This month, the ace journal club discussed
“Sexuality, Sexual Behavior, and Relationships of Asexual Individuals: Differences Between Aromantic and Romantic Orientation” by Ana Catarina Carvalho & David L. Rodrigues. (2021) https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10508-021-02187-2 (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 firstname.lastname@example.org for an invite.
Our discussion notes are below the fold.
This study used a survey to show differences between romantic and aromantic asexuals on a variety of measures.
– The paper says “Our study was among the first to examine how romantic orientation can help explain some inconsistent findings in asexuality research.” This suggests a larger project to show a causal connection between romantic orientation and other differences among asexuals. In our view, it’s dubious whether there is such a causal connection, and we think romantic orientation is significant regardless of its status as an explanatory factor.
– The paper repeatedly argues that aromantic asexuality is more prototypical to asexuality than romantic asexuality, building most hypotheses from this assumption. For instance, the paper predicts that romantic aces are less sex averse because sex aversion is more prototypical of asexuality. If that’s the angle, then we think graysexuality and demisexuality should have been accounted for.
– They want to construct romance as inherently tending towards more sexuality. There ought to be discussion of how romantic aces may more often be in situations where they have to deal directly, for instance, with a partner who wants sex. But romantic orientation is built on the idea that romance and sexuality are different things.
– Overall, the paper seems to adopt the viewpoint that it is the role of the researcher to assign people to categories, rather than asking subjects how they identify and what that means to them. Many topics in this survey would be better addressed or greatly clarified by interviews.
The Ace Spectrum
– The paper uses the Asexual Identification Scale (AIS) as a way to measure asexual identification. The AIS, contrary to the name, does not measure asexual identification, and is instead intended to measure a person’s similarity to asexuals regardless of whether they identify as asexual or not.
– When trying to illustrate the diversity among asexuals, the paper remarks on how some asexual individuals identify as graysexual or demisexual. This raises the question of whether the authors believe graysexuals and demisexuals to be a subset of asexuals, which further raises the question of whether grays/demis were included in this study.
– The questionnaire is supposedly limited to asexuals, but there is no explanation on how it was restricted. They apparently didn’t ask people whether they identified as asexual, instead using the AIS to measure identification, even though that’s not what the AIS does.
– Whether gray/demi people were included in the study is essential to interpreting the results. In the Ace Community Survey, gray/demi people are more likely to be alloromantic, in relationships, and sexually active (see the 2019 report, pages 15, 43, and 61). If gray/demi people were included in the study, that would lead to a lot of this study’s findings.
– The study imposed an artificial binary between romantic and aromantic asexuals, tossing over a quarter of their sample because they “did not indicate a romantic orientation”.
– The study apparently did not ask people for their romantic orientation, instead asking them to select which genders they were romantically attracted to. The “aromantic” category included “not attracted” and “unsure” responses. We’re not sure what response to this question would lead to a person’s survey being tossed.
– The questions about relationships had numerous issues and inconsistencies. For instance, in one question they define romantic relationships as non-sexual, and then they later ask about romantic relationships involving sex.
– They ask about significant relationships using wording that suggests a broader category than romantic relationships. But when the results are presented, they’re turned into romantic relationships.
– They ask about past partners who were not asexual, and when presenting the results they describe it as “past sexual partners”, a misleading phrase that suggests these relationships were necessarily sexual in nature.
– Whether people had prior romantic relationships was asked on a seven point scale. Later they refer to the number of people with past romantic relationships, and it’s not clear how the seven point scale was converted to a binary classification.
– The paper uses the Adult Attachment Questionnaire (AAQ) to see if participants had an avoidant and/or anxious attachment style. We looked at the questions and many asked about partners. These questions may not be valid for non-partnering people.
– The Adult Attachment Questionnaire also asks about intimacy, but while this might be about fear of intimacy for an allosexual person, an asexual person might just be afraid of what other people consider intimate, especially since “intimate” is often a euphemism for sex.
– There ought to be discussion of how asexuals may be particularly sensitized to unrequited feelings, and how attachment theory fits into that context.
– They also used the Attitude Related to Sexual Concerns Scale, but when we saw the questions, it also appeared invalid for non-partnering people.
– The number of trans and nonbinary people seems unusually low for an ace survey (16%), and we’re not sure why.
– The paper presents the fraction of women in their sample, but this appears to actually refer to sex assigned at birth.
– Interestingly, agender people were more a lot more common among aromantic people. This pattern is also seen in the Ace Community Survey (unpublished).
Coyote, a member of the Ace Journal Club, also wrote a separate article about this paper.