History of Asexual Definitions (A Summary)

I keep suggesting people read this essay, but, admittedly, it is an intimidating wall of text, so here’s my attempt at making some points easier to digest.

  • 1997: Article entitled “My Life as an Amoeba” was published.  Andrew Hinderliter calls the comment section of that article “the first online ‘asexual community.'”
  • 2000: Yahoo group Haven for the Human Amoeba (HHA) formed.
  • 2001: Group founder of HHA answers a question about what an asexual is by saying that it’s a person who is not sexual.
  • 2001: David Jay founded AVEN and defined asexuality on the front page as absence of attraction.
  • Also around this time: Discussion on HHA about variation in asexual experiences (“One person who considered herself asexual said that she masturbates, and another was very confused by this”), leading to the development of the concept of an “undirected sex drive.”
  • Also around this time: Discussion about “sexual attraction” as just one type of attraction out of several.
  • Also around this time: Definition of asexuality called into question.  No consensus.  In 2001!  Literally since the beginning!
  • 2002: Asexual community formed on LiveJournal.  On their “about” page: “This is a community for asexual people to discuss living without sexuality. We welcome anyone with no or very little sexual attraction to others, people with low or no libido, and their allies.”
  • Also around this time: Definition of asexuality called into question on the AVEN forums.  Hinderliter notes, “The majority opinion on that thread indicates that most people were perfectly aware of problems with the AVEN definition.”

Also in this essay, Andrew Hinderliter theorizes that AVEN rose to prominence via superior web-design and a simple url.  By extension, the definition on its frontpage rose to prominence with it… and he attributes the static nature of the frontpage definition to definitional inertia, which he explains in more detail if you’re curious.

What I think are the most important takeaways can be found in these paragraphs:

Late in 2001, there was a decent amount of discussion on issues involving defining asexuality. The consensus opinion (at least the one expressed the most) was that asexuality is undefinable—each person had their own reason for calling themself asexual, and there was too much diversity in their (still very small) asexual community for any one definition to cover everyone. However, people also agreed that it would be useful to have a definition that they could give to people—having a definition would be helpful for asexual visibility. This was discussed, and there was no consensus. David had proposed his definition, but there didn’t seem to be any strong support for it or disagreement with it. My impression is that the majority opinion was to think of asexuality not in terms of sexual attraction, but in terms of sexual preference. Seen in this light, the Collective Identity Model makes a lot of sense: No single definition encompasses all asexual people, so the common theme is that asexuals are people who call themselves asexual because they disidentify with sexuality—i.e. they prefer not to have sex, and this affects how they go about forming relationships. (The parts about identity and relationships were particular emphases found in David Jay’s writings more than in other members, but by and large, this definition fits pretty well with the early consensus.) In this context, I think the definition “a person who does not experience sexual attraction” was intended to fill the need of a definition to be used for the purpose of asexual visibility rather than as the one that the community was based on.

[…]

My impression from the early dialogue that I’ve read is that, by and large, the AVEN definition was not adopted by people who first came to the asexual community before AVEN’s forums came to dominate asexual discourse. But they generally didn’t object to it either. Each person came up with their own definition, if they bothered with one at all.

[…]

[The collective identity model], much more than the standard definition, represented a consensus view in the early asexual community—each person had their own reason for considering themself asexual (that is, not sexual,) and no single definition could cover everyone. The main thing that united people was a sense of being “not sexual” or a disidentification with sexuality.  Several people thought of asexuality in terms of sexual preference rather than sexual attraction.

The short version of all this: traits like “no or little or negligible sexual attraction,” “no or little or negligible  libido,” and “no or little or negligible interest in sex” (and more!) have all been treated as valid reasons to identify as asexual and participate in the asexual community since its origin.

i.e. implying a timeline where asexuality was defined as no sexual attraction concretely and exclusively since always and just now in the 2010s people are starting to use it in other ways (as implied by people here and here) is historically inaccurate.

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