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July 23, 2010

The New Asexual Movement

Neither gay nor straight, men and women in a growing community are claiming they never want sex.

a ken doll

Photo Credit: Rob D. Casey/Workbook Stock

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Sara Beth Brooks had a ring on her finger, a wedding dress in her closet, and a problem. "I loved my fiancé," she says. "I just wasn't interested in having sex with him." Or even kissing him. Not him, not women, not anybody. Brooks had spent five years searching for her missing sex drive, undergoing progesterone and testosterone therapy — even though her hormones had tested normal. She begged doctors to make her "better." She'd had sex, but "because I felt like I was supposed to, not because I wanted to," says Brooks, 25, a student in Sacramento, California. "I didn't understand what made me different from anyone else. I suffered in shame for a long time."

One night, a few months before the wedding, Brooks sat at her computer, Googling. "I was trying to figure out what to do after the ceremony, typing in phrases such as 'doesn't like sex,'" she says. Finding the word "asexual" in her results, she Googled it. That's when everything changed. "I stayed up all night crying, reading post after post by people who described the feelings I'd always felt. There was nothing wrong with me. I was asexual. It was a true coming out."

Today, Brooks is unattached, other than to a group of close friends. She calls herself a "bi-romantic asexual," meaning she develops crushes — on men and women — of the oh my God you're so awesome I want to spend all my time with you variety, but doesn't have sex. And she's fine with that.

She's not alone. Some have dubbed Twilight (where pretty vamp Edward tries mightily to resist Bella, for fear of getting carried away and doing her harm) "abstinence porn," in which self-denial is hot. But for many people, especially women, abstinence is not about resisting an urge; it's about not having that urge in the first place. Whether they call themselves asexual, nonsexual, or even "human amoebas," a growing number of people consider their indifference toward sex not a problem or pathology, but an orientation, like gay or bi — complete with slogans ("Bring asexy back"), T-shirts, and Web communities. Asexuality is not just feeling meh about sex — it's a movement.

The Asexuality Visibility and Education Network, founded in 2001 to raise awareness and acceptance of asexuals, has exploded from 100 members in 2005 to 35,000 members worldwide today. Approximately 60 percent are women in their teens through 30s.

Some experts welcome the idea that asexuality is one of many legitimate orientations. Anthony Bogaert, a professor of community health sciences and psychology at Brock University in Ontario, Canada, is among them. "If someone has a lack of sexual attraction, who am I to say they need to be fixed?" he asks.

Problem is, there are disorders — autism-related conditions, hormone issues — that are also associated with lack of interest in sex. So, many experts worry that freshly "validated" asexuals may be too quick to embrace the identity. Says Joy Davidson, Ph.D., a New York City psychologist and sex therapist, "By labeling yourself too soon, you run a risk of mislabeling yourself, and missing an opportunity to uncover other sexual possibilities."

But asexuals like Julie Decker, 32, an administrative assistant in Tampa, Florida, say they have no doubts. "I'm not against sex," she says. "Sex is fine, as long as it doesn't include me."

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