Sexual Fantasy and Masturbation Among Asexual Individuals: An In-Depth Exploration

Article · November 2016with284 Reads
DOI: 10.1007/s10508-016-0870-8
Abstract
Human asexuality is generally defined as a lack of sexual attraction. We used online questionnaires to investigate reasons for masturbation, and explored and compared the contents of sexual fantasies of asexual individuals (identified using the Asexual Identification Scale) with those of sexual individuals. A total of 351 asexual participants (292 women, 59 men) and 388 sexual participants (221 women, 167 men) participated. Asexual women were significantly less likely to masturbate than sexual women, sexual men, and asexual men. Asexual women were less likely to report masturbating for sexual pleasure or fun than their sexual counterparts, and asexual men were less likely to report masturbating for sexual pleasure than sexual men. Both asexual women and men were significantly more likely than sexual women and men to report that they had never had a sexual fantasy. Of those who have had a sexual fantasy, asexual women and men were significantly more likely to endorse the response “my fantasies do not involve other people” compared to sexual participants, and consistently scored each sexual fantasy on a questionnaire as being less sexually exciting than did sexual participants. When using an open-ended format, asexual participants were more likely to report having fantasies about sexual activities that did not involve themselves, and were less likely to fantasize about topics such as group sex, public sex, and having an affair. Interestingly, there was a large amount of overlap between sexual fantasies of asexual and sexual participants. Notably, both asexual and sexual participants (both men and women) were equally likely to fantasize about topics such as fetishes and BDSM.
SPECIAL SECTION: THE PUZZLE OF SEXUAL ORIENTATION
Sexual Fantasy and Masturbation Among Asexual Individuals:
An In-Depth Exploration
Morag A. Yule
1
Lori A. Brotto
1
Boris B. Gorzalka
2
Received: 4 January 2016 / Revised: 8 August 2016 / Accepted: 20 September 2016
Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016
Abstract Human asexuality is generally defined as a lack of
sexual attraction. We used online questionnaires to investigate
reasons for masturbation, and explored and comparedthe con-
tents ofsexual fantasies ofasexual individuals (identifiedusing
the Asexual Identification Scale) with those of sexual individ-
uals. A total of 351 asexual participants (292 women, 59 men) and
388 sexual participants (221 women, 167 men) participated. Asex-
ual women were significantly less likely to masturbate than sexual
women, sexual men, and asexual men. Asexual women were less
likely to report masturbating for sexual pleasure or fun than their
sexual counterparts, and asexual men were less likely to report mas-
turbating for sexual pleasure than sexual men. Both asexual women
and men weresignificantly morelikely than sexual womenand
men to rep ort that they had nev er had a sexual fan tasy. Of those
who have had a sexual fantasy,asexual women and men were
significantly more likely to endorse the response‘‘my fantasies
do not involve other people’’compared to sexual participants,
and consistently scored each sexual fantasy on a questionnaire
as being less sexually exciting than did sexual participants. When
using an open-ended format, asexual participants were more likely
to report having fantasies about sexual activities that did not involve
themselves, and were less likely to fantasize about topics such
as group sex, public sex, and having an affair. Interestingly, there
was a large amount of overlap between sexual fantasies of asexual
and sexual participants. Notably, both asexual and sexual partici-
pants (both men and women) were equally likely to fantasize about
topics such as fetishes and BDSM.
Keywords Asexuality Sexual orientation Masturbation
Sexual fantasy
Introduction
Although the definition of asexuality varies somewhat, the gen-
erally accepted definition is the definition forwarded by the largest
online web-community of asexual individuals (Asexuality Visi-
bility and Education Network; AVEN; asexuality.org)—a person
who does not experience sexual attraction. Estimates from large-
scale national probability studies of British residents suggest that
between 0.5 % (Aicken, Mercer, & Cassel, 2013;Bogaert,2013)
and 1 % (Bogaert, 2004; Poston & Baumle, 2010)oftheadult
population is asexual. Smaller studies suggest that 2 % of high
school students from New Zealand report being attracted to nei-
ther sex (Lucassen et al., 2011),andupto3.3%ofFinnishwomen
(Ho
¨glund, Jern, Sandnabba, & Santtila, 2014) report experiencing
a lack of sexual attraction in the past year.
Sexual orientation is thought to be a largely undefined internal
mechanismthat directs a person’s sexualinterest, with varying
degrees, toward men, women, or both (LeVay & Baldwin, 2012),
and asexual advocates maintain that asexuality is a unique sexual
orientation, alongside heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisex-
uality. It may be more accurate to conceptualize asexuality as a
lack of sexual orientation, in that this internal mechanism is not
directed toward anyone or anything, or might not exist at all. It
may also be that the same processes that guide the direction o f sex-
ual attraction to men, women, or both might be involved in the devel-
opment of a lack of sexual attraction. By investigating markers
previously associated with sexual orientation development, such as
age of menstruation, shorter stature, and increased number of health
&Morag A. Yule
moragy@gmail.com
1
Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of
British Columbia, 2775 Laurel Street, 6th Floor, Vancouver, BC
V5Z 1M9, Canada
2
Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia,
Vancouver, BC, Canada
123
Arch Sex Behav
DOI 10.1007/s10508-016-0870-8
problems (Bogaert, 2004,2013), and potential biological markers of
prenatal environment such as handedness and number of older
siblings (Yule, Brotto, & Gorzalka, 2014a), researchers have pro-
vided evidence that the same processes that influence these markers
of sexual orientation may be associated with the development of the
lack of sexual attraction characteristic of asexuality (Bogaert, 2006;
Bogaert, 2012a; Brotto, Knudson, Inskip, Rhodes, & Erskine, 2010;
Brotto & Yule, 2011;Yuleetal.,2014a). For these reasons, we argue
that asexuality be conceptualized as a unique sexual orienta-
tion rather thanthe absence of one (see Brotto & Yule, 2016for
a more in-depth exploration of this issue).
One characteristic thathas both shed light on the correlates
of asexuality and raised doubt about the truly asexual nature of
asexuality is masturbation. There is conflicting evidence as to the
frequency of masturbation among asexual individuals. Two studies
provide evidence that asexual women and men masturbate at fre-
quencies similar to sexual women and men (Brotto et al., 2010;Pos-
ton & Baumle, 2010). Specifically, Brotto et al. (2010) found that
80 % of asexual men and 73 % of asexual women had engaged in
masturbation, and these frequencies were comparable to that
reported in a British national probability sample of sexual individ-
uals (Gerressu, Mercer, Graham, Willings, & Johnson, 2008). Other
findings suggest that asexual individuals masturbate at a lower fre-
quency than their sexual counterparts (Bogaert, 2013; Yule, Brotto,
& Gorzalka, 2014b), which is more aligned with what we might pre-
dict. Despite these inconsistent findings, the observation that a con-
siderable number of asexual individuals do masturbate is somewhat
paradoxical, as the lack of sexual attraction that is fundamental to an
asexual identification seems to be intuitively in conflict with their
demonstrated masturbatory behavior.
Early research conducted in the 1950s found that nearly all men
and60%ofwomensurveyedinthegeneralpopulationreported
that they had masturbated at least once in their life (Kinsey, Pomeroy,
& Martin, 1948; Kinsey, Pomeroy, Martin, & Gebhard, 1953), and
this has been confirmed by more recent, arguably better-sampled,
studies (Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, & Michaels, 1994)which
suggested that nearly all men and approximately 75 % of women
had masturbated. The most common cited motivations for mastur-
bation were to seek pleasurable sensations or physical release of
sexual tension, while additional reasons such as body exploration,
to get to sleep, or to reduce boredom or loneliness were also com-
mon (Carvalheira & Leal, 2013;Clifford,1978). Non-sexual moti-
vations for masturbation are reflected in the comments of two (pre-
sumably sexual) female participants in an early study on mastur-
bation (Clifford, 1978). One participant reported that ‘‘masturba-
tion is not an emotional arousal, when I cross my legs and do that,
and that thing happens. I feel very asexual most of the time, except
when I’m with someone I really like.’’ Another participant noted
‘To me, masturbation is not that sexual. To me, it doesn’t have that
much connection to intercourse’’(Clifford, 1978, p. 570).
The motivation for masturbation among asexual individu-
als is notentirely clear. Brottoet al. (2010),in a mixed-methods
study, hypothesized that masturbation among asexual individu-
als might arise for non-sexual reasons, such as release of tension
or getting to sleep, while Bogaert (2012b) introduced the idea of
an identity-less masturbation pattern, in which individuals experi-
ence a sense of detachment between their sense of self and a sexual
object or target, which allows for physical release without engaging
with sexual partners even in sexual fantasy.
Sexual fantasies are generally defined as any thought, mental
image, or imagined scenario that is experienced as erotic or sex-
ually arousing to the individual (Leitenberg & Henning, 1995). It
has been largely accepted that sexual fantasy is a common experi-
ence for most men and women (Barclay, 1973; Crepault & Cou-
toure, 1980; Knafo & Jaffe, 1984). Leitenberg and Henning’s (1995)
review of the sexual fantasy literature suggests that between 77 and
100 % of women and men report ever having had a sexual fantasy
when not engaged in sexual activity, and also provide evidence that
approximately 86 % of men and 69 % of women report fantasizing
during masturbation. Sexual fantasies, it has been argued, are very
important to revealing an individual’s sexual orientation and sexual
attraction, even more than are sexual behaviors or sexual identity.
