Current definitions of asexuality focus on sexual attraction, sexual behavior, and lack of sexual orientation or sexual excitation; however, the extent to which these definitions are accepted by self-identified asexuals is unknown. The goal of Study 1 was to examine relationship characteristics, frequency of sexual behaviors, sexual difficulties and distress, psychopathology, interpersonal functioning, and alexithymia in 187 asexuals recruited from the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN). Asexual men (n = 54) and women (n = 133) completed validated questionnaires online. Sexual response was lower than normative data and was not experienced as distressing, and masturbation frequency in males was similar to available data for sexual men. Social withdrawal was the most elevated personality subscale; however, interpersonal functioning was in the normal range. Alexithymia was elevated in 12%. Social desirability was also in the normal range. Study 2 was designed to expand upon these quantitative findings with 15 asexuals from Study 1 through in-depth telephone interviews. The findings suggest that asexuality is best conceptualized as a lack of sexual attraction; however, asexuals varied greatly in their experience of sexual response and behavior. Asexuals partnered with sexuals acknowledged having to “negotiate” sexual activity. There were not higher rates of psychopathology among asexuals; however, a subset might fit the criteria for Schizoid Personality Disorder. There was also strong opposition to viewing asexuality as an extreme case of sexual desire disorder. Finally, asexuals were very motivated to liaise with sex researchers to further the scientific study of asexuality.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Note that whereas in prior research this group was defined as “non-asexual,” the preferred term used among the asexual community is “sexuals” (Jay, 2005). This term will, therefore, be employed throughout this article.
Phenomenological qualitative researchers use the term “lived experience” to reflect the immediate experience itself plus the reflective meanings of it. It derives from philosophical German. Originally, the term “erleben” was used in this context to refer to “to live and to see,” referring to the experience plus the meaning that one makes of that experience. In its translation to English, the term “lived experience” was the result.
Alden, L. E., Wiggins, J. S., & Pincus, A. L. (1990). Construction of circumplex scales for the inventory of interpersonal problems. Journal of Personality Assessment, 55, 521–536.
American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.
Bagby, R. M., Parker, J. D. A., & Taylor, G. J. (1994). The twenty-item Toronto Alexithymia Scale-I. Item selection and cross-validation of the factor structure. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 38, 23–32.
Bancroft, J., Loftus, J., & Long, J. S. (2003). Distress about sex: A national survey of women in heterosexual relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32, 193–208.
Basson, R. (2000). The female sexual response: A different model. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 26, 51–65.
Basson, R. (2002). A model of women’s sexual arousal. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 28, 1–10.
Baumeister, R. F. (2000). Gender differences in erotic plasticity: The female sex drive as socially flexible and responsive. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 347–374.
Beck, A. T., Steer, R. A., & Brown, G. K. (1996). Beck Depression Inventory—second edition manual. San Antonio, TX: Psychological Corporation.
Bem, D. J. (1996). Exotic becomes erotic: A developmental theory of sexual orientation. Psychological Review, 103, 320–335.
Bogaert, A. F. (2004). Asexuality: Prevalence and associated factors in a national probability sample. Journal of Sex Research, 41, 279–287.
Bogaert, A. F. (2006). Toward a conceptual understanding of asexuality. Review of General Psychology, 10, 241–250.
Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss. Vol. 1. Attachment. New York: Basic Books.
Brody, S. (2003). Alexithymia is inversely associated with women’s frequency of vaginal intercourse. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32, 73–77.
Burch, R. (1990). Phenomenology, lived experience: Taking a measure of the topic. Phenomenology and Pedagogy, 8, 130–160.
Cappelleri, J. C., Rosen, R. C., Smith, M. D., Mishra, A., & Osterloh, I. H. (1999). Diagnostic evaluation of the erectile function domain of the International Index of Erectile Function. Urology, 54, 346–351.
Cass, V. (1979). Homosexual identity formation: A theoretical model. Journal of Homosexuality, 4, 219–235.
Chang, J. J. (2006, March 23). Sexless and proud. 20/20. Retrieved June 2, 2007, from http://abcnews.go.com/2020/Sex/Story?id=1759069&page=1.
