ArticlePDF Available

‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people negotiate their experiences of kinks and fetishes

Authors:

Abstract

Prior research has found that asexual people may fantasise or participate in activities typically conceptualised within mainstream society as ‘sexual’. These behaviours may be considered paradoxical when an asexual person is conceptualised as someone who does not experience sexual attraction or desire. This research aimed to explore how kinks and fetishes are conceptualised, experienced, and negotiated by asexual individuals. Forty-eight participants were recruited via the first author’s social media accounts and asexuality forums to take part in an online qualitative survey. The data were thematically analysed and three themes were developed. In “Am I asexual?”: (How) can you be a kinky ace?, we discuss the feelings of doubt or distress that some participants reported in relation to what was seemingly sometimes understood as the paradox between their self-identity as asexual and their exploration of kinks and fetishes, and how this was negotiated by these participants. In the second theme, Between me and me’ and make believe: Kinks and fetishes as solo and imaginary, we report on how kinks, fetishes, and fantasies were often understood in a solitary context and as either undesirable – or impossible – to live out. In the final theme of Kink as a sensual enhancement in relationships, we highlight the ways in which participants positioned their kinks and fetishes as an agent for intimacy. These findings expand our knowledge and understanding of how asexual people negotiate kinks and fetishes and capture the complexities of asexual identities beyond a lack of sexual attraction or desire, particularly in relation to the notion of autochorissexualism.
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 1
1
Abstract
Prior research has found that asexual people may fantasise or participate in activities typically
conceptualised within mainstream society as ‘sexual’. These behaviours may be considered
paradoxical when an asexual person is conceptualised as someone who does not experience
sexual attraction or desire. This research aimed to explore how kinks and fetishes are
conceptualised, experienced, and negotiated by asexual individuals. Forty-eight participants
were recruited via the first author’s social media accounts and asexuality forums to take part
in an online qualitative survey. The data were thematically analysed and three themes were
developed. In “Am I asexual?”: (How) can you be a kinky ace?, we discuss the feelings of
doubt or distress that some participants reported in relation to what was seemingly sometimes
understood as the paradox between their self-identity as asexual and their exploration of
kinks and fetishes, and how this was negotiated by these participants. In the second theme,
Between me and me’ and make believe: Kinks and fetishes as solo and imaginary, we report
on how kinks, fetishes, and fantasies were often understood in a solitary context and as either
undesirable or impossible to live out. In the final theme of Kink as a sensual enhancement
in relationships, we highlight the ways in which participants positioned their kinks and
fetishes as an agent for intimacy. These findings expand our knowledge and understanding of
how asexual people negotiate kinks and fetishes and capture the complexities of asexual
identities beyond a lack of sexual attraction or desire, particularly in relation to the notion of
autochorissexualism.
Key words: Aromantic; asexuality, autochorissexualism; BDSM, demiromantic; kink, fantasy
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 2
2
Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people negotiate their experiences of kinks and
fetishes
Since the early 2000s, a thriving asexual (or ‘ace’) community has developed,
predominantly online through the 119,000+ members of the Asexual Visibility and Education
Network (AVEN) (Carrigan, 2011; Chasin, 2015; see https://www.asexuality.org/en/ for
current membership). A frequently cited definition of an asexual person is someone ‘who
does not experience sexual attraction’ (Asexual Visibility and Education Network, 2019).
Over the past decade, there has been growing public awareness and curiosity around
asexuality (Broughton, 2015). The formerly unreported ‘fourth orientation’ of sexuality
(Storms, 1980), has recently gained mainstream exposure in social media and online news
articles (e.g., Gordon, 2015; Wallis, 2012). The heightened visibility of asexuality is
illustrated in how some celebrities and public figures have openly declared themselves as
asexual. These include glamour model and bodybuilder Jodie Marsh (Wareham, 2017),
musician Jake Coco (Coco, 2016), and television personality Caitlin Jenner (Shenton, 2015).
The growing recognition of asexuality is also reflected in how the lesbian, gay, bisexual,
trans, and queer initialism LGBTQ has been expanded to sometimes encompass asexual
identities (e.g., LGBTQA) (Canning, 2016). This ever-increasing coverage of asexuality has
also been mirrored in the academic literature, where asexual theory and research has gathered
considerable momentum in recent years (Carrigan, Gupta & Morrison, 2013; Mitchell, 2016).
Nonetheless, asexuality remains relatively under-researched in comparison to other
sexualities and it is vital to further our knowledge and understandings of the complexities of
asexuality and asexual identities (Mitchell, 2016; Vares, 2018). One such complexity is in
how asexual people might negotiate their identities in relation to practices which have
sometimes been situated as sexual (Sloan, 2015). In this paper, we report findings from a
qualitative online survey which sought to explore how asexual people who identified
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 3
3
themselves as having a kink or fetish understood and negotiated these kinks and fetishes in
relation to their asexual identity.
Academic research on asexuality
Despite the growth in academic interest, research with asexual people is relatively
new and many aspects of asexuality remain underexplored (Carrigan, 2011; Chasin, 2015;
Vares, 2018). Carrigan (2011) has argued that simplistic one-line definitions of asexuality do
not demonstrate the diversity of the asexual community. Therefore, academic representations
of asexuality, to date, may not fully capture the heterogeneity and diversity of asexual
individuals (Carrigan et al., 2013, Yule, Brotto & Gorzalka, 2017a). Further, broad
definitions of asexuality as a “lack” of sexual attraction inherently imply that sexual
attraction should be present (Mitchell, 2016). This means that asexuality could arguably be
understood as defined on the basis of something missing, and therefore as a “deficit identity”
(Reynolds & Taylor, 2005; also see Scott, McDonnell & Dawson, 2016, for a discussion of
how asexuality can be understood as a ‘negatively defined identity’, based on what it is not).
This focus on what is “lacking” has perhaps contributed to an overlooking of what is present
and fulfilling in the lives and relationships of asexual people. Additionally, it has been
highlighted that researchers need to move beyond scripts of sexual normality to further
understand asexuality (Przybylo, 2013). Asexual people may not feel sexual attraction, but
this does not preclude them from positively experiencing the desire to cuddle or have
(romantic or non-romantic) emotional connections and intimacy with another person (Brotto,
Knudson, Inskip, Rhodes & Erskine, 2010; Dawson, McDonnell & Scott, 2016; Scherrer,
2008). These types of factors challenge normative assumptions that attraction and
relationships inherently include sex and enable us to explore sensuality and a/sexuality in
new and unique ways (Bogaert, 2016).
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 4
4
The existence of numerous variations of asexuality have been discussed within
asexual communities and noted in some psychological and sociological literature (e.g.,
Asexual Visibility and Education Network, 2015; Carrigan, 2011; Robbins, Low & Query,
2016; Scott et al., 2016; Yule, Brotto & Gorzalka, 2017b). The term asexual can therefore be
understood as an umbrella term, which captures a range of nuanced identities, sometimes
referred to as asexual spectrum identities (e.g., Carrigan, 2011; Pasquier, 2018; Robbins et
al., 2016). These include demisexual (the potential for sexual attraction to develop when an
emotional bond has formed; e.g., Asexuality Archive; Gupta, 2017; Yule et al., 2017b);
greysexual/graysexual (someone who may have rare or infrequent experiences of sexual
attraction, but is otherwise asexual; Asexuality Archive; Yule et al., 2017b); and identities
whereby romantic attraction is considered distinct from sexual attraction (e.g., aromantic; the
lack of romantic attraction to others; identities such as biromantic, heteroromantic,
homoromantic, and panromantic, where someone enjoys some intimate behaviours such as
cuddling, but ‘probably not kissing’ with particular genders; Asexuality Archive; Asexual
Visibility and Education Network, 2015). The distinctions between these identities can be
seen in an educational resource entitled ‘The Genderbread Person’ (Keener, 2015;
Killerman, 2017; Moe et al., 2017), whereby sexual/asexual and romantic/aromantic
attraction are considered part of a wider group of sexuality and gender spectrums. These
variations indicate that asexual and allosexual (defined by some to describe those who are
sexual, as in contrast to asexual; see Asexuality Archive; Asexual Visibility and Education
Network, 2016; Dawson et al., 2016) may not be as dichotomous as common definitions
seem to imply. These types of complexities indicate the variance and nuances of asexuality,
and suggest that some asexual people may incorporate sensual or even sexual activities into
relationships, while maintaining an overarching asexual orientation.
