A significant field of research has been emerging on the subjective meaning of asexuality. Discussing this new paradigm of human sexuality requires deep philosophical, ethical, historical and cultural debates that underpin the postulates of this dimension.
Far from this objective, this paper aims to raise a brief reflection on the challenges that asexuality brings to the study of human sexuality and its relationship with medical (pathologizing) and social (sexual diversity) practices. By the end of the twentieth century, the lack of libido or sexual desire has been defined by science as an irrefutable condition of a psychological and physiological disorder related to sex.
This statement assumes that sexual involvement is a natural and immutable force, prior to social life, and is expressed as an innate instinct that represents a biological and essential need to humans.
In the course of time, this line of thinking has shaped the academic, scientific and social imagination, directing health actions and studies related to sexuality, determining standards of normality and abnormality for its exercise. Several theoretical principles have been built from this perspective, such as the case of the Maslow’s Theory of Hierarchy of Basic Human Needs, a current of thought widely used by nursing and other medical fields as criteria for setting priorities related to admission and care for patients in a health facility.
Importantly, this theory categorizes human needs in a descending order. According to its concept of relative necessity, a need can only be met from the satisfaction of other needs considered most important, which are located at the base of the hierarchical pyramid.
Maslow places the sexual act at the base of this pyramid, as a basic, natural and physiological need, disregarding the complexity of the human being, refusing to analyze the individual from a holistic, historical, social and cultural perspective and reducing them solely to the biological dimension.
From this line of thought, the lack of desire/sexual interest is characterized as a disorder that necessarily produces negative impacts on individuals’ self-realization and happiness, which implies a process of medicalization of sexuality, aiming to normalize the said ‘sexual dysfunction’, according to paradigms established by the medical field.
In this sense, the contextualization of asexuality is defined as ‘Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder’ defined by the ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’, published by the American Psychiatric Association, as a deficiency or absence of sexual fantasies and desire to engage in sexual activities,
Still, asexuality has been associated, for example, with the natural aging process, in which the loss of libido is identified as a result of the drastic hormonal reduction in men and women, requiring the need for its replacement.
Without ignoring the existence and importance of sexual disorders, there is need for a brief reflection on medical-centered interventions aimed at ‘asexualities’, bringing into question the extent to which science should intervene in the human condition in the pursuit to achieve or maintain what is known as health, defined as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
Here is the crux of the matter involving asexuality. How to treat and medicalize something that cannot be set as pathology? How to interfere in the life of an individual Reproductive System & Sexual Disorders: who is in complete physical, mental and social well-being by not expressing any sexual interest directed to someone else? How to establish that a person has ‘Hypoactive Sexual Desire’ disorders if they definitely do not identify themselves as having this disorder?
Questions like these must be present in medical practice, giving rise to the view of asexuality in its non-pathologizing essence.
Since the twenty-first century, there has been a subtle emergence of a new conception for the lack of sexual desire. Нis new line of thought points out that, instead of pathology, the lack of interest in sexual intercourse is related, in fact, to a direction of the selective sexual desire, and it receives the name of asexuality.
This new concept for the lack of sexual desire arose from the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), the largest and most important asexual community in the world, created with the aim to promote discourse and acceptance of asexuality and to stimulate growth and visibility to the asexual community. The idea of the network was initiated by David Jay from San Francisco in 2001.
The organization acts as a safe and protected space for all ‘aces’ where they can learn and educate one another about different aspects of asexuality and find a community they can recognize with.
Нis portal has its forum composed of 71,973 members in the United States (US) and in dozens of other countries. According to AVEN, asexuality is understood as the sexuality of individuals who do not experience sexual attraction.
Нis definition suggests that there is a difference between sexual desire and sexual attraction. According to AVEN members, sexual desire or libido refers to a biologically determined natural response triggered from external stimuli. Sexual attraction, in turn, is one’s direction of sexual desire. Regarding asexual individuals, these have their asexual orientation set due to the lack of sexual attraction, not by sexual behavior, since this last issue, asexual are perfectly capable of having sex even without feeling sexual attraction.
Although there is no sexual attraction among asexual people, they may manifest libido (sexual desire) and thus, their condition does not characterize a disease, however, this desire is not directed at anyone. Нis premise justifies the occurrence of masturbation between asexual individuals. Since it is an autoerotic practice, masturbation does not conflict with the definition of asexuality, as some asexual people practice masturbation, but consider it an end in itself and not a practice that necessarily must evolve to a sexual involvement with a partner.
Furthermore, AVEN takes a stand in relation to the diوٴerence between asexuality and other practices related to sexual abstinence, for example, celibacy, since these practices are based on one’s abstention or conscious and deliberate suppression of sexual attraction.
In this case, the individual feels sexual attraction, but for some specific reason, chooses to abstain from sexual activity. In the case of asexuality, there is no sexual attraction to be suppressed.
According to AVEN, asexuality is the most heterogeneous class in the hall of sexual orientation, in which the only common feature of all asexual people is that they do not feel sexual attraction directed to others, however, even this feature has several variations.
Keeping this fact in mind, asexuality is being seen as a spectrum by itself rather than a point on the spectrum of sexuality along with pomo sexuality and sapiosexuality. This is mostly due to the diverse nature of preferences and behaviors that accompany this orientation.
One could feel an emotional connection with someone due to their intellectual capabilities or intellectual connection but still, identify as asexual. The confusion arises when society tends to point fingers and ask ‘why?’ and sometimes the answer is just because it is the way it is.
One can feel differently about a person today and completely different the next day and we need to understand the effect of freedom of choice and how it controls each aspect of our lives.
The fact is that it does not matter which community you belong to because anything that deviates from what we are conditioned to be shut down and belittled. The feeling of shame, hopelessness, frustration, and confusion is omnipresent in the narrative whenever we speak about diverse sexualities.
In the field of mental health, it is essential to keep an open and informed mind. But what happens when the practitioners choose not to see sexuality as a part of diversity? As someone who is already vulnerable and lost, any sense of misunderstanding or exclusion can cause severe damage and put lives in danger.
In the field of mental health, there is a constant struggle to holistically modernize how the field works to ensure that it can keep up and understand the latest circumstances and affect society and eventually the individual.