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Monday Reviews: Understanding Asexuality

December 03, 2012

Every Monday, The CSPH takes a look at a book or film focusing on an aspect of sexuality. This week, we will be taking a look at Understanding Asexuality by Anthony F. Bogaert.

“Asexuality” is one of many sexual minorities that are moving to be seen, heard, and respected in mainstream culture, and asexuality in particular comes with a lot of questions, skepticism, and misconceptions. This thin but factually dense book is written as an introduction to the concept of asexuality for sexual people—it’s meant to help sexual people learn what being asexual means and what it entails. For instance, do asexual people masturbate or experience sexual pleasure of any kind? Do they fall in love, and with whom? And is “asexuality” a sexual orientation, in need of a “coming out” process? Bogaert, a professor of Human Sexuality and a leading asexuality researcher, seeks to use data and argument to answer these and more questions.

From the book’s introduction, Bogaert shows that he is accustomed to having to defend “human sexuality” as a worthwhile academic subject, while also offering a defense for studying asexuality specifically. Setting the tone for the rest of the book, Bogaert brings up opinions and arguments that run counter to his own, addressing them systemically. Additionally, Bogaert exhibits his skills as an academic and a researcher, as most of what he says is carefully backed up by data that he or others have collected. Employing humor and conversational language in Understanding Asexuality, Bogaert makes this book readable for those without a research background.

Bogaert would not have been able to write a book about “asexuality” if it were not, like most things sex-related, a nuanced term. First, he parses out “romantic” and “sexual” attraction, explaining that some people who are asexual can and do feel romantic attraction to others without sexual attraction. In addition, some asexual people experience sexual desire, but it is not related to the desire for a specific person. With the subsequent chapters, he talks about the history of asexuality, its prevalence, the self-definition vs. the scientific definition of “asexual”, celibacy vs. asexuality, the masturbation question, the asexual identity, and much more.

For the reader who is already interested in or studying human sexuality, the first few chapters of Understanding Asexuality may feel redundant. As I would suspect that most people who pick up an academic book about asexuality are already curious about sexuality in general, the time that Bogaert spends convincing the reader that it is, in fact, worth studying may drag on too long. However, for many people interested in sexuality who are often asked the same questions that Bogaert describes about the validity of the field, he provides great ammunition for debates. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in seeing the cutting edge of the asexuality research field in action: Bogaert provides exhaustive citations and statistics that would be difficult to come by in any other single location.