When gay, bi or straight just doesn’t fit

“Asexuality: It’s not just for amoebas any more” reads a t-shirt sold at the website for the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN). The campaign to raise awareness and public acceptance of asexuality is announcing to the world that it is a more common lifestyle than most think and is not a defect or dysfunction.

According to AVEN, the primarily accepted definition of an asexual person is someone who does not experience sexual attraction and/or desire.

Liza Jacobson is a student at Portland State who never felt entirely comfortable identifying herself sexually. She found it difficult to find people she could relate to until she stumbled across the website for AVEN. For the past six months, she has been researching asexuality and engaging in discussing with people of all genders and ages, pulled from a growing pool of 6,000 registered members.

“I was kind of searching for my identity because I didn’t feel like I was normal. I didn’t feel that I was straight, but then I didn’t feel that I was bi or lesbian, either,” Jacobson said. “I tried revising my sexual identity each time I had a new relationship to see what worked, and nothing did.”

Asexuality as a declared lifestyle has increased over that past decade. A 1994 survey, published by the University of Chicago press, found that out of 3,500 participants, 13 percent had not had sex in the past year. Out of those 13 percent, nearly half said they were still very or extremely happy with their lives. It also revealed that approximately 2 percent of the adult population had never had a sexual experience.

Another survey, published in 2004, was conducted by Anthony Bogaert, a Canadian psychologist and human sexuality expert. This survey found that 1 percent of the adult population has “never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all.”

While these surveys do not show that people self-identify as asexual, they illustrate that the fundamental aspects of asexuality have a strong presence. Some critics of the studies make the mistake of seeing asexuality as a permanent identification mark.

Jacobson points out that many asexuals see their sexual identity as subject to possible change. According to one of AVEN’s references, some people may identify as asexual for a long period of time and then later identify as straight, gay or bisexual. Some people may identify as gay or straight or bi, and also identify as asexual. Some people may identify as bisexual, gay or straight for a long time and then identify as asexual.

Helping people to understand asexuality is not an easy thing to do, according to David Jay, founder of AVEN. “Tell someone on the street that you are asexual and they’ll stare at you in disbelief,” said Jay. He added that people typically assume the asexual is just a “late bloomer.”

Jay has been spending his time giving talks, printing pamphlets, and even getting some media airtime. On This month on ABC’s show “The View,” Jay was a guest and fielded some difficult questions and doubtful hosts. They spent a good amount of time talking about the role of romantic relationships and sex for asexuals.

“I still have to think about forming relationships, I just don’t have to think about forming relationships sexually – How am I going to form intimacy in a way that isn’t based on sexuality?”

“We live in this world where sexuality is kind of at the center of everything. It’s at the center of how we think about relationships. It’s at the center of how we think about pleasures, the center of how we think about a lot of aspects of our lives,” Jay said. “You can form a really close relationship where sex isn’t at the center of it.”

Jay explains that many asexuals are in loving relationships where they perform sexual activities as a means of intimacy. “An asexual person who does not feel the desire to have sex can choose to have sex if they’re in that situation but it doesn’t mean they have the desire.”

In a separate interview, Jay discussed the status of the AVEN movement: “It’s interesting because we’re in the shadow of the gay rights movement, so it’s a very different process now because we have things to draw on. There is also a culture that is ready to accept sexual variation much more readily than it was before.”