This is because behaviors are constrained by social norms and by the
(potential or desired) sexual partner, and thus are necessarily more
inhibited than what can be imagined (Ellis & Symons, 1990). The
received view is that sexual fantasies are not subject to such com-
promises and reflect the desires or wants of the fantasizer (Ellis &
Symons, 1990; Leitenberg & Henning, 1995). However, there is
evidence that sexual fantasies based on themes that the individual
would not wish to experience in real life, such as fantasies of erotic
reluctance or‘‘rape fantasies’(Bivona, Critelli, & Clark, 2012;Clif-
ford, 1978; Critelli & Bivona, 2008), are common among women
(as high as 57 %), which is in direct contrast to the widely accepted
view of sexual fantasy as a reflection of one’s underlying desire. It
may be that there is a sex difference in this regard such that sexual
fantasies may be a clearer indicator of men’s underlying desires.
Previous research comparing self-identified asexual individ-
uals to two groups of sexual individuals, those who did and those
who did not meet diagnostic criteria for hypoactive sexual desire
disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2000), found that
asexual participants were significantly more likely to report never
having had a sexual fantasy, with 40 % of asexual participants
reporting no sexual fantasy compared to 1 and 8 % of participants
in the sexual groups, respectively (Yule et al., 2014b). Interest-
ingly, of asexual individuals who have had a sexual fantasy, 11 %
reported that these fantasies were not about other people, com-
pared to 1.5 % of sexual individuals. This study suggested that
there are notable differences in patterns of sexual fantasy between
asexual individuals and sexual individuals with and without low
sexual desire, with asexual individuals more likely not to have had
a human protagonist featured in the fantasy. However, it did not
provide any clarity into what, exactly, asexual individuals fanta-
size about.
Arch Sex Behav
123
The current study expands on previous research into sexual
fantasies among asexual individuals.In addition to investigat-
ing reasons for masturbation, this study aimed to explore and com-
parethecontentsof sexual fantasiesamongasexualindividuals
with sexual fantasies of sexual individuals. We hope that exploring
the contents of asexual individuals’ fantasies in more depth will
shed light on the true nature of asexuality and may contribute toward
a larger effort at considering how it best be classified.
Method
Participants
Those who took part in the study responded to a recruitment
advertisement asking for participants of‘all sexual orientations
(asexual, heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual)’’ to complete an
online survey. It was explicit in the advertisement that the ques-
tionnaires would ask about sexual fantasy, masturbation, and
sexual behaviors. A total of 1285 individuals provided consent
to participate; however, 490 of these did not complete the majority
of the items (i.e., they read the consentform and indicated that they
consented to the study, but did not complete any items, or they pro-
vided some data, but discontinued the survey at some point), leav-
ing 795 participants with usable data. Data from participants under
19 years old were excluded (n=56) leaving 739 participants. We
decided to exclude data from younger participants as there is poten-
tially a larger amount of flux in sexual behavior/identities among
adolescents. Analyses done when data from the younger partici-
pants were included did not appreciably change the findings. The
age range of these 739 participants was between 19 and 70
years (M, 30.83; SD, 10.81).
In response to the query:‘‘The following pages are sex specific.
We realize that the following categories do not accurately describe
some individuals. However, for the purposes of this study we ask
that you please choose the option below that best describes you in
order to be directed to the most appropriate questionnaires: Which
of the following best describes you?, 226 indicated that they were
male, and 513 indicated that they were female.
Asexuality was assessed with the Asexuality Identification Scale
(AIS; Yule, Brotto, & Gorzalka, 2015), a 12-item reliable and valid
self-report questionnaire that assesses the degree to which respon-
dents agree with a series of statements. The AIS has been found to
significantly differentiate asexual fromsexual individuals,and
a score of 40 out of60 was previously found to capture 93 % of
individuals who self-identified as asexual (Yule et al., 2015).
This is useful for identifying individuals who may lack sex-
ual attraction, but who have not heard the term ‘asexual’ or
who might identify as ‘‘sexual’ based on their experience of
romantic attraction, rather than of sexual attraction (see Yule
et al., 2015 for a more detailed discussion). Any participant who
scored at or above 40 on the AIS was placed into the ‘‘AIS[40/
asexual’ group, and those scoring below 40 were placed into the
sexual group. Among the total sample, 388 (52.5 %) were classi-
fied in the sexual group (M, 34.3; SD, 11.2), and 351 (47.5 %) were
classified in the AIS[40/asexual group (M, 25.9; SD, 8.43), with
the sexual group being significantly older than the AIS[40/asex-
ual group, t(713.8) =11.52, p\.001. The AIS[40/asexual group
will be hereafter referred to as the ‘asexual’ sample. There were
292 asexual women, 221 sexual women, 59 asexual men, and 167
sexual men in the final group.
There were no significant differences between asexual and
sexual individuals in highest level of education achieved, v
2
(1) =
5.60, p[.05, with the majority of the participants (85 % asexual,
88 % sexual) having received at least some post-secondary edu-
cation. Twenty percent of asexual individuals and 64 % of sexual
participants indicated that they were currently in a relationship,
either committed or non-committed, and these proportions dif-
fered significantly v
2
(1) =170.8, p\.001.
Participants reported their ethnicity as: Caucasian/White, East
Asian (Chinese, Japanese, or Korean), South Asian, African Amer-
ican/Canadian, First Nations/Aboriginal, Hispanic, or‘‘other’’ with
the majority identifying as Caucasian (Table 1).
Measures
Participants were queried about masturbation frequency, moti-
vations for masturbation, and whether or not they had sexual fan-
tasies at the beginning of the questionnaire battery.
Sexual Fantasy Questionnaire (SFQ)
The SFQ is a 62-item questionnaire developed by Bogaert, Visser,
and Pozzebon (2015) in order to assess a level of sexual interest in
a number of sexual fantasies, including group sex, voyeurism, and
BDSM-style themes. Participants were instructed to evaluate how
exciting they would find each of the 62 sexualfantasies listed from
1(not at all exciting)to7(extremely exciting).
Open-Ended Exploration of Sexual Fantasies
Following completion of the SFQ, participants were provided
with the instruction: ‘‘In the space below, please provide a des-
cription of any sexual fantasies that you have regularly that were
not included in the previous list. You can provide as much or as
little detail as you wish. You may include your feelings, desire,
and activities at each stage of the fantasy—that is, what events and
feelings led up to the encounter and what events and feelings
occurred during the encounter? Please include any and all infor-
mation that is important in making your fantasy arousing. You
maydescribeuptofoursexualfantasies.’’This instruction is sim-
ilar to that used in previous research (Bogaert et al., 2015).
Arch Sex Behav
123
Procedure
The University of British Columbia Behavioural Research Ethics
Board approved all procedures. Data were collected between
February and November 2015 via a web-based survey hosted by
SurveyMonkey (Gordon, 2002). Participants were recruited through
several separate and concurrent avenues, including postings on local
Web sites (e.g., Craigslist, Mechanical Turk), on the AVEN online
web-community general discussion board (www.asexuality.org),
and through online and in-clinic postings at the offices of sexual
therapists. Data were collected using questionnaires that assessed
demographic variables, sexual health, sexual behavior, sexual dis-
tress, asexual identity, mood, and social desirability. The question-
naire battery took 60 min to complete. Participants were entered
into a draw for one of two $50 gift certificates.
Statistical Analyses
Chi-square analyses were used to compare the groups (asexual vs.
sexual) on demographic variables, and also to compare asexual
participants to sexual participants on measures of sexual fantasy.
A univariate analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to compare
the groups on SFQ scores. Fantasy content was coded based on
commonly used thematic analysis protocols (e.g., Lodi-Smith,
Geise, Roberts, & Robins, 2009; Visser, DeBow, Pozzebon,
Bogaert, & Book, 2014). Neither coder was blind to the study
hypothesis, but both coded the fantasies without knowledge of the
participants’ demographic information (including sexual vs.
asexual group or gender) or scores on other variables. Upon first
looking at the data, each of the coders identified a number of
themes (n=75 and n=102). Upon discussion, both coders
agreed that there was some overlap between themes (i.e., specific
types of fetish [e.g., feet, breeder, feeder, vore]), BDSM (Bondage
and Discipline [BD], Dominance and Submission [DS] and
Sadism and Masochism [SM]) themes (e.g., being restrained,
humiliation), or feeling wanted in some way (e.g., feeling attrac-
tive, feeling desired), and these were grouped together into over-
arching themes (i.e., ‘‘fetish,’’‘‘BDSM,’’ and ‘‘object-desire self-
conscious’’[Bogaert & Brotto, 2014]). We included a wide range
of themes under the BDSM category, as there is some evidencef or
grouping together a wide range of items that fall under BDSM.
One recent study showed showed that a number of sexual behav-
iors and fantasies such as spanking, humiliation, and inflicting
pain are all subsumed under the overarching category of BDSM
(Dunkley & Dang, 2016).
