Asexuality: Prevalence and Associated Factors in a National Probability Sample

Article (PDF Available)inThe Journal of Sex Research 41(3):279-87 · September 2004with 5,346 Reads
DOI: 10.1080/00224490409552235 · Source: PubMed
Abstract
I used data from a national probability sample (N > 18,000) of British residents to investigate asexuality, defined as having no sexual attraction to a partner of either sex. Approximately 1% (n = 195) of the sample indicated they were asexual. A number of factors were related to asexuality, including gender (i.e., more women than men), short stature, low education, low socioeconomic status, and poor health. Asexual women also had a later onset of menarche relative to sexual women. The results suggest that a number of pathways, both biological and psychosocial, contribute to the development of asexuality.
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Asexuality: Prevalence and Associated Factors
in a
National
Probability Sample
Anthony
F.
Bogaert
Brock University
/ used data from
a
national probability
sample
fN >
18,000)
of British
residents
to
investigate
asexuality,
defined as
having
no sexual
attraction
to a partner of either
sex.
Approximately 1%
(n
= 195) of the sample
indicated they were
asexual.
A
num-
ber of factors were related to
asexuality,
including gender
(i.e.,
more women than
men),
religiosity,
short
stature,
low educa-
tion,
low socioeconomic
status,
and poor
health.
Asexual women also had a later onset ofmenarche
relative
to sexual women.
The
results
suggest that
a
number of pathways, both
biological
and psychosocial,
contribute
to
the
development
of asexuality.
Asexuality,
the
state
of
having
no
sexual attraction
for
either
sex, has
been studied only sparingly. Related issues
are sexual aversion disorder
and
hypoactive sexual desire
disorder (HSDD), which have been studied more frequently
in recent years (e.g.. Beck, 1995; Rosen
&
Leiblum, 1995).
In both sexual aversion disorder and HSDD, there usually
is
or was
a
sexual orientation toward partners
of
either
or
both
genders,
but
there
is
either
an
aversion
for
genital contact
with these partners (e.g., extreme anxiety when
a
sexual
encounter presents itself)
or a low
sexual desire
for
these
partners. Sexual aversion disorder
and
HSDD issues often
arise within
the
context
of
couples—as,
for
example, when
a "discrepancy
of
sexual desire"
is
diagnosed. Asexuality,
in
contrast,
can be
defined
as the
absence
of a
traditional
sex-
ual orientation,
in
which
an
individual would exhibit little
or
no sexual attraction
to
males
or
females. One such model
of
asexuality was developed
by
Storms (1980; see also Berkey,
Perelman-Hall,
&
Kurdek, 1990). Storms classified hetero-
sexuals
as
individuals
who are
highly attracted
to the
other
sex (i.e., high
in
heteroeroticism), homosexuals
as
individu-
als
who are
highly attracted
to the
same
sex
(i.e., high
in
homoeroticism), bisexuals
as
individuals
who are
highly
attracted to both sexes (i.e., high
in
both heteroeroticism and
homoeroticism),
and
asexuals
as
individuals
who are not
attracted
to
either
sex
(i.e.,
low in
both heteroeroticism
and
homoeroticism).
In
this study,
I
undertook
the
investigation
of lifelong asexuality, defined as having
no
sexual attraction
for either
sex.
Note that
the
definition
of
asexuality here
concerns
a
lack
of
sexual attraction to either sex and not nec-
essarily
a
lack
of
sexual behavior with either
sex or self-
identification as
an
asexual. Sexual behavior and sexual
self-
identification are
of
course correlated with sexual attraction,
but,
for a
variety
of
reasons, one's attraction
to men or
This research
was
supported
by a
Social Sciences
and
Humanities Research
Council
of
Canada Grant (#410-99-0521)
to
Anthony
F.
Bogaert,
The
author
wishes
to
thank Ray Blanchard, John Caimey,
and
Carolyn Hafer
for
their help
at
various stages
of
this research.
Address correspondence
to
Anthony
F.
Bogaert, Ph.D,, Department
of
Community Health Sciences, Department
of
Psychology, Brock University,
St.
Catharines, Canada,
L2S
3A1; e-mail: tbogaert@brocku,ca.
women
and
overt sexual behavior
or
sexual self-identifica-
tion
may
have
a
less-than-perfect correspondence.
It is of
note that many sexual orientation researchers have recently
emphasized sexual attraction over overt behavior
or self-
identification
in
conceptualizing sexual orientation (e.g..
Bailey, Dunne,
&
Martin, 2000; Bogaert, 2003b; Money,
1988;
Zucker & Bradley, 1995).
One fundamental question
for the
present research
was
the prevalence
of
asexuality.
Is it as
prevalent
as
other
atypical sexual orientations such
as
same-sex attraction
or
is
it
extremely rare? Given
the
paucity
of
research
on the
subject,
one
might expect asexuality, particularly life-long
asexuality,
to be
very unusual.
A
very
low
level
of
asexu-
ality
is
also predicted from evolutionary models
of
human
behavior because
one
would expect strong selection pres-
sures against such nonreproductive tendencies.
On the
other hand, same-sex attraction
is
also clearly
a
nonrepro-
ductive orientation,
and yet its
prevalence over time
and
across societies continues
to
challenge evolutionary theo-
rists (e.g., Bobrow
&
Bailey, 2001).
