Asexual, gray-A, and demisexual are three “canonical” groups of the ace spectrum, the three categories that get mentioned when you want to enumerate the kinds of aces. But that’s not really all there is to it. There are numerous other labels—sometimes called “microlabels” or “neolabels”—which may either elaborate on the canonical labels, or even replace them entirely.
In the past, I’ve criticized neolabels for filling glossaries without actually getting used. If people use them, and like them, that’s well and good, but if people don’t use them why are we making misleading glossaries? On the other hand, some words in these glossaries are more popular than you might think, and today I’m going to talk about one of those. Today I will look at aegosexuality, also known as autochorissexualism.
“Aegosexual” describes people with sexual fantasies but who don’t locate themselves within those fantasies. I’m going to take it for granted that this is a real and valid experience, and one that is not particularly difficult to understand. Instead I will focus on something I have had more difficulty understanding: why do people use uncommon labels like this one to describe very specific experiences?
In which I give advice
It’s a perpetual pattern in ace communities, that we are receiving a constant influx of questioning people looking for advice, or validation, or just permission to be who they are. I personally stay away from giving advice, but I still receive the occasional query. Here’s a particularly memorable experience.
Someone—let’s call him Henry—had found me through my other blog, and started reading about asexuality. A lot of it resonated with his experience, but there was a major sticking point: he had elaborate sexual fantasies. So it was up to me to assure him that this was not that uncommon in the ace community, and would not be a barrier to identifying as ace if that’s what he wanted to do.
In my response, I also mentioned researcher Anthony Bogaert, and his (then recent) paper on autochorissexualism (more on that later). I even attached a copy of the paper because I’m such a nerd. I was just making an amusing observation: aces with fantasies are so common that even out-of-touch scientists have noticed. But Henry took hold of the term autochorissexualism, which perhaps resonated even more strongly than asexuality itself.
And though microlabels are most commonly associated the tumblr ace community, or with young people, that’s not where he went. He shied away from ace communities, went off and did his own thing. And he continued to identify with the term many years later. You can get Henry’s side of the story in a post he wrote for the Carnival of Aces.
It’s hard to argue with a success story like that. And I have to imagine that this is a common occurrence. In the Ace Community Survey, there’s a question where people are given the options “asexual”, “gray-asexual”, “demisexual” and “questioning”. Almost one percent of people skip those options in favor of typing out “aegosexual” or “autochorissexual”. This is more common than any other write-in category by far. And the group would likely be even bigger if it were explicitly an option.
But I admit I was initially puzzled. At the time of my e-mail exchange, it was a label that virtually nobody had heard of, and therefore could not be used to effectively communicate anything—certainly not for someone who did not even participate in ace communities.
Almost all neolabels are coined within our communities, but “autochorissexual” is an exception. It was coined by preeminent asexuality researcher Anthony Bogaert, in a 2012 paper titled “Asexuality and Autochorissexualism (Identity-Less Sexuality)”.
Bogaert is a psychologist who struck a chord with his 2004 quantitative analysis of the UK NATSAL surveys, opening up asexuality as an academic subject. But he’s not really an expert on qualitative asexual experiences. In his book, Understanding Asexuality he speculated on whether asexuals could appreciate sexual humor; clearly this is not the kind of researcher who spends time scrolling through ace forums. The autochorissexual paper is based purely on a single AVEN thread, seemingly the only thread Bogaert ever bothered reading. My former colleague Andrew Hinderliter claimed that in fact he had shown this thread to Bogaert—and complained that he was snubbed in the acknowledgments.
If you look into the original paper, it’s problematic. Bogaert was explicitly discussing autochorissexualism as a paraphilia, during a time when the DSM classified all paraphilias as disorders. Furthermore, he made a comparison to autogynephilia. So people who want to distance themselves from the origin often use “aegosexual”. In the Ace Community Survey, “aegosexual” is the more popular term. (“Anegosexual” is a very distant third, but I’ll mention it for the SEO.)