Blurring the boundaries of sensual and sexual in relation to asexuality
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 5
5
Little research has explored the presence of intimate relationships or sensual or sexual
feelings and activities as part of asexual peoples lives (for exceptions see Brotto et al., 2010;
Dawson et al., 2016; Scherrer, 2008). Yet asexual spectrum identities indicate that desire,
sex, and sensual or sexual activities can be understood as on a spectrum rather than within a
binary conceptualisation of allosexual or asexual. This variation is also reflected in
terminologies used to describe perspectives on sex; sex-positive, sex-neutral, sex-negative
and sex-repulsed (Carrigan., 2011). In a recent census of 9000+ asexual people conducted by
AVEN (2018), attitudes towards sex were primarily sex-repulsed (37%) or sex-indifferent
(26%), although many participants reported that their attitudes fluctuated or remained
uncertain. These terms may be used by asexual people because they potentially capture that
these relate to personal perspectives on sex rather than political or ideological ones
(Asexuality Archive; Haley-Banez, 2017). They also demonstrate that rigid boundaries
between sexual and allosexual may not apply and indicate that there are often nuanced grey
areas rather than distinct binaries in asexual definition and experience. Further, affection and
romance may (or may not) be highly valued by asexual people even though sex (may or) may
not feature in asexual people’s lives and relationships (Dawson et al., 2016; Scherrer, 2008).
Another area worthy of consideration when exploring asexuality and the complexities
of feelings, fantasies, and behaviours is masturbation. Researchers have conducted
investigations comparing masturbation rates and fantasy stimuli between asexual and
allosexual individuals (Yule, Brotto & Gorzalka, 2014; 2017a). Whilst asexual participants
reported masturbating significantly less than allosexual participants, of those asexual
participants who did masturbate, nearly half the women and three-quarters of the men
reported engaging in sexual fantasies when doing so (Yule et al., 2017a). Despite such
sexually arousing fantasies, these participants were keen to emphasise that their fantasies did
not involve other people, suggesting emotional or sensual stimuli rather than fantasies of
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 6
6
another person. The authors concluded that there was a disconnection between identity and
fantasy and that this reflected a diverse heterogeneity in asexual individuals. These findings
give a sense of how masturbation might be incorporated within some asexual people’s lives
and identities. What is less clear is how asexual people conceptualise and incorporate
fantasies, desires or kinks into their asexual identities.
Kinks, fetishes, BDSM and asexuality
Within academic sources, ‘kink’ refers to a range and variety of sexual activities
considered to be ‘outside the norm’ (Christina, 2011; Rehor, 2015), where the norm is
‘vanilla sex’ (sometimes described as dull conventional sex, usually involving genital
penetration; see Ribner; 2009). The term ‘kink’ can also be used in reference to BDSM, an
acronym used to encompass bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and
masochism, and various activities that involve the exchange of some form of power, pain or
sensory deprivation (Faccio, Casini & Cipolletta, 2014; Pillai-Friedman, Pollitt & Castaldo,
2015; Freeburg & McNaughton, 2017). Whilst BDSM activities may sometimes (and are
often assumed to) be located within a sexual context, BDSM practitioners have expressed
feelings of fulfilment via emotional and mental experiences (which may or may not be
experienced as sexual) rather than genital contact or orgasm being a requirement (Simula,
2019a). This suggests that being kinky does not necessarily equate to either being sexual per
se, or engaging in sexual contact.
The term ‘fetish’, however, is most commonly defined as ‘an object, body part, or
behaviour that triggers sexual responsiveness in an individual’ and tends to be associated
with atypical stimuli (Stockwell, Walker & Eshleman, 2010, p. 309; emphasis added). A
‘fetish could therefore be positioned as a specific sexual interest or trigger, whereas ‘kink’
could refer to non-vanilla activities. The overlap between the terms ‘kink’ and ‘fetish’ means
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 7
7
that the remainder of this paper will refer to them interchangeably. Following recent
mainstream interest in kink perhaps as a result of media representations in books and films
such as the Fifty Shades of Grey
i
franchise (James, 2011), kink research has been
predominantly focused on BDSM (Stiles & Clark, 2011; Hébert & Weaver, 2015). Other
aspects of kinks and fetishes have been relatively under-studied. One exception is research
which has explored niche kinks and fetishes such as pup-play (Wignall & McCormack,
2017), and adult-baby play (Hawkinson & Zamboni, 2014; Zamboni & Madero, 2018), where
adults experiment with roleplay and experience a pleasurable loss of responsibility as human
pups or babies.
As highlighted, feelings, fantasies, masturbation, and sexual interactions do play a
part in some asexual people’s lives (e.g., Scherrer, 2008; Yule et al., 2017a). However, there
has been minimal focus on exploring asexuality and BDSM (Simula, 2019b). To the best of
our knowledge only one study has explored these specific topics. Sloan (2015) interviewed
fifteen asexual individuals who participated in BDSM activities acts which are typically
understood to result in sexual desire. Despite partaking in the same ‘dominant’ or
‘submissive’ roles that are present in BDSM, the asexual interviewees described the ability to
adapt BDSM practices into acts of pleasure built on trust, self-discipline and power, without
the need for sexual acts. The pleasure obtained from their BDSM interactions was solely
psychological and emotional and construed as vehemently non-sexual. Overall, research, to
date, indicates that asexual people may pursue or enact their BDSM desires.
This study aimed to expand upon existing knowledge of asexual people who may
experience or enact desires which on the basis of conventional understandings have often
been broadly understood as ‘sexual’ (see Sloan, 2015). We did so by exploring their
experiences of kinks and fetishes and how these are negotiated within their asexual identities.
Understanding and conceptualising the experiences of asexual people who fantasise or enact
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 8
8
desires will contribute to an increased knowledge and understanding of the diversity within
asexual identities and move beyond monolithic notions of asexuality (Yule et al., 2017a).
Method
Participants
To be eligible to take part, participants needed to identify as asexual, or within an
asexual or aromantic spectrum, and to consider themselves to have a fetish or kink.
Participants (n = 48) ranged in age from 18 to 35 years (M = 22 years). The majority of
participants were women including 2 who selected trans women (n = 35), with the remaining
participants men including 3 who selected trans men (n = 8), as well as 3 agender and 2
genderfluid respondents. Most identified as White (n = 34), with a range of other racial/ethnic
identities (e.g., African-American, Asian, Hispanic). Participants were mainly from the U.S.A
(n = 25) with others from the U.K. and elsewhere. Other researchers have reported asexual
samples with similar demographic characteristics (e.g., mainly young White women
including some trans participants) and this may reflect the demographic profile of asexual
people, particularly those who participate in online asexual communities (e.g., Dawson et al.,
2016; Rothblum, Heimann & Carpenter, 2019; Sloan, 2015). Participants were asked to list
any other terms that you use to describe or identify your asexuality, if any (e.g., demi-
romantic, aromantic, Grey A, etc.). The most common terms were aromantic (n = 8);
biromantic (n = 1); demisexual (n = 8); Grey A (n = 5); demi-romantic (n = 3);
heteroromantic (n = 1); homoromantic (n = 3); pancurious (n = 1); panromantic (n = 2); and
polyromantic (1). We list these terms, and their age, alongside their quotations in the results
section. We provided a list of options for participants to report their relationship status and
most chose single (n = 34). Full demographics are reported in Table 1.
<<Insert Table 1 here>>
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 9
9
Materials
A qualitative survey design was chosen to enable us to ask participants open-ended
questions, which allow participants to respond in their own words, and offer the potential for
in-depth and detailed answers (Terry & Braun, 2017). An online survey (via Qualtrics
software) was deemed appropriate given the predominance of online asexual communities
(Carrigan, 2011; Chasin, 2015). Online surveys also allow participants to experience a sense
of felt anonymity, which was important given the potentially sensitive and personal nature of
the topic (Terry & Braun, 2017). Eleven open-ended survey questions were developed based
on the authors interest in the topic and by drawing on the existing academic literature on
BDSM, kinks and fetishes and/or asexuality. The questions sought to explore participants’
understandings of their sexuality (e.g., Please describe your sexuality in your own words);
what constitutes a kink or fetish (e.g., What types of behaviours or fantasies would you
consider to be kinks or fetishes?); their own kinks and fetishes (e.g., Please outline a fantasy
that you are comfortable to share for our research purposes); and how kinks and fetishes
‘fit’ with their asexual identity (e.g., Do you feel that kinks and fetishes ‘fit’ with asexual
identities and if so in what ways?; How much awareness do you feel there is of kinks and
fetishes in online or offline asexual communities?). Participants were then invited to add any
other comments (Do you have any other comments, thoughts, or experiences that you have
not yet voiced and wish to share on the topic of asexuality and kinks and fetishes?). Ethics
was granted by the Faculty Research Ethics Committee at the University of the West of
England (UWE), Bristol. The survey was piloted with 6 asexual individuals to test out
whether the questions were clear and to provide an opportunity for participant feedback on
wording or other aspects (Terry & Braun, 2017). Minor design corrections were made to the
survey before it was more widely distributed.
