- Understanding Asexuality by Anthony F. Bogaert
Asexuality is a sexual orientation that is often overlooked; it has garnered little attention from the scientific community compared to other sexual orientations. Queer theorists especially would benefit from familiarizing themselves with asexuality because it challenges heteronormative norms and, like people of other minority sexual orientations, asexual people are faced with oppression and systematic erasure. It is of no small importance that Understanding Asexuality is the first academic book published on the topic. In this book, Anthony F. Bogaert, a professor of human sexuality, delivers an important theoretical introduction to asexuality for scholars and the general public, as well as asexuals themselves. There is an informal and conversational tone to the book that makes it accessible to all these audiences, while still being professional in its discussion of the extant, if sparse, research.
Bogaert opens with explaining why asexuality is a topic of interest in sex research—chiefly that it informs the study of sexuality itself. The following chapter, “The A, B, C and Ds of Sex (and Asex),” will prove most informative to people who are newcomers to gender and sexuality studies. The concepts of sexual attraction, arousal, behavior, cognition, desire, identity, and pleasure are each defined as unique facets of sexuality. Bogaert explains these concepts with ease, without diminishing their complexity. He affirms that a lack of sexual attraction—and not the absence of sexual behavior, as an asexual person may engage in sex for various reasons such as pleasing a partner or releasing physical tension—is the defining characteristic of asexuality. In that vein, he establishes that sexual attraction and romantic attraction are different concepts: asexuals have needs for intimacy as everyone else. He also hypothesizes that asexuality is the only sexual orientation that is not fluid but rather stable throughout time.
In Chapter 3, Bogaert delves into the biological factors that may explain asexuality, noting that it is a normal sexual variation in the animal kingdom, and follows with a discussion on the prevalence of asexuality. In one Australian and [End Page 175] one British study using national samples that were representative of each population, 0.4 to 1.05 percent of participants reported never having felt sexually attracted to anyone. Chapter 5 elaborates on the reasons why some asexuals masturbate, and how that does not invalidate asexuality as a sexual orientation given that their absence of sexual attraction to others remains. This is an important point to make as the term “asexual” seems to imply an absence of all sexuality.
Bogaert explains the differences between the concepts of sex and gender in Chapter 6. Sex researchers and queer theorists alike will appreciate Bogaert’s discussion of sex as a nonbinary and his acknowledgement of the existence of intersex and trans people. He hypothesizes that the processes underlying asexuality may also underlie gender identity formation since a certain percentage of asexual persons in that sample chose not to identify as either men or women. A possibility the author does not suggest is that this may also be caused by self-identified asexuals’ awareness of sex as a binary construct and their willingness to identify within this binary. Nonetheless, this has interesting implications for future research.
In Chapter 7, Bogaert maintains that the issue of being a sexual minority in a heterosexist world persists for asexuals. He establishes links between LGBT identity formation and the possible sexual identity formation of asexuals, while still acknowledging that sexuality, as it may be seen as a nonissue by asexuals, may not be a relevant construct in their self-definition/identity forging. Others may still feel a need for belonging to a community, to discover oneself and to defend against medicalization (as asexuality may be mistaken for or misdiagnosed as hypoactive sexual desire disorder). The weaknesses of this chapter include a too-brief discussion of the steps of “coming out” and a lack of cited research on identity formation. One of its strengths is Bogaert’s mention of the online asexual community, AVEN (the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network), which provides a useful...