Little
is
also known about
the
factors associated with
asexuality. Therefore,
the
present study
was an
attempt
to
open
up the
field
and
begin
to
explore factors associated
with this relatively uncharted area
of
sexual variability.
Of
course,
one
factor that should
be an
obvious predictor
is
sexual behavior
itself,
particularly with
a
partner.
However, given that sexual attraction
and
sexual behavior
are imperfectly correlated,
a
complete absence
of
part-
nered sexual behavior
is not
expected
for all
asexual
peo-
ple.
Some level
of
sexual activity—perhaps
as a
result
of
exploration
or to
please
a
partner—is expected
for
some
asexual people, although sexual activity should
be
much
more infrequent
in
asexual people relative
to
sexual
peo-
ple.
Thus, relative
to
sexual people, asexual people should
report fewer sexual partners
of
both sexes, later first
sex-
ual experiences
if
indeed
a
sexual experience with
a
part-
ner
has
occurred,
and
less frequent sexual activity with
a
partner.
Aside from sexuality
itself, one
factor that
may be an
important predictor
is age.
First awareness
of
sexual
The Journat
of
Sex Research Volume 41, Number 3, August 2004:
pp.
279-287 279
280
Asexuality
attraction occurs for many people around the age of 10,
often preceding puberty and associated with the develop-
ment of the adrenal glands and not the gonads (Herdt &
McClintock, 2000; McClintock & Herdt, 1996).
However, people probably vary in their awareness and
experience of first sexual attraction, with a variety of
social and psychological factors along with biological
aspects contributing to such awareness and experience.
For example, sexual attraction to others has been argued
to be partly the result of arousal experiences—through,
for example, masturbation, fantasy, and sexual activity
directed at or with partners (e.g.. Storms, 1981). Sexual
attraction has also been argued to be partly the result of
exposure to and familiarity with same-sex or opposite-
sex peers (e.g., Bem, 1996). As a consequence, perhaps
some younger individuals—for example, late adolescents
or even young adults—may have had few if any relevant
social and psychological opportunities to experience or
initiate sexual attraction to others. Thus, young people
may be more likely to be asexual, although they may be
best described as in a "presexual" life stage, which may
change as they age.
Another relevant factor may be illness, disease, and dis-
ability. Although I know of no strong empirical evidence
supporting such a
belief,
there is a stereotype that disabled
people are asexual beings (e.g., Milligan & Neufeldt,
2001).
One of the reasons people with disabilities are per-
ceived as asexual is that others assume that low sexual
activity or functioning is equivalent to asexuality. Although
probably an incorrect assumption in many cases, there may
be some logic to this reasoning: Some chronic health prob-
lems may reduce sexual functioning and restrict sexual
activity to such a degree that some people with these con-
ditions may be perceived by others and themselves as hav-
ing little or no sexual attraction to partners of either sex.
Many chronic or debilitating health conditions have been
associated with low sexual functioning and/or activity and
thus may be relevant in this regard, including spinal cord
injuries (e.g., Szasz & Carpenter, 1989), multiple sclerosis
(e.g., Schover, Thomas, Laldn, Montague, & Fisher, 1988),
pituitary disorders (e.g., Cohen, Greenberg, & Murray,
1984),
schizophrenia and other neurological or psychiatric
conditions (e.g., Fortier, Trudel, Mottard, & Piche, 2000),
and eating disorders (e.g., Carlat & Camargo, 1991;
Ghizzani & Montomoli, 2000).
These and other health problems are often related to
unusual physical development characteristics. People with
unusual physical development characteristics—for exam-
ple,
short stature, obesity or extremely low weight, or late
puberty onset—may have, or have had, debilitating med-
ical conditions that led to these characteristics. Thus, these
characteristics may be markers of poor health and devel-
opment, which may alter sexual functioning and thus lead
to the perception by others and themselves that they have
little or no attraction for a partner of a particular sex.
Note that in the above discussion it is assumed that these
health problems and the unusual physical characteristics
they may give rise to affect asexuality indirectly by, for
example, reducing sexual functioning and sexual drive,
which in turn can cause those with such problems and char-
acteristics, as well as other people, to think that they have
little attraction to others. However, it should be kept in
mind that certain biological conditions could affect mecha-
nisms of sexual attraction for a partner more directly by, for
example, specifically affecting brain structures hypothe-
sized to underlie sexual orientation (e.g., anterior hypothal-
amus;
see LeVay, 1991). Both stature and the timing of
puberty are interesting in this regard because they are par-
tially regulated by the hypothalamus (e.g., Grumbach &
Styne, 1992). Indeed, the fact that homosexual men may
differ from heterosexual men in height and pubertal timing
has provided support for the notion that the development of
sexual attraction processes is affected by biological factors
(e.g., prenatal hormones) originating prior to birth (see
Bogaert, 2003a; Bogaert & Blanchard, 1996; Bogaert,
Fdesen, & Klentrou, 2002; cf. Bogaert & Friesen, 2002).
