The OED defines "pathologize" (in its modern sense) as a transitive verb meaning, "To regard as pathological or a suitable subject for pathology; esp. to regard as psychologically unhealthy or abnormal," with the first quote coming from 1980. In OED's quotes, it always carries a negative connotation (though some authors use the term with an air of skepticism towards this judgment.) Medicalize is defined as, " trans. To give a medical character to; to involve medicine or medical workers in; to view or interpret in (esp. unnecessarily) medical terms." Likewise, it has a negative connotation. The OED's second quote:
1979 Daily Mail 27 Jan. 7/7 The drug industry, the Government, the chemist, the taxpayer and the doctor all have vested interests in ‘medicalising’ problems that should not really belong in the sphere of medicine at all.
The terms are often used to criticize what is seen as regarding “normal behavior” or “normal variation” as disease, disorder, or dysfunction. They are used to critique regarding as a medical problem what might be better seen as a legal problem, a social problem, or maybe just an everyday-life sort of problem--or maybe not even a “problem” at all, arguing that the only problem is the perception as such.
While asexuality is not, strictly speaking, presently regarded as a mental disorder, the diagnosis Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder is too close for comfort for many in the asexual community.
A question that I have long wrestled with is this: Why does it bother us that asexuality is (almost sort of) considered a mental disorder? Why do we feel that this is a problem?
When I get sick, I don’t protest against medicalization or insist that there is nothing wrong with me. I don’t feel that I am somehow less of a person for having an illness. There are many things that I readily regard as pathological, and few would argue that nothing is properly the domain of medicine. (The only ones I can think of do so from a mystical bent.)
The question concerning the pathologization of asexuality is this: If there is nothing wrong with admitting one has an illness/disorder/dysfunction when one does have one, and if we often find nothing wrong with saying that various things about ourselves or others may be pathological without negative judgment on our (or their) value as people, why are we so opposed to regarding asexuality as (psycho)pathological?
I don’t mean this as a rhetorical question, nor do I mean to suggest we accept without comment HSDD. Intuitively, I want to say, “That's different.” For some things, it feels appropriate to classify them as pathological; for many, this will be very uncontroversial (like liver cancer.) There seems to be something different about calling asexuality disordered than does make is problematic when, for many of these others, calling them pathological does not seem problematic. The question is, “What is the difference? How is it different?” And not just, "How is it different from liver cancer?" But "How is it different from other things of much less severity that we readily regard as pathological?"
I'm not going to try to answer the question now, but hope to start to do so over the next few months. I attempted this in a series over the summer, but, as my most recent blog summary notes, I got through all of two posts before hitting a serious case of writer's block. I've done more reading and thinking, and I think I'm ready to attempt it again.