct, that study would only show it to be correct for people residing in the U.K. The relationship between asexuality and religion is going to depend on the particular religion(s) and the broader social context. Consequently, even if asexuals in the U.K. are more likely than sexuals to be religiously active, this does not mean this relationship holds in the U.S. or in France or in South Korea.

People on AVEN often have a sense that the asexuals there are less likely than the general population to be nonreligious. But what general population? The US? Sweden? Earth? It is a well known fact that people in the US tend to be much more religious than their Western European counterparts, and the reasons for this are unclear. Enlightenment ideology long held that as education increased, technology developed, and countries modernize, people will come to understand the folly of religion and it will go away. This prediction has proven to be completely wrong.

Perhaps the reason for the perceived relative nonreligiousity of asexuals is because US asexuals (where religiousity is relatively high) are comparing US population to an AVEN population consisting of people from a number of different countries, many of which have much lower religious participation? Alternatively, even if people on AVEN in fact are less religious on the whole than the general population, is this related to their asexuality? Maybe it is more related to age, socioeconomic background, or other variables affecting who spends lots of time on the internet? The point is that AVENites might not be less religious than the general population, or, if they are, it might have nothing to do with asexuality.

For the sake of argument, let’s suppose that the trend seen on AVEN is real—avenites (who are predominantly asexual) are considerably less likely than the general population to be religious. Moreover, let’s assume this is not simply the effect of demographics of internet users. How could we account for this?

The first set of options would be that people who experience little or no sexual attraction are less likely to be religious than sexual people. Were this true, one option would be that nonreligious people are more likely to become asexual. I’m not really sure why this would be the case, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone support it, so I’m going to dismiss it without further consideration. Another option would be that being asexual (sometimes) causes people to become nonreligious. This is the position taken by the interviewee quoted above. This is conceivable. However, there is another option which seems to me so likely to be correct, and so I feel that there is nothing to be explained with regard to the relationship between asexuality and religion.

My hypothesis: religious people who experience little or no sexual attraction are less likely than nonreligious people to go to AVEN or, if they find it, to actively participate. First, I suspect that, though they will likely feel strange on account of their asexuality, if they grow up in a context where they are expected not to have sex rather than in a context where they are expected to have sex, religious asexuals will, on average, feel less strange on account of their asexuality than their sexual counterparts. As a second prediction of this hypothesis, religious asexuals will, on average, identify as asexual later in life than nonreligious asexuals, if they ever identify as asexual. (For a longer explanation, see Once upon a time, there were three asexuals and comments.)

At present, we simply do not have the data to decide between these options. However, my own hypothesis seems plausible enough to me, along with the others, that I feel there is no relationship to explain.

Ily wrote a recent post about asexuality and atheism, and since I had already been working on this piece, I figured I might as well go ahead and post it as a response. Many of my thoughts are similar to what commenters said there.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Am I the only one?

With the new front page's recent makeover, AVEN is trying to have more dynamic content there. One source is the "Asexual Perspectives" feature--they had this for a while ago, and then it got discontinued. Since the makeover, they've been trying to revive it. Ily wrote the first, and today they posted a new one that I wrote. Am I the only one?

As a general shout out, in addition to "asexual perspectives," AVEN publishes a bimonthly newsletter called AVENues. (There's a link to the newest copy on AVEN's main page.) For any readers out there feeling aceographically inclined but not wanting to start a blog, both of these have a pretty constant need of submissions and would love to hear from you. (Aceographically is the adverbial form of aceography: writing about asexuality.)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Research that I don't want to see

I recently introduced the site Asexual Explorations and said that from time to time I would direct people over there when there are significant additions. Well, my first major addition is getting added a little earlier than I had expected--less than a week after introducing the site.

In addition to the articles that I had, there was one that I had been working on: Disadvised Research. Elsewhere I the site, I suggest a variety possible topics for research on asexuality, but there is one that possible study that has been proposed (by researchers sympathetic to asexuals) that I really don't want to see happen. I had this piece mostly written and then put it on the back burner for a while. I recently took another look at it and realized it was a lot closer to completion than I had realized.

For those so inclined, enjoy!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Promoting the Academic Study of Asexuality

Behold: Asexual Explorations The Website

I am especially interested in the place of asexuality in academia, and it is one of the ways that I feel I can best put my own abilities to help the asexual community. It was one of the things I had in mind when I started blogging—creating content to help critical thinking about asexuality to help people researching the subject.

One limitation of the blogging format is that it is a highly informal medium and it isn’t especially good for static content. Also, I have some pieces on the page that would be of particular interested for anyone researching asexuality, but might not be very interesting to many of the readers of my blog

The site is designed primarily for two groups: academics researching asexuality and students writing papers on the subject for class. I intend my blog to continue in the general direction that it's been going, but I'll also make a post to tell people whenever I make a significant addition to the site.