Another possible factor related to asexuality is religios-
ity. Most religions have strong proscriptions against liber-
al sexual practices, and some (e.g.. Buddhism, Roman
Catholicism) see complete abstinence as a virtue. Some
very religious individuals may have internalized these val-
ues to such a degree that they may not admit to arousal, or
at least not label it as sexual attraction. In addition, some
religious people may be less likely to have developed a
strong attraction to others because they are less likely to
have gone through relevant "conditioning" experiences
(e.g., less early masturbation). On the other hand, religios-
ity may not play a causal role in the development of asex-
uality but it may still relate to asexuality, because asexual
people may find acceptance in certain religious communi-
ties that value restricted sexuality or they may find reli-
gious regulations against sexual behavior easier to uphold
than sexual people. There is some evidence that religious
people relative to nonreligious people do have lower rates
of some sexual activities such as masturbation or multiple
partners (Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, & Michaels, 1994),
but I do not know of any evidence that asexuality is high-
er among religious individuals.
Other factors that may be relevant are education and
general economic circumstances, such as socioeconomic
status (SES) or social class. If normal sexual development
partly occurs within a context of a typical physical and
social environment (e.g., exposure to and familiarity with
peers;
see Bem, 1996; Storms, 1981), then education and
general economic circumstances may be relevant predic-
tors of asexuality. Thus, low education (and low SES) may
be a proxy for unusual social and physical circumstances
during childhood and adolescence (e.g., fewer resources;
increased stressors; fewer peer interactions), which may
have altered typical sexual development. On the other
hand, low education and SES and the unusual social cir-
cumstances they may underlie may not be causally related
to asexuality, but may still be relevant predictors of asexu-
ality because the putative health problems of asexual peo-
Bogaert
281
pie may lead to low educational opportunities and eco-
nomic hardship.
A final factor related to asexuality may be gender. It is
clear that men and women differ with regard to sexuality,
with men relative to women reporting higher rates of cer-
tain sexual activities (e.g., more masturbation, sexual
thoughts or fantasies, and casual sex; e.g., Oliver & Hyde,
1993).
These differences are argued to be a reflection of
gender roles (Oliver & Hyde, 1993), strength or flexibility
of sex drive (Baumeister, 2000), or evolutionarily based
reproductive strategies (e.g.. Buss & Schmitt, 1993). If
gender differences in sexuality—in particular masturba-
tion and fantasy—are relevant to the development of sexu-
al orientation (e.g.. Storms, 1981), then one might specu-
late that women will be more likely than men to be asexu-
al because they are, on average, less likely to have had con-
ditioning experiences relevant to sexual orientation devel-
opment. Moreover, research shows that women are less
likely than men to label genital responses, even when mea-
sured by psychophysical devices, as sexual arousal (e.g.,
Heiman, 1977; Laan, Everaerd, van Bellen, & Hanewald,
1994).
As a consequence, women relative to men may be
less likely to label males or females as salient sexual
objects and hence more likely to report themselves as hav-
ing no attraction for men or women because they do not
perceive sexual arousal as consistently as men do, even
under conditions when genital responses are occurring. On
the other hand, men are more likely than women to have an
increased prevalence of atypical sexual attraction, such as
same-sex attraction and paraphilias (e.g., Freund, 1994;
Laumann et al., 1994); thus, it may be the case that asexu-
ality is another atypical sexual proclivity for which men
show higher rates than do women.
In the present study, I investigated asexuality, defined as
having no attraction for males or females. The data came
from a national probability sample of British residents
(Johnson, Wadsworth, Wellings, & Field, 1994; Wellings,
Field, Johnson, & Wadsworth, 1994) in which the preva-
lence and predictors (e.g., health, physical development,
demographics, religiosity) of asexuality were investigated.
This survey was stimulated by the need for sexual infor-
mation about the general population in the wake of the
AIDS epidemic, and it is among the most representative
sexuality surveys of recent years (see Hyde & DeLamater,
2000).
In addition, unlike other samples of its kind (e.g.,
Laumann et al., 1994), it contains relatively specific infor-
mation relevant to the assessment of asexuality.
METHOD
Sample
Johnson et al. (1994) used a probability sample of house-
holds in Britain (England, Wales, and Scotland). In house-
holds where an eligible respondent—a person between the
ages of 16 and 59—could be identified and interviewed,
participation rate was
71.5%.
The final sample contained
18,876 participants. Participants were interviewed and
given one of two versions of a questionnaire: a long form
to which a representative quarter of the sample responded
(n = 4,548) or a short form to which the remainder
responded. For this study, I used the total sample to maxi-
mize the number of cases. However, from the total of
18,876 cases, I eliminated 195 participants because the
interviewers reported that these individuals had "severe"
language, literacy, or other problems during the interview
and questionnaire process.
Measure of Sexual Attraction and Asexuality
The measure of sexual attraction was introduced as fol-
lows:
"I have felt sexually attracted
to..."
Six options fol-
lowed: (a) "only females, never to males" (male n
=
7,482,
female n = 28); (b) "more often to females, and at least
once to a male" (male n = 321, female n
=
21); (c) "about
equally often to males and females" (male n = 45, female
n = 21); (d) "more often to males, and at least once to a
female" (male n = 42, female n = 406); (e) "only males,
never to females" (male n
=
42, female n
=
9,969); and (f)
"I have never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all" (male
n = 57, female n = 138). Thirty-eight men and 63 women
refused to answer this question and were thus eliminated
from further analyses.
For the present study, I counted as asexuals those who
responded to this sexual attraction question with "I have
never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all." I categorized
as "sexuals" the remaining participants—those reporting
that they had felt attraction to either males, females, or
both (male n
=
7,932, female n = 10,494).
