Freedom, Invisibility, and Community: A Qualitative Study of Self-Identification with Asexuality

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgments

The authors wish to acknowledge the helpful suggestions and feedback received from the reviewers.

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Correspondence to Pádraig MacNeela.

Appendix: Questions Used in Online Survey

Appendix: Questions Used in Online Survey

  1. 1.

    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?

  2. 2.

    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.

  3. 3.

    Thinking about your national/ethnic culture, could you briefly describe how asexuality is viewed?

  4. 4.

    If you have a particular religious/spiritual outlook, does this outlook impact on how you view yourself as an asexual?

  5. 5.

    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.

  6. 6.

    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.?

  7. 7.

    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.

  8. 8.

    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?”).

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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

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Keywords

  • Asexuality
  • Sexual identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Internet communities
  • Identity process theory