Although lack of sexual attraction was first quantified by Kinsey, large-scale and systematic research on the prevalence and correlates of asexuality has only emerged over the past decade. Several theories have been posited to account for the nature of asexuality. The goal of this review was to consider the evidence for whether asexuality is best classified as a psychiatric syndrome (or a symptom of one), a sexual dysfunction, or a paraphilia. Based on the available science, we believe there is not sufficient evidence to support the categorization of asexuality as a psychiatric condition (or symptom of one) or as a disorder of sexual desire. There is some evidence that a subset of self-identified asexuals have a paraphilia. We also considered evidence supporting the classification of asexuality as a unique sexual orientation. We conclude that asexuality is a heterogeneous entity that likely meets conditions for a sexual orientation, and that researchers should further explore evidence for such a categorization.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
AVEN defines Gray A as the community of individuals who fall somewhere in the spectrum between asexual and sexual. Some, within AVEN, also refer to this as the “Ace umbrella.”
As the reviewer pointed out, it is noteworthy that the drive to seek out others with a similar disinterest in sex is so strong, and this highlights the centrality of sexuality in human experience. It may also be that such a strong sense of community helps to challenge perceived stigma against asexuality.
The authors thank Dr. Paul Vasey for suggesting this dimension of orientation.
Ahlers, C. J., Schaefer, G. A., Mundt, I. A., Roll, S., Englert, H., Willich, S. N., & Beier, K. M. (2011). How unusual are the content of paraphilias? Paraphilia-associated sexual arousal patterns in a community-based sample of men. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 8, 1362–1370.
Aicken, C. R. H., Mercer, C. H., & Cassell, J. A. (2013). Who reports absence of sexual attraction in Britain? Evidence from national probability surveys. Psychology & Sexuality, 4, 121–135.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: Author.
Asexuality on 20/20. (2006). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CeKGOMUVU7g.
AVEN Forum. (2005). Retrieved December 1, 2015, from http://www.asexuality.org/en/topic/9980-masturbating-as-what-do-you-think-about-when-masturbating/?p=237288#entry237288.
Blanchard, R. (1991). Clinical observations and systematic studies of autogynephilia. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 17, 235–251.
Blanchard, R. (2008). Review and theory of handedness, birth order, and homosexuality in men. Laterality, 13, 51–70.
Blanchard, R., & Bogaert, A. F. (1996). Homosexuality in men and number of older brothers. American Journal of Psychiatry, 153, 27–31.
Bogaert, A. F. (2003). Number of older brothers and sexual orientation: New tests and attraction/behavior distinction in two national probability samples. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 644–652.
Bogaert, A. F. (2004). Asexuality: Prevalence and associated factors in a national probability sample. Journal of Sex Research, 41, 279.
Bogaert, A. F. (2006). Toward a conceptual understanding of asexuality. Review of General Psychology, 10, 241–250.
Bogaert, A. F. (2012a). Understanding asexuality. Plymouth, UK: Rowman & Littlefield.
Bogaert, A. F. (2012b). Asexuality and autochorissexualism (identity-less sexuality). Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 1513–1514.
Bogaert, A. F. (2013). Demography of asexuality. In A. K. Baumle (Ed.), International handbook on the demography of sexuality, international handbooks of population (Vol. 5, pp. 275–288). Dordrecht: Springer.
Bogaert, A. F. (2015). Asexuality: What it is and why it matters. Journal of Sex Research, 52, 362–379.
Both, S., Everaerd, W., & Laan, E. (2007). Desire emerges from excitement: A psychophysiological perspective on sexual motivation. In E. Janssen (Ed.), The psychophysiology of sex (pp. 327–339). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
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.
Brotto, L. A., Yule, M. A., & Gorzalka, B. B. (2015). Asexuality: An extreme variant of sexual desire disorder? Journal of Sexual Medicine, 12, 646–660.
Carlson, T. (2006, March, 27). Asexuality on Tucker Carlson. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iwxo6t7XBYs.
Carrigan, M. (2011). There’s more to life than sex? Difference and commonality within the asexual community. Sexualities, 14, 462–478.
Childs, D. (2009, January, 16). Asexuals push for greater recognition. ABC News. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/MindMoodNews/asexuals-push-greater-recognition/story?id=6656358.
Cranney, S. (2016). The temporal stability of lack of sexual attraction across young adulthood. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45, 743–749. doi:10.1007/s10508-015-0583-4.
D’Augelli, A. R., & Hershberger, S. L. (1993). Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth in community settings: Personal challenges and mental health problems. American Journal of Community Psychology, 21, 421–448.
Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network Surveillance Year 2010 Principal Investigators. (2014). Prevalence of autism spectrum disorder among children aged 8 years-autism and developmental disabilities monitoring network, 11 sites, United States, 2010. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 63(2), 1.
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. (2012). The desire disorder in research on sexual orientation in women: Contributions of dynamical systems theory. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 73–83.
Gilmour, L., Schalomon, P. M., & Smith, V. (2012). Sexuality in a community based sample of adults with autism spectrum disorder. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 6, 313–318.
