A Condensed History of Asexuals Arguing with Asexuals Over What Asexuality Is

Note: this post was originally posted to Pillowfort last June, but I’m belatedly reposting it here for the October Carnival of Aces on “multitudes.” Credit for the preview image to Bailey Rae Weaver, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Recently I was reminded that some people read some kind of sinister conspiracy into the fact that the asexual community is not a hivemind — and lambasting various definitions of asexuality as “incoherent” (though to be honest, I think what they actually mean is “inconsistent”). It seems like the traditional response to these accusations has been to say “no it’s not, it’s just ____.” However, I think it’s worth remembering — and embracing! — the fact that what we call “the asexual community” has rarely if ever had a total consensus on anything, including the definition of asexuality itself. 

This post is intended as a highly condensed overview of some of the different definitions and related issues that we’ve fought over. Note, this is only focused on about the last 20 years or so — and not intended to be comprehensive, either, but just as a quick reference, with some second-hand summaries-of-summaries involved. For further reading, I recommend Andrew C. Hinderliter’s Asexuality: The History of a Definition (summarized here). 

  • Critical vs. Personal: In 2001, the LJ Asexuals Community was founded with a very… politically-oriented definition of asexuality in its profile description. That description starts off with “This is a community for folks who think sex is terribly overrated and pointless unless of course it has meaning,” going on from there to decry how sex has been “cheapened” by society. Although community posts from that year show some members were personally disinterested in sex, they also include posts from members who say they do like sex, personally, but are against “cheapening” it — and the overall community vibe was clearly condemnatory.  In response, in 2002, the LJ Asexuality Community was formed. The AVENwiki page for it describes it as “explicitly sex-positive,” in reference to lines such as “this community is not anti-sex or [anti-]people who have sex” featured in its profile description. For this community, asexuality is defined as an individual inclination, not a political or ideological stance: its initial description says “We welcome anyone with no or very little sexual attraction to others.” Later, sometime after 2005, this would be amended to “We welcome anyone with no or very little sexual attraction to others, people with low or no libido, and their allies.”  
  • Attraction vs. ???: On the early days of the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), the founder had defined asexuality in terms of an absence of sexual attraction. This definition didn’t sit right with everyone, as discussed here by Hinderliter, but no particular alternative has ever gotten enough support on AVEN in order for that the definition on their front page to be changed.
  • Attraction vs. Libido: As opposed to the attraction-based definition, some believed that the true definition of asexuality ought to be nonlibidoism (or not having a libido, i.e. sex drive). Based off of this belief, the Official Asexual Society was created sometime around 2003. Later, in 2005, it would be renamed the Official Nonlibidoism Society.
  • Elitism vs. Anti-Elitism: In 2006 the Official Nonlibidoism Society shut down, leaving its members to turn elsewhere. According to the AVENwiki, this meant that the AVEN forums experienced “an influx of antisexual and elitist viewpoints” as ex-ONS members joined the forum. In response, in 2008, the Apositive website was created, with the intent to take a firm stance against elitism. The Apositive FAQ shows that it also endorsed the “does not experience sexual attraction” definition of asexuality. Apositive has since shut down sometime around the end of 2018.
  • Asexual Privilege: Sometime around 2007, more and more of an asexual community was getting established on Tumblr, leading to the 2011 AceGate, aka that undying assemblage of intercommunity arguments and harassment that has kept resurrecting itself on that site for about eight years now.
  • Spectrum vs. Binary: Around 2013-2014, what I remember best about Ace Tumblr was what I’ve been calling the Gray Wars: a bunch of fighting over whether or not the terms “asexual spectrum,” “gray-asexual,” and “demisexual” deserve to exist.
  • (Un)assailability: For the August 2014 Carnival of Aces (originally posted to Tumblr), the host chose the theme of the Unassailable Asexual, a concept concerned with proving oneself to be a “true” asexual (and first named as such in 2010). Read the entries for some discussion of ongoing anxieties of the time.
  • Identity Prescriptivism: Like all of these debates, this was far from the only time it’s been an issue, but around 2015 there was some particular attention to asexual identity prescriptivism, that is, telling people whether they should or shouldn’t identify as asexual (or anything else). You can read more about this issue via Hezekiah’s Asexual Identity Prescriptivism Linkspam or by checking out Examples of Bad Ace Advice.
  • Attraction vs. Aversion: In the mid and late 2010s, emphasis on the “no sexual attraction” definition has sometimes been used to argue that asexuality “has nothing to do with whether or not you like sex or want sex,” in order to accommodate sex-favorable asexuals. This has sometimes resulted in conflict with aces whose sex-aversion or sex-indifference is the basis of their asexual identity.

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