Chivers, M. L., Rieger, G., Latty, E., & Bailey, J. M. (2004). A sex difference in the specificity of sexual arousal. Psychological Science, 15, 736–744.
Chivers, M. L., Seto, M. C., Lalumiere, M. L., Laan, E., & Grimbos, T. (2008). Agreement of genital and subjective measures of sexual arousal: A meta-analysis. Manuscript submitted for publication.
Derogatis, L. R., & Melisataros, N. (1979). The DSFI: A multidimensional measure of sexual functioning. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 5, 244–281.
Derogatis, L. R., Rosen, R., Leiblum, S., Burnett, A., & Heiman, J. (2002). The Female Sexual Distress Scale (FSDS): Initial validation of a standardized scale for assessment of sexually related personal distress in women. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 28, 317–330.
Diamond, L. M. (2003). What does sexual orientation orient? A biobehavioral model distinguishing romantic love and sexual desire. Psychological Review, 110, 173–192.
Diamond, L. M. (2005). A new view of lesbian subtypes: Stable vs. fluid identity trajectories over an 8-year period. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29, 119–128.
Frohlich, P., & Meston, C. (2002). Sexual functioning and self-reported depressive symptoms among college women. Journal of Sex Research, 39, 321–325.
Furman, W., & Wehner, E. A. (1994). Romantic views: Toward a theory of adolescent romantic relationships. In R. Montemayer, G. R. Adams, & T. P. Gullotta (Eds.), Personal relationships during adolescence (pp. 168–195). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Gerressu, M., Mercer, C. H., Graham, C. A., Willings, K., & Johnson, A. M. (2008). Prevalence of masturbation and associated factors in a British national probability survey. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 37, 266–278.
Graham, C. A., Sanders, S. A., Milhausen, R. R., & McBride, K. R. (2004). Turning on and turning off: A focus group study of the factors that affect women’s sexual arousal. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 33, 527–538.
Hazan, C., & Zeifman, D. (1994). Sex and the psychological tether. In D. Perlman & K. Bartholomew (Eds.), Advances in personal relationships: A research annual (Vol. 5, pp. 151–177). London: Jessica Kingsley.
Herdt, G., & McClintock, M. K. (2000). The magical age of 10. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 29, 587–606.
Horowitz, L. M., Alden, L. E., Wiggins, J. S., & Pincus, A. L. (2000). Inventory of Interpersonal Problems manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Corporation.
Horowitz, L. M., Rosenburg, S. E., Baer, B. A., Ureno, G., & Villasenor, V. S. (1988). Inventory of interpersonal problems: Psychometric properties and clinical implications. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 56, 885–892.
Ingudomnukul, E., Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., & Knickmeyer, R. (2007). Elevated rates of testosterone-related disorders in women with autism spectrum conditions. Hormones and Behavior, 51, 597–604.
Janssen, E., Vorst, H., Finn, P., & Bancroft, J. (2002). The Sexual Inhibition (SIS) and Sexual Excitation (SES) Scales: I. Measuring sexual inhibition and excitation proneness in men. Journal of Sex Research, 39, 114–126.
Jay, D. (2005). Asexuality visibility and education network. Retrieved February 20, 2006, from http://asexuality.org/home/content/section/6/28/index.php?option=com_content&task=section&id=6&Itemid=28.
Kessler, R. C., Demler, O., Frank, R. G., Olfson, M., Pincus, H. A., Walters, E. E., et al. (2005). Prevalence and treatment of mental disorders, 1990–2003. New England Journal of Medicine, 352, 2515–2523.
King, M., Holt, V., & Nazareth, I. (2007). Women’s views of their sexual difficulties: Agreement and disagreement with clinical diagnoses. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 36, 281–288.
Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., & Martin, C. E. (1948). Sexual behavior in the human male. Philadelphia: Saunders.
McClintock, M. K., & Herdt, G. (1996). Rethinking puberty: The development of sexual attraction. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 5, 178–183.
McConaghy, N., & Armstrong, M. S. (1983). Sexual orientation and consistency of sexual identity. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 12, 317–327.
Meston, C. M., & Buss, D. M. (2007). Why humans have sex. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 36, 477–507.
Meyer-Bahlburg, H. F., & Dolezal, C. (2007). The Female Sexual Function Index: A methodological critique and suggestions for improvement. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 33, 217–224.