Once these items were grouped together, both coders agreed
upon a more parsimonious list of 49 themes (see Tables 6,7).Each
coder then independently coded each fantasy into one or more
themes (resulting in a minimum of one theme and maximum of 11
themes per fantasy) and inter-rater reliability (as assessed using
intra-class correlation coefficients, ICC) was high (ICC range =
.86 to .98). Comparative analyses were then carried out on these data.
Results
Masturbation
Asexual women were significantly less likely to masturbate at
least monthly than sexual women v
2
(1) =40.96, p\.001, sexual
men, v
2
(1) =40.06, p\.001, as well as asexual men v
2
(1) =
10.68, p\.001. There were no significant differences between
asexual men and sexual men in masturbation frequency (Fig. 1).
Among asexual individuals, asexual women who reported that
they did not masturbate scored significantly higher on the AIS
than did asexual women who reported that they masturbated at
least monthly, t(290) =3.61, p\.001, Cohen’s d=0.47. The
AIS scores ofasexual men whodid and did not masturbate did
not significantly differ.
Asexual women were much less likely than their sexual coun-
terparts to report masturbating for sexual pleasure or for fun, and
asexual men were less likely to report masturbating for sexual plea-
sure than were sexual men. Asexual women were more likely to
endorse the statement‘I feel that I have to’’ masturbate, and were
less likely to masturbate to‘‘relieve tension’’ than were sexual
women. Asexual men were similarly likely to sexual men to report
masturbating to relieve tension and because they felt they had to.
Asexual men, but not women, were much more likely to state that
they had‘other’’reasons for masturbating than their sexual coun-
terparts. ‘‘Other’’ reasons for masturbation that asexual men
Table 1 Ethnicity of participants
Asexual Sexual
Female (n=290) (%) Male (n=59) (%) Female (n=221) (%) Male (n=166) (%)
Caucasian/White 81 79 80 81
East Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) 3 2 5 2
South Asian 0 0 3 9
African American 3 0 4 1
First Nation/Aboriginal 0 0 1 1
Hispanic 4 9 1 5
Other 9 10 6 1
Arch Sex Behav
123
provided included:‘‘procrasturbation’’ (i.e., masturbating as a form
of procrastination), being bored, wanting to fall asleep, relaxation,
and functional beliefs about masturbation (such as‘‘apparently it
works against epididymitis’), whereas sexual men (but not asex-
ual men) cited reasons such as: having an uninterested/unavailable
partner, loneliness, stress relief, and‘‘needing to practice’’(Table 2).
Sexual Fantasy
Asexual men were significantly more likely than sexual men to
report having never had a sexual fantasy v
2
(1) =31.56, p\.001.
Similarly, asexual women were significantly more likely than sex-
ual women to report never having had a sexual fantasy v
2
(1) =
77.97, p\.001. Asexual women were significantly more likely to
have never had a sexual fantasy than asexual men v
2
(1) =4.11, p\
.05. There was no significant difference between sexual women
and sexual men on this variable (Fig. 2). Among asexual individ-
uals, asexual women who reported that they had never had a sexual
fantasyscoredsignicantlyhigher on the AIS than did asexual
women who reported that they had had a sexual fantasy, t(222.18) =
6.41, p\.001, Cohen’s d=0.81. Asexual men who had never had
a sexual fantasy similarly scored higher on the AIS than asexual
men who had had a sexual fantasy, although this difference appro-
ached rather than achieved statistical significance despite a rela-
tively large effect size, t(50) =2.00, p=.051, Cohen’s d=0.69.
Of those participantswho have had a sexual fantasy, 12 % of
asexualmen and 14 % ofasexual womenendorsed theresponse
‘my fantasies do not involveother people’’comparedto 0 % of
sexual men and 0.5 % of sexual women, v
2
(1) =20.25, p\.001
and v
2
(1) =37.45, p\.001, respectively.
A2(Sex)92 (Group: Asexual vs. Sexual) ANOVA was con-
ducted for mean SFQ scores. There was a significant Sex 9Group
interaction, F(1, 588) =11.89, p\.001, g
2
=.007 as well as a sig-
nificant main effect for Sex, F(1, 588) =8.62, p\.01, g
2
=.005,
and for Group, F(1, 588) =721.62, p\.001, g
2
=.46, suggesting
that, overall, sexual participants found the sexual fantasies listed on
the SFQ much more sexually exciting than did the asexual partic-
ipants. Sexual participants (both women and men) demonstrated
higher scores than asexual participants on each of the SFQ items,
with a significance of p\.001. The effect size of these differences
was most frequently very large (defined to be a Cohen’s dscore of
[1.0 for this study). Overall, asexual women and men scored higher
on the three items related to romantic or emotional content relative to
the other SFQ items. For asexual women, the two items that mention
love without sex (items 9 and 40) had relatively small effect sizes,
suggesting that asexual women’s scores were more similar to sexual
women’sscoresontheseitems.Overall,asexual individuals, both
men and women, were significantly more likely to score the items
on the SFQ as‘‘not exciting’’(i.e., from 1 =‘not at all exciting’’to 3
on the seven point Likert scale), whereas sexual participants were
significantly more likely to score the items on the SFQ in the
‘exciting’’ range of the Likert scale (i.e., from 5 to 7 =‘extremely
exciting’) (Tables 3,4).
These data combined indicated that sexual women and men
were significantly more likely to engage in sexual fantasy than their
asexual counterparts. Further, sexual women were more likely to
engage in masturbation than their asexual counterparts. Asexual
women and men were significantly more likely to have neither
sexual fantasy nor masturbation, or to masturbate but to have no
sexual fantasy, than were sexual women and men. Asexual women
were significantly more likely to engage in sexual fantasy without
masturbation than were sexual women, but this was not the case for
asexual and sexual men (Table 5).
AIS scores were compared for asexual participants only on mea-
sures of frequency of sexual fantasy and masturbation. There were
no significant differences in AIS scores between asexual men who
engaged in neither masturbation nor sexual fantasy, masturbated
but reported no sexual fantasy, reported sexual fantasy but no mas-
turbation, or engaged in both masturbation and sexual fantasy F(3,
48) =1.68, p[.05. Asexual women who did not masturbate had
significantly higher AIS scores than those who did, t(290) =3.61,
p\.001, Cohen’s d=0.47. Asexual women who did not engage in
sexual fantasy also had higher AIS scores than those who did,
t(253) =6.02, p\.001, Cohen’s d=0.81. There were significant
differences, F(3, 251) =13.48, p\.001, in AIS scores of asexual
women, and a post hoc Tukey’s multiple comparison test revealed
that asexual women who reported engaging in both sexual fantasy
and masturbation had significantly lower AIS scores than women
who reported neither masturbating nor sexual fantasy, p\.001,and
those who reported masturbating but denied engaging in sexual
fantasy, p\.05.
Based on responses to the open-endedexploration of sexual
fantasies,there were a numberof similarities anddifferences in
the themes of sexual fantasies of asexual women and men com-
pared to sexual women and men (Tables 6,7). Both asexual men
and women were significantly more likely to report having sexual
fantasies that do not involve themselves. Further, asexual women
were significantly more likely to report having sexual fantasies
that involved fictional human characters. Both asexual women
Fig. 1 Percentage of participants who masturbate at least monthly.
***Asexual women significantly less likely to masturbate than sexual
participants and asexual men, p\.001
Arch Sex Behav
123
and men were less likely to fantasize about group sex compared to
their sexual counterparts. Asexual women were also less likely
than sexual women to fantasize about a number of topics such as
public sex.
Of note, asexual men were significantly more likely than sex-
ual men to fantasize about‘‘object-desire self-consciousness/teas-
ing.’’Asexual women were significantly more likely than sexual
womentoreportengaginginfantasiesthatfocusedonemotions
or on romantic, non-sexual, intimacy such as cuddling. These, as
well as other non-sexual fantasy content such as ‘‘being cared for/
managed/cared for’‘sensory,’‘monogamy or poly,’and ‘‘involv-
ing commitment or relationship,’’have been separated from sexual
fantasies by presenting them at the ends of Tables 6and 7in order to
create a clear distinction between sexual and non-sexual content.
Interestingly, there was a large amount of overlap between asex-
ual and sexual participants on most of the sexual fantasy themes
identified. Specifically, asexual women and asexual men, respec-
tively, were just as likely to fantasize about 77 and 85 % of the sex-
ual topics that sexual women and men described. For example,
both asexual women and men were just as likely to fantasize about
BDSM or fetish themes than their sexual counterparts. Reporting
of fantasy themes such as erotic reluctance (e.g.,‘‘rape fantasies’) or
fantasies involving voyeurism was also similar in frequency
between asexual and sexual groups.
For example, one asexual participant noted:
I do have sexual fantasies but most of the time they do not involve
me or any real person. I sexually fantasize about fictional male cou-
ples and their romantic and sexual relationships and events. They are
all monogamous relationships where they are faithful to one another
(no affairs). With fictional male couples, my sexual fantasies can
involve many and varying sexual preferences and fetishes. Please
do know that these are my specific sexual fantasies and they do not
apply to others’ sexual fantasies (female, 19 years old).
