For the asexually curious and the curiously asexual

So here’s the facts:

52% of AVENites polled said that we should change the definition of asexuality to ‘does not experience sexual attraction and/or has no desire for partnered sex’.
In another poll, 47% of AVENites said the definition should be ‘does not experience sexual attraction and/or has no desire for partnered sex’, while 49% preferred the old definition.
 In a third poll, there was a 50/50 split between those who don’t mind and those who disagree with changing the definition to ‘the lack of an inherent inclination to engage in sexual relations’.

 The third thread is particularly interesting- ‘rewording the definition of asexuality to increase clarity.’ It’s a wonderful euphemism- minor policy change, got to consider the PR angle…

It doesn’t say ‘Change to the operational definition of asexuality which will invalidate the identities of thousands of asexuals.’ It doesn’t say ‘Change to the operational definition of asexuality which will encourage slut-shaming and anti-sexual elitism in our communities, and representations of our communities.’ It doesn’t say ‘Change to the operational definition of asexuality which will drive a wedge between the ideological basis of asexuality and those of other queer identities, which will cut asexuality adrift from every other discussion of and campaign for the rights of sexual identity for the last century.’ No. ‘To increase clarity.’

I don’t have much to say about this. The first thing I want to say is, as an allosexual person, I call bullshit. Sexual attraction is totally, 100%, definitely, A Thing. (Personally, I’d go so far as to say that it’s actually Several Different Things). I can’t describe it(/them). Someone on one of the AVEN threads said that an asexual describing sexual attraction was like someone who had never eaten chocolate describing the taste of chocolate. It’s a good analogy, because an allosexual person describing sexual attraction is like someone who has eaten chocolate describing the taste of chocolate. It still can’t really be done, unless the listener has tasted something relatively close, and even then, never perfectly.

So I’ll just say this. I’ve experienced inherent desire* to have sex with people without being sexually attracted to them. Not often, and it doesn’t tend to be especially person-specific (because that would make it sexual attraction), but still. Also, I’ve been sexually attracted to people without having any inherent desire to have sex with them. Often. And definitely.

*I’m defining ‘inherent desire’ as desire free from pressure, experimentation, desire for partner’s happiness, etc. I’m not sure that’s a line that can actually be drawn, but that’s a post for another day.

Secondly, I’d like to use this timely interval to remind people that no other sexuality has an Official Website. The way I see it, the AVEN Project Team, the AVEN FAQ, the AVEN Media Team and the AVEN Meet-up Mart still do fantastic and necessary work. But why do they have to be connected to the forum? A forum which gains an official status simply by its connection to them, and a forum which is now apparently getting to the tipping point where the majority of its members believe that asexuality should have a partially/entirely behavioural definition. If AVEN forums keep on this course, I see only four ways of developing the online communities from here:

1. The AVEN project team, etc, breaks off from the forum.
2. The people behind the AVEN project team get involved in other things, and leave the forum to organise its own resources, with whatever definition it chooses. AVEN ceases to be the one official site.
3. There is a contradiction between the very definition of asexuality as agreed by the AVEN members and as publicised by AVEN’s media wing.
4.  AVEN’s project team and media wing change to the behavioural definition.

I dislike the behavioural definition. I think it doesn’t fit real experiences, it causes anti-sexual elitism and it alienates us from other sexuality movements- unsustainably. The common analysis is that rejection of the behavioural definition in favour of the orientation definition is the only reason AVEN survived while other early ace communities failed, and I think it’s as important, if not more important, now than in the early days of the movement. Of course, the AVENites have a right to their views on what defines asexuality. If they want to have a website based on their definition, I wouldn’t wish to stop them. But I think we have to consider whether we can still link to them as the main hub of asexuality, when their definition is so misguided, both in terms of truth and PR. I have always been in favour of more extra-AVEN resources, and this news just strengthens my views. The future belongs to the orientation model. And the future does not, I fear, belong to AVEN.


Comments on: "Memo: Attraction =/= behaviour." (8)

  1. […] desirable, given the fact that the community can’t just be one site, and necessary, given the flawed definitions of asexuality that the AVENites seem to be moving […]

  2. […] desirable, given the fact that the community can’t just be one site, and necessary, given the flawed definitions of asexuality that the AVENites seem to be moving […]

  3. Those surveys have about 20 votes on each side. I don’t think the surveys have any authority whatsoever, nor should they. I also think the mod team tends to be unsympathetic towards this kind of fake democracy. I would be more afraid if it became a coherent faction and slowly took over the mod team. But I think it’s just a bunch reckless newbs. Every so often they become attached to some idea, and they completely lack historical perspective as to what stuff has been tried before.

    I gotta disagree with your analysis on the content of the definitions though. The first two surveys are proposing a definition that is strictly more inclusive. That is, a person is asexual if they fit under the attraction definition or the desire definition (neither of which are behavior). The third survey is not proposing a behavioral definition either. Rather it proposes that we define “sexual attraction” as “inherent inclination to engage in sexual relations”.

    Honestly, these sound like things that could reasonably go into a questioner’s thought process. The problem is that people are saying that these should be the official definitions. By its very nature, the question of what counts as sexual attraction is one that needs a multiplicity of answers. As it is, I think the definition of “asexual” already has an unusually high degree of standardization. Can you think of a single other social movement, where most people will produce the same definition with more or less the exact same wording? I don’t think that’s gonna last forever.

    • Yeah, I guess I was being very premature in saying that AVEN looks like it might be adapting its definition. It’s just as good a reading to say that most of the active AVENites have just started ignoring this particular gang, so they continually get their own way in their own polls. Still, the fact that AVEN is so dominated by whatever wave or faction happens to comprise its numbers now, the fact that its so unconnected to the rest of the asexual community that I don’t think any of us could know what’s going on in AVEN without reading through most of their threads, worries me. I would be fine about all that if it was just ‘an asexual forum’ or ‘the biggest asexual forum’- they can use whatever definition they want. But I don’t like it when ‘the official asexual forum’ can produce several polls which read like this. I know it doesn’t happen as much as it used to, but a lot of ace media work and 101 centres around AVEN, and I wouldn’t choose to centre around a place with such extreme and regular changes and factions.

    • Also, in terms of ‘desire for partnered sex’, I interpreted that as ‘wanting to have sex’, where the ‘wanting’ is less about orientation and more about opportunity (so an involuntary celibate person would not be asexual). I guess you *could* read it as just an extra little definition of sexual attraction. If it is, it’s firstly inaccurate and secondly very confusing- think how many people ALREADY confuse attraction and behaviour, and how many more this wording would confuse.

      • Well, yes, it’s confusing, ambiguous, and doesn’t reflect the common usage of “asexual”. But I do not think its problems have anything to do with behavior, since it’s not a behavioral definition. But hey! Nitpicking.

  4. After some thought, I disagree with a larger point in your post. I think the decentralization of the asexual community will result in *more* definitional chaos, not less. I also think definitional chaos is a fine thing, especially when the alternative is a single official definition that is terrible. Oddly enough, these disagreements cancel out, and we both support extra-AVEN resources.

    • I am coming round to your view that definitional chaos is fine. But, note, my reaction to AVEN potentially changing their definition to something I disagree with wasn’t ‘oh, this is wrong, we must correct them’ but ‘ok, I definitely don’t want these guys to be the official voice of the asexual community any more.’ While I dislike the proposed definition, I’m fine with AVEN having it, as long as AVEN isn’t The Asexual Website.

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