Recruitment and procedure
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 10
10
Participants were recruited via social media (e.g., Tumblr/Twitter) and asexuality
pages and forums (e.g., Facebook page of Asexual ACES), where permission of moderators
was sought to post calls for participants. On clicking the link, participants were presented
with an information sheet. This informed them in more detail about the topic and purpose of
the study, what participation involved; withdrawal; anonymity; confidentiality; data
protection; and sources of support should they need them. The first author disclosed their
identity as asexual and mentioned their active membership in asexual communities in
recruitment calls and on the information sheet. A participant consent form was provided, and
participants were presented with the survey, followed by demographic questions to enable the
researchers to situate the sample. Participants were required to create a pseudonym to ensure
their anonymity and these are used in reporting the analysis.
Analysis
Thematic analysis (TA) is particularly useful for under-researched topics (such as
this) due to the potential to identify common themes across the data to capture patterns of
meaning (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Critical realism has been said to treat the world as theory-
laden but not theory-determined and was chosen due to the appeal of legitimising
participants’ realities whilst acknowledging that these realities are informed by societal and
cultural influences (Fletcher, 2016; Sims-Schouten, Riley & Willig, 2007). Survey responses
were downloaded to Microsoft Excel and collated into a Microsoft Word document to enable
ease of coding. Both authors repeatedly read the data to gain familiarisation with the
responses and noted points of interest. An inductive (or bottom-up) approach was taken
whereby codes were generated directly from the data rather than aiming to find particular
codes based on pre-existing concepts. However, the researchers’ existing knowledge will
have inevitably shaped the coding process. The dataset was organised into both semantic
codes that reflected the language used by the participants and latent codes which moved
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 11
11
beyond surface meanings. The codes were collated into an early version of candidate themes,
with the help of thematic maps. The early theme ideas were initially led by the first author
before both authors met to collaboratively discuss coding, the development of existing theme
ideas, and further analysis. Theme definitions were developed alongside participant quotes to
‘test out’ themes, ensure they were coherent, and assess how well they mapped onto the
original data. The candidate themes were further reviewed by both authors who discussed the
central organising concept of each theme and checked that they were distinct with no overlap
between them. This led to some changes in the content and structure before the final names of
themes were decided upon. Findings were presented at a conference before additional minor
adjustments during the writing of the analytic report (Braun & Clarke, 2006; Terry, Hayfield,
Clarke & Braun, 2017).
The first author is a self-identifying asexual who actively engages with online and
offline asexuality communities. His role as a researcher overlapped with his personal interest
and classified him as, in some ways, an ‘insider’ (Hayfield & Huxley, 2015). However, given
the diversity of asexual identities, the range of asexual communities in existence (e.g., ACE
Tumblr; AVEN; Reddit), and his other demographics (e.g., age; gender; non-disabled; race
and ethnicity), he may be an outsider as much as an insider, The second author identifies as
bisexual and has a keen academic interest in sexualities research. In this sense, she could be
considered a (perhaps somewhat knowledgeable) outsider to the topic. The first author’s
position as (broadly) an insider may have given him an advantageous position during design
and recruitment, and enabled particular insights into the data based on his own asexual
identity, which may have been unobtainable to outsiders (Hayfield & Huxley, 2015; Perry,
Thurston & Green, 2004). However, McDonald (2013) has argued that ‘matching’ the
identity of research participants is not necessary to gain knowledge and understanding of
their experiences, and there is no guarantee that the first author’s own distinct experiences as
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 12
12
an asexual person would be shared by participants (also see Bridges, 2001; Hayfield &
Huxley, 2015). In relation to BDSM, kink, and fetish communities, both researchers were
‘outsiders. This has implications particularly in relation to being ethically and culturally
sensitive when asking questions, analysing data, and reporting results. It may have meant that
our reading of the data was limited by being outsiders, and our ‘noticings’ and interpretations
may be different from those who are members of BDSM, kink, and fetish communities. We
informed ourselves about these topics, aimed to ask open questions, and were particularly
careful to be respectful of our participants in our analysis (Hayfield & Huxley, 2015).
Results
Three themes were developed from the data; (1) Am I asexual?: (How) can you be
a kinky ace? (feelings of doubt or distress relating to the process of self-identity when
exploring sexuality and kinks and fetishes), (2) ‘Between me and me’ and make believe:
Kinks and fetishes as solo and imaginary (reports of kinks, fetishes and fantasies as solitary
and as undesirable or impossible to live out) and (3) Kink as a sensual enhancement in
relationships (the utilisation of kinks and fetishes as an agent for intimacy).
'Am I asexual?': (How) can you be a kinky ace?
Many participants reported or recalled periods of identity confusion or uncertainty about
having kinks, fetishes, or fantasies in general, during a time when they had identified as
asexual:
[Confusion over my kink identity feels] very scary, am I valid? Am I not?
Does this [my kink identity] mean I’m not asexual? Does it make me any
less of an asexual? Your whole identity becomes invalid. Other asexual
people can’t relate to feeling sexual and sexual people can’t relate to being
asexual. So where do you go? (Ken, 19, homoromantic
ii
)
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 13
13
I first began believing I was ace before getting into a relationship with
anyone. I was then confused when I felt sexual attraction for someone and
even more confused when I liked [a] specific fantasy. It feels hard and
sometimes overwhelming because I just don’t know where I belong. I feel
like there’s no one else out there who is like me and like I don’t fit in. It
feels like no one understands me. (Quinn, 18, demisexual)
These quotations show how a sense of dissonance can arise for those who identify as asexual
and then (seemingly paradoxically) found themselves feeling sexual attraction within the
context of kink (although in Ken’s extract the sexual feeling is implied rather than explicitly
stated). The adoption of asexual spectrum identities may have been what helped these
participants make sense of the lack of fit between asexuality and their sexual feelings and
fantasies. However, even though participants had made sense of any apparent conflict for
themselves, others were reported to not understand them. This lack of understanding or
validation of their identities seemingly creates a sense of isolation and leaves them feeling
that they have nowhere to belong. While researchers have noted that some asexual people
may feel excluded from the wider sexualised society (e.g., Rothblum et al., 2019), these
narratives give a sense (while not explicitly stated) of feeling alienated and excluded from
both sexual (kink) communities and asexual communities. The complexities of identifying
with asexual alongside kink highlights the limitations of broad or umbrella definitions of
‘asexual’. Any sexual fantasy or feeling seemingly serves to invalidate one’s identity if
asexuality is defined within rigid parameters (Carrigan, 2015). For Ken, negotiating a kink
identity alongside an asexual identity required knowledge of asexuality as both an outright
identity and as a spectrum of varying sexual and romantic feelings. These feelings were
voiced by several participants with regard to other people’s lack of understanding of what it
meant to be asexual with a kink or fetish.
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 14
14
Other participants had found solutions to negotiate their identities and position their kink
within an inclusive narrative around asexuality, such as Ashlyn, who described themselves as
a sex-repulsed aromantic:
For a long time I didn’t know what getting ‘turned on’ was and if what I
was experiencing counted. As I got older and more into mildly kinky things,
I got more confused about how I could be ace but “into” that, but I’ve since
concluded there’s not really a relationship between fantasies and sexual
attraction. (Ashlyn, 19, sex-repulsed aromantic)
Ashlyn’s ability to carve a space for both fantasy and asexuality to co-exist harmoniously
required a conceptualisation that fantasies and sexual attraction are separate constructs. This
positioning of identity as complex and multi-faceted has been identified previously elsewhere
in a different way, when AVEN users described how the separation of romantic and sexual
attraction allowed physical contact to be perceived as affectionate rather than sexual
(Scherrer, 2008). These types of distinction provide the potential to permit asexual people to
conceptualise BDSM and kink activities (sometimes viewed as ‘sexual’ but not always
viewed in this way by those who practice BDSM and kink) as not necessarily sexual. For
some then, feelings of pleasure arose through affection, escapism or power. These attractions
and fantasies can be meaningfully incorporated into people’s identities in a way which allows
for an ongoing affiliation with an asexual identity. This mirrors the previous research with
asexual BDSM practitioners, who highlighted how BDSM activities can be navigated in a
way that can bring pleasure without sexual contact (Sloan, 2015) or through ‘games’ or
intense experiences (Faccio et al., 2014). One participant in our research summarised this
concept:
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 15
15
On a base level, [kink] pretty much seems to directly contradict our
[asexual] identity. However, I strongly believe that emotion, behaviours
and fantasies are entirely separate in the mind of an asexual: if they deem it
to be. The separation of these enable satisfaction or enjoyment to come of
'sexual' actions whilst still avoiding those sexual elements. For example, I
personally enjoy power play because it enables me to play a character - a
form of escapism, fantasy. (Missy, 23, biromantic
iii
)
For Missy, the answer to the question ‘am I asexual?’ would appear to be a defiant ‘yes’,
despite having a kink that could be construed as ‘sexual’. Accepting their feelings did not
discount asexual identity allowed Missy to satisfactorily negotiate asexuality and kink.
Approaching kink in this way allowed some participants to experience and negotiate kink
harmoniously alongside their asexual spectrum identities, sometimes enhancing their feelings
of inclusion in the ace community, although this integration and sense of inclusion was not
achieved by all participants.