Another participant described their fantasies as follows:
I don’t put myself into my fantasies. That is thoroughly unap-
pealing to me. Instead, I imagine other people in sexual situations,
and focus on their thoughts and feelings for a sort of vicarious
arousal. I don’t want to do anything sexual with any of the people I
imagine, and by themselves, they don’t turn me on. I think it’s
because I’m not capable of feeling sexual attraction or lust, so I men-
tally conjure up people who are and empathize with them (though
my ideas of how they experience lust are, since I’m asexual, awfully
vague in some ways and probably way off base in others) (female,
32 years old)
Another asexual participant reported:
Ienjoywatchingotherpeopleenjoy their sexuality.I like the
role of beingstrictly a voyeur but I love being the cause of them
enjoying their sexuality. Although I am very excited by these
situations I wouldn’t call it sexual excitement. Although my body
is clearly aroused by it, I have no desire to attend to that arousal. I
very much enjoy being the one who does not physically engage in
sexual behavior while being the one who provokes it in others. I
like to see my romantic partner endure unpleasant situations that
I’ve created because I feel that his willingness to sacrifice his com-
fort is an expression of his devotion to me. I like to see a partner
insensible with excitement or pleasure because of my interaction
with them. This makes me feel very emotionally enticed and
engaged but sexually I feel disengaged and disinterested even
though my body is aroused (female, 35years old).
Both asexual women and men were significantly more likely
to report engaging in fantasies that did not include any sexual or
romantic content. One example of such a fantasy was described as
Table 2 Motives for masturbation
Women Men
Asexual (n=292) (%) Sexual (n=221) (%) v
2
pAsexual (n=59) (%) Sexual (n=167) (%) v
2
p
Sexual pleasure 30 80 127.28 \.001 27 84 65.59 \.001
Relieve tension 48 57 4.14 \.05 52 64 2.44 [.05
For fun 20 46 40.51 \.001 32 46 3.45 [.05
I feel that I have to 13 5 4.72 \.05 25 15 3.27 [.05
Other 15 11 1.94 [.05 24 8 10.54 \.01
Participants were encouraged to select more than one reason for masturbation, and thus the numbers above may add up to greater than 100 %
Fig. 2 Percentage of participants who have never had a sexual fantasy.
***Asexual women and men significantly more likely to have never had
a sexual fantasy than sexual women and men, p\.001. *Asexual women
significantly more likely to have never had a sexual fantasy than asexual
men, p\.05
Arch Sex Behav
123
Table 3 Sexual fantasy questionnaire (SFQ) scores for asexual and sexual women
SFQ
item #
Item Score mean (SD) Effect size
(Cohen’s d)
Asexual
women
Sexual
women
9 A special person is devoted to me and showers me with love and attention 3.24 (2.19) 5.07 (1.91) 0.89
54 Feeling affection and emotional connection while having sex 2.82 (2.12) 5.78 (1.59) 1.58
40 I am devoted to a special man or woman and shower him or her with love and
devotion
2.66 (2.09) 4.68 (2.01) 0.96
2 My partner telling me how good-looking and sexy I am 2.40 (1.67) 5.18 (1.76) 1.62
13 Being passive and submissive to someone who wants my body 1.91 (1.64) 4.50 (2.17) 1.35
4 Imagining that I observe myself or others having sex 1.91 (1.46) 4.16 (1.96) 1.3
19 My partner showing me how much s/he desires my body 1.89 (1.52) 5.53 (1.68) 2.27
11 My partner tells me what s/he wants me to do to him or her during sex 1.80 (1.40) 4.95 (1.90) 1.89
7 Being forced to surrender to someone who is overcome with lust for me 1.73 (1.48) 3.95 (2.43) 1.1
43 My partner tells me what s/he wants to do to me during sex 1.70 (1.39) 5.04 (1.94) 1.98
28 Exerting dominance and control over a partner who is highly attracted to me 1.69 (1.49) 3.08 (2.11) 0.76
62 Pretending that I am doing something wicked or forbidden 1.68 (1.43) 4.10 (2.19) 1.31
52 Having sex with my current partner 1.68 (1.40) 5.30 (1.95) 2.13
31 Being passive and submissive to someone whose body I want 1.67 (1.40) 3.97 (2.29) 1.21
50 A man or woman sweeps me off my feet and teaches me all about romance and
sex
1.66 (1.41) 3.79 (2.14) 1.18
55 Exerting dominance and control over a partner who finds me very desirable 1.64 (1.42) 3.16 (2.17) 0.83
58 Telling my partner how good-looking and sexy s/he is 1.63 (1.29) 4.57 (1.96) 1.77
22 Being overpowered or forced to surrender because I am so irresistible 1.62 (1.42) 3.56 (2.43) 0.97
38 Having sex in a different place like a car, hotel, beach, woods 1.62 (1.21) 4.91 (1.90) 2.07
53 Watching my partner undress 1.59 (1.23) 4.69 (1.99) 1.87
57 Taking the initiative and dominant role while having sex 1.58 (1.34) 3.67 (2.07) 1.2
23 Dressing in sexy, transparent underwear for my partner 1.58 (1.32) 4.16 (2.14) 1.45
15 Exerting dominance and control over a partner who I am highly sexually
attracted to
1.57 (1.35) 3.40 (2.07) 1.05
39 Exerting dominance and control over a very desirable partner 1.57 (1.34) 3.04 (2.09) 0.84
16 Showing off my body to tease and arouse onlookers who lust after me 1.57 (1.29) 3.35 (2.13) 1.01
35 Undressing for my partner 1.57 (1.21) 4.17 (2.00) 1.57
48 Teasing a man or woman (or men or women) until s/he is consumed with sexual
desire for me
1.56 (1.38) 4.15 (2.17) 1.42
3 Having sex with two or more very attractive partners at the same time 1.55 (1.22) 4.13 (2.27) 1.42
33 Being forced to surrender to someone while I’m overcome with lust for him or
her
1.51 (1.31) 3.82 (2.38) 1.2
6 I imagine that an older, experienced partner is attracted to me because of my
youthful appearance
1.51 (1.25) 3.45 (2.13) 1.11
56 Having sex without making eye contact 1.49 (1.18) 2.57 (1.89) 0.69
24 Having sex with two or more partners, who are very attracted to me, at the same
time
1.46 (1.14) 4.03 (2.30) 1.42
60 Being forced to sexually pleasure attractive men or women 1.41 (1.17) 2.83 (2.25) 0.79
26 Talking dirty to my partner 1.41 (1.07) 4.22 (2.12) 1.67
1 Having sex with a very attractive stranger 1.41 (1.02) 4.40 (2.07) 1.83
37 Being an exotic dancer 1.40 (1.13) 2.31 (1.82) 0.6
46 Showing my partner how much I desire his or her body 1.40 (1.01) 4.71 (1.92) 2.16
12 Lusting after a hot guy or girl who is teasing and arousing me with his or her body 1.39 (1.05) 4.22 (2.01) 1.76
61 Imagining my partner in sexy underwear 1.38 (1.05) 3.50 (2.18) 1.24
Arch Sex Behav
123
‘being able to stop time and mess with people and things without
their awareness. Often not sexual’(female, 27 years old).
