Why are there so few asexual men?

In my analysis of the 2014 AVEN Survey of online asexual communities, I showed that only 12% of aces (aces = people on the asexual spectrum) are men.  The fraction of asexuals who are men is similar.*  Someone asked me why that is, and I thought I’d make my answer public.

*This particular datum hasn’t been reported, but I have the data right in front of me, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

Extant data

In a community survey of AVEN in 2008, 28% of asexuals were men.  Another community survey in 2011 reported 13% of aces were men.  A Spanish-language community survey in 2013 reports that 36% of asexuals were assigned male at birth.

These are all community surveys conducted online, and they only tell us about people in the various online communities.  They do not tell us about asexuals or asexual-spectrum people in general.

However, there was also an academic study conducted in 2004, based on a national probability sample in the UK in 1994.  In that study 35% of asexuals were men.  In theory, this should tell us about asexuals in general, although there are many reasons to worry about systematic biases.

Hypotheses

1. Asexuality contradicts certain ideas of what men are supposed to be like.  For example, men might be expected to be hypersexual, or they might be expected not to talk about personal feelings.  This may make men less likely to acknowledge that they are ace.  Although I could also imagine a world where this makes men more likely to realize they are different.

2. People with penises might think they simply can’t be ace.  I mean, most of these people get erections, and rates of masturbation are generally higher.  Even though these characteristics are compatible with asexuality, it may stop people from identifying with it.

3. Men are expected to initiate.  So if you’re an ace woman, you can expect lots of bothersome unwanted solicitations.  If you’re an ace man, you can just try not to think about it too hard.

4. Maybe it’s really less common amongst men.  Who can say?

5. There could be a networking effect.  In the 2014 AVEN survey, non-ace people (i.e. those not on the asexual spectrum) were encouraged to respond.  The non-ace respondents are not representative of the general population, but come from “near” the ace community (predominantly Tumblr).  17.5% of the non-ace respondents were men, which is somewhat more than the ace respondents, but still quite low.

The theory is that there are many spaces, such as Tumblr, which are for whatever reason more popular among women than men.  Because the asexual community is made up mostly of women, they will gravitate towards those spaces, generating more of a presence, and attracting even more women.

6. Even if men are identifying as asexual at rates comparable to women, it could be that they’re less likely to stay in the community for as long.  Possibly they feel less need for the community because they have fewer problems to deal with.  Alternatively, they experience more problems to deal with, within the community.

Further reading

For perspectives on the experiences of asexual men, I recommend the Asexual Archive, The Thinking Asexual, and some stuff I’ve written.

About Siggy

Siggy is a physics grad student in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and makes amateur attempts at asexual activism. His interests include godlessness, scientific skepticism, and math. While not working or blogging, he plays video and board games with his boyfriend, and folds colored squares.
This entry was posted in Articles, Intersectionality, Research and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to Why are there so few asexual men?

  1. queenieofaces says:

    Maybe a silly question, but was there a difference between the percentage of ace men coming from AVEN vs. tumblr vs. reddit? (I seem to remember there being a “which asexual communities do you engage with” question, so I assume you have that data.)

    • Siggy says:

      There are definitely cross-community differences. In the 2011 survey AVEN has 16%, Tumblr has 11%, and LiveJournal has 6% (see last page). I also think the main reason the Spanish-language survey goes as high as 36% is because it surveys a very different set of communities. The 2014 survey analysis isn’t done yet but a preliminary look reinforces the same conclusions.

      Nonetheless, the overwhelming trend is that men are a minority everywhere.

      • And anecdotally, I’d say Reddit has the highest proportion of the places I’ve hung around. I’m guessing that this is because Reddit is a place where men are likely to be anyway. They don’t have to go out of their way, and if they’re “caught”, it’s easy to make an excuse about why they’re there.