‘Between me and me’ and make believe: Kinks and fetishes as solo and imaginary
One of the most common themes in the data was the notion that their fantasies were
totally solitary and private, with no involvement from anyone else. One participant described
their kinks as ‘between me and me’:
I have no instinctive urge to engage in any sexual activities with others and
in “real life” sex as a concept or idea is as interesting as watching paint
dry. In my head though, it is a stimulating concept, as long as other, often
not real, people are the centre of the idea. (ItWasn’tMe, 28, aromantic)
This response demonstrated a stimulation and arousal devoid from physical stimuli. The
notion that ‘real life’ sex was considered less interesting than how it was imagined was
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 16
16
shared by Olivia, who described their cyberpunk and dystopian kinks as ‘impossible, rather
than realistic’:
I have met other asexuals on [a fetish website] and we agree that kink is
more interesting than sex. I am not aware of any asexuals who have real-
life kinks and fetish play, but I do know they exist. (Olivia, 22, aromantic)
These participants positioned their fantasies as separate from, but a potential gateway into,
kink without the need to necessarily live these out for themselves, despite reporting that
other asexual people had experienced their fantasies in ‘real life’. With no boundaries to the
imagination, the roles these asexual individuals played in their own fantasies had no limits, as
one participant described:
My sexual fantasies involve fantasy or sci-fi. Things that don’t truly exist in
my world. Vampires, werewolves, elfs [sic], dragons, etc. Like many people
I believe, I just wish I could escape into the world of Make-Believe that we
like to watch and read as humans, like books and TV shows […] Who
doesn’t want to be a wizard or live in the world of aliens and spaceships?
(Crescent Moon, 26, demisexual)
For Crescent Moon, the concept of ‘make-believe’ creatures and environments held the key
to safe and enjoyable fantasies. The idea of experiencing the impossible was considered both
thrilling and tantalizing. Such fantasies have previously been reported by some asexual
people on AVEN (2005), though described with a clear detachment of self from the activities
being imagined. Bogaert (2012) identified this phenomenon as ‘autochorissexualism’;
identity-less attraction or the lack of one’s identity during fantasies. Despite being a recently
coined term, several participants identified with autochorissexualism, including Olivia:
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 17
17
I’m sure as a researcher you are aware of autochorissexuality, that is, the
lack of oneself in one’s fantasies. I fall squarely into that. “I” take on roles,
other personas, occasionally those from television shows and such and
project onto them. (Olivia, 22, aromantic)
Whilst this response linked to autochorissexualism, Olivia described going further than being
‘identity-less’ and instead shifting their identity freely within a fantasy by playing a variety of
roles. Frequently these roles were totally detached from their asexual identity, taking a third-
person view as one participant described:
I like to read comics which play into specific settings or kinks. Mostly
public sex, such as on a train, when the ones participating in sex are being
seen or afraid of being seen. [...] I don’t really fantasise about me. My
fantasies are a bit like porn, seeing other people without being aware of
yourself as the viewer. (Thranduil, 18, panromantic
iv
)
Despite Thranduil’s response sounding almost voyeuristic, there was a detachment from their
sense of self in relation to their fantasy, and every part of the scenario was purely fictional.
For autochorissexual participants, kinks and fetishes were understood as part of an
individual’s unique desires and fantasies, which were either undesirable or impossible to
experience in real-life. This disconnection between fantasy and reality has been previously
identified in asexual literature, primarily by the work of Yule et al. (2017a) in their study of
sexual fantasy and masturbation amongst asexual individuals. Results suggested that while
asexual people were less likely to have sexual fantasies, those that did were less likely than
allosexual fantasists to involve other people in their fantasies. Whilst the subject of those who
did not fantasise about other people was not clarified, it is possible such participants would
identify with autochorissexualism. Therefore, as the participants in the current study and that
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 18
18
of Yule et al. (2017a) demonstrated, autochorissexualism appears closely linked to some
people’s asexual spectrum identities.
Kink as a sensual enhancement in relationships
Whilst ‘sex’ (commonly understood as sexual contact and coitus) could be assumed to be
unappealing to many asexual people, previous research indicates that some asexual people
engage in sexual activities for a variety of reasons (e.g., procreation or satisfying an
allosexual partner and for the benefit of relationships) (Brotto et al., 2010; Dawson et al.,
2016; Miller, 2011). In this study, some participants located engaging in kink in potentially
sexual environments as enhancing intimate relationships, creating a sensual bond between
individuals in a way that sexual activities or penetration alone were not understood to
provide. Typically, these participants described BDSM as the subject of these activities:
I would consider kinks or fetishes anything where a person derives pleasure
(sometimes sexual) from an act, scenario, or object that is not generally
considered a typical part of the sexual experience. […] I have always been
interested and pushed for mild BDSM. My husband had never experienced
biting, bondage, or role-play until we were together. For me, there is a
thrill in knowing I have control or have given up control. Something that
goes beyond sexual pleasure. There is something to be said for the trust it
takes to give yourself up to someone else’s whims and being tied up.
(Dottie, 23, aromantic/demisexual
v
)
Dottie positioned the pleasure derived from these intimate experiences of kink as beyond
sexual’; instead it was understood to enhance relationship bonds through trust and power.
This was akin to how BDSM practitioners frame their activities as an exploratory experience
for both body and mind in a way not always achievable in ‘vanilla’ sex (Simula, 2019a;
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 19
19
Turley, 2016). Other participants engaged in intimate activities that utilised dominance and
submission through playful role-play:
Another kink [my partner and I] have is kitten/owner kink. (It’s important,
especially in this situation to clarify that this isn’t some kind of sexual
attraction towards animals, just some aspects we may associate with that
animal. For example, cats are cute, often spoiled and playful. Also,
someone may find people wearing cat ears attractive. There’s some obvious
power dynamics that people involved in this kink like, one party takes care
of and the other is being taken care of.) There’s both a sexual and a non-
sexual side to this. (Elune, 24, bi-romantic)
Kitten-play is a roleplaying activity that has recently become popular on the gay scene
(Wignall & McCormack, 2017). Elune’s final line in the extract above mirrored the views of
many gay and bisexual ‘pups’; pup-play can have a sexual element for some but can equally
be non-sexual (Wignall & McCormack, 2017). The dyadic elements create an additional
spiritual experience, similar to the description of dyadic intimacy offered here:
I think environment and atmosphere are important in setting the mood.
Temperature, smell, texture, lighting, sound, etc. They all play a part in
making a potential sensual or sexual experience more enjoyable. As for me:
candle light, ambient music, earthy incense, the softness of skin against skin
and becoming deeply intimate through the sharing of breath and eye
contact. Sex should be a spiritual experience; a ritual of the sense and of
union rather than being reduced to some base-level, animalistic act. […]
It's about love and connection, bonding on a deeper level. (Illuminess, 35,
demisexual)
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 20
20
This participant described their fantasy as a complex, multi-sensory experience, with its own
mise-en-scène. This demonstrated the depth and value some of these participants placed on
intimate, sensual activities, regardless of whether they were considered sexual. Connecting
and bonding with another person (sometimes physically and) emotionally was viewed as
highly desirable, a narrative previously reported in research with asexual and allosexual
participants (Dawson et al., 2016; Simula, 2019a). Whilst these desires may mirror
demisexuality (Yule et al., 2017b), whereby there is the potential for sexual attraction to
develop within the context of emotional intimacy, not all participants who discussed kink in
these ways necessarily identified themselves as affiliated with this term. Despite this,
participants described situations where their desire to enhance intimacy with kink was a
challenge within some relationships:
In the past I have tried to convince partners to do a little light bondage with
me and it has failed. Not participating in sex made it difficult to get my
[allosexual] partners to want to put in the effort of educating themselves
when all they wanted was plain old sex. […] I mostly involve a little light
bdsm in my relationship - constraints and tape, a few beginner sex toys,
role play. I'm a curious person, and my partner is open to new things so it's
likely I'll continue to increase the degree to which we involve new toys or
experiment with severity. (Danielle, 20, aromantic)
Danielle seeks to add sensual enhancement to her relationship, but her partners are reported
to be more interested in sexual enhancement. Danielle’s curiosity and desire to experiment
with BDSM demonstrated the difficulties of negotiating kink into an intimate dyadic
relationship where one party’s expectations and desires revolve around ‘vanilla’ sex. For
Danielle, and some other BDSM practitioners, ‘plain old sex’ was not (all of) what she
wanted in her relationship. The desire to experiment potentially had no limits and was utilised
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 21
21
to quench curiosity and create non-conventional forms of intimacy (Stiles & Clark, 2011;
Sloan, 2015). The implication here is that if she were to participate in ‘plain old sex’ then she
would be in a stronger position to persuade her partners to participate in BDSM in return.