Michetti, P. M., Rossi, R., Bonanno, D., Tiesi, A., & Simonelli, C. (2006). Male sexuality and regulation of emotions: A study on the association between alexithymia and erectile dysfunction (ED). International Journal of Impotence Research, 18, 170–174.
Mohr, J. J. (2002). Heterosexual identity and the heterosexual therapist: An identity perspective on sexual orientation dynamics in psychotherapy. Counseling Psychologist, 30, 532–566.
Morey, L. C. (1991a). Personality Assessment Inventory: Professional manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.
Morey, L. C. (1991b). The Personality Assessment Screener: Professional manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.
Muehlenhard, C. L., & Peterson, Z. D. (2005). Wanting and not wanting sex: The missing discourse of ambivalence. Feminism and Psychology, 15, 15–20.
Mustanski, B. S. (2001). Getting wired: Exploiting the internet for collection of valid sexuality data. Journal of Sex Research, 38, 292–301.
Oliver, M. B., & Hyde, J. S. (1993). Gender differences in sexuality: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 114, 29–51.
O’Sullivan, L. F., & Allgeier, E. R. (1998). Feigning sexual desire: Consenting to unwanted sexual activity in heterosexual dating relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 35, 234–243.
Parker, J. D. A., Taylor, G. J., & Bagby, R. M. (2003). The 20-item Toronto Alexithymia Scale III. Reliability and factorial validity in a community population. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 55, 269–275.
Paulhus, D. L. (1988). Assessing self-deceptive enhancement and impression management in self-reports: The Balanced Inventory of Desirable Responding. Unpublished manual. University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.
Prause, N., & Graham, C. A. (2007). Asexuality: Classification and characterization. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 36, 341–356.
Reece, M., Milhausen, R. R., & Perera, B. (2006). A theory-based approach to understanding sexual behavior at Mardi Gras. Journal of Sex Research, 43, 97–106.
Rosen, R., Brown, C., Heiman, J., Leiblum, S., Meston, C., Shabsigh, R., et al. (2000). The Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI): A multidimensional self-report instrument for the assessment of female sexual function. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 26, 191–208.
Rosen, R. C., Riley, A., Wagner, G., Osterloh, I. H., Kirkpatrick, J., & Mishra, A. (1997). The International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF): A multidimensional scale for assessment of erectile dysfunction. Urology, 49, 822–830.
Rothblum, E. D., & Brehony, K. A. (1993). Boston marriages: Romantic but asexual relationships among contemporary lesbians. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press.
Sandelowski, M. (1995). Sample size in qualitative research. Research in Nursing and Health, 18, 179–183.
Shively, M., & De Cecco, J. (1977). Components of sexual identity. Journal of Homosexuality, 1, 41–48.
Storch, E. A., Roberti, J. W., & Roth, D. A. (2004). Factor structure, concurrent validity, and internal consistency of the Beck Depression Inventory-Second Edition in a sample of college students. Depression and Anxiety, 19, 187–189.
Storms, M. D. (1980). Theories of sexual orientation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38, 783–792.
Tolman, D. L., & Szalacha, L. A. (1999). Dimensions of desire: Bridging qualitative and quantitative methods in a study of female adolescent sexuality. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 23, 7–39.
Udry, J. R. (1988). Biological predispositions and social control in adolescent sexual behavior. American Sociological Review, 53, 709–722.
van Manen, M. (1990). Researching lived experience: Human science for an action sensitive pedagogy. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Wiegel, M., Meston, C., & Rosen, R. (2005). The Female Sexual Function Index (FSFI): Cross-validation and development of clinical cutoff scores. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 31, 1–20.
Wolchik, S. A., Braver, S. L., & Jensen, K. (1985). Volunteer bias in erotica research: Effects of intrusiveness of measure and sexual background. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 14, 93–107.
Zemishlany, Z., & Weizman, A. (2008). The impact of mental illness on sexual dysfunction. Advances in Psychosomatic Medicine, 29, 89–106.
About this article
Cite this article
Brotto, L.A., Knudson, G., Inskip, J. et al. Asexuality: A Mixed-Methods Approach. Arch Sex Behav 39, 599–618 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-008-9434-x