  2. Tim says:

    I have thought a lot about this before. Everything that you have mentioned is likely a factor, but I do not think that asexuality is less prevalent in men. I think it is harder for men to accept and to discover. I actually knew about asexuality 2 years before I started identifying as ace, but I assumed that it meant that you are not attracted to anyone at all (including aesthetic and platonic attraction) and do not masturbate or get erections. This thought was based on the false notion that attraction is universal being all things (sexual, romantic, aesthetic, etc.) and the same for everyone. It was only after stumbling across AVEN again that I read the description of asexuality and fell out of my chair, without differentiating between sexual attraction and aesthetic attraction I never would have known.
    Another factor in my personal experience was how insecure I was in my masculinity before I found out. Without asexuality I had no reason to feel queer, despite being pretty un straight. I was very hard on myself and my “issues” were due to me not being enough of a “man”. I was not very likely to come across asexuality while purposely entrenching myself in a hyper masculine world. More women know about asexuality than men. This is because are awareness efforts are in media that caters to women more often than to men. Also aces are usually more likely to talk about their asexuality with women rather than men because it is safer on average. I know that I have told more women myself, especially when I first started coming out. Also since men are expected to initiate, ace men can really have a difficult time dating without knowing about asexuality. I also believe that if I had had sex back in those days it would have become clear to me that this is more than just a virginity thing. This is just my opinion, but I believe that there are a lot of ace men out there who are in a lot of pain over this and the ace community as it currently stands is not the actual reflection of our demographics; which is true for ace poc too.

    • Siggy says:

      Yeah, most possible explanations speak to an hidden pain experienced by ace men. That’s what makes the demographic results so depressing.

    • sw19womble says:

      I would agree with this. It’s the old saw that if you’re not trying to fuck everything that moves, then there’s something wrong with you.
      I’m not quite sure I identify as “ace”, but like you point out, I’m still learning about it. Maybe I am. Maybe not. It’s just a label tho.
      However, one thing’s for certain – if you don’t talk about sex and wanting to screw a or b then you are pushed out of the hetero-manly-man club. If you start talking to women, it’s assumed you’re trying to get them into bed.
      I’ve had relationships and – apart from one glorious yet cursed outlier – the sex bit has been “fun” I suppose, but quickly became a chore. I love the romantic idealism of it, but physical reality/requirements invariably spoil it.
      Sorry, this has turned into a bit of a ramble, but that’s probably indicative of how confusing it would be for a male ace.

  3. Mark Wallace says:

    I disagree with your point three. I’m not convinced it’s any easier for men “not to think about it” than women. The basic cultural construction of a man is that he thinks about little else than sex, so if you fail to fit that criteria, it will be very obvious. A young male will be acutely aware that he is deviating from the norm in sexual conduct and in how he relate to ideas about sex. You’re less likely to get unwanted solicitations, but questions from friends, relatives, and casual acquaintances on the subject are no less personal and persistent.

    • Siggy says:

      In my case, at least, that wasn’t really true. I didn’t get that many questions from friends or relatives.

      It was only a hypothesis. Hypothesis 1 says that ace men run counter to cultural expectations, and therefore are less likely to identify as ace. On the other hand, it seems like if ace men really were so counter to cultural expectations, they’d be *more* likely to identify as ace, contrary to empirical observations. Therefore, hypothesis 3 considers the other alternative, that ace men are more able to conform to cultural expectations.

      The basic questions are: Do ace men conform better or worse with cultural expectations, as compared to other genders? Does conforming with cultural expectations lead to more people staying in the community, or fewer?

  4. Another hypothesis that I don’t agree with but which I just thought of, related to number 6:

    It could be that the asexual community is either less useful or less necessary to men. For example, consider how existing asexual “representation” often is about men, and doesn’t involve them identifying as asexual (i.e., Sherlock/married to work/autistic/”cold”, stoic types/etc.). Basically, society has a sort of “language” or “model” for asexual men, but not for other asexuals. It could be men who are asexual are more likely to find those “roles” and just identify with them and not dig any deeper or become part of the community. Other people, meanwhile, end up needing the community to have an identity or agency because society has absolutely no role or language they can use. Basically, due to gender roles (or in particular, what roles are available based on gender), men are less likely to “need” all the models and language the community has to offer (because they have existing bad roles that they can use which are good enough for some people, while everyone else has nothing).