Being unable to offer such an exchange seemingly created a challenge for Danielle and her
partners to satisfactorily fulfil each other’s desires. Perhaps due to this lack of understanding
from ‘vanilla’-seeking partners, some participants felt an affinity to the BDSM community:
[The BDSM] community is very open and kind in regards to asexuality in a
way that the 'mainstream' communities often are not. BDSM is often less
about sexual gratification as it is about power-play, to have power over
someone else in a consensual manner, or to give power away in a
consensual manner. It's a huge matter of trust, which I find very admirable.
(EunYang, 23, greysexual)
As EunYang describes, BDSM and kink, when enacted with others, requires a mutual
understanding of boundaries and an emphasis on dyadic trust. This union between asexual
and BDSM communities allowed a space to express certain forms of intimacy through
interaction with others without the need for sexual acts (Sloan, 2015). As the participants in
this study who engaged in intimate activities demonstrated, kink can be used in relationships
to strengthen bonds and make sensual connections between individuals in an intimate
environment.
Discussion
This qualitative study aimed to explore how asexual people who identified themselves as
having a kink or fetish conceptualised, experienced, and negotiated these in relation to their
asexual identity. The themes outlined above describe three different ways in which an asexual
identity was understood and negotiated by these participants. For some, there was dissonance
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 22
22
in identifying as asexual while experiencing fantasies or sexual feelings or attractions. This
created doubts and difficulties in managing their seemingly sensual (and perhaps sexual) self
while occupying an asexual identity. For some of these participants, it seemed that their
asexual identity had not always coincided easily alongside their kinks and fantasies, hence
this sense of a lack of congruence between asexuality and kink and fantasies seemingly
created a sense of not being ‘asexual enough’. They reported that this initially caused them
confusion and distress, which for some may have been somewhat resolved through the
adoption of an asexual spectrum identity. Their adoption of spectrum identities, such as
demisexual, may represent their attempts at a potential solution to alleviate what may be an
apparent paradox between asexual identities and affiliation with kink and BDSM
(conventionally understood as sexual and sometimes associated with sexual feelings or
attraction, including by some participants). However, we noted that it was often difficult to
ascertain whether participants were writing of their past or the present in their responses
and none explicitly indicated that their spectrum identities were a result of negotiating their
identities in this way. Others were able to identify as asexual regardless of any kink or fetish
they may possess, as the constructs of fantasy and reality were perceived as mutually
exclusive and therefore sensual and sexual activities would not be desired in real-life and did
not disrupt the validity of their asexual identity. Finally, some participants described how
their kinks could be used as a sensual (rather than sexual) enhancement in their relationships.
The results of the current study demonstrated some of the diversities and complexities of
asexual identities and how participants navigated these. These findings also contribute to
broader understandings of asexuality and kinks and fetishes, adding to previous findings in
asexuality studies and gaining an insight of the experiences of asexual people that goes
beyond mere definition (Yule et al., 2017a).
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 23
23
Whilst asexual literature (and sexuality research in general) makes note of romantic
and demi identities within the LGBTQ community, the depth and breadth of such identities
and their meanings are rarely explored beyond descriptive terms. Of the 48 participants who
took part in this study, only four indicated that they identified exclusively as ‘asexual’ (see
Table 1). The majority of the remaining 44 instead identified within a romantic or greysexual
spectrum (AVEN, 2015). The findings of this study therefore offer insights into the
experiences of asexual people who identify with an asexual spectrum identity, but not those
who identify exclusively with an asexual identity. That said, the umbrella term of ‘asexual’
can be viewed as a common point of identification rather than constituting a shared identity
per se (Carrigan, 2011, p. 467), suggesting that with such a range of asexual spectrum
identities emerging from the community (Asexual Visibility and Education Network, 2015),
exclusively ‘asexual’ people could be a challenge to recruit and may not be representative of
the majority of asexual people.
These findings reiterate not only that asexual people have varied experiences
involving BDSM, kinks, and fetishes (Sloan, 2015; Yule et al., 2017a), but that their
knowledge of asexuality and sensuality is developed and self-aware. It was clear this research
topic was of interest to, and resonated with, many members of asexual communities. The ease
of recruiting may have been aided by the first author declaring their insider status (Hayfield
& Huxley, 2015). However, others have noted the enthusiasm that asexual people have when
asked to participate in research (see Dawson et al., 2016). Due to the unprecedented amount
of interest in the topic, it was decided not to distribute the survey to any further online
communities (such as AVEN) as it would have been unethical to advertise once enough data
had been collected for the purposes of this study. Nonetheless, participants’ demographic
characteristics were similar to those of studies conducted using both AVEN and other sources
(Dawson et al., 2016). It may be that recruiting online provides a specific picture of asexual
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 24
24
lives and identities and that these findings would not meaningful transfer to participants who
were less involved in online asexual communities, or less willing to participate in research,
than those in this sample.
An online survey was an effective way in which to recruit participants and collect data
and responses from participants were detailed and in-depth (see Terry & Braun, 2017). This
may also be linked to the benefits of insider research where the first author’s disclosure of
their insider status may have made participants feel that the researcher was trustworthy and in
turn were willing to openly disclose their experiences (Bridges, 2001; Hayfield & Huxley,
2015; Perry et al., 2004). However, both researchers were situated as outsiders from our
participants in relation to their kinks and fetishes. While this did not seem to serve as a
notably apparent disadvantage, it did mean that our knowledge on this topic was based on
self-education rather than lived experience. It is possible that our outsider perspective meant
that we noticed aspects of the data which an insider could have taken for granted, or that we
may have overlooked aspects of the data which might have been noticed by an insider
(Hayfield & Huxley, 2015).
Implications and future research
Asexuality remains a somewhat under-researched topic despite a recent surge in
academic interest (Carrigan, 2011; Chasin, 2015; Vares, 2018). Further research which
explores and differentiates between spectrum identities (e.g., demisexual, aromantic,
biromantic, heteroromantic, homoromantic, panromantic, greysexual, and so on; see Asexual
Visibility and Education Network, 2015) beyond the topics explored in this research could
offer additional insights into the lived experiences of asexual people (Yule et al., 2017b). In
light of the current study, it would appear that there are additional nuances and sub-identities
worthy of further exploration, in particular the concept of autochorissexualism (Bogaert,
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 25
25
2012). Whilst members of the asexual community have assimilated the term
‘autochorissexual’ within the asexual spectrum (Asexual Science, 2014; Asexuality Archive),
only a handful of researchers have acknowledged or explored the term (Brotto & Yule, 2017;
Zamboni & Madero, 2018), highlighting a gap in our knowledge of the diverse spectrum of
asexual (sub)identities. Further exploration and awareness of autochorissexualism as part of
the asexual spectrum could help the community become viewed as a diverse range of
individuals rather than a singular archetypal person who ‘lacks sexual desire or attraction’.
Broadening our knowledge and awareness of the breadth and depth of asexual identities
could also offer insight into the best ways to support asexual people who may experience
confusion or shame in experiencing arousal or attraction in atypical ways and help to disrupt
binary understandings (allosexual/asexual) of sexuality and sensuality. Our findings indicate
that further research into the ways in which asexual people feel a sense of inclusion/exclusion
within asexual and LGBTQA+ communities would be worthy of exploration. Given previous
findings which show that asexual identities may not be ‘master identities’ (Scott et al., 2016),
it would also be useful to recruit participants from diverse demographic groups (e.g., gender,
race and ethnicity, disability, class, and so on), in order to consider the complexities of
asexual people’s lives and experiences through a lens of intersectionality. For example, some
activists and researchers have noted that online communities have often consisted of mainly
White participants. Future research should focus on why this might be and explore the
intersections of race and sexuality. This is a particularly important area given reports of Black
asexual people feeling dismissed by AVEN members while searching for other Black
members, and when they come out to peers (see Cerankowski, 2016; Gupta, 2018). Future
inquiry could also add to the research (e.g., Sloan, 2015) which has recruited from within
BDSM and kink communities (potentially including both asexual and sexual participants), in
order to consider how asexuality is understood within such spaces. Such studies could offer
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 26
26
insight into how those who are allosexual experience engaging in BDSM, kink, and fetishes
with those who are asexual or occupy asexual spectrum identities.
Finally, our results have implications for those working in educational and
professional practice. Although asexual participants have reported that their asexuality was a
non-issue during school, others told of how they felt isolated and lonely (Rothblum et al.,
2019). School curricula could do more to include age-appropriate education so that young
people can become knowledgeable about a range of identities, including asexuality and
asexual sub-identities, to bring about wider understanding and acceptance. The application of
the knowledge these findings bring could also be useful in therapeutic and clinical settings.
Previous researchers have identified that some counsellors, therapists and sexuality
professionals are open-minded and keen to help their clients navigate their sexual identity
(Foster & Scherrer, 2014; Pillai-Friedman et al., 2015). However, specialised training would
help educate professionals about the diverse range of asexual identities that they may
encounter. With this knowledge, the concept of a ‘kinky ace’ may become better understood
which, in turn, could mean stronger support could be offered for asexual clients.
