Journal Club: Asexuality and Sexual Disinterest

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This month, the ace journal club discussed

“What Does Asexuality Teach Us About Sexual Disinterest? Recommendations for Health Professionals Based on a Qualitative Study With Asexually Identified People” by Kristina Gupta (2017). https://doi.org/10.1080/0092623x.2015.1113593 (requires journal access)

The journal club meets once a month on Discord, using text or voice as club members prefer.  We discuss a variety of academic works in ace studies, ranging from gender studies to psychology.  Don’t worry about journal access, we can provide access.  If you’re interested, please e-mail me at asexualagenda@gmail.com for an invite.

Our discussion notes are below the fold.

Summary
This study interviewed 30 ace people about the relation between asexuality and desire disorders, and made recommendations to people who work in healthcare. The main conclusions were: 1) the distinction between asexuality and a desire disorder is not clear cut, 2) distress alone does not distinguish between them, 3) asexual people may face pressure from partners, 4) asexuality need not be distressing, and 5) many asexuals support desire disorders as a diagnostic category.

Context
– Around the period from 2010 to 2016, the hot topic in asexual research was asexuality and hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). This paper, from 2017, is at the tail end of that.
– Something that may have contributed to the decline in interest is the DSM-V (from 2013), which explicitly excluded asexuality from HSDD. (Aside: HSDD is now called sexual interest/arousal disorder (SIAD), in women.)
– To many of us, the the content of the paper wasn’t new, since we’re already familiar with the things that aces say (although some of these topics remain controversial). The paper is more about presenting these ideas the academic audience.

Supporting the HSDD diagnosis
– Gupta says the overwhelming majority of participants supported the existence of the HSDD category.
– We discussed the possibility that this was a reflection of the more conservative politics of participants recruited from AVEN, but it’s also a viewpoint that was shared by some people in the journal club.
– We noted the comparison to ego-dystonic homosexuality, a diagnosis that was removed from the DSM in 1987. There’s a stark difference in attitudes, where gay/queer people wanted to have the diagnosis removed entirely, while many aces see HSDD as more of a distinct category of people who have their own right to exist.
– HSDD does seem to be a broader category than ego-dystonic homosexuality, including some things that are more distant from common asexual narratives.
– On the other hand, some narratives of HSDD patients sound a lot like ace narratives about what our lives were like before finding ace communities (e.g. see page 45 of this dissertation)

Unwanted consensual sex
– The paper discusses how a third of interviewees described experiences with “consensual sex” that they didn’t want, due to social pressure and pressure from their partners.
– We appreciated calling attention to this, but the recommendations based on this could have been much stronger (it recommends that professionals be careful to pressure patients to engage in nondesired sex).
– We discussed the important distinction between sex not prompted by personal desire, and sex that a person said yes to but experienced as violating.
– “Consensual” really demands a definition in this context because of the many things it could mean. It might be referring to the mere fact that someone said “yes” at some point. Or perhaps it’s a matter of not calling it rape because the interviewees didn’t want to call it rape.

Aces open to treatment
– Some of the interviewees said they would be open to treatment of their sexual disinterest, seeing this as not in conflict with their asexuality.
– There wasn’t enough information to understand the rationale of these interviewees, but we thought of a few interpretations: a) they think the treatment might make it easier to find relationships, b) they like having the option of having an easier path in life, or c) these could be sex-favorable aces.

Language
– In one section, “demisexual” was defined as only experiencing sexual attraction within the context of a long-term relationship; we thought this was too narrow.
– Romantic orientations were defined in terms of seeking relationships, but we pointed out that they’re not necessarily tied together
– That said, these aren’t so far off, so we thought it was plausible that these definitions were sourced from interviewees.
– One turn of phrase we particularly liked was “epistemic authority”. When people are told they aren’t “really” asexual, or that they’re “late bloomers”, Gupta described this as a denial of their epistemic authority.
– It brings to mind Miranda Fricker’s ideas about epistemic justice and hermeneutical injustice, which was popularized in ace communities by starchy thoughts in 2016. Gupta doesn’t cite an external source for the phrase “epistemic authority”, but has apparently been using it since 2015 at least.

AVEN biases
– Especially after seeing the problems with interviews in last month’s paper, we thought a lot about potential biases in the interviews. The thing that came up repeatedly was the fact that participants were recruited from AVEN, which tends to have more newbies and more “conservative” views.
– For example, AVENites tend to be particularly against taking any action with regards to HSDD. Anecdotally back when the Ace Flibanserin Task force was circulating a petition regarding the FDA approval of Flibanserin (aka Addyi), AVENites were some of the least receptive.
– We also noticed some interviewee quotes which seemed to be firmly entrenched in the visibility framework of ace activism.

About Siggy

Siggy is an ace activist based in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and has a Ph.D. in physics. He has another blog where he also talks about math, philosophy, godlessness, and social criticism. His other hobbies include board games and origami.
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