    It’s funny, because I want to analyze this based on my experiences but the fact I am part of the community means that my experiences are different from most (asexual?) men, and they probably aren’t helpful.

    • Siggy says:

      Yeah, there seems to be a cultural role for eccentric bachelors.

      Under the theory that there is some filter preventing men from being in the ace community, it’s actually fairly likely that the men who pass through the filter are not really representative. I often wonder if this is true for myself, because I have trouble really relating to the idea that as a man I’m expected to be hypersexual.

    • I don’t know. I mean, half of those roles apply to me, and I still felt that something was wrong with me. I think I just didn’t understand that there was even anything out there to dig deeper into.

  5. luvtheheaven says:

    I think this is an important topic to wonder about and discuss, especially if there are men out there potentially never finding the ace community when they would benefit from it, OR men leaving the community quite soon after discovering it would be even more troubling…

    • It’s probably more that they never find it than leave. If there was a higher likelihood of men abandoning the asexual community, it seems like we’d have some sense of a group of exiles out there. You’d see them appear at a higher rate, then vanish. Certainly, there are people who discovered asexuality and don’t really join the “community”, but I don’t think that’s “a man thing”.

      In my experience, I just never discovered asexuality. It wasn’t on my radar, no one talked about it. It’s not like there was that one guy at the office who everyone suspected was ace. I had a very vague, inaccurate understanding of asexuality, but it didn’t fit who I was. Basically, it just didn’t exist in my world. And I don’t think that’s just “a man thing”, either, I think that’s a product of a general lack of awareness.

  6. epochryphal says:

    I’d be very interested in cross-referencing this with the “where are all the bi men?” problem, which has asked similar questions.

    • Siggy says:

      Indeed, googling “where are all the bi men” reveals much speculation on popular websites.

      Interestingly, the biggest prototype we have for bi men is someone who is so hypersexual that I guess they’ll just have sex with anything. E.g. see Jack Harkness. As a solution to the bi male representation problem, it’s not particularly helpful to ace men?

    • Ace in Translation says:

      oooooh I like this discussion! I think comparing us to the bi community with regards to this can be very useful. For both bi and ace men, I’m a fan of hypothesis no. 1 (though slightly altered): to be a “real” man (ie. to be acceptable) is to be heterosexual. If you’re gay, there are alternative models on how to be a “real” man. But models on how to be a bi or an ace man? Those are pretty non-existent.

      When people talk about coming out and the fears for negative reactions, people generally have plenty of different fears: that people will think their sexuality (bi or ace) isn’t real, that people will push them to seek medical help, etc. But what I noticed when I talk to bi and ace men about coming out, the biggest fear of them always seems to be social rejection. And this fear seems to be a lot more intense than with others. I get the feeling that the social acceptability of men (ie. them having male friends, them being an appreciated collegue, etc.) revolves entirely around their heterosexuality. More so than with women.
      Bi men have the highest rates of being closeted – there are several studies that put their numbers over 80%. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same was true for ace men. Perhaps these men – at this point – prefer the struggle of lying about that part of yourself above the social risk of coming out. Until they can’t anymore, in which case I hope they turn to google and find us or another supportive community 🙂

      Coming out might not be exactly the same as finding a community – but finding a community involves you “coming out to yourself”. Perhaps a large portion of men don’t want to acknowledge that side of themselves out of fear of what the ultimate social consequences will be once they take that road?

      • I think the key difference is that people tend to know what bisexuality is. You can only be closeted and hide who you are if you know who you are to begin with. I think it’s less that ace men refuse to acknowledge something out of fear and more that they don’t even recognize that there is something to acknowledge.

