Journal Club: “Sex” and the Ace Spectrum

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This month, the ace journal club discussed

“‘Sex’ and the Ace Spectrum: Definitions of Sex, Behavioral Histories, and Future Interest for Individuals Who Identify as Asexual, Graysexual, or Demisexual” by Jessica J. Hille, Megan K. Simmons, & Stephanie A. Sanders (2020). (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 for an invite.

Our discussion notes are below the fold.

This paper used a questionnaire to collect data on how aces define sex, their behavioral histories, their amount of interest in sex, and reasons for interest/disinterest. This paper made the choice to separate out asexual, demisexual, and gray-asexual groups, and make comparisons between them.

Differences between groups
– We liked seeing the paper breaking down by different ace-spectrum sub-identities, rather than treating aces like a monolithic group.
– A lot of the differences were what you’d expect, for example demisexuals were most likely to cite emotional connection as a reason for engage in sex.
– Gray-asexual and demisexual people were more likely to be alloromantic, and less likely to be aromantic. This is also reflected in the Ace Community Survey (, p. 15). This study didn’t include demiromantic or grayromantic response options, though.

Definitions of sex
– Most people seemed to define sex as any of the activities involving genitals. That is, less than 30% considered it sex if it only involved breasts, and over 70% considered it sex even if it was non-penetrative genital activity.
– Asexuals, graysexuals, and demisexuals were the same, except that demisexuals were more likely (at 10%) to consider cuddling or kissing to be sex. We talked about possible interpretation differences, sampling issues, or differences by country (since this study was not restricted to any country).
– Referencing other studies, the authors say most allosexual people, especially heterosexuals, define sex more narrowly as penetrative behaviors. Perhaps this is because allosexual people are disproportionately straight, and aces get more exposure to other viewpoints?

Sexual activity
– The paper reported that 98% had engaged in sex (by their own definition of sex). This is much higher than the 35% reported in the 2019 Ace Community Survey (, p. 61). We were unable to account for this, even thinking about sampling bias or selection effects. We thought there must be something wrong.

Reasons for interest/disinterest
– When coding reasons, they combined disinterest and disgust. We thought these were fairly different and should perhaps be distinguished. On the other hand, it might be hard to categorize some of these responses.
– We briefly talked about the hypothesis that some allosexual people also feel disgust, but this disgust gets overridden.

– When breaking down relationships, they distinguished between romantic, non-romantic, sexual, and non-sexual relationships in the questionnaire, but in analysis they only distinguished sexual and non-sexual relationships, aggregating romantic with non-romantic relationships. This was an interesting choice, and we wondered if one of the groups was too small, or if they just didn’t think there was anything interesting to show here.
– Two of the categories were “single, and not dating or looking for a partner(s)” and “single, but dating or looking for a partner(s)”. This inspired a discussion of what “dating” means. Would you use it in relation to a QPP? Is it used differently in different countries? Is dating what you do when you’re committed, or is it what you do to evaluate people before committing? Perhaps there needs to be a study of how aces define dating.

– They contrast “sex-positive” with “sex-neutral” and “sex-averse”. In the ace community, this is considered a common error, confusing disposition towards having sex and attitudes towards others having sex. It’s annoying to see this make its way into literature via an old Carrigan paper. (
– Citing Chasin (, it describes “ace” as distinguishing itself from more essentialist definitions of asexuality, referring to the broader community and the ace spectrum. It’s nice to see quantitative researchers citing humanities, and using the word “ace”.
– Graysexual is defined too narrowly, as a person who only rarely experiences sexual attraction.
– We appreciated that they used “allosexual” and “alloromantic”, which you don’t always see in the literature.

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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