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Asexuality and the Technology of Sex

Sex, in my mind, is probably one of the biggest contributors to the gender stereotypes we have today. It is everywhere, on everything, and in many respects the archetypal images of “feminine” and “masculine” come from what is deemed to be the most attractive to one’s potential mate, i.e. what is sexually attractive to the object of one’s desire. Thousands of companies make millions each year selling products like razors, perfume, cologne, contraceptives, and clothing. These products, which are largely determined by what is considered attractive to others, in turn serve to define what it means to be a member a particular gender. In class we have had discussions about all sorts of gender and sexual minorities. As different as all these groups are, they all have one important thing in common. They all want to have sex. What happens when you take this “fundamental” part of humanity away? You would end up with a group of individuals who are often overlooked and ignored: asexuals.

I started researching for this paper about a week ago. I thought I would take a real academic stance, learn about myself, and contribute something to the class. To be honest, I was not really surprised when I attempted to find information on asexuality and came up with little to nothing. I already guessed that the  “discussion of asexuality in academic circles is virtually non-existent, save for its occurrence in plants, worms, and other lowly critters” (Westphal). Last semester I read an entire textbook on gender and human sexuality. Asexuality was mentioned once, in a tiny little paragraph in the chapter on sexual disorders. I have been searching Bryn Mawr for relevant material since the beginning of the school year. The fruits of my labor? Four articles from popular periodicals all from 2004-2005, when David Jay’s asexuality network (AVEN) was gaining some notoriety. You’d think once the leader of the movement was on Oprah someone would decide to write something about the topic. Sadly, in this case not even Oprah is a match for society’s phobia of a sexless existence.

I can not wrap my mind around the importance placed on sex in almost every culture around the world. Sexual reproduction in animals only started 300 million years ago. Life on earth got on pretty well for the 3000 million years before the original sexual revolution (Mackay). Why then did animals develop sexual reproduction? “Biologists came up with a surprising answer: sexual reproduction reduces susceptibility to parasites. Sexual reproduction also creates new variants making extinction less likely through better adaptation to changing environments, and it dilutes disadvantageous genes” (Mackay). If sex is a natural advancement made by living organisms in order to promote the longevity of a species, does that mean that the skeptics are right? Is asexuality unnatural?

To anyone who identifies as asexual this is definitely not the case. Asexuals “view their identity as an orientation that is not freakish, temporary, or defective” (Sohn). In fact, many experts in human sexuality feel that it would be very surprising if there were not asexuals, considering the huge variations possible in human sexuality (Duenwald).  Unfortunately, there is still some stigma associated with asexuality. Any time researchers do study people who are not having sex, “it is always with the understanding that sexual inactivity is a problem that needs fixing” (Westphal). Asexuality in many respects has been treated like homosexuality, as something that can and should be fixed, instead of something that is a natural part of one’s genetic make-up at birth.

Just as asexuality is a natural development, technology can also be seen as a an extension of humanity, meaning technology is playing a large role in how humans are evolving. As a worldwide community, we have created nonsexual ways of reproducing. For the human species, reproduction without the act of sex is a novel idea built on thoroughly modern technology. Maybe the existence of asexuality is nature’s way of telling us that sexual reproduction is on it’s way out and the test tube is on it’s way in. The repercussions this would have for society’s construct of gender would be enormous. Women would no longer have to sacrifice career for family.  Many of the gender driven products on the market today would be obsolete. And just think of all the extra time each individual would gain once they were no longer preoccupied by sex!

So, at least for now, I think I’ll choose to look at the asexual “condition” this way: Asexuals are members of the X-Men. The world simply does not yet understand the benefits of their genetic super power, the ability to abstain from sex without exerting any effort.

Consulted Works:

Bergeson, Laine. “Asexual Healing.” Utne. Topeka: Mar/Apr. 2005. Iss. 128; pg 22

Duenwald, Mary. “For Them Just Saying No is Easy.” The New York Times. New York. 2005

Mackay, Judith. “Why Have Sex?” British Medical Journal. London: Mar 10, 2001. Vol 322, Iss 7286; pg 623

Sohn, Amy. “Shifting to Neutral.” New York. New York: Mar 7, 2005. Vol. 38, Iss: 8; pg. 58

Westphal, Sylvia. “Glad to be A.” New Scientist. London: Oct 16-Oct 22, 2004. Vol. 184. Iss 2439; pg. 38

2 Responses
  1. February 17, 2009

    What about the fun of sex? I wouldn’t suggest that asexuality is abnormal or something that needs to be fixed, but I would suggest that there’s way more to sex than reproduction. Are you suggesting that technology can/should create an asexual world and that then that would rid us of many of the gender stereotypes we currently have? Would that be a good thing? I agree that many of these stereotypes do stem from the concept of sexual attraction and that the hyperfocus on this that we see in films and ads is problematic. I’m just not sure that going asexual would get rid of the stereotypes. You suggest, for example, that with technology, “Women would no longer have to sacrifice career for family.” That might be true if they didn’t reproduce at all; however, if a couple creates a child through technological means, there’s still a child to raise and that’s where the trouble really begins!

    One thing that your paper makes me think of, then, is the relationship between sexuality and gender roles. In what way does sexuality contribute to the roles men and women tend to assume? Is this different for asexuals? Homosexuals? Transgendered people? Or is it the case that sexuality has nothing to do with those roles? As you can see, your paper has raised many questions for me!

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