Another asexual participant described a fantasy that did not
involve sexual or romantic content:
This one is a bit, like, diffuse or inchoate, but magic and adven-
ture. Imagining myself in a situation where the laws of nature are
suspended, or I get a glimpse of a world that underlies our own, or I
am in a desert hut with a girl from an unfamiliar tribe. Or even just
an old country house with the wind whistling. Not only xenophil-
ia, but just the idea that we can be different and feel different things
and learn and have experiences we never imagined. An art studio
on the lower east side in 1976. A girl wizard. A blood moon. Does
this make sense? (male, 34 years old)
Discussion
Summary of Findings
This study was an in-depth exploration of masturbation and sex-
ual fantasy among asexual individuals. We found that asexual women
were significantly less likely to masturbate at least monthly than sex-
ual women and asexual men. Asexual women were less likely to
report masturbating for sexual pleasureor fun than their sexual
counterparts, and asexual men were less likely to report mas-
turbatingfor sexual pleasure than sexualmen. Asexual women
and men were significantly more likely to report that they had
never had a sexual fantasy thansexual women and men, and of
Table 3 continued
SFQ
item #
Item Score mean (SD) Effect size
(Cohen’s d)
Asexual
women
Sexual
women
44 I imagine that I am attracted to a sexual partner because of his or her greater age
and experience
1.37 (1.04) 3.12 (2.09) 1.06
5 Having casual sex with a person who I just met and who finds me irresistible 1.36 (1.00) 4.01 (2.17) 1.57
29 Teasing a man or woman (or men or women) until I can no longer contain my
sexual desire for him/her
1.35 (1.10) 4.07 (2.17) 1.58
51 Having anal intercourse 1.34 (1.00) 3.10 (2.22) 1.02
10 Overpowering or forcing another to surrender because he or she is so irresistible 1.34 (.98) 2.59 (1.96) 0.81
27 Revealing my body to an attractive stranger 1.33 (1.02) 3.25 (2.10) 1.16
8 Dating an exotic dancer 1.33 (1.00) 2.13 (1.58) 0.61
49 Having an attractive stranger reveal his or her body to me 1.32 (1.02) 3.41 (2.10) 1.27
45 Men or women talk about how sexy and irresistible I am before forcing me to
sexually pleasure them
1.31 (1.01) 3.02 (2.23) 0.99
21 Having sex with a stranger who is very attracted to me 1.31 (.91) 3.73 (2.12) 1.48
20 I sweep a man or woman off his or her feet and teach them all about romance and
sex
1.31 (.88) 2.92 (1.91) 1.08
36 Using force or humiliating a person who I desire 1.29 (1.02) 1.72 (1.43) 0.35
42 Receiving sexual pleasure from many people 1.29 (.88) 3.45 (2.32) 1.23
17 Using force or humiliating a person who desires me 1.28 (.97) 1.69 (1.37) 0.34
59 Reliving a previous sexual experience 1.27 (.83) 4.03 (2.18) 1.67
30 Being the center of attention while having group sex 1.26 (.96) 2.85 (2.12) 0.97
34 Being a promiscuous person who attracts the attention of many partners with my
irresistibility
1.25 (.93) 2.90 (2.11) 1.01
18 Pleasuring many other people while having group sex 1.25 (.91) 2.80 (2.06) 0.97
25 Giving sexual pleasure to many people 1.22 (.84) 2.89 (2.09) 1.05
47 Having sex with many men or women, all of whom are very attractive 1.21 (.84) 3.01 (2.13) 1.11
32 Having sex with many men or women, all of them overcome with lust for my
body
1.21 (.78) 2.90 (2.15) 1.04
14 Being a promiscuous person who has many irresistible sexual partners 1.21 (.74) 3.00 (2.04) 1.17
41 Having casual sex with a person I just met and find irresistible 1.21 (.72) 3.66 (2.14) 1.53
Items are sorted by asexual women’s SFQ scores, from highest to lowest
All item scores differ between asexual and sexual women at a statistical significance of p\.001
Arch Sex Behav
123
Table 4 Sexual fantasy questionnaire (SFQ) scores for asexual and sexual men
SFQ
item #
Item Score mean (SD) Effect size
(Cohen’s d)
Asexual
men
Sexual
men
9 A special person is devoted to me and showers me with love and attention 2.80 (2.02) 5.07 (1.67) 1.61
54 Feeling affection and emotional connection while having sex 2.52 (1.90) 5.60 (1.58) 1.76
40 I am devoted to a special man or woman and shower him or her with love and
devotion
2.47 (1.95) 4.90 (1.83) 1.29
4 Imagining that I observe myself or others having sex 2.00 (1.53) 4.59 (1.84) 1.53
2 My partner telling me how good-looking and sexy I am 1.93 (1.32) 5.14 (1.56) 2.21
13 Being passive and submissive to someone who wants my body 1.92 (1.45) 4.23 (2.09) 1.28
19 My partner showing me how much s/he desires my body 1.90 (1.32) 5.51 (1.53) 2.53
43 My partner tells me what s/he wants to do to me during sex 1.88 (1.45) 5.29 (1.72) 2.79
11 My partner tells me what s/he wants me to do to him or her during sex 1.88 (1.23) 5.50 (1.51) 2.63
53 Watching my partner undress 1.81 (1.36) 5.56 (1.40) 2.72
61 Imagining my partner in sexy underwear 1.71 (1.25) 5.11 (1.73) 2.25
7 Being forced to surrender to someone who is overcome with lust for me 1.68 (1.21) 4.10 (2.18) 1.37
50 A man or woman sweeps me off my feet and teaches me all about romance and
sex
1.64 (1.45) 4.22 (2.01) 1.47
52 Having sex with my current partner 1.64 (1.20) 5.46 (1.59) 2.71
48 Teasing a man or woman (or men or women) until s/he is consumed with sexual
desire for me
1.64 (1.10) 4.64 (2.00) 1.86
51 Having anal intercourse 1.63 (1.33) 4.32 (2.18) 1.49
62 Pretending that I am doing something wicked or forbidden 1.63 (1.27) 4.34 (2.05) 1.59
38 Having sex in a different place like a car, hotel, beach, woods 1.63 (1.19) 5.15 (1.73) 2.37
31 Being passive and submissive to someone whose body I want 1.62 (1.36) 3.91 (2.09) 1.3
49 Having an attractive stranger reveal his or her body to me 1.62 (1.24) 5.16 (1.88) 2.22
22 Being overpowered or forced to surrender because I am so irresistible 1.59 (1.34) 3.57 (2.16) 1.1
15 Exerting dominance and control over a partner who I am highly sexually
attracted to
1.56 (1.16) 4.38 (2.09) 1.67
6 I imagine that an older, experienced partner is attracted to me because of my
youthful appearance
1.56 (1.15) 3.98 (2.12) 1.42
55 Exerting dominance and control over a partner who finds me very desirable 1.56 (1.12) 4.05 (2.20) 1.43
1 Having sex with a very attractive stranger 1.54 (1.15) 5.59 (1.68) 2.81
58 Telling my partner how good-looking and sexy s/he is 1.53 (1.01) 4.95 (1.72) 2.42
3 Having sex with two or more very attractive partners at the same time 1.51 (1.12) 5.57 (1.96) 2.54
39 Exerting dominance and control over a very desirable partner 1.47 (1.00) 3.93 (2.16) 1.46
24 Having sex with two or more partners, who are very attracted to me, at the same
time
1.46 (1.15) 5.21 (2.04) 2.26
12 Lusting after a hot guy or girl who is teasing and arousing me with his or her body 1.45 (.96) 5.21 (1.75) 2.66
33 Being forced to surrender to someone while I’m overcome with lust for him or
her
1.44 (1.16) 3.67 (2.24) 1.25
28 Exerting dominance and control over a partner who is highly attracted to me 1.44 (.92) 3.95 (2.18) 1.5
57 Taking the initiative and dominant role while having sex 1.44 (.86) 4.48 (1.89) 2.07
60 Being forced to sexually pleasure attractive men or women 1.42 (1.09) 3.68 (2.26) 1.27
45 Men or women talk about how sexy and irresistible I am before forcing me to
sexually pleasure them
1.41 (1.02) 4.01 (2.22) 1.51
59 Reliving a previous sexual experience 1.41 (.99) 4.51 (1.86) 2.08
20 I sweep a man or woman off his or her feet and teach them all about romance and
sex
1.37 (1.07) 4.42 (2.13) 1.81
56 Having sex without making eye contact 1.37 (1.05) 2.84 (1.77) 1.01
17 Using force or humiliating a person who desires me 1.37 (.96) 2.43 (1.92) 0.67
Arch Sex Behav
123
those who have had a sexual fantasy, asexual women and men were
significantly more likely to endorse the response‘my fantasies do
not involve other people’’compared to sexual participants. Further,
asexual women were significantly more likely to report that they had
never had a sexual fantasy than asexual men. Asexual women were
also significantly more likely to report sexual fantasies involving fic-
tional characters.
It is interesting to note that a substantial proportion of asexual
individuals in the current study did report engaging in sexual fan-
tasy (65 % of asexual women and 80 % of asexual men), and a
large number (51 % of asexual women and 75 % of asexual men)
engaged in both sexual fantasy and masturbation, despite report-
ing a lack of sexual attraction. Further, there was a large amount of
overlap in the content of sexual fantasy of asexual and sexual par-
ticipants, including themes such as BDSM, fetishes, and fantasies
of non-consent. Because sexual fantasies are thoughtto be an indi-
cator of an individual’s true sexual interest, this raises questions
about the meaning of these sexual fan tasies for the construct of asex-
uality,which is based on theidea that an individuallacks sexual
interest.
On a sexual fantasy questionnaire, asexual participants (both
women and men) consistently scored each sexual fantasy as being
less sexually exciting than did sexual participants. When given the
opportunity to share their sexual fantasies using an open-ended
format, there were a number of fantasy themes that were more com-
mon among asexual participants compared to sexual participants,
particularly the tendency to have fantasies about sexual activities
that did not involve themselves. Asexual participants were less
likely to fantasize about topics such as group sex, public sex, and
having an affair. There was a large amount of overlap between sex-
ual fantasies of asexual and sexual participants. This overlap in sex-
ual fantasy content was unexpected, and perhaps one of the most
Table 4 continued
SFQ
item #
Item Score mean (SD) Effect size
(Cohen’s d)
Asexual
men
Sexual
men
16 Showing off my body to tease and arouse onlookers who lust after me 1.37 (.95) 3.56 (2.00) 1.4
5 Having casual sex with a person who I just met and who finds me irresistible 1.36 (.78) 5.25 (1.93) 2.64
35 Undressing for my partner 1.36 (.77) 4.08 (1.92) 1.86
10 Overpowering or forcing another to surrender because he or she is so irresistible 1.34 (.78) 3.31 (2.21) 1.19
29 Teasing a man or woman (or men or women) until I can no longer contain my
sexual desire for him/her
1.34 (.76) 4.16 (1.89) 1.96
25 Giving sexual pleasure to many people 1.31 (.99) 4.25 (2.21) 1.72
8 Dating an exotic dancer 1.31 (.92) 3.74 (2.08) 1.51
44 I imagine that I am attracted to a sexual partner because of his or her greater age
and experience
1.31 (.86) 3.71 (2.12) 1.48
46 Showing my partner how much I desire his or her body 1.29 (.74) 5.12 (1.70) 2.92
41 Having casual sex with a person I just met and find irresistible 1.29 (.72) 4.83 (2.05) 2.3
36 Using force or humiliating a person who I desire 1.27 (.87) 2.28 (1.86) 0.69
18 Pleasuring many other people while having group sex 1.25 (.92) 3.78 (2.23) 1.45
21 Having sex with a stranger who is very attracted to me 1.24 (.68) 5.14 (1.96) 2.66
37 Being an exotic dancer 1.22 (.70) 2.20 (1.64) 0.78
23 Dressing in sexy, transparent underwear for my partner 1.21 (.64) 3.16 (2.12) 1.25
27 Revealing my body to an attractive stranger 1.21 (.55) 3.80 (2.01) 1.76
42 Receiving sexual pleasure from many people 1.19 (.57) 4.55 (2.16) 2.13
30 Being the center of attention while having group sex 1.19 (.54) 3.72 (2.23) 1.56
47 Having sex with many men or women, all of whom are very attractive 1.15 (.61) 4.70 (2.13) 2.66
26 Talking dirty to my partner 1.15 (.41) 4.57 (1.95) 2.43
14 Being a promiscuous person who has many irresistible sexual partners 1.14 (.47) 4.06 (2.09) 1.93
32 Having sex with many men or women, all of them overcome with lust for my
body
1.12 (.46) 4.28 (2.20) 1.99
34 Being a promiscuous person who attracts the attention of many partners with my
irresistibility
1.12 (.46) 3.95 (2.07) 1.89
Items are sorted by asexual men’s SFQ scores, from highest to lowest
All item scores differ between asexual and sexual men at a statistical significance
Arch Sex Behav
123
interesting findings of the current study. Notably, both groups (both
men and women) were equally likely to fantasize about topics such
as BDSM and fetishes such as podophilia (feet; Weinberg, Wil-
liams, & Calhan, 1994), feeder (Terry & Vasey, 2011), maieu-
siophilia/breeder (Dean, 2009), and vorarephilia (Lykins & Cantor,
2013).