Predictors of Asexuality
The survey comprised three measures of sexuahty: age of
first experience, total partners, and sexual frequency. For the
first of these measures, both men and women were asked
about their age of first sexual experience with the other sex:
"How old were you when you first had any type of experi-
ence of a sexual kind—^for example, kissing, cuddling, pet-
ting—with someone of the opposite sex?" They were also
asked about their first same-sex experience: "Have you ever
had any kind of sexual experience or sexual contact with a
male? (or "female" if the respondent was a woman)?" and
"How old were you the first time that ever happened?" If the
respondent had experience with both sexes, the earlier of the
two ages was used; if the respondent had experience with
only one sex, only that score was used. This measure was
recorded in full years. Interviewers also asked for their total
number of male and female sexual partners ("Altogether, in
your life so far, with how many men [women] have you had
sexual intercourse [vaginal, oral, or anal]?"). If the respon-
dent had both male and female partners, the total of the two
counts was used; if the respondent had only male or female
parmers, only that score was used. For
fi-equency
of sexual
experiences with a partner, the participants were asked about
their frequency of sexual activity with men and women over
the last 7 days ("On how many occasions in the last 7 days
have you had sex with a man [woman]?"). If the respondent
282
Asexuality
had sex with both men atid women in the last week, the total
of the two frequencies was used; if the respondent had sex
with only men or women, only that score was used.
Unfortunately, there were no questions relevant to masturba-
tion and fantasy during childhood, adolescence, or adulthood
on the survey (Johnson et al., 1994; Wellings et al., 1994).
Four measures assessed participants' health. One was
"For your age, would you describe your state of health
as..."
with response options from
1
= very good to 5 = very
poor. A second measure was "Do you have a permanent
disability?" (1 = yes and 2 = no). A third measure was "Do
you have a long-term medical condition that requires treat-
ment or check-ups?" (1 = yes and 2 = no). The last measure
was "In the last 5 years, did you have any illness/accident
that affected your health for at least 3 months?" (1 = yes
and 2 =
no).
The last three health measures were recoded so
that poor health had high scores (1 = 1; 2 = 0) and the mean
of the four health measures served as an aggregate variable
of health problems.
Physical development measures included a question
about the age of onset for menarche, which was recorded
in full years (men were not asked about their age of puber-
ty).
Interviewers also asked participants for their weight
(responses converted to kilograms) and height (responses
converted to meters).
Two questions assessed religiosity. One was the fre-
quency of attendance at services, where 1 = once a week
or more and 8 = never (or not applicable because not reli-
gious).
This variable was recoded so that 0 = never and 7
= once a week or more. A second measure of religiosity
was whether the respondent had a religious affiliation: 1 =
religious affiliation; 2, 3, and 4 = Christian affiliations; and
5 = non-Christian affiliation. This variable was recoded so
that
1
= religious affiliation and 0 = no religious affiliation.
Demographics
Demographic variables included age (in years); marital
status (1 = married, 2 = cohabitation, opposite sex, 3 =
cohabitation, same sex, 4 = widowed, 5 = divorced/sepa-
rated, or 6 = single); education (1 = degree, 2 = higher edu-
cation, but below degree level, 3 = 0 level or equivalent, 4
= other/foreign, or 5 = none/no exams passed); and social
class or SES (1 = professional, 2 = intermediate, 3 =
skilled non-manual, 4 = skilled manual, 5 = part-skilled, 6
= unskilled, or 7 = other). Both education and social class
were reverse coded so that high levels of education and
social class had high scores (i.e., 1 - none/no exams
passed to 5 = degree; and 1 = other to 7 = professional).
Finally, the interviewers assessed race-ethnicity (1 =
White, 2 = Black, 3 = Asian, or 4 = other). Race-ethnicity
was recoded so that 0 = White and 1 = non-White.
RESULTS
Of the participants, 195 or 1.05% reported being asexual.'
This rate is very similar to the rate of same-sex attraction
(both exclusive same-sex and bisexuality combined; 207
or
1.11%).
However, binomial tests indicated that there
were more gay and bisexual men than asexual men (p <
.001) and more asexual women than lesbian and bisexual
women (p < .001).^
Sexuality
As shown in Table 1, relative to sexual people, asexual peo-
ple had fewer sexual partners, had a later onset of sexual
activity (if it occurred), and had less frequent sexual activi-
ty with a partner currently. Overall, then, asexual people had
less sexual experience with sexual partners, and this fact
provides some validation of the concept of asexuality.
Demographics
As also shown in Table 1, some significant relationships
occurred between asexuality and the demographics.
Contrary to prediction, asexual people were not younger
than sexual people; in fact, they were somewhat older.
However, as predicted, more women than men reported
being asexual. Not surprisingly, there were fewer asexual
people than sexual people currently in (or having had) a
long-term relationship. On the other hand, a significant
minority of the asexual people, 85 of the 195
(44%),
were
currently in or had had long-term cohabiting or marital
relationships, with 64 (33%) currently married or cohabi-
tating (see Diamond,
2003,
for a distinction between
romantic and sexual desire/attraction). Asexual individuals
were also more likely than sexual individuals to come from
lower socioeconomic conditions. A higher percentage
(13%) of asexual individuals were also non-White relative
to the sexual individuals (4%). Finally, asexual individuals
were less well educated than the sexual individuals.
