Writing From Factor X

February 19, 2011

Why I Hate Ticky Boxes

There’s this piece about asexuality that’s just been published: Asexuality–Not Just For the Amoebas: What It’s Like to be “Ace” in College. It did not go on the linkspam. Admittedly, part of the reason for that is that I found it shortly after the linkspam went up, but even if I’d known about it weeks ago it wouldn’t have gone on the linkspam, because this piece is everything that is wrong with articles sexuals write about asexuality. It’s not even original in its failure, in fact, which is why I’m going to specifically critique it here. I may as well get some use out of its mediocrity.

First, way to cast suspicion on aceness as an identity right there in the title by calling us quote-unquote “aces.” That sets the tone for the rest of the piece, in fact; nothing asexuals have to say about themselves in the piece is treated as above challenge. We don’t even have the right to our own words without air-quotes.

And then we have the tired old trope of calling up a “sexologist” to explain why asexuality isn’t really real. This is what really gets me, folks, because it shows up in just about every damn article or TV discussion of asexuality you can name. But oh, the media have to provide a balanced opinion, as if there really are two legitimate sides to every issue, so of course they need to dig up someone to prove us wrong in our silly little self-identifications! It’s not like we can be definitive experts on our own experiences or anything!

But anyway. We’ve got our sexologist out to prove asexuals wrong. Her name’s Dr. Patricia Fawver, in fact, and it appears that she’s Dr. Joy Davidson, Round Two: a self-proclaimed expert who is dead-set on hiding her refusal to accept asexuality as a valid identity beneath a heavy layer of concern trolling. Again: not original. Davidson did it four years ago; you’d think they’d have learned something new by now, but apparently not. Davidson, incidentally, has since had the gall to express surprise that asexuals don’t like her. Wanna bet this lady does the same thing down the road?

Fawver, I might add, appears to have no idea what we mean when we claim “asexual” as a label, which would call her status as an expert on sexuality (or at least asexuality) into question if we were discussing any other topic. However, we’re discussing asexuality, so her assertion that “asexuality” means “without sexuality” goes totally unchallenged. In fact, the piece immediately follows this up with the line “In some ways, it is difficult to argue with Dr. Fawver.”

Yes. It is totally difficult to argue with Dr. Fawver. The fact that she’s setting up a complete straw argument about the nature of asexuality goes completely unnoticed and undiscussed, of course. So does the fact that she’s apparently never heard of asexuality or what it means before this conversation, since the fact that we’re discussing lack of sexual attraction rather than total lack of sexuality appears to have flown over her head. But her arguments are so good, guys! She’s totally a credible expert on this topic!

Then the article moves on to discussing whether or not asexuals actually exist. This is treated as a topic worthy of serious discussion. I don’t even have words. For the record? I exist. Fuck anyone who tries to say otherwise. This is another one of those “no, actually, there are not two legitimate sides to the story” topics.

Fawver returns later on in this one with a stern warning to the rest of us not to identify as asexual without checking all the laundry list of causes that could potentially have done it. For crying out loud, we’re discussing an orientation, not a symptom of disease! This is what I mean by concern trolling, by the way: Fawver is covering up her insistence that no one identify this way by insisting that making people jump through a ton of hoops before identifying as asexual is for our own good. As a special bonus, she hits most of the common stupid explanations for asexuality on her way down. Apparently that old whine about claiming to change one’s sexual orientation because of a bad break-up could be true, guys!

Of course, the flip side to the “two sides to a story” malarkey is that the article’s got to present the pro-asexuality side, too. Which it does by… citing possibly the worst research paper on asexuality ever published. Seriously, they’re claiming that the fact that 5-6% of Americans are still virgins has some kind of useful relevancy to asexuality, despite the fact that asexuals are generally quite happy to say “asexuality is not the same thing as celibacy” until we’re blue in the face. The author, who is writing from a college campus and therefore almost certainly has a lot of access to actual academic journals, presumably cited this pile of steaming academic fail because it’s available free on the Internet.

