A significant body of research is now emerging on the subjective meaning of asexuality. This study explored how self-identification as asexual is managed, both as a threat to the self-concept and a source of personal meaning. A total of 66 self-identified asexuals were recruited from an asexuality internet community and responded to open-ended questions on an online survey. Of these, 31 participants identified as female, 15 as male, 18 gave a different label such as genderqueer or androgynous, and two did not provide information on gender. A thematic analysis of the transcripts resulted in three themes. Socially, asexuality attracted denial and resistance due to incompatibility with heteronormative societal expectations. Despite the threat to self-integrity arising from asexuality being socially rejected, it was typically assimilated as a valued and meaningful orientation on an intra-personal level, aided by information and support from the online community. A second level of threat to self arose whereby other self-identifications, especially gender, had to be reconciled with a non-sexual persona. The accommodation made to other elements of the self was reflected in complex sub-identities. The findings were interpreted using identity process theory to understand how threats arising from self-identifying as asexual are managed. Although asexuality emerges as an orientation to sexuality that can be reconciled with the self, its invisibility or outright rejection in society constitute an on-going challenge.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN). (2011). A history of asexuality. Retrieved August 17, 2011 from http://www.asexuality.org.
Barker, M., & Langdridge, D. (2008). Bisexuality: Working with a silenced sexuality. Feminism & Psychology, 18, 389–394.
Baumgardner, J. (2007). Look both ways: Bisexual politics. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Benet-Martinez, V., & Haritatos, J. (2005). Bicultural identity integration (BII): Components and psychological antecedents. Journal of Personality, 73, 1015–1050.
Birkett, M., Espelage, D. L., & Koening, B. (2009). LGB and questioning students in schools: The moderating effects of homophobic bullying and school climate on negative outcomes. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38, 989–1000.
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.
Bogaert, A. F. (2012). Understanding asexuality. Plymouth, England: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 77–101.
Breakwell, G. M. (1986). Coping with threatened identities. London: Methuen.
Breakwell, G. M. (1992). Processes of self-valuation: Efficacy and estrangement. In G. M. Breakwell (Ed.), Social psychology of identity and the self concept (pp. 35–55). London: Academic Press.
Breakwell, G. M. (2001). Social representational constraints upon identity processes. In K. Deaux & G. Philogene (Eds.), Representations of the social: Bridging theoretical traditions (pp. 271–284). Oxford: Blackwell.
Brotto, L. A. (2010). The DSM diagnostic criteria for hypoactive sexual desire disorder in women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 221–239.
Brotto, L. A., Knudson, G., Inskip, J., Rhodes, K., & Erskine, Y. (2010). Asexuality: A mixed-methods approach. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 599–618.
Brotto, L. A., & Yule, M. A. (2011). Physiological and subjective sexual arousal in self-identified asexual women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 699–712.
Burleson, W. E. (2005). Bi America: Myths, truths and struggles of an invisible community. New York: Haworth Press.
Campbell, J. D., Assanand, S. A., & Di Paula, A. (2003). The structure of the self-concept and its relation to psychological adjustment. Journal of Personality, 71, 115–140.
Campbell, C., & Jovchelovitch, S. (2000). Health, community, and development: Towards a social psychology of participation. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 10, 255–270.
Carrigan, M. (2011). There’s more to life than sex? Difference and commonality within the asexual community. Sexualities, 14, 462–478.
Coyle, A., & Rafalin, D. (2000). Jewish gay men’s accounts of negotiating cultural, religious, and sexual identity: A qualitative study. Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality, 12, 21–48.
Delanty, G. (2003). Belonging as communication. London: Routledge.
DeLuzio Chasin, C. J. (2011). Theoretical issues in the study of asexuality. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 713–723.
Diamond, L. M. (2004). Emerging perspectives on distinctions between romantic love and sexual desire. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13, 116–119.
Eccles, T. A., Sayegh, M. A., Fortenberry, J. D., & Zimit, G. D. (2004). More normal than not: A qualitative assessment of the developmental experiences of gay male youth. Journal of Adolescent Health, 35, 425e11–425e18.
Flowers, P., Smith, J. A., & Sheeran, P. (1999). ‘Coming out’ and sexual debut: Understanding the social context of HIV risk-related behavior. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 8, 409–421.
Harper, G. W., & Schneider, M. (2003). Oppression and discrimination among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people and communities: A challenge for community psychology. American Journal of Community Psychology, 31, 243–252.
Herek, G. M., Gillis, J. R., & Cogan, J. C. (2009). Internalised stigma among sexual minority adults: Insights from a social psychological perspective. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 56, 32–43.
Hinderliter, A. C. (2009). Methodological issues for studying asexuality [Letter to the Editor]. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38, 619–621.
Howarth, C. (2006). A social representation is not a quiet thing: Exploring the critical potential of social representations theory. British Journal of Social Psychology, 45, 65–86.
Jaspal, R. (2012). “I never faced up to being gay”: Sexual, religious and ethnic identities among British Indian and British Pakistani men. Culture, Health, & Sexuality, 14, 767–780.