Masturbation
The current findings suggest that significantly fewer asexual women
masturbate than do sexual women, but that asexual men masturbate
at rates similar to sexual men. Previous findings on masturbation
frequencies among asexual individuals have also been mixed. There
has been some research indicating that asexual individuals (both
women and men) masturbate at frequencies similar to their sexual
counterparts (Brotto et al., 2010). However, the one available study
based on data from a national probability sample found that, of those
asexual individuals (women and men combined) who reported
sexual experience with a partner, 42 % had masturbated in the past
month, which was significantly lower than 70 % of sexually identi-
fied participants (Bogaert, 2013), and this finding has been sup-
ported by a recent study using convenience sampling in which
56 % of asexual participants (again, both women and men together)
reported masturbating at least monthly (Yule et al., 2014b).
One early study on the development of masturbation among
young, college aged women, found that masturbation is more likely
to occur when it is found to be rewarding and pleasurable (Clifford,
1978) and this has been supported by more recent research (Car-
valheira & Leal, 2013). The current study queried motives for mas-
turbation. Asexual women and men were both significantly less
likely to cite sexual pleasure as a reason for engaging in this behav-
ior, and asexual women (but not men) were less likely to report‘‘for
fun’’as a reason for masturbation, which raises the question of how
asexual men are differentiating sexual pleasure from fun. Rather,
asexual women were more likely to endorse‘I feel that I have to
[engage in masturbation],’and werelesslikelytocitetorelieve
tension’ compared to sexual participants as a reason for mastur-
bation. Asexual men, but not women, were significantly more likely
to endorse‘other’’ reasons for masturbation, such as needing to fall
asleep, boredom, health reasons, or procrasturbation.
The findings reported above support earlier, anecdotal, findings
that some asexual individuals’ primary motives for masturbation
are non-sexual (Brotto et al., 2010), in that wishing to fall asleep and
to alleviate boredom were viewed as non-sexual motivations. Fur-
ther, our findings align with Bogaert’s (2012a,2013) notion of ‘‘non-
directedmasturbation,’’a term reflectingthe presence of sexual
desire and urge to engage in masturbation, but desire that is not
directed toward anyone or anything in particular. The wide range
of reasons for masturbation endorsed by asexual individuals is a
testament to the diversity of asexuality and asexual individuals. The
use of masturbation as a purely physical release or as a tool to relieve
tension might seem somewhat detached and devoid of emotion,
and thus seem detached from sexuality and sexual activity. In fact, it
is possible to have physiological sexual arousal in the form of erec-
tion, vaginal vasocongestion, and lubrication, and even orgasm, with-
out having any desire to engage in sexual activity with others (Levin
&vanBerlo,2004).
Sexual Fantasy
Overall, a much larger proportion of asexual participants, both men
and women, reported never having had a sexual fantasy compared
to sexual participants. Approximately 35 % of asexual women and
20 % of asexual men in the current sample denied ever having had a
fantasy, compared to very few of the sexual participants. Previous
research revealed a similar finding, such that 40 % of the asexual
sample (both women and men) noted that they had never had a
sexual fantasy (Yule et al., 2014b) compared to almost none of the
sexual participants, including those who met diagnostic criteria for
a sexual desire disorder. The current findings strongly suggest that
sexual fantasies are not, in fact, ubiquitous, as previous writings
have suggested (e.g., Leitenberg & Henning, 1995).
Interestingly, those asexual individuals in the current study
who reportedhaving never engaged in a sexual fantasy scored
higher (i.e., had more‘‘asexual’’ features) on the AIS than did
asexual individuals who have had sexual fantasies, providing
some evidence for previous speculations (Bogaert, 2012a)that
Table 5 Patterns of masturbation and sexual fantasy
Women Men
Asexual (n=292)
(%)
Sexual (n=221)
(%)
v
2
pAsexual (n=59)
(%)
Sexual (n=167)
(%)
v
2
p
No masturbation or sexual
fantasy
16 1 33.60 \.001 6 0 11.53 \.001
Masturbation but no sexual
fantasy
19 1 40.95 \.001 15 1 18.60 \.001
Sexual fantasy but no
masturbation
14 5 40.30 \.001 4 4 0.07 [.05
Masturbation and sexual
fantasy
51 93 104.50 \.001 75 95 20.30 \.001
Arch Sex Behav
123
Table 6 Comparison of open-ended sexual fantasy responses between asexual women and sexual women
Theme % Asexual women
(n=122)
% Sexual women
(n=84)
v
2
p
Asexual women significantly more likely to fantasize about
Don’t involve me 32.79 8.33 16.89 \.001
Fictional human characters/not real people 27.87 4.76 17.66 \.001
Asexual women significantly less likely to fantasize about
Group sex 4.1 30.95 28.06 \.001
Public sex 1.64 15.48 14.11 \.001
Having an affair/extramarital sex* 0 9.93 5.16 \.05
Sex w/celebrity 0.82 2.38 10.55 \.01
Memories of actual past sexual encounters 0 3.57 4.42 \.05
Cuckold fantasy 0 3.57 4.42 \.05
Sex with Ex 0 3.57 4.42 \.05
Asexual women just as likely to fantasize about
BDSM (including humiliation) 32.79 32.14 0.0094 [.05
Observing homosexual encounters (when the other gender)/sex w/other gender (or
same gender if gay)
16.39 14.29 0.17 [.05
Other (anything that comes up only once and doesn’t fit into any other category) 16.39 16.67 0.0027 [.05
Fetish (feeder, breeder, vore, feet, etc.) 10.66 7.14 0.039 [.05
Rape fantasy/non-consent/erotic reluctance 9.84 11.9 0.2232 [.05
Sex toys 8.2 3.57 1.8 [.05
Voyeurism (watching others or being watched) 8.2 11.9 0.78 [.05
Sex with power figure (e.g., teacher) 5.74 10.71 1.72 [.05
Making out/foreplay 5.74 2.38 1.34 [.05
Masturbation 5.74 5.95 0.0042 [.05
Sex while drugged/mind control/hypnosis 4.1 0 3.53 [.05
Risky/forbidden sex 4.1 7.14 0.91 [.05
Engaging in sexual activity as the other sex 4.1 2.38 0.45 [.05
Involving older partners 4.1 4.76 0.05 [.05
Transvestism/changing genders or genitalia/forced feminization 3.28 0 2.81 [.05
Don’t involve (sex with) other people 3.28 0 2.81 [.05
Pleasing a partner 3.28 7.14 1.61 [.05
Fantasies aren’t sexually arousing (although they may be physically arousing) 3.28 1.19 0.92 [.05
Sex in context of larger story 3.28 2.38 0.14 [.05
Roleplay (furries, cosplay) 2.46 8.33 3.72 [.05
Object-desire self-consciousness/teasing 2.46 7.14 2.61 [
.05
Incest 2.46 4.76 0.8 [.05
Sex with stranger/anonymity 2.46 4.76 0.8 [.05
Anal play/anal intercourse 2.46 4.76 0.8 [.05
Sex w/non-human creatures (non-beastiality) 2.46 4.76 0.8 [.05
Oral sex 2.46 2.38 0.0013 [.05
Rough sex (not BDSM) 2.46 2.38 0.0013 [.05
Sex with animals 1.64 1.19 0.7 [.05
Sex with friend 0.82 1.19 0.071 [.05
Sex w/sleeping partner or vice versa 0 2.38 2.93 [.05
Sex with/as virgin 0 1.19 1.46 [.05
Sex with current partner* 0 2.13 0.28 [.05
Involving younger partners 0 0 n/a n/a
Cum play 0 0 n/a n/a
Arch Sex Behav
123
asexuality exists on a continuum, with a lack of behaviors such
as engaging in sexual fantasy and/or masturbation occurring
more frequently among a subgroup of asexual individuals.