Finally, halfway through the piece, it goes on to detail what a real asexual person actually has to say about the experience of being asexual in college. I don’t have anything much to say about that; it’s pretty unobjectionable, but the fact that it took a solid page and a half for the author to get around to asking an asexual person what their experiences have been like is fairly significant. It demonstrates exactly whose opinions on asexuality are important here: nonasexuals’.

The piece’s ending makes this particularly clear, because it concludes firmly on an anti-asexual note. First, it stresses that asexuality is totally fluid and subject to change, comparing it to other “identities” rather than other sexual orientations. Again, this is telling. Asexuality discussion is particularly prone to stressing the potential changeability of sexual orientation and explaining that this is why someone shouldn’t take on an asexual identity–after all, one’s asexuality could change any moment! Of course this is never applied to other sexual orientations like identifying as straight or gay. Those are legitimate, cast as unchanging; asexuality is framed as a temporary state that could change at any moment, despite being no more fluid than any other sexuality.

Also? Apparently we shouldn’t “pre-diagnose ourselves with a trendy label” before we’ve thought very hard about who and what we are. There’s a bargain–two commonly used tropes to dismiss asexuality in one phrase! We’ve got “pre-diagnose,” which harkens back to the framing of asexuality as a sort of mental or physical illness, and then we have “asexuality is a trendy label,” which implies that we’re all just mindless fashionistas adopting the word because it’s cool. I don’t know what planet the author lives on where being ace is the next big thing, but I’d love to live there. The planet I live on, as a person who is actually an out asexual, is the one where being ace is a thing coated in obscurity and treated with condescending distaste under that. Hers sounds way more fun.

And Fawver gets the last word, as always in articles like this; heaven forbid we end on a positive note about asexuality from our own perspective. Apparently we’re supposed to “claim our sexuality and be proud, but understand it’s a choice not to engage with another person”. Does Fawver have a functioning grasp of logic? How do I claim my sexuality for what it is while simultaneously writing it off as a choice that I’m making? Unless of course that I’m supposed to understand that the choice is for me to own my innate sexuality, which duhthat’s what I’m doing when I identify as asexual. Which we’re not supposed to do. Why is this person held up as an expert, again?

So seriously, fuck Her Campus. Dr. Fawver may be an arrogant twit when it comes to asexuality, but they were the ones who gave her a platform in the first place. As an asexual in college, all this article is telling me is that Her Campus doesn’t actually care about or respect college asexuals. Instead, it’s telling me that Her Campus cares more about what nonasexuals think asexuality is than listening to what we have to say about ourselves. And honestly? That’s worse than not helping. If we’re going to have pieces on asexuality, can we maybe find some that aren’t packed chock-full of dismissive language and interviews from uninformed, pontificating “sexologists” who have never studied asexuality in their lives?


  1. You’re 100% right. Not much else I can really say.

    Anyone who thinks there isn’t a lot of self-examination in debating whether or not to identify as ace has clearly never actually discussed the search for self-identity with an asexual.

    Comment by thoenix — February 19, 2011 @ 11:13 am | Reply

    • True story. There’s a reason “doubt” is part of Ily’s list of Things Asexuals Like.

      Comment by Charles — February 19, 2011 @ 3:22 pm | Reply

  2. Oh man, that article made me want to throw something through a wall. Thanks for summing up the erros so well.
    What gets me the most is the constant use of sexologists. You’re right! We don’t need ‘experts’ to tell us what we feel and how we identify, but apparently mainstream society is unable to grasp ideas like that.

    But that aside, thanks for writing another brilliant post. ❤

    Comment by Claire — February 19, 2011 @ 11:27 am | Reply

  3. As a sexologist I’m going to tell you a dirty little secret: Anyone can call themself a sexologist, it just means you study sexuality (just like anyone can call themselves an astronomer even if they just mean they use a telescope to track stars). And the fact that Dr. Fawver has her doctorate? She got it from the same school I’m going to right now and let me tell you, the requirements aren’t particularly rigorous. The only information I’ve heard about asexuality at my school has been completely incorrect and while I may be able to address it and correct the teacher I think half the students in the class believe the teacher over me and then that doesn’t help all the other students who have been taking these classes and graduating from this school with entirely wrong information about asexuality (if any at all!).