Jaspal, R., & Cinnirella, M. (2010). Coping with potentially incompatible identities: Accounts of religious, ethnic and sexual identities from British Pakistani men who identify as Muslim and gay. British Journal of Social Psychology, 49, 849–870.
Jaspal, R., & Cinnirella, M. (2012). Identity processes, threat and interpersonal relations: Accounts from British Muslim gay men. Journal of Homosexuality, 59, 215–240.
Jaspal, R., & Siraj, A. (2011). Perceptions of ‘coming out’ among British Muslim gay men. Psychology & Sexuality, 2, 183–197.
Mitchell, K. R., Mercer, C. H., Wellings, K., & Johnson, A. M. (2009). Prevalence of low sexual desire among women in Britain: Associated factors. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6, 2434–2444.
Moradi, B., Mohr, J. J., Worthington, R. L., & Fassinger, R. E. (2009). Counseling psychology research on sexual (orientation) minority issues: Conceptual and methodological challenges and opportunities. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 56, 5–22.
Narvaez, R. F., Meyer, I. H., Kertzner, R. M., Ouellette, S. C., & Gordon, A. R. (2009). A qualitative approach to the intersection of sexual, ethnic, and gender identities. Identity, 9, 63–86.
Poston, D. L., & Baumle, A. K. (2010). Patterns of asexuality in the United States. Demographic Research, 23, 509–530.
Prause, N., & Graham, C. A. (2007). Asexuality: Classification and characterization. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 36, 341–356.
Ross, M. W. (2005). Typing, doing, and being: Sexuality and the internet. Journal of Sex Research, 42, 342–352.
Scherrer, K. S. (2008). Coming to an asexual identity: Negotiating identity, negotiating desire. Sexualities, 11, 621–641.
Smith, J. A., Flowers, P., & Larkin, M. (2009). Interpretative phenomenological analysis: Theory, method, research. London: Sage.
Smith, A. M. A., Rissel, C. E., Richters, J., Grulich, A. E., & De Visser, R. O. (2003). Sex in Australia: Sexual identity, sexual attraction and sexual experience among a representative sample of adults. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 27, 138–145.
Stephens, C. (2007). Community as practice: Social representations of community and their implications for health promotion. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 17, 103–114.
Sternberg, R. J. (1986). A triangular theory of love. Psychological Review, 93, 119–135.
Taulke-Johnson, R. (2008). Moving beyond homophobia, harassment and intolerance: Gay male university students’ alternative narratives. Discourse, 29, 121–133.
Timotijevic, L., & Breakwell, G. M. (2000). Migration and threat to identity. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 10, 355–372.
Turner, A. J., & Coyle, A. (2000). What does it mean to be a donor offspring? The identity experiences of adults conceived by donor insemination and the implications for counselling and therapy. Human Reproduction, 15, 2041–2051.
Vignoles, V. L., Regalia, C., Manzi, C., Golledge, J., & Scabini, E. (2006). Beyond self-esteem: Influence of multiple motives on identity construction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 308–333.
Williams, T., Connolly, J., Pepler, D., & Craig, W. (2005). Peer victimization, social support, and psychosocial adjustment of sexual minority adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 34, 471–482.
Worthington, R. L., & Reynolds, A. L. (2009). Within-group differences in sexual orientation and identity. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 56, 44–55.
The authors wish to acknowledge the helpful suggestions and feedback received from the reviewers.
Appendix: Questions Used in Online Survey
Appendix: Questions Used in Online Survey
Does gender relate to your experience as an asexual? If you identify with the female gender, what is distinctive about being a woman who is asexual, or if you identify with the male gender, what is distinctive about being a man who is asexual?
Does your age affect your experience of being asexual? For instance, if there is something distinctive about being asexual at your current stage of life, or if your age affects the way in which other people respond to your asexuality.
Thinking about your national/ethnic culture, could you briefly describe how asexuality is viewed?
If you have a particular religious/spiritual outlook, does this outlook impact on how you view yourself as an asexual?
How does asexuality affect the way you relate to non-asexual people generally? We don’t presume it does have an effect, but if it does please give some details. If you have disclosed your asexual identity to people who are not asexual, please reflect on their reactions to your disclosure.
How does asexuality affect the way you relate to non-asexual friends and family members? If it does, please give some details. What are your views about disclosing your asexual identity to friends, work mates, family members, etc.?
What do you associate with the idea of the asexual community? For instance, degree of mutual support, availability/access to support, positive support/limitations, identifying with the community, nature of the asexual community.
How does asexuality relate to your self-concept (e.g., your personal identity, beliefs about yourself, who you are as a person)? Please try to describe how asexuality relates to who you are as a person.
Note Specific prompts were included with each question (e.g., prompts for the final question included “In your experience, what challenges come with being asexual?”, “Has your identity as an asexual evolved over time?”, “In your view, what positive things has being asexual brought?”).
About this article
Cite this article
MacNeela, P., Murphy, A. Freedom, Invisibility, and Community: A Qualitative Study of Self-Identification with Asexuality. Arch Sex Behav 44, 799–812 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-014-0458-0
- Sexual identity
- Sexual orientation
- Internet communities
- Identity process theory