Ginoza, M. K., Miller, T., & Members of the AVEN Survey Team. (2014). The 2014 AVEN Community Census: Preliminary findings. Retrieved January 5, 2016, from http://www.asexualcensus.wordpress.com.
Gressgärd, R. (2013). Asexuality: From pathology to identity and beyond. Psychology and Sexuality, 4, 179–192.
Hinderliter, A. (2013). How is asexuality different from hypoactive sexual desire disorder. Psychology & Sexuality, 4, 167–178.
Hirschfeld, M. (1914). Homosexualität des Mannes und des Weibes. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.
Höglund, J., Jern, P., Sandnabba, N. K., & Santtila, P. (2014). Finnish women and men who self-report no sexual attraction in the past 12 months: Prevalence, relationship status, and sexual behavior history. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43, 879–889.
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.
Jay, D. (2008). Asexuality visibility and education network. Retrieved March 1, 2011, from http://www.asexuality.org/home/overview.html.
Johnson, M. T. (1977). Asexual and autoerotic women: Two invisible groups. In H. L. Gochros & J. S. Gochros (Eds.), The sexually oppressed (pp. 96–109). New York: Association Press.
Joyal, C. C., Cossette, A., & Lapierre, V. (2015). What exactly is an unusual sexual fantasy? Journal of Sexual Medicine, 12, 328–340.
Kinsey, A. C., Pomeroy, W. B., & Martin, C. E. (1948). Sexual behavior in the human male. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders.
Lalumière, M. L., Blanchard, R., & Zucker, K. J. (2000). Sexual orientation and handedness in men and women: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 575–592.
Lawrence, A. A. (2009). Erotic target location errors: An underappreciated paraphilic dimension. Journal of Sex Research, 46, 194–215.
LeVay, S., & Baldwin, J. (2012). Human sexuality (4th ed.). Sunderland, MA: Sinauer.
Lucassen, M. F. G., Merry, S. N., Robinson, E. M., Denny, S., Clark, T., Ameratunga, S., … Rosen, F. V. (2011). Sexual attraction, depression, self-harm, suicidality and help-seeking behaviour in New Zealand secondary school students. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 45, 376–383.
MacInnis, C. C., & Hodson, G. (2012). Intergroup bias toward “Group X”: Evidence of prejudice, dehumanization, avoidance, and discrimination against asexuals. Group Process & Intergroup Relations, 15, 725–743.
Nurius, P. S. (1983). Mental health implications of sexual orientation. Journal of Sex Research, 19, 119–136.
Ogas, O., & Gaddam, S. (2011). A billion wicked thoughts. What the Internet tells us about sexual relationships. New York: Dutton.
Poston, D. L, Jr., & 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.
Scherrer, K. S. (2008). Coming to an asexual identity: Negotiating identity, negotiating desire. Sexualities, 11, 621–641.
Seto, M. C. (2012). Is pedophilia a sexual orientation? Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 231–236.
Toomey, R. B., Ryan, C., Diaz, R. M., Card, N. A., & Russell, S. T. (2010). Gender-nonconforming lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth: School victimization and young adult psychosocial adjustment. Developmental Psychology, 46, 1580–1589.
Van Houdenhove, E., Gijs, L., T’Sjoen, G., & Enzlin, P. (2015a). Stories about asexuality: A qualitative study on asexual women. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 41, 262–281.
Van Houdenhove, E., Gijs, L., T’Sjoen, G., & Enzlin, P. (2015b). Asexuality: A multidimensional approach. Journal of Sex Research, 52, 669–678.
Westfall, S. P. (2004, October, 16). Glad to be A. New Scientist, 184, 40–43.
Williams, M. (2007, January, 4). The Montel Williams show discusses asexuality. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ErDfQMKnwSE.
Yule, M. A., Brotto, L. A., & Gorzalka, B. B. (2013). Mental health and interpersonal functioning among asexual individuals. Psychology & Sexuality, 4, 136–151. doi:10.1080/19419899.2013.774162.
Yule, M. A., Brotto, L. A., & Gorzalka, B. B. (2014a). Sexual fantasy and masturbation among asexual individuals. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 23, 89–95.
Yule, M. A., Brotto, L. A., & Gorzalka, B. B. (2014b). Biological markers of asexuality: Handedness, birth order, and finger length ratios in self-identified asexual men and women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43, 299–310.
Yule, M. A., Brotto, L. A., & Gorzalka, B. B. (in press). Sexual fantasy and masturbation among asexual individuals: An in-depth exploration. Archives of Sexual Behavior.
The authors wish to thank Tony Bogaert for providing helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. We also wish to thank Paul Vasey and an anonymous reviewer for very valuable comments that have led to a strengthened paper.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
About this article
Cite this article
Brotto, L.A., Yule, M. Asexuality: Sexual Orientation, Paraphilia, Sexual Dysfunction, or None of the Above?. Arch Sex Behav 46, 619–627 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-016-0802-7
- Sexual orientation
- Sexual dysfunction