Health,
Physical Development, and Religiosity
Asexual people were more likely to have adverse health,
and the asexual women had a later onset of menarche rel-
ative to the sexual women. Asexual people were also
shorter and weighed less than the sexual people. Finally,
there was some evidence that asexual people were more
religious than sexual people, at least with regard to atten-
dance at religious services.
Multivariate Analyses
I conducted logistic regressions, one for men and one for
women, with asexuality (0 = sexual,
1
= asexual) as the cri-
terion and the significant demographics (except for gender
and marital status/cohabitation), religiosity, and health and
physical development factors as simultaneously entered pre-
dictors. The results of these analyses are shown in Table 2.
For women, the majority of
the
predictors—age, social class,
race-ethnicity, education, menarche, height, and rehgiosity
' Although they do not discuss asexuality per se, Johnson et al.,
(1994,
see p.
187)
do present a table showing the distribution of sexual attraction.
^
This procedure assessed whether the proportion of
gay
men to asexual men
was
greater than .50 and whether the proportion of asexual women to lesbian
women
was greater than .50.
Bogaert
283
Table 1. Comparisons of Asexual and Sexual People on Predictor Variables
Variable
Sexual activity
Age first sex
Total partners
Sex frequency
Demographics
Age
Gender (% men)
Marital status (% non-single)
Education
Race/ethnicity (% White)
SES
Religiosity
Affiliation (%)
Attendance
Health/physical characteristics
Menarche
Height
Weight
Health problems
M
16.78
0.94
0.20
38.36
29.23
32.82
2.03
86.01
3.27
60.00
2.24
13.54
1.65
66.39
0.68
Asexuals
(n = 195)
SD
3.36
1.20
0.71
14.29
1.31
1.71
2.92
1.95
0.10
15.72
0.49
M
14.82
2.65
1.16
36.31
43.17
63.65
2.94
95.51
4.51
56.99
1.65
12.93
1.69
69.05
0.59
Sexuals
(n= 18,426)
SD
2.99
1.61
1.59
11.71
1.32
1.69
2.47
1.56
0.10
13.77
0.35
6.64
19.27
18.19
1.99
15.30
118.1
9.56
39.31
10.28
0.71
2.80
3.44
5.98
2.28
3.34
P
<.OO1
<.OO1
<.OO1
= .015
<.OO1
<.OO1
<.OO1
<.OO1
<.OO1
= .398
= .006
= .001
<.OO1
= .024
= .001
Note. Total partners varies from 0
{no
partners) to 5 {10 or
more);
sex frequency is the number of occasions in the last 7 days; education varies from
1 {none/no exams passed) to 5
{degree);
SES varies from
1
{other) to 7
{professional);
race/ethnicity refers to the percentage of participants who were
White (versus non-White); religious affiliation refers to the percentage of participants who reported having an a religious affiliation; religious atten-
dance refers to the frequency of attendance at religious services and varies from 0 {never) to 7 {once a week or more).
were significant. Thus, all of these variables accounted for
unique variation in the prediction of
asexuality.
Only weight
and health were not significant. However, when social class
and education were eliminated from the regression equation,
health was significant, suggesting that health and social class
(and education) are related (e.g.. Link & Phelan, 1995; Ross
& Van Willigen, 1997) and that the health problems of asex-
ual women may be partly the result of economic problems
experienced by individuals of lower socioeconomic status.^
For men, social class, education, height (marginal), and
religiosity were significant, and therefore all of these vari-
ables accounted for unique variation in the prediction of
asexuality. As in women, health was not significant.
However, similar to the results for women, when social
class and education were eliminated from the regression
equation, health was significant, suggesting again that
health and social class (and educational attainment) are
related (e.g.. Link & Phelan, 1995; Ross & Van Willigen,
45
Table 2. Logistic Regressions of Sexual Attraction
(0 = sexual, 1 = asexual) in Women and Men,
With All Predictors Entered
' Both lower SES and lower education were related to health problems in this
sample (r= .142,p< .001 and r= .\%6,p<
.001,
respectively).
*
To correct for differential response between regions and differential selec-
tion probabilities, I weighted the data using a weight suggested by Wellings et al.
(1994).
The results were very similar to the unweighted analyses.
' In additional logistic regression analyses, the participants who had been
eliminated because of language, literacy, and interview problems were included
and then these variables were controlled for (i.e., entered as simultaneous predic-
tors) to see if the results would be affected. For example, I wanted to test ttie idea
that perhaps one of the reasons low education (and low SES) relates to asexuali-
ty is that people with low education (and/or SES) may be more likely to misun-
derstand the question and thus indicate erroneously that they are asexual.
However, after this test, all the relationships for both women and men remained
significant, including education and SES (bothps < .001).