Despite the problems with the paper, Bogaert’s scientific authority has likely been valuable for its initial claims to legitimacy. Other labels have been attacked with false stories about their origin. For example, such and such word was made by a teenage girl and aren’t we ashamed of even indirectly associating ourselves with such a thing? When a word is coined by a scientist in an easily citable paper, that makes the word more unassailable.
But the irony is that Bogaert just got his ideas (or at least, the good ones) from the ace community. Because isn’t that how it always works? People doubt our experiences, because they expect scientific proof. But if they ask the scientists, the scientists just turn around ask us.
The experience described by “autochorissexual” predates Bogaert, and its validity is prior to Bogaert. What did Bogaert contribute? Bogaert contributed the word, and a hell of a marketing campaign. You might remember the word because of the supposed scientific authority behind it. Or you might remember it because you have a painfully academic sense of humor like me. Or maybe you just had to say the word several times to even pronounce the thing, and by then you commit it to memory. You might not like its origin, but you can’t forget it.
What I like about the story, is that Bogaert paints a vision of a different world, where any random forum thread can and will be used as the basis for a new identity label. Despite its reputation, the ace community does not, in fact, come up with new words for every specific experience we ever talk about…. but maybe we should?? Let’s highlight the shit out of every personal narrative because our lives are just that meaningful. And none of this humble “allo” or “demi” nonsense, we want awkward, extravagant words with more syllables than “sesquipedalian”. A scientist said we should do it.
Reasons to identify
The problem with giving a label to every experience, is that not everybody with those experiences would choose to use the corresponding labels. In the case of neolabels, the people who choose to use them are likely only a tiny fraction of those who have the experience.
Although I would not call myself aegosexual, I find the aegosexual experience to be relatable. The sexual fantasies that allosexual people typically describe, in which they imagine themselves in sexual situations, have at times felt a bit bizarre to me. Why… would I… imagine… myself? Of all people? Actually for most of my life I have not had any sexual fantasies at all, so you could say that my sexual fantasies not only omit myself, but also omit other people, and the sex and fantasy to boot.
You could speculate that I choose not to identify as aegosexual because my experience is a bit different. But I feel like the bigger issue for me, is that identifying as aegosexual makes me feel like I am directly telling people that I masturbate.
But some people are more open about their sexuality than me, or they may participate in spaces where openness is more the norm. For example, there are some fandoms with lots of sexual content. Suppose an aegosexual person is existing around that sexual content, or even producing sexual content, it’s easy to see why they might find the label essential for explaining their motivations and attitudes within that space.
Another reason I wouldn’t identify as aegosexual is that I feel like it’s obscure enough that it’s not effective communication. But not everyone sees it the same way as me. You might even say that as a blogger who writes for large audiences, it is I who have the unusual perspective on communication. Many people are in fact okay with using a word that most people don’t understand. My impression is that people who use neolabels often have utopic visions of a language that will satisfy their personal needs. They will fight for that utopia, but are also satisfied for now with having to explain words all the time.
One last reason why a word like “autochorissexual” might feel indispensible, is if it’s the one thing that helps you identify with asexuality or the ace spectrum. As I’ve said before, disidentification with asexuality is an important experience. You can reassure people that X or Y is consistent with asexuality all you like, but you can’t force them to identify that way. It’s not necessarily for lack of assurances, sometimes it’s for lack of the lightbulb moment of self-recognition. People with prominent sexual fantasies are probably less likely to consider that they are asexual, quicker to shrug off the possibility. When aegosexuality is presented as an alternative, or just as a modifier to asexuality, that may trigger a lightbulb moment where there was none before.
Not all people are so lucky, of course, to find a word that so perfectly fits their needs. That’s why I like broad and vague labels like “gray-asexual”, a label for the rest of us. But, if you want something specific, you might take pleasure in imagining fictional Anthony Bogaert personally swooping in, acting like he knows something, and giving your specific experience a ridiculous, wonderful name that you can be proud of. It happened before, it can happen again.