Conclusion
This study suggests that some asexual people have diverse knowledge of kinks and
fantasy, and may embrace their desires, incorporating them into their identity and
relationships. Future research should be utilised to expand our awareness and understanding
of the nuances within specific asexual identities, and people’s experiences of them, in turn
helping increase knowledge within and outside the community. This study offers a unique
contribution to asexuality literature that combines both theoretical approaches with
qualitative data, providing a narrative to the complex identities of asexual individuals with
kinks and fetishes. It also offers professionals the opportunity to expand their knowledge of
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 27
27
the asexual community and in turn support ‘kinky aces’ negotiate and understand their
identity.
References
Asexual Science (2014). What is an autochorissexual? Retrieved from
http://asexualscience.tumblr.com/post/98647405093/what-is-a-autochorissexual
Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) (2018). 2016 Ace Community Survey
Report. Retrieved from
https://asexualcensus.files.wordpress.com/2018/11/2016_ace_community_survey_report.pdf
Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) (2019). Home page. Retrieved from
http://asexuality.org/
Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) (2016, May 22). About “allosexual”.
Retrieved from https://www.asexuality.org/en/topic/139571-about-allosexual/
Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) (2015, May 24). A list of romantic
orientations. Retrieved from http://www.asexuality.org/en/topic/119238-a-list-of-romantic-
orientations/
Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) (2005, July 24). Masturbating A’s: What
do you think about when masturbating? Retrieved from
http://www.asexuality.org/en/index.php?/topic/9980-masturbating-aswhat-do-you-think-
about-when-masturbating/page__p__237288#entry237288
Asexuality Archive (no date). Glossary. Retrieved from
http://www.asexualityarchive.com/glossary/
Bogaert, A. F. (2012). Asexuality and autochorissexualism (identity-less sexuality). Archives
of Sexual Behavior, 41(6), 1513-1514. doi:10.1007/s10508-012-9963-1
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 28
28
Bogaert, A. F. (2016). What asexuality tells us about sexuality. Archives of Sexual
Behavior, 46(3), 629-630. doi:10.1007/s10508-016-0892-2
Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research
in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101. doi:10.1191/1478088706qp063oa
Bridges, D. (2001). The ethics of outsider research. Journal of Philosophy of
Education, 35(3), 371-386. doi:10.1111/1467-9752.00233
Brotto, L. A., Knudson, G., Inskip, J., Rhodes, K., & Erskine, Y. (2010). Asexuality: A
mixed-methods approach. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39(3), 599-618. doi:10.1007/s10508-
008-9434-x
Brotto, L. A., & Yule, M. (2017). Asexuality: Sexual orientation, paraphilia, sexual
dysfunction, or none of the above? Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46(3), 619-627.
doi:10.1007/s10508-016-0802-7
Broughton, S. (2015, October 19). The emerging orientation: Asexuality in equal
opportunities monitoring in UK universities. Maaple. Retrieved from
http://maaple.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/FOI-study.pdf
Canning, D. A. (2016). Asexuality and boundaries in online discourse (unpublished senior
honors thesis). Eastern Michigan University. Retrieved from
http://commons.emich.edu/honors/468
Carrigan, M. (2011). There’s more to life than sex? Difference and commonality within the
asexual community. Sexualities, 14(4), 462-478. doi:10.1177/1363460711406462
Carrigan, M., Gupta, K., & Morrison, T. G. (2013). Asexuality special theme issue
editorial. Psychology & Sexuality, 4(2), 111-120. doi:10.1080/19419899.2013.774160
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 29
29
Cerankowski, K.J. (2016). Asexuality. In N.A. Naples (Ed.). The Wiley Blackwell
Encyclopedia of Gender and Sexuality Studies (1st ed.) (pp. 1-4). Hoboken, New Jersey: John
Wiley & Sons, Ltd. doi:10.1002/9781118663219.wbegss620
Chasin, C. D. (2015). Making sense in and of the asexual community: Navigating
relationships and identities in a context of resistance. Journal of Community & Applied Social
Psychology, 25(2), 167-180. doi:10.1002/casp.2203
Christina, E. (2011). The book of kink: Sex beyond the missionary. New York: Perigee.
Coco, J. (2016, October 12). Jake Coco. Facebook. Retrieved from
https://www.facebook.com/jakecocomusic/posts/10154440032474892
Colborne, A. (2018). Chasing aces: Asexuality, misinformation and the challenges of
identity. Dalhousie Journal of Interdisciplinary Management, 14, 1-13.
https://ojs.library.dal.ca/djim/article/view/6926/7243
Dawson, M., McDonnell, L., & Scott, S. (2016). Negotiating the boundaries of intimacy: The
personal lives of asexual people. The Sociological Review, 64(2), 349-365. doi:10.1111/1467-
954X.12362
Faccio, E., Casini, C., & Cipolletta, S. (2014). Forbidden games: The construction of
sexuality and sexual pleasure by BDSM ‘players’. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 16(7), 752-
764. doi:10.1080/13691058.2014.909531
Fletcher, A. J. (2017). Applying critical realism in qualitative research: Methodology meets
method. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 20(2), 181-194.
doi:10.1080/13645579.2016.1144401
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 30
30
Foster, A. B., & Scherrer, K. S. (2014). Asexual-identified clients in clinical settings:
Implications for culturally competent practice. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender
Diversity, 1(4), 422-430. doi:10.1037/sgd0000058
Freeburg, M. N., & McNaughton, M. J. (2017). Fifty shades of grey: Implications for
counseling BDSM clients. VISTAS 2017. Retrieved from
https://www.counseling.org/knowledge-center/vistas/by-subject2/vistas-client/docs/default-
source/vistas/counseling-bdsm-clients
Gordon, O. (2012, March 17). The moment I realised I was asexual. The Telegraph.
Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/9651265/The-moment-I-realised-I-was-
asexual.html
Gupta, K. (2018). Gendering asexuality and asexualizing gender: A qualitative study
exploring the intersections between gender and asexuality. Sexualities. Advance online
publication. doi:10.1177/1363460718790890
Gupta, K. (2017). “And now I’m just different, but there’s nothing actually wrong with me”:
Asexual marginalization and resistance. Journal of Homosexuality, 64(8), 991-1013.
doi:10.1080/00918369.2016.1236590
Hawkinson, K., & Zamboni, B. D. (2014). Adult baby/diaper lovers: An exploratory study of
an online community sample. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43(5), 863-877.
doi:10.1007/s10508-013-0241-7
Hayfield, N., & Huxley, C. (2015). Insider and outsider perspectives: Reflections on
researcher identities in research with lesbian and bisexual women. Qualitative Research in
Psychology, 12(2), 91-106. doi:10.1080/14780887.2014.918224
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 31
31
Haley-Banez, (2017, August 11). Asexual: A spectrum of disinterest to disgust. Retrieved
from https://psychnsex.com/asexual/
Hébert, A., & Weaver, A. (2015). Perks, problems, and the people who play: A qualitative
exploration of dominant and submissive BDSM roles. The Canadian Journal of Human
Sexuality, 24(1), 49-62. doi:10.3138/cjhs.2467
James, E. L. (2011). Fifty shades of grey. New York: Vintage Books.
Keener, E. (2015). The complexity of gender: It is all that and more…. In sum, it is
complicated. Sex Roles, 73 (11), 481-489. doi:10.1007/s11199-015-0542-5
Killerman, S. (2017). The Genderbread person. It’s Pronounced Metrosexual. Retrieved
from https://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/genderbread-person/
McDonald, J. (2013). Coming out in the field: A queer reflexive account of shifting
researcher identity. Management Learning, 44(2), 127-143. doi:10.1177/1350507612473711
Miller, T. (2011). Analysis of the 2011 Asexual awareness week community census. Asexual
Awareness Week. Retrieved from
http://www.asexualawarenessweek.com/prerelease/docs/SiggyAnalysis-AAWCensus.pdf
Mitchell, H. S. (2016). Becoming impossible: Asexual narratives of identity, experience, and
importance (Unpublished master’s thesis). University of North Carolina. Retrieved from
https://libres.uncg.edu/ir/uncg/f/Mitchell_uncg_0154M_12086.pdf
Moe, J., Bower, J., & Clark, M. (2017). Counseling queer and genderqueer clients.
Affirmative counselling with LGBTQI+ people (pp 213-226). Virginia, Alexandria: The
American Counselling Association.