Predictor
Women's analysis
Age
SES
Education
Race/ethnicity
Health
Height
Weight
Menarche
Religiosity
Men's analysis
Age
SES
Education
Race/ethnicity
Health
Height
Weight
Religiosity
B
0.02
-0.24
-0.28
1.51
0.31
-3.06
-0.00
0.18
0.09
-0.01
-0.37
-0.43
0.66
0.43
-3.20
0.01
0.14
SE
0.01
0.06
0.09
0.28
0.24
1.36
0.01
0.06
0.04
0.01
0.09
0.12
0.47
0.36
1.89
0.01
0.06
Wald
5.53
18.44
11.01
28.66
1.66
5.06
0.19
9.82
6.37
1.07
16.62
13.10
2.02
1.46
2.87
0.31
6.70
P
= .019
<.OO1
<.OO1
<.OO1
ns
= .024
ns
= .002
= .012
ns
<.OO1
<.OO1
ns
ns
= .09
ns
= .01
1.02
0.79
0.75
4.52
1.34
0.05
1.00
1.20
1.09
0.99
1.27
1.54
1.94
1.54
0.41
1.01
1.15
Note. Education varies from 1 {none/no exams passed) to 5 {degree);
SES varies from 1 {other) to 7 {professional); race/ethnicity is 0 =
White and 1 = non-White; religiosity refers to the frequency of atten-
dance at religious services and varies from 0 = never to 7 = once a
week or more; B represents the change in the logarithmic odds of
asexuality for a one-unit increase in the corresponding predictor,
with all other predictors in the model controlled for; SE is the stan-
dard error for each B; Wald statistic is the statistical quantity used to
determine the significance level (/?) of each predictor variable; e^ is
the multiplicative change in the odds of asexuality for a one-unit
increase in the corresponding predictor.
284
Asexuality
DISCUSSION
This study investigated asexuality, defined as a lack of sexu-
al attraction for either sex, in a national probability sample.
A significant minority (1.05%) of people reported that they
had never felt sexual attraction to anyone at all. This rate of
asexuality was similar to the rate of same-sex attraction. It is
interesting to speculate why asexual people have been over-
looked when discussions of sexual variability are presented.
Perhaps this group is relatively invisible because their incli-
nations do not lead to overt sociosexual activities that would
bring attention to their
activities.
The absence of sexual activ-
ities and the inclinations that induce this absence are not like-
ly to bring pubUc attention or scrutiny, either positive or neg-
ative. Neither, of course, has it been illegal or perceived as
morally wrong to have such inclinations. Therefore, unlike
other sexual minorities (e.g., gay people), asexual individu-
als would not have had to face public scrutiny from the press,
religious institutions, or the legal system. (TTiis is not to say,
of course, that in their private and family lives asexual peo-
ple have not felt pressure to take on traditional sexual and
reproductive roles.) In addition, until recently sexual surveys
using national probability samples were not conducted, so
the vast majority of sexual studies using convenience sam-
ples of volunteers probably did not include many asexual
people. Research shows, for example, that those who choose
to participate in a sexual study have more sexual experience
(e.g., more partners) and are more interested in sexual activ-
ity than those who do not participate (Bogaert, 1996;
Morokoff,
1986; Saunders, Fisher, Hewitt, & Clayton, 1985).
Indeed, it is interesting to speculate about whether the rate of
asexuality is actually higher than reported here given that
some of the participants who declined to participate in this
survey (about 30%) could also be asexual.
This study provided a prehminary examination of some of
the factors associated with asexuaiity. A variety of demo-
graphic (gender, social class, education, and race-ethnicity),
physical development (height and menarche onset), health,
and religiosity variables predicted asexuality. It is interesting
that many of these variables independently predicted asexu-
ality. This suggests that there may be a number of indepen-
dent developmental pathways, perhaps both biological and
psychosocial, leading to asexuality. Even the physical devel-
opment and health variables—^late menarche, a shorter
stature, and health problems in women and a shorter stature
and health problems in men—independently predicted asex-
uality. This suggests that physical development factors that
are independent of general debilitating illnesses (which may
lower sex drive or interest) may affect growth and develop-
ment mechanisms related to sexual orientation (e.g., anterior
hypothalamus; see LeVay, 1991). These findings also add to
a growing body of literature showing that the development of
sexual attraction to adult men and women along with some
atypical sexual proclivities may be partly biologically based
and determined prior to birth (e.g., Bogaert, 2001; Bogaert,
2003a; Ellis & Ames, 1987; Lalumiere, Blanchard, &
Zucker, 2000; Williams et al., 2000).
The results regarding the demographic variables sug-
gest that one pathway to asexuality may relate to an envi-
ronment different from a traditional middle-class or upper-
middle-class White home (e.g., one with fewer resources).
I found large differences between asexual and sexual peo-
ple in education and social class, with asexual people tend-
ing to score lower on these demographic variables. This
suggests that the educational system and the home envi-
ronment play fundamental roles in typical sexual develop-
ment, and that alterations of these circumstances can have
a profound effect on basic sexual attraction processes.
Moreover, the fact that the social class-asexuality and edu-
cation-asexuality relationships remained significant when
I controlled for general physical health suggests that these
relationships do not occur merely because people with
serious health problems, which may contribute to asexual-
ity, are less likely to be able to attain a higher education or
improve their life circumstances. Rather, these results sug-
gest that the health problems of some asexual people may
be the result of disadvantaged economic and social condi-
tions.
It is difficult to know what aspects of the education-
al and home environments may contribute to asexuality. As
mentioned earlier, perhaps processes related to exposure to
and famiharity with peers (see Bem, 1996; Storms, 1981)
are altered when the home and educational environment
are atypical. It is also important to point out that an atypi-
cal home environment for asexual people may have
occurred prior to childhood during gestation, as might be
expected if an altered prenatal milieu (e.g., altered prena-
tal hormones) partly underlies asexuality and other atypi-
cal sexual inclinations (e.g., Bogaert, 2001; Ellis & Arnes,
1987;
Lalumiere et al., 2000; Williams et al., 2000).