        • Ace in Translation says:

          Reading back, perhaps fear is to strong a word for what I was trying to say. However, if you already feel that your experiences don’t quite match up to what society thinks a “real” man should experience (ie. being a sexual hetero-guy), I can imagine that some men might (quite subconsciously) try to find ways to cover up and hide what they don’t want society to see (ie. not talk about those feelings you got towards men, or your confusion about the fuss about sex, etc.). One of those ways is to completely avoid that topic ever crossing your path, including not googling what your deal is. To succesfully pull this off, it’s not only necessary to convince others you’re just like everybody else, but you also have to convince yourself by pushing away every single instance of doubt that arises.

          Talking from my own personal experience: you can and you will believe 99% of the time that you’re normal and heterosexual. I was completely convinced I was a super straight heterosexual. Now I know I’m bi and I’m ace. Looking back, I’ve surpressed and pushed away every single doubt I had the moment it arose (like: maybe you’re gay? bi –> is that a thing? frigid? terrible illness? undiagnosed mental problem?). I can imagine that, because acknowledging you’re not fitting into the heterosexual mold automatically means questioning your masculinity, that this is something that men will do even more than women (me questioning my sexuality doesn’t mean I need to question my womanhood).

          I agree with your observation that for many asexuals it’s difficult to recognise something you don’t even know is there to be recognised. However, I also think that is very true for bisexuality. So I don’t think there is a “key difference” in this respect. Though the word bisexual might be far more current, the identity is constantly invisibilized. That’s true for women, but especially true for men. There is this really strong narrative that bisexual men don’t exist. Men are either straight or gay. So if a man says he’s bi, according to society, he’s actually gay (like he’s on his way to being “completely” out of the closet). Just look at the way media treat bi celebrities: Alan Cumming is very vocally bi, but that never stops media from calling him “gay”. I know this means that many bisexual men (and women and nb’s) simply don’t recognise their bisexuality, because they don’t make the connection between what they experience and the way in which bisexuality is presented in society & media – if it’s represented at all.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    I have a very dear friend who is an ace-spectrum(-ish? possibly questioning) Black man. He’d never heard of asexuality until he met me, and he never really got involved with the ace community much. Basically, the extent of his involvement was reading my blog and talking to me—as far as I know, anyway. I suspect that part of that may be that he isn’t as interested in engaging on the Internet in text-based communication? He definitely seems to prefer audio chats over everything else, so maybe the format just isn’t as friendly to him. Plus, he doesn’t really have a lot of time to just sit and read things on the Internet anyway.

    But I know he’s had significant issues with hypersexualized Black masculinity—frequently being the butt of racist jokes about size, that sort of thing. I know it’s been very hard on him… but I wonder if maybe it wouldn’t necessarily be that helpful for him to talk about it on the Internet, because it would be harder for him to make friends that way, since he really needs more personal connections. Especially with the (perception of) ace community being mostly white, and some of the racism that gets perpetuated in ace communities sometimes. Even if that wasn’t the case, it wouldn’t really alleviate the negativity he experiences in daily life. He’s an expat too, so concepts related to asexuality in English wouldn’t always translate well to the people he interacts with daily. Challenging racist sexual jokes is not really possible for him in most cases, so I think he has felt in the past like he could only talk to me about that sort of thing, and I definitely got the sense that he felt more silenced because of his maleness specifically.

    I haven’t directly spoken to him about why he doesn’t get involved in ace spaces—I don’t want to push the topic if he’s uncomfortable with it. But I get a sense that there are more barriers for him, so he tends to feel more disconnected from the community. It’s possible that all of your hypotheses play a role, and then some.

  8. This is a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I think my biggest question is “What do we do about it?” In some ways, it comes down to general awareness, the more of that, the better. But beyond that, it feels like there needs to be a specific effort to reach out to asexual men. Problem is, how do we do that if they don’t even know they’re asexual to begin with?

    This past weekend, I tried to do an “Ask an Ace Guy” thing. Part of the reason I wanted to do that was that is seems like most of the discussion about asexual men centers around the question “Are there any asexual men?”, and not around what it’s actually like to be an asexual man.* I think the handful of posts I made might have brought one or two asexual men out of the woodwork. Maybe something more organized would have a greater impact. At least there’d be more stuff out there to stumble upon that isn’t “Help, I’m dating an asexual man!”