Pasquier, M. (2018, October 27). Explore the spectrum: Guide to finding your ace
community. Retrieved from https://www.glaad.org/amp/ace-guide-finding-your-community
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 32
32
Perry, C., Thurston, M., & Green, K. (2004). Involvement and detachment in researching
sexuality: Reflections on the process of semi structured interviewing. Qualitative Health
Research, 14(1), 135-148. doi:10.1177/1049732303255853
Pillai-Friedman, S., Pollitt, J. L., & Castaldo, A. (2015). Becoming kink-aware a necessity
for sexuality professionals. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 30(2), 196-210.
doi:10.1080/14681994.2014.975681
Prause, N., & Graham, C. A. (2007). Asexuality: Classification and
characterization. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 36(3), 341-356. doi:10.1007/s10508-006-
9142-3
Przybylo, E. (2013). Producing facts: Empirical asexuality and the scientific study of
sex. Feminism & Psychology, 23(2), 224-242. doi:10.1177/0959353512443668
Rehor, J. E. (2015). Sensual, erotic, and sexual behaviors of women from the “kink”
community. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44(4), 825-836. doi:10.1007/s10508-015-0524-2
Reynolds, J., & Taylor, S. (2005). Narrating singleness: Life stories and deficit
identities. Narrative Inquiry, 15(2), 197-215. doi:10.1075/ni.15.2.02rey
Ribner, D. S. (2009). Vanilla is also a flavour. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 24:3-4, 233-
234, doi:10.1080/14681990903201050
Robbins, N. K., Low, K. G., & Query, A. N. (2016). A qualitative exploration of the “coming
out” process for asexual individuals. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45(3), 751-760.
doi:10.1007/s10508-015-0561-x
Rothblum, E. D., Heimann, K., & Carpenter, K. (2019). The lives of asexual individuals
outside of sexual and romantic relationships: education, occupation, religion and
community. Psychology & Sexuality, 10(1), 83-93. doi:10.1080/19419899.2018.1552186
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 33
33
Scherrer, K. S. (2008). Coming to an asexual identity: Negotiating identity, negotiating
desire. Sexualities, 11(5), 621-641. doi:10.1177/1363460708094269
Scott, S., McDonnell, L., & Dawson, M. (2016). Stories of non‐becoming: Non‐issues, non‐
events and non‐identities in asexual lives. Symbolic Interaction, 39(2), 268-286.
doi:10.1002/symb.215
Shenton, Z. (2015, August 3). Caitlyn Jenner opens up about sexuality as star reveals she
"appreciates the male form". Daily Mirror. Retrieved from
http://www.mirror.co.uk/3am/celebrity-news/caitlyn-jenner-opens-up-sexuality-6183976
Sims-Schouten, W., Riley, S. C., & Willig, C. (2007). Critical realism in discourse analysis:
A presentation of a systematic method of analysis using women's talk of motherhood,
childcare and female employment as an example. Theory & Psychology, 17(1), 101-124.
doi:10.1177/0959354307073153
Simula, B. L. (2019a). A “different economy of bodies and pleasures”?: Differentiating and
evaluating sex and sexual BDSM experiences. Journal of Homosexuality, 66(2), 209-237.
doi:10.1080/00918369.2017.1398017
Simula, B. L. (2019b). Pleasure, power, and pain: A review of the literature on the
experiences of BDSM participants. Sociology Compass, 13(3), e12668.
doi:10.1111/soc4.12668
Sloan, L. J. (2015). Ace of (BDSM) clubs: Building asexual relationships through BDSM
practice. Sexualities, 18(5-6), 548-563. doi:10.1177/1363460714550907
Steel, L. V. (2015, February 14). 'Fifty Shades of Grey': A dominatrix's view (Guest
Column). Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved from
https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/fifty-shades-grey-a-dominatrixs-773577
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 34
34
Stiles, B. L., & Clark, R. E. (2011). BDSM: A subcultural analysis of sacrifices and
delights. Deviant Behavior, 32(2), 158-189. doi:10.1080/01639621003748605
Stockwell, F. M., Walker, D. J., & Eshleman, J. W. (2010). Measures of implicit and explicit
attitudes toward mainstream and BDSM sexual terms using the IRAP and questionnaire with
BDSM/fetish and student participants. The Psychological Record, 60(2), 307-324.
doi:10.1007/BF03395709
Storms, M. D. (1980). Theories of sexual orientation. Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 38(5), 783-792. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.38.5.783
Terry, G. & Braun, V. (2017). Short but often sweet: The surprising potential of qualitative
survey methods. In Clarke, V., Braun, V., and Gray, D (Eds.), Collecting qualitative data: A
practical guide to textual, media and virtual techniques (p. 15-44). Cambridge: Cambridge
Press. doi:10.1017/9781107295094.003
Terry, G., Hayfield, N., Clarke, V. & Braun, V. (2017). Thematic analysis. In C. Willig and
W. Stainton Rogers (Eds.). The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research in Psychology (2nd
ed.) (pp. 17-37). London: Sage. doi:10.4135/9781526405555.n2
Turley, E. L. (2016). ‘Like nothing I’ve ever felt before’: Understanding consensual BDSM
as embodied experience. Psychology & Sexuality, 7(2), 149-162.
doi:10.1080/19419899.2015.1135181
Vares, T. (2018). ‘My [asexuality] is playing hell with my dating life’: Romantic identified
asexuals negotiate the dating game. Sexualities, 21(4), 520-536.
doi:10.1177/1363460717716400
Wallis, L. (2012, January 17). What is it like to be asexual? BBC News. Retrieved from
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16552173
Running Head: ‘Can I be a kinky ace?’: How asexual people 35
35
Wareham, J. (2017, February 26). Jodie Marsh “I’m asexual - I’m just not interested in sex
right now”. National Student Pride. Retrieved from
http://www.studentpride.co.uk/news/2017/2/26/video-jodie-marsh-im-asexual-im-just-not-
interested-in-sex-right-now
Wignall, L., & McCormack, M. (2017). An exploratory study of a new kink activity: “Pup
play”. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46(3), 801-811. doi:10.1007/s10508-015-0636-8
Yule, M. A., Brotto, L. A., & Gorzalka, B. B. (2014). Sexual fantasy and masturbation
among asexual individuals. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 23(2), 89-95.
doi:10.3138/cjhs.2409
Yule, M. A., Brotto, L. A., & Gorzalka, B. B. (2017a). Sexual fantasy and masturbation
among asexual individuals: An in-depth exploration. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46(1),
311-328. doi:10.1007/s10508-016-0870-8
Yule, M. A., Brotto, L. A., & Gorzalka, B. B. (2017b). Human asexuality: What do we know
about a lack of sexual attraction? Current Sexual Health Reports, 9(1), 50-56.
doi:10.1007/s11930-017-0100-y
Zamboni, B. D., & Madero, G. (2018). Exploring asexuality within an adult baby/diaper lover
community. Psychology & Sexuality, 9(2), 174-187. doi:10.1080/19419899.2018.1459804
i
Despite the success of the Fifty Shades of Grey novels and films, BDSM practitioners have expressed concerns
over the representations and portrayal of dominant / submissive relationships and BDSM activities within these
(e.g., Steel, 2015).
ii
Homoromantic refers to experiencing romantic (but not sexual) feelings towards people of the same gender
(Colborne, 2018).
iii
Biromantic refers to experiencing romantic (but not sexual) attraction to more than one gender (Colborne,
2018).
iv
Panromantic refers to experiencing romantic (but not sexual) attraction to others, and this attraction is not
limited by gender or sex (Yule et al., 2017b).
v
Dottie described themselves as aromantic in the demographic questionnaire and as demisexual when asked
about additional terms to describe identity.
... Research has documented that some groups (e.g., the asexual population) may still engage in BDSM in an identity-based way. Thus, the current study asks both about the amount someone engages in BDSM in a sexual way and the amount they engage in BDSM in a platonic way (Sloan, 2015;Winter-Gray & Hayfield, 2019). ...
Article
Full-text available
Introduction The bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism (BDSM) community has a history of stigmatization; however, potential positive factors that may help mitigate the impact of this stigmatization have not been fully explored. Noting the large overlap between BDSM and the LGBTQIA + communities, the current work identifies and compares the role of BDSM for heterosexual and LGBTQIA + community members. Method A survey was administered on http://fetlife.com to a sample of 289 BDSM practitioners in 2019. One hundred eighty-eight identified as LGBTQIA + and 101 identified as heterosexual, cisgender, and allosexual. Items assessed various factors such as discrimination, stigma, tabooness, outness, support, and community involvement. Results LGBTQIA + BDSM practitioners reported more severe experiences with discrimination than those endorsing a heterosexual identity. BDSM-related factors (e.g., stigma from society, perceived tabooness) did not significantly differ across groups. Consistent with prior literature, heterosexual practitioners reported more general social support from family and vanilla friends than LGBTQIA + practitioners did, but interestingly, LGBTQIA + practitioners reported more community involvement and connectedness than heterosexual practitioners. Conclusions LGBTQIA + and heterosexual practitioners reported similar levels of negative consequences from their BDSM identity. Nonetheless, in the relative absence of family and peer support, the BDSM community may provide a critical source of support and connectedness for LGBTQIA + practitioners. Policy Implications Membership in a historically “taboo” community can create unique psychosocial stressors and serve as a critical source of support for many who lack support from other sources. Thus, BDSM practitioners and BDSM-identified people should be considered part of an unrecognized sexual minority by healthcare providers.