Gender was also an important predictor of asexuality.
More women than men reported being asexual. This differ-
ence may be a reflection of gender roles and/or sexual strate-
gies in which men are or at least are expected to be more sex-
ual than women. If so, perhaps some women have internal-
ized to an extreme degree, and hence "overadapted" to, these
feminine roles or strategies (e.g., Mazur, 1986). Some
research has also suggested that women's sexuality (or at
least their sex drive) is more "plastic" than men's sexuality
(e.g., Baumeister, 2000). Thus, cultural influences may have
a more profound effect on women's sexuality than on men's;
as a result, more women than men may become asexual if
hfe circumstances are atypical. A related explanation is that
women relative to men may be less Ukely to label males or
females as salient sexual objects and hence may report them-
selves as having no attraction to either sex because they may
not be as aware of their own sexual arousal as men are, even
under conditions when genital responses are occurring (e.g.,
Heimen, 1977; Laan et al., 1994). A third possibility is that
women may have fewer conditioning experiences (e.g., mas-
turbation) relevant to sexual orientation development and this
may lead to an increased likelihood of asexuality, along with
other conditions.
Another possibility is that our conception of sexual ori-
entation as an attraction to another person does not ade-
Bogaert
285
quately address some women's subjective experience of
sexual arousal and attraction. Traditional sexual orienta-
tion questions have an inherent "target-oriented" view of
sexual response and arousal; that is, they imply that sexu-
al response and arousal must be directed toward or target-
ed to someone or to a particular sex. These questions may
not adequately capture the nature of some women's sexu-
ality. The distinction between proceptive and receptive
sexual desire may be relevant in this regard (Beach, 1976;
Wallen, 1995). Proceptive desire—the urge to seek out and
initiate sexual activity—may be more common in men than
in women, whereas receptive desire—the capacity to
become aroused upon encountering certain sexual circum-
stances—may characterize women's sexuality more than
men's (e.g., Baumeister, 2000; Diamond, 2003). Proceptive
desire relative to receptive desire may be more conducive to
a target-oriented view of sexual arousal and thus may cap-
ture the traditional and hence more male-oriented concep-
tions of sexual attraction. It is also interesting that recent
data using psychophysical measures of genital response
are challenging the assumption that women's sexual
arousal patterns are like men's (Chivers, Rieger, Latty, &
Bailey, in press). Chivers et al. (in press) have found that,
unlike those of men, women's sexual arousal patterns are
not primarily targeted toward the other sex (i.e., sex-spe-
cific).
Instead, women have a bisexual arousal pattern to
sexual stimuli, being physiologically aroused to both male
and female stimuli. How these findings relate to the pre-
sent gender difference in asexuality is unknown, but they
do underscore the fact that sexual arousal and attraction
processes may play fundamentally different roles in men's
and women's sexuality.
Contrary to prediction, a younger age was not related to
asexuality. In fact, asexual people were slightly older than
sexual people. This result does not give support to the idea
that many asexual individuals are "presexual" or in an
early developmental stage prior to adult-oriented sexual
attraction. Thus, although adolescents and some young
adults probably vary in their awareness or experience of
first sexual attraction (with a variety of social and psycho-
logical circumstances and biological aspects contributing
to such awareness or experience), it would seem that most
of the asexual individuals in this sample probably had had
enough time to encounter the necessary circumstances to
initiate sexual attraction experiences. Either they did not
want to enter into such circumstances because of their
asexual natures, or they had passed a critical age window
beyond which these social and psychological circum-
stances were no longer sufficient to initiate sexual attrac-
tion to others.
The present study attempted to begin to explore factors
associated with asexuality, a relatively uncharted area of
sexual variability. A first limitation of this type of
exploratory investigation is that the results are preliminary
and in need of replication. Second, although the size and
nature (national probability) of the sample make these data
the best currently available to test ideas relevant to this
investigation, there are a number of sample and survey
limitations that need to be addressed. For example, the
interview and questionnaire protocol were designed as a
general survey on sexuality and STDs (i.e., HIV/AIDS).
As a result, the questions were not specifically designed to
test issues related to the development of asexuality, and
thus a number of questions relevant to the developmental
history of sexual and asexual people (e.g., early sexual life,
fantasy, masturbation) were not included.
Some researchers may also have concerns about the
measure of asexuality used in this survey. As mentioned, a
sexual attraction measure of this kind, relative to measures
of sexual behavior and sexual self-identification, is often
the preferred method for assessing sexual orientation (e.g..
Bailey et al., 2000; Bogaert, 2003b; Money, 1988; Zucker
& Bradley, 1995). However, to increase reliability of mea-
surement and to expand this research, a number of compo-
nents of attraction (e.g., fantasy, arousal) along with a
self-
identification of asexuality should be included in future
research. It is possible that the results may differ in future
research when individuals are categorized as asexual based
on self-identification. Moreover, future research could
include measures of affectional bonding to or romantic
desire for males or females, which may still occur in asex-
ual people even though sexual attraction to males or
females may be low or nonexistent (c.f. Diamond, 2003).