    I’m also trying to work on “A Man’s Guide to Asexuality” for WhatIsAsexuality. That’ll only be 700-1000 words max (which is the size target/constraint for that site), so it won’t be able to cover everything, and it won’t cover anything in depth. But, there will be a companion slideshow, and apparently slideshows are VERY popular over on The Tumbler, so maybe that’ll help.

    However, none of these resources solve the fundamental issue of finding people who don’t even know they’re looking.

    *On a related note, anything that describes me as a “challenge” to anything just makes me tune right out. So, maybe a hypothesis 6.5/7: Men are less likely to feel comfortable or welcome in “Social Justice” type spaces, where everything is radical this and challenging that and intersectionalizing the cishetereonormativical patriarchy or whatever. They’d rather just say “I’m not into sex, but I am into Call of Duty.”

    • And it really doesn’t help that the first result in a search for “asexual males” brings up my site, but the summary it shows is “Asexual men don’t exist. You’re either straight, gay, or bi, or something ain’t working right, or you’re really a woman trapped in a man’s body …”, which is COMPLETELY OUT OF CONTEXT and harmful. So that’s just wonderful, I’m a big part of the problem myself. THANKS GOOGLEBOT!

    • Ace in Translation says:

      I agree with you that a more targeted campaign trying to reach men would be ideal and very helpful. Though I think small individual initiatives as simple as small visibility efforts in male dominated spaces will also contribute greatly. I know of people who learned about asexuality through a gaming forum. And in those cases, no doubt your “Man’s Guide to Asexuality” will be a very useful resource to link to!

    • Tim says:

      “A Man’s Guide to Asexuality” is a great idea. Let me know if you would like any help.

  9. I am a man who follows asexual communities at an arms length, mainly due to fearing concentrating too much on self absorption. Of all that I read and identify with I am still left wondering, with no conclusions, whether I’m celibate due to some trauma or mental deficiency. I am desperate for romantic interaction, though the cynical associations and conflations with sex have rendered my longings longing and to remain in the mind. I am 39 now and can count my sexual encounters on my fingers without doubling up. My nonadherence to convention and tradition has resulted in living a very isolated existence, which has only added to my ambiguity due to a nurtured belief that I just can’t do any relationship except with myself. Although, the emptiness I feel counters this conceived isolated destiny. This reply feels like it’s heading for ranting catharsis, so I’ll truncate. It only remains that I don’t know whether I’m asexual, or, as others have posited, that I’m damaged, immature, altistic, non-responsive, or just aloof. I only wish I could have been more constructive within the considerations of your post.

    • sw19womble says:

      Yep, that’s pretty much how I feel too!
      However, I’ve made my peace with myself. I realise it’s okay to be way more interested in other stuff than just girls (or guys!). It isn’t “wrong” and you aren’t damaged or immature or anything like that…. if you’re similar to me, then you “just have better things to do”. And that’s perfectly okay!
      ps Romance would be nice, but there’s always movies and books and songs for that kind of stuff, or at least for me… maybe I have a good imagination. 🙂
      HTH anyway

  10. Toby says:

    So, I’m female and not ace (although there are definitely things about ace-ness that resonate with me, and I might fall under some sort of grey-A label…) but I thought of another reason. There’s been some studies that suggest that women are more likely to have responsive desire and also to be “gayer” than men (that is, women will get just as turned on seeing a naked woman as a naked man, the difference between straight or gay or bi is psychological). It’s all very controversial, of course, but there seems to be real evidence that women’s sexuality tends towards more fluid and wishy-washy than men’s. More women could therefore, conceivably, identify with the ace spectrum than man (dido with the kinsey scale).

    I’m not saying women shouldn’t identify as ace! Sorry if I’m butting in here with my ambiguous sexuality acting like a know it all. I do tend to like to hang around ace spaces (because I currently identify as questioning and the attraction models ace’s use are really helpful), but I absolutely don’t want to talk over anyone’s experience…

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