The People Who Do Not Want Sex

June 23, 2016

Michael J Dore was 14 when he first sensed that he was not like the other teenagers attending his all-boy school in London. While many of the other students would discuss the girls they hoped to kiss at the weekend, or cluster around pornographic magazines, Dore felt nothing of the blossoming, unfamiliar interest in their bodies.

“I thought I might be a late bloomer or maybe gay,” he says. Neither conclusion felt quite right, however, when it came to describing the utter absence of sexual or romantic attraction that Dore felt – or rather, did not feel. “Everyone has certain people they are not sexually attracted to. For me, everyone falls into this category.” A year later, at 15, Dore invented a term to describe himself: ‘asexual’.

At the time of Dore’s revelation in the mid-1990s, there was no asexual ‘community’ comparable to that of the burgeoning LGBT communities. There were no books on asexuality in the library, and only a meagre handful of lightly probing studies had been published in academia, variously exploring cases of worms, rodents and sheep that demonstrated no attraction to either sex.

These edge cases were labelled, in the literature, as ‘duds’. While researchers were beginning to circle on the idea that some humans went through life without ever experiencing sexual attraction, a more formal and less derogatory label was yet to be coined.

“I invented the term for myself independently – or at least others did on my behalf,” says Dore, now 33, who works as a mathematician in London. “Since then I’ve discovered that many people actually invent the term for themselves. They may have heard the term in biology classes – albeit with a completely different meaning of course, that leads to the inevitable jokes about being able to split like amoebae. It just seemed like a suitable term to pick up and use.”

It wasn’t until 2004, when the Canadian academic Anthony Bogaert, published the paper ‘Asexuality: Prevalence and associated factors in a national probability sample’ that the idea that a proportion of the population may experience no sexual attraction began to spread.

Bogaert’s study, which used data collected in the 1990s from 18,000 British people, argued that around 1% of the population are asexual. Of that number, about 70% are women. The study suggested that there might be almost as many asexual people as there are gay individuals. Yet, despite the evidence, far fewer people identify as asexual as gay or bisexual.

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