Previous research found that 19 % of asexual participants
reported masturbating (Yule et al., 2014b) but reported never
having had a sexual fantasy,and this was replicated in the cur-
rent study. Yule et al. speculated that this group might be focus-
ing on physical sensations during masturbation rather than elicit-
ing a sexual fantas y during masturbation. In the current study, a
greater proportion of asexual women and men did endorse focus-
ing on tactile stimulation when engaging in sexual fantasies than
sexual women and men; however, this difference was not signif-
icant, so it remains unclear whether this explanation accounts for
those who report masturbating but not engaging in sexual fan-
tasies. If asexual participants did not consider focusing on phys-
ical sensations during masturbation evidence of‘‘sexual fantasy,’
then this would not have been noted by participants in the open-
ended sexual fantasy questionnaire. Further studies should focus
on how asexual individuals understand sexual fantasy, perhaps
employing face-to-face qualitative interviews.
Fourteen percent of asexual women and 12 % of asexual men
in the current sample reported having sexual fantasies that did not
involve other people, compared to less than one percent of sexual
women, and none of the sexual men in the sample. This replicates
previous research that found that 11 % of asexual individuals (both
women and men) had sexual fantasies that did not involve other
people (Yule et al., 2014b). This finding points to at least some asex-
ual individuals perhaps fitting the category of analloeroticism,
a term coi ned by Blancha rd (1989)which describesindividuals
who are notattracted to otherpeople but continueto experience
sexual drive and/or sexual activities such as masturbation. Anal-
loeroticism was first described in the context of autogynephilia
(Blanchard, 1989), but the term is now used interchangeably with
the term ‘libidoist’’ by some self-identified asexual individuals
(http://www.asexuality.org/en/topic/78181-libidoist-what-is-it/
), and may describe a subset of asexual individuals. Our finding
that asexual men were more likely to describe sexual fantasies that
focus on themes involving object-desire self-conscious or teasing
may suggest that these participants experience automonophilia,
which may also fit under the umbrella of analloeroticism. The
possibility for asexual subtypes with some fitting the category of
analloerotic should be the focus of future research.
Asexual women in the current study were much more likely to
endorse fantasies that focus on fictional human characters, rather
than focusing on another person. In fact, there are at least some
self-identified asexual individuals who also identify as‘‘fictosex-
ual’’or‘‘fictoromantic’’(http://www.asexuality.org/en/topic/1357
47-what-counts-as-fictosexual/?hl=fictosexual). However, there
were no significant differences between the asexual and sexual
participants (women or men) in the frequency of endorsing fan-
tasies that involved non-human animals/creatures, scenic imagery,
or fetishes, in any proportion that was significantly more than that of
sexual individuals. We did not ask specifically about schediaphilia
(also known as toonophilia; Griffiths, 2012), or sexual attraction
to animated cartoon or anime characters. While there is very lit-
tle academic writing on this topic, it has some presence on the Inter-
net and there are claims that some individuals are sexually and/or
romantically attracted to particular cartoon characters. Elucidating
the difference between those who are attracted to human, non-
human, and animated fictional characters will be important to
consider in future asexuality research.
Asexual women were more likely than sexual women to report
engaging in fantasies that focused on emotions or on romantic,
non-sexual, intimacy such as cuddling. While these‘‘romantic fan-
tasies’arguably do not provide insight into ‘‘sexual’ attraction or
orientation, it is of interest that asexual women may have experi-
enced these as sexual, particularly since they answered a question
asking about contents of a ‘‘sexual’ fantasy. It may be that these
asexual women more clearly identify with a romantic identity (i.e.,
heteroromantic or homoromantic) than with a sexual identity, and
that this might be influencing the content of what they identify to be
a sexual fantasy. Since we did not assess participants’ romantic
orientation in this study, the extent to which their romantic attrac-
tions influenced these responses is not clear. However, the 2014
AVEN Census (Ginoza, Miller, & AVEN Survey Team, 2014)
highlighted the diversity of different romantic orientation subtypes
among asexual participants. Future research should seek to explore
whether an asexual individual’s romantic orientation impacts their
Table 6 continued
Theme % Asexual women
(n=122)
% Sexual women
(n=84)
v
2
p
Fantasies that focus on non-sexual content
Focusing on emotions 18.03 5.95 6.37 \.05
Romantic (non-sexual) (e.g., cuddling) 14.75 1.19 10.93 \.001
No sexual or romantic content 7.38 0 6.48 \.01
Sensory (smell, sight, taste, sound) 5.74 1.19 2.76 [.05
Monogamy or poly, involving commitment or relationship 4.1 1.19 1.6 [.05
Being cared for/managed/caring for others 1.64 2.38 0.14 [.05
* Fantasies about current partner and engaging in extramarital sex or affairs were analyzed for participants who were in a relationship only. Asexual
n=62, sexual n=141
Arch Sex Behav
123
Table 7 Comparison of open-ended sexual fantasy responses between asexual men and sexual men
Theme % Asexual men
(n=27)
% Sexual men
(n=64)
v
2
p
Asexual men significantly more likely to fantasize about
Don’t involve me 18.52 0 12.54 \.001
Object-desire self-consciousness/teasing 11.11 0 7.35 \.01
Asexual men significantly less likely to fantasize about
Group sex 3.7 39.06 11.63 \.001
Asexual men just as likely to fantasize about
Fetish (feeder, breeder, vore, feet, etc.) 37.04 28.13 0.71 [.05
BDSM (including humiliation) 14.81 29.69 2.22 [.05
Other (anything that comes up only once and doesn’t fit into any other category) 14.81 26.56 1.48 [.05
Voyeurism (watching others or being watched) 14.81 18.75 0.2 [.05
Masturbation 11.11 3.13 2.33 [.05
Transvestism/changing genders or genitalia/forced feminization 11.11 9.38 0.064 [.05
Rape fantasy/non-consent/erotic reluctance 7.41 9.38 0.092 [.05
Sex in context of larger story 3.7 0 2.4 [.05
Don’t involve (sex with) other people 3.7 0 2.4 [.05
Observing homosexual encounters (when the other gender)/sex w/other gender (or same
gender if gay)
3.7 10.94 1.24 [.05
Oral sex 3.7 9.38 0.86 [.05
Risky/forbidden sex 3.7 9.38 0.86 [.05
Anal play/anal intercourse 3.7 7.81 0.52 [.05
Fictional human characters/not real people 3.7 1.56 0.41 [.05
Engaging in sexual activity as the other sex 3.7 1.56 0.41 [.05
Rough sex (not BDSM) 3.7 6.25 0.14 [.05
Public sex 0 12.5 3.7 [.05
Involving younger partners 0 12.5 3.7 [.05
Sex with power figure (e.g., teacher) 0 7.81 2.32 [.05
Cuckold fantasy 0 7.81 2.32 [.05
Sex with friend 0 7.81 2.32 [.05
Involving older partners 0 6.25 1.77 [.05
Making out/foreplay 0 4.69 1.31 [.05
Sex with Ex 0 4.69 1.31 [.05
Cum play 0 4.69 1.31 [.05
Sex w/sleeping partner or vice versa 0 4.69 1.31 [.05
Incest 0 3.13 0.86 [.05
Sex with/as virgin 0 3.13 0.86 [.05
Sex with stranger/anonymity 0 7.81 0.52 [.05
Roleplay (furries, cosplay) 0 7.81 0.52 [.05
Memories of actual past sexual encounters 0 1.56 0.43 [.05
Pleasing a partner 0 1.56 0.43 [.05
Sex toys 0 1.56 0.43 [.05
Sex w/non-human creatures (non-beastiality) 0 1.56 0.43 [.05
Sex w/celebrity 0 1.56 0.43 [.05
Sex with current partner* 0 1.89 0.13 [.05
Having an affair/extramarital sex* 0 17.92 0.44 [.05
Fantasies aren’t sexually arousing (although they may be physically arousing) 0 0 n/a n/a
Sex while drugged/mind control/hypnosis 0 0 n/a n/a
Sex with animals 0 0 n/a n/a
Arch Sex Behav
123
experience of sexual fantasy, and what implications this has for
understanding the nature of sexual and romantic attraction develop-
ment.
The largest distinguishing feature between fantasies of asexual
individuals compared to sexual individuals was the former’s incre-
ased likelihood of having sexual fantasies that did not involve
them. This provides evidence for Bogaert’s (2012b) identification
of a phenomenon he coined‘‘autochorissexuality,’’or identity-less
sexuality, defined as‘a disconnect between an individual’s sense
of self and a sexual object or target’’(Bogaert, 2012b, p. 1513). Auto-
chorissexual individuals view themselves as being separate from the
sexual acts they are viewing or fantasizing about, thereby allowing
for detachment between their sense of self and masturbationand sex-
ual fantasies. In support of Bogaert’s (2012b) speculation that some
asexual individuals may be characterized as autochorissexual, we
interpret the present data as asexual individuals using explicit stimuli
as a vehicle to facilitate their sexual arousal and subsequent orgasm
(Yule et al., 2014b). Put another way, despite having s exual fantasies
that involve other people or things, these individuals do not experi-
ence subjective sexual attraction, where the‘‘subjective’’aspect refers
to the sense of‘‘me’or‘‘I’of their identity. This raises the possibility
that subjective sexual attraction might represent another dimension
of sexual orientation, with (some) asexual individuals being at the
non-subjective polar end of a subjective/non-subjective orientation
dimension.
