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although a consequence of the relatively slow speed of academic publishing is that by time it's published, it's already out of date.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 "" 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 (, 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 ( 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 (

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."