Another issue regarding the measure of asexuality con-
cerns how people with other atypical sexual proclivities
might respond to the sexual attraction question used here
("I have felt sexually attracted
to..."
with options relating
to males, females, or no one at all). It is utiknown whether,
for example, some of the asexual people in this sample
pedophiles or other paraphiliacs. This is probably unlikely,
given that the statement "I never felt sexually attracted to
anyone at all" would presumably exclude not only hetero-
sexuals and homosexuals but also pedophiles and most
paraphiliacs, because these sexual tendencies usually
entail some level of human partner involvement. It is also
unlikely that a significant number of the asexuals are para-
philiacs given that most of the asexual people in this sam-
ple were women, who tend to be very underrepresented in
the incidence of paraphilias (e.g., Freund, 1994). An addi-
tional consideration is that the sample represents only a
small region of the Western world (England, Wales, &
Scotland). Other nations, including other Western nations,
may exhibit different patterns of asexuality.
Another limitation of this study is that there is likely to
be an underreporting of sensitive or socially undesirable
information, particularly because face-to-face interviews
were used. This probably results in a lowering of reports
of same-sex attraction and behavior, along with a
decreased reporting of a lack of sexual attraction (i.e.,
asexuality). Thus, as mentioned above in the context of
participation rates, the incidence of asexuality may be
higher than what is reported here. Also, any comparison
between the prevalence of asexuality and the prevalence
of same-sex attraction—similar in the present study—will
286 Asexuality
probably vary depending on the survey and the informa-
tion-gathering technique.
An additional limitation is that the data are not longitu-
dinal and the causal and temporal order of the variables is
not clear. Thus, although a number of factors are related
and independently predicted asexuality, these relationships
need further examination. For example, religious people
tended to be asexual, but it is unclear why this relationship
exists.
One possibility is that asexual people seek out (or
are accepted by) religious institutions because they offer a
supportive haven for their lifestyles. Another possibility is
that extreme religiosity contributes more directly to asexu-
ality, perhaps by reducing the tendency to admit to sexual
arousal (or at least to label it as sexual attraction) or by
restricting normal peer interactions such as dating and/or
sexual fantasy and masturbation, activities that may help
stimulate typical sexual attraction processes. A final possi-
bility is that there may be a third (unknown and unmea-
sured) variable that accounts for this relationship between
asexuality and religiosity.
Using psychophysical (e.g., phallometry) measures,
future research could evaluate the physiological arousal
and attraction patterns of asexual people. Similar to the
evidence presented here that asexual people have limited
sexual experience, an investigation of this kind would pro-
vide validation of the concept of asexuality if asexual peo-
ple showed little or no sexual response to sexual stimuli
involving (potential) partners of either sex. In addition,
such research may be able to investigate whether some
people's asexuality is best described as a "perceived" or
"reported" lack of attraction rather than a true lack of
physiological attraction to a partner of either sex. In other
words,
there may be a group of so-called "true" asexual
people (defined as those who lack sexual attraction for
partners of either sex) who show no physiological
response to stimuli with males or females as sexual targets
and another group of individuals who show typical attrac-
tion and arousal patterns and yet report, label, or perceive
themselves as being asexual for various reasons (e.g., not
aware of own arousal; deny arousal). Given that studies of
sexuality—particularly volunteer studies with invasive
procedures—select against people with low levels of sexu-
al activity (e.g., Bogaert, 1996;
Morokoff,
1986), a chal-
lenge for this type of psychophysical research would be
recruiting a sizable sample of asexual people.
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  • ... There isn't a singular definition of "normal" asexuality. There are a range of experi- ences within the orientation: some asexual individuals engage in partnered sexual activity, solitary sexual activity, or abstain from sex completely (Bogaert, 2004) However, the common thread throughout is that asexuals have never experienced sexual attraction or sexual desire throughout the course of their life (Bogaert, 2015). And while sexual interest and desire naturally fit into the definition of sexual health, the absence of desire challenges the concept of sexual orientation being cen- tered around the presence of sexual desire. ...
    ... It is also noteworthy that asexuals do enter romantic relationships. It has been found in a study done by Bogaert (2004), that up to 44% of identified asexual peo- ple in a British survey were currently in a long-term relationship or had been previ- ously. For the asexual person, the major concern for them within the relationship could be the emotional connection, rather than the sexual one. ...
    ... For the asexual person, the major concern for them within the relationship could be the emotional connection, rather than the sexual one. The result, then, is that their engagement in sexual activity could be done to please their sexual part- ner, and possibly facilitate emotional connection (Bogaert, 2004). This dynamic can offer valuable insight into how emotional intimacy and connectivity can be facilitated with or without sexual desire being present. ...
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    The working definition of sexual health published in this issue of Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity promises to advance theory, research, practice, and training. The definition implicitly assumes that desire is a requirement of healthy sexuality. Recent emergence of research and advocacy for the asexual identity challenges the contemporary definition of sexual health and offers questions for reflective practice.
  • ... In the twenty-first century, asexuality has become synonymous with sexual orientation, being described by psychologists and the asexual community as a 'lack' of sexual attraction (Bogaert 2004;AVEN 2018). 4 This definition is problematic, as it erodes individual idio- syncrasies, assumes that everybody is sexual and that sexuality is immutable. ...
    Article
    In the twenty-first century, asexuality is defined as a ‘lack’ of sexual attraction. This definition is problematic as it erodes individual idiosyncrasies, assumes that everybody is sexual and that sexuality is immutable. At this juncture, a study of female (a)sexualities i