People describe themselves as asexual if they have no desire for sexual encounters with others. In contrast to a celibate way of life, where someone chooses to live without sex, asexuality is a sexual orientation which you can’t influence. Asexuality should also be differentiated from fear of sex due to negative experiences, as well as from diseases which negatively impact on the sexual drive or make the act of sex impossible. As with all sexual orientations there is no ‘cause’ of asexuality. There have presumably always been asexual people but there aren’t many. A 2004 study by American expert Anthony F. Bogaert showed that they make up around 1% of the population. Members of this sexual minority are generally either not acknowledged at all by others or considered abnormal. It has only been possible for them to network and achieve more self-awareness since the development of the internet over the last half a century.
1% of global population asexual
In 2001 the American David Jay founded AVEN, which stands for ‘asexual visibility and education network’, an internet site which gathers information about asexuality. The closed forum is a space for asexuals to chat and exchange experiences amidst other things. Over a few years similarly structured offshoots sprang up in other languages, including German, French, Spanish and Russian. These forums are the largest asexual internet communities.
However, there are also alternatives to AVEN: in the last few years a few (mainly English language) blogs have appeared online. There are also various youtube channels dedicated to the theme, above all Hot Pieces of Ace, The Dapper Ace and Swankivy's channel. Nevertheless, all of this doesn’t mean that efforts to be more visible and exchanges of ideas only take place on the internet. Through the forums, meetings are regularly organised in different towns at which members can get to know each other. Over the last few years asexual groups have repeatedly taken place in gay prides in San Francisco and London as well as other cities.
Asexual awareness week takes place online and offline. The special week was organised for the first time in 2010, with asexuals called upon to talk about their orientation and increase awareness of it. There has also been a focus on making LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual) groups aware of the theme. Even more actions are expected to take place in 2011, in particular at colleges in the United States. Events include public screenings of the first documentary about asexuality, (A)Sexual.
Considering that an asexual community enabling exchanges and encounters has only existed for ten years, it’s astonishing how many symbols of identity have already emerged. The oldest is probably the triangle pointing towards, which gets darker towards the bottom. This is the official symbol of AVEN. One member of the German forum made badges using this symbol which are now worn by asexuals in Germany. Wearing a black ring on your finger is also a symbol, although it is considerably less well-known internationally. For over a year now there has even been an official flag. Forum members from all over the world had a say in its design. The model finally chosen has four horizontal stripes in black, grey, white and violet. Since then the flag has often been used in asexual contexts. It is also being used as the logo for this year’s asexual awareness week.
Another asexual symbol is cake, which is offered in virtual form to new members in forums. There is a corresponding emoticon, but in the French forum it is more popular to post photos of cake in the ‘welcome’ (‘bienvenue’) threads. Users often jokingly emphasise that cake is better than sex.
It’s also worth checking out the slang that has developed in different languages: meanings are switched and new words are coined. In English for example the word ‘ace’ is an established abbreviation and code word for ‘asexual’ –the ace therefore is also used as an asexual symbol. The French simply use the letters A and S to refer to asexual and sexual people respectively. You often read statements like ‘Je suis A’ (‘I am A’) or ‘ma copine est S’ (my friend is S). In Polish a male asexual is an ‘As’ while a woman is an ‘Aska’.
Images: main (cc)Wendy Nelson Photography/ Flickr; in-text © CaptainEvie/deviantart; ©thousandleaf0001/deviantart