Asexualwomen were less likelyto fantasize about a number
of topics,including group sexand public sex. These sexualfan-
tasies arguably include content that is highly sexualized and focuses
on sex with another person (interpersonal sex). In contrast, asexual
women were more likely to fantasize about sexual topics that may
be less focused on genital content (e.g., BDSM, sexual humilia-
tion). Asexual women were also more like to fantasize about sexual
topics involving only themselves (e.g., masturbation, use of sex toys)
or that did not involve direct interactions with another person (e.g.,
voyeurism). Asexual women in a relationship were less likely than
sexual women in a relationship to fantasize about extramarital sex.
Paraphilic Interest
Paraphilic interest is commonly defined as atypical sexual interest
in an object, person, oractivity, whereasa paraphilic disorder is
defined as arising when the person‘feels personal distress about
their interest, not merely arising from society’s disapproval,’’ or
the sexual interest causes another person’s distress in some way
(American Psychiatric Association, 2013). It is very unlikely that
the majority of asexual individuals have paraphilias for two main
reasons (Bogaert, 2012a); even those with extreme paraphilias main-
tain some level of sexual interest in other people. Further, the majority
of asexual people are women and paraphilias tend to be rare
among women (Cantor, Blanchard, & Barbaree, 2009). Nonethe-
less, Bogaert (2012a) has speculated that asexual individuals, while
experiencing a lack of sexual attraction for other people, might
experience unusual sexual attractions, or paraphilias. Following
from this, it may be that an underlying paraphilic interest is what
motivates an asexual individual’s masturbation and sexual fan-
tasy behavior. Further, a substantial proportion of our asexual
sample reported being in a relationship and, according to our the-
matic analysis of sexual fantasy, did indicate some level of sex-
ual interest in people. It is possible that some of our asexual parti-
cipants are displaying paraphilic interest (including analloeroticism
or autochorissexuality), although this should be investigated further
in future research. It is important to note that paraphilic interest may
be more common in the general (sexual) population than was previ-
ously thought. Thus, the ‘atypical’sexual attractions experienced
by some asexual individuals may actually be quite typical. This
deserves further investigation among both sexual and asexual
groups.
Limitations
Our sample of men was small and may have been underpow-
ered, such that it was difficult to detect significant differences
between sexual and asexual men on sexual fantasy themes.
Table 7 continued
Theme % Asexual men
(n=27)
% Sexual men
(n=64)
v
2
p
Fantasies that focus on non-sexual content
No sexual or romantic content 22.22 4.69 6.55 \.01
Focusing on emotions 3.7 1.56 0.41 [.05
Romantic (non-sexual) (e.g., cuddling) 3.7 3.13 0.02 [.05
Being cared for/managed/caring for others 3.7 0 2.4 [.05
Sensory (smell, sight, taste, sound) 3.7 0 2.4 [.05
Monogamy or poly, involving commitment or relationship 0 1.56 0.43 [.05
* Fantasies about current partner and engaging in extramarital sex or affairs were analyzed for participants who were in a relationship only. Asexual
n=7, sexual n=106
Arch Sex Behav
123
Further, our study relied on a convenience sample of asexual parti-
cipants recruited from the AVEN Web site, which may not be
representative of the asexual population,as those who frequent
the Web site (and participate on studies posted there) may tend
to be more liberal and perhaps more curious about sexuality and
sexual behaviors than thos e asexual individuals who are not on the
Web site. Another limitation is that we did not assess how frequently
participants experienced each of their types of fantasies. It may be
that for some of them, the described fantasy was experienced in iso-
lation, whereas other types of fantasy tend to be elicited on a more
regular basis.
Conclusion
While there are a number of differences between asexual and
sexual groups in terms of patterns of masturbation and sexual
fantasy, as well as in contents of sexual fantasy, the similarity
betweenthe groups on severalof these measuresis striking. For
example, nearly half of asexual women and three quarters of asex-
ual men reported both experiencing sexual fantasy and mastur-
bating, despite reporting a lack of sexual attraction to other people
and identifying as asexual. Further, there was significant overlap
in the sexual fantasies experienced by participants, regardless of
their asexual or sexual status. Sexual fantasies have long been
thought to reveal an individual’s innermost desires. However, the
current data suggest that if this is true, individuals do not necessar-
ily act on these desires. An asexual individual may not experience
sexual attraction, but may nonetheless engage in sexual fantasy,
perhaps to facilitate physiological sexual arousal and masturba-
tion. The sexual fantasies may not be reflections of innate sexual
wants or desires. More research will be needed to ascertain whether
this is because the individual cannot act on these desires (in the case
of being attracted to fictional characters), because social constraints
prohibit them from doing so, or because there is a disconnect bet-
ween their subjective sense of self in relation to sexual targets.
Further, these findings suggest that sexual fantasies are not, in fact,
ubiquitous, as previous writings have suggested. What makes one
individual have sexual fantasies, and whether they appear spon-
taneously or deliberately, versus another individual not having fan-
tasies, is a fascinating area of inquiry that may also inform the
debate on whether lack of sexual fantasies should be a marker of a
sexual desire disorder (Brotto, 2010).
The current findings strongly suggest that self-identified asex-
uality might comprise a highly heterogeneous group. There are
likely a large number of variations in how (lack of) sexual attraction
is experienced that might lead a person to identify as asexual, includ-
ing a total lack of sexual attraction, autochorissexuality, analloeroti-
cism, and other types of paraphilic tendencies. It is also important to
note that our asexual sample was significantly younger than our sex-
ual sample. This difference in age may, in part, explain why asexual-
ity appears to be such a heterogeneous category. As noted above, it
may be that younger participant’s sexuality and sexual identity is
more in flux compared to older participants. It may be that future
research will find less heterogeneity in an older group of asexual
individuals. It will be essential for researchers to take these variations
into account when conducting future investigations into asexuality.
Our finding that asexual individuals who did and did not engage in
sexual fantasy or masturbation differed in terms of AIS scores sug-
gests that there may be different subtypes of asexuality, and that the
AIS might be a useful tool to aide in these investigations.
Finally, the current findings further suggest that it is important
to be aware of the difference between self-identified asexuality
and a more stringent definition of asexuality that includes a lac k of
sexual attraction to anything at all, when we are using these def-
initions for research purposes. While self-identification as asexual
might provide asexual individuals with a community and way to
describe their experience in the context of navigating an arguably
sexualized society, we must be very careful when utilizing these
definitions and self-identities for quantitative empirical research
investigating the source of the corresponding lack of sexual attrac-
tion. Self-identification as asexual is a legitimate, and arguably very
important, aspect of asexuality. However, in the context of sexu-
ality (and sexual orientation) research, it must be acknowledged
that the umbrella term‘‘asexual’’ might not accurately describe the
entirety of all self-identified asexual individual’s experience. Fur-
ther investigations of the topic should be careful to clearly define
what is meant by terms such as ‘asexual,’and be thorough in the
questions that are posed to identify participants as such for research
purposes. Of course, it is a different, and very important, question
entirely to conduct research on self-identified asexual individuals
and the communities that develop around this self-identification.
We must be clear in the distinction and in defining our terms.
Acknowledgments M. A. Yule was funded by a Doctoral Research Award
from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
Compliance with Ethical Standard
Conflict of interest M. A. Yule declaresthat she has no conflict of interest.
L. A. Brotto declares that she has no conflict of interest. B. B. Gorzalka
declares that he has no conflict of interest.
Ethical Approval All procedures performed in studies involving
human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the
Institutional and/or National Research Committee and with the 1964
Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical
standards.
Informed Consent Informed consent was obtained from all individual
participants included in the study.
Appendix
See Table 8.
Arch Sex Behav
123
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  • [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Purpose of ReviewThis paper reviews the recent literature on human asexuality, which is generally defined as an absence of sexual attraction. Recent FindingsRecent work has focused on exploring whether asexuality is best conceptualized as a mental health difficulty, a sexual dysfunction, a paraphilia, a sexual orientation, or as an identity/community, and this literature is reviewed. The authors conclude that asexuality may best be thought of as a sexual orientation and that asexuality as an identity and a community is an important component of the asexual experience. SummaryOverall, the term asexuality likely describes a heterogeneous group of individuals, with a range of experiences. Asexuality is likely a normal variation in the experience of human sexuality, and future research into asexuality might inform our understanding of sexuality in general.
    Full-text · Article · Feb 2017
  • Full-text · Article · Mar 2017
Article
February 2017 · Current Sexual Health Reports
    Purpose of ReviewThis paper reviews the recent literature on human asexuality, which is generally defined as an absence of sexual attraction. Recent FindingsRecent work has focused on exploring whether asexuality is best conceptualized as a mental health difficulty, a sexual dysfunction, a paraphilia, a sexual orientation, or as an identity/community, and this literature is reviewed. The... [Show full abstract]
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