Article
Individuals who do not experience sexual attraction and adopt an asexual identity are the focus of increasing amounts of psychological and sociological research. A scoping review was conducted to identify current knowledge of asexuality and components of asexual identity development and internalisation that emerge within literature. Findings from 29 articles were analysed and formed into themes that best describe the key events and sense-making processes underlying identity development, such as coming-out, the reactions of others and how asexuals interpret their identity. These findings indicate that heteronormativity and compulsory sexuality play a role in how individuals internalise their asexuality, which in turn, shapes their identity development. Despite this, considerable gaps in the literature concerning partner relationships, stigmatisation, isolation and the impact that this has on asexuals’ wellbeing continue to exist. Thus, future research should examine the challenges faced by asexuals such as identity development within a heteronormative and allonormative context and the resources available to ameliorate them.
Article
Full-text available
A growing literature on kink practitioners reveals a complex picture of elevated risk of suicidal behaviors co-occurring with reduced reports of negative mental health outcomes. A key to understanding this conflicting pattern may be through identifying specific risk and protective mechanisms among distinct subgroups of kink practitioners. Comparisons in the health of kink practitioners based on gender and sexual orientation are currently lacking in literature. Objective This paper advances understanding of the kink community by examining mental health and coping-self efficacy (CSE) variation by gender and sexual orientation. Design Adult members of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (N = 332) completed an online cross-sectional health assessment. Main outcome measures The assessment included the Coping Self-Efficacy (CSE) Scale; Depression and Anxiety Stress Scale-21; and Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test. Results Transgender and non-binary persons reported consistently low coping beliefs and poor mental health. Queer sexual minority persons reported low CSE thought stopping and high anxiety. Several CSE thought stopping moderation effects on mental health were observed. Conclusions Findings may inform clinical implications, as bolstering coping-related beliefs and skills via cognitive-behavioral therapy may offer mental health benefit to kink practitioners.
Article
Full-text available
Asexuality is a deeply misunderstood and little-known sexual orientation. This is partly due to misconceptions and marginalization of asexual people, and partly by a lack of information about the orientation. This paper outlines the misconceptions of the ‘causes’ of asexuality, namely Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD), abuse, and religious abstinence. These causes are shown to be invalid due to the key element of self-identification in determining an orientation.; nevertheless, they persist in society because little is known about the nature of asexuality. The facets of the asexual orientation are then discussed: levels of sexual attraction, sexual desire, and romantic orientation, displaying the complex attempt to define asexuality, made even more difficult by a lack of sources concerning these facets.. Finally, the tension between the LGBTQ+ community and asexuals is discussed in terms of the debate about including asexuals in this community, with the groups often speaking at cross-purposes. It becomes clear that being asexual requires a complex navigation of territory, and this problem is exacerbated at every step by a lack of information. It is therefore crucial that this informational gap is addressed at each of these three critical areas in order to build a more complete societal grasp of asexuality, and to create a vibrant, open community for those who identify as asexual.
Article
Full-text available
Since the explosion of social scientific and sociological research on BDSM in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the field has grown exponentially. In this review, I identify three particularly fruitful recent lines of research in sociological and related approaches to BDSM. First, I discuss work that critically analyzes the meaning(s) of BDSM for participants and the role of debates about the sexual and the erotic in relation to BDSM. Second, I discuss work on BDSM identities, including scholarship that examines BDSM identities in relation to other identities. Here, I also discuss emerging lines of scholarship that focus on the ways in which privileges (particularly race/ethnicity and class) shape identification with and access to BDSM communities. Third, I discuss work on BDSM communities, examining the ways that community organization shapes BDSM experiences. I conclude with suggestions for future research in the field including deepening and broadening intersectional analyses of BDSM experiences, exploring specialized roles and identities that exist within the broader BDSM umbrella, and investigating similarities and differences between those who participate in BDSM on a time‐limited basis versus those for whom BDSM is an ongoing, continual core aspect of identity.
Article
Full-text available
Twenty-seven U.S. and Canadian participants who answered a call for interviews about asexual identity were asked about non-sexual aspects of their lives, including education, occupation, community, and religion. Many participants indicated that being asexual was not a factor in school or college. Others mentioned advantages such as having more time for studies and fewer distractions, and disadvantages such as feeling lonely, left out, or anxious. For some participants, asexuality was not an issue in the work setting, often because it is not visible or not asked about. Others worked in settings with supportive co-workers, had more time for work, or were not distracted by office romances. Half the participants were part of thriving social networks, although about one-third indicated that their community was very small and many were introverts. Three-quarters of the sample identified as atheists or followed spiritual traditions that were not directly associated with mainstream religions. They also brought up the lack of asexual role models in the media. Participants reflected on how asexual identity interfaced with societal roles and the results are discussed in light of the foregrounding of sex and relationships in North America.
Article
Full-text available
This internet-based study provided exploratory analyses on 99 asexual and 1919 non-asexual members of the Adult Baby/Diaper Lover (ABDL) community. This study involved the secondary analysis of an existing dataset. Based on prior research, the purpose was to explore the degree to which asexual individuals in the ABDL community show evidence of autochorissexualism (“identity-less sexuality”) and investigate if asexual individuals use ABDL practices as a forum for negotiating their asexuality in a romantic relationship. Differences based on sexuality status were also examined. Minimal evidence was found for the first two research questions. Most asexual participants did not report sexual activity in their ABDL practices and those who did reported solo sexual behavior. Compared to non-asexual participants, asexual participants reported wearing diapers more frequently and also reported greater enjoyment of role-play behaviors in their ABDL practices. Asexual participants in a romantic relationship reported a greater frequency of their partner being involved in their ABDL than non-asexual participants. It is possible that males who identify as asexual are more likely than asexual females to be involved in atypical behaviors or a subculture, such as ABDL.
Article
Full-text available
While academic attention to asexuality has increased in recent years, there is still relatively little research into the relational lives of romantic identified asexuals, and less still on the gendered dimensions of these. This article aims to address these research gaps by examining the ways in which 13 self-identified romantic asexuals living in New Zealand experience and navigate dating practices/finding somebody. I employ a feminist poststructuralist approach to explore the ways in which the pervasiveness of hook up culture and gendered discourses of sexuality both constrain and enable possibilities for developing partnered relationships with non-asexuals.
Article
In this article, I explore the intersections between gender and asexuality, drawing on data collected from in-depth interviews with 30 asexually-identified individuals living in the United States. I examine the differential effects that gendered sexual norms have on asexually-identified men and women and begin to explore the relationship between asexuality, gender non-conformity, and trans* identities. Based on these findings, I argue that while white, middle-class asexually-identified men may live in greater conflict with dominant gendered sexual norms than white, middle-class asexually-identified women, the sexual autonomy of these asexually-identified men – specifically their right to refuse sexuality – may be greater than the sexual autonomy of these asexually-identified women.
Article
This study examines how BDSM participants understand sexual experiences. Data are drawn from 32 in-depth, semi-structured interviews and discussion board threads from a large BDSM community website. The analysis suggests that many BDSM participants perceive sexual BDSM experiences as not only significantly different from but also better than mainstream or “vanilla” sex. Three primary differentiation mechanisms are identified. First, BDSM participants construct sex as requiring genital contact while framing sexual BDSM as creating sexual fulfillment not requiring normative indicators of sexual experiences (e.g. orgasm). Second, participants construct sexual BDSM as centered around emotional and mental experiences, while perceiving sex as being centered around physical experiences. Third, participants perceive sexual BDSM experiences as facilitating deeper interpersonal connections than those available in sex. Importantly, these mechanisms serve not only a differentiating but also an evaluative function. Most participants in this study report a strong preference for sexual BDSM over sex.
Chapter
Asexuality, an orientation for people who do not experience sexual attraction, is largely based in a web community that began with the foundation of the Asexual Visibility and Education Network in 2001. The asexual movement has since passed through several phases of growth in terms of media attention, activism, and the production of scholarship. Asexuality can now be more complexly understood in relation to medical discourse and disorder, perspectives on disability and sexuality, and in the context of racial diversity, all in service of redefining and questioning sexual ?normalcy.?
Chapter
The issues surrounding working with clients who identify as queer and/or genderqueer are examined. Queer theory and its relevance to persons who identify as queer are reviewed. Gender and gender identity terminology are reviewed; the utility of gender gumby and the genderbread identity models are discussed. Issues for queer persons of color, as well as developmental considerations related to age are intersectional issues explored within this chapter. Increased minority stress, and its connection to physical and mental health issues for queer persons are considered. Specific counseling techniques and competencies are reviewed as they apply to queer-identified persons.