    The HerCollege.com article prompted me to write the following response to Dr. Fawver: http://asexualsexologist.wordpress.com/2011/02/17/response-to-dr-fawvers-comments-about-asexuality-in-hercollege-com-article/

    And also got me angry enough to write the following statement to all sexologists: http://asexualsexologist.wordpress.com/for-sexologists/

    Technically sexologists are supposed to study the attitudes and behaviors around sex and sexuality and you all know more about asexuality than any of the sexologists that my school is cranking out. Call yourselves asexual sexologists! (or, well, that’s my title… maybe something else). You are more qualified to talk about asexuality than any of these “professionals” who spend more time watching videos of various sex acts than reading any research, let alone the very little research that exists on asexuality.

    Comment by asexualsexologist — February 19, 2011 @ 12:22 pm | Reply

    • I’m not exactly intimidated by PhDs, to be honest. I’m an undergraduate, yes, but I actually spend a lot of time in research labs and will probably go on to graduate work in a couple of years (though not in human sexuality). I know it can sometimes be tempting for people with doctorates to lean on them even when they’re not actually experts in the topic they’re discussing, but that doesn’t mean they’re entitled to do that. Which is what it seems to me that Fawver has done here; it seems that she thinks she’s considerably more of an expert in this topic than she actually is on the strength of that doctorate.

      I don’t think I’ll be calling myself a sexologist because for me the term is rather tainted by Fawver and Davidson and their ilk. I’ll stick with poking holes in what they’re saying from an educated lay ace perspective. I’m glad you’re enjoying using it, though!

      The information about the sexology program that Dr. Fawver’s come out of is very interesting, though. Not surprising, but interesting.

      Comment by Sciatrix — February 19, 2011 @ 2:28 pm | Reply

      • I have a special hatred for the “omg I has a PhD!!! listen to me you plebes!” thing as a PhD student in a thoroughly abstract subject from an academic background. Nooo, a dissertation does not give you expertise on everything ever (if I ever start using my PhD studentship as expert cred on anything other than maths or, like, the experience of doing a maths PhD) and I can *tell* when you are just trying to intimidate people.

        And yeah, am not calling myself a sexologist. Sex just isn’t that interesting, for one! 😉 If anything I’ll be an asexologist!

        Comment by Kaz — February 21, 2011 @ 6:49 am | Reply

  4. Page 1 is here. It’s just that some of the links to page 1, on the site, are broken.

    Comment by flergalwit — February 19, 2011 @ 12:40 pm | Reply

    • Thanks for the correction! The link in the post has been fixed.

      Comment by Sciatrix — February 19, 2011 @ 1:46 pm | Reply

  5. I just find it hilarious that asexuality could be considered trendy. Sure, I like being asexual partly because I have such a fascination with and fixation on asceticism (so celibacy has always appealed to me … although I would imagine that part of my fascination with asceticism came from knowing that is included celibacy, which appealed to me because I was asexual and so it was my preferred state…), but I’m not asexual because of that, and I’m not sure where this sentence is going because asceticism generally isn’t all that cool to most people anyway.

    Anyway, I’ve posted both the article and your response on Tumblr already.

    Comment by Charles — February 19, 2011 @ 3:25 pm | Reply

    • Yeah, the implication that asexuality is somehow trendy just boggles my mind. Get back to me when people have a) heard of us, and b) have stopped ridiculing us. Doesn’t something have to be well known to be popular? WORDS MEAN THINGS.

      Thanks for the linkspam!

      Comment by Sciatrix — February 19, 2011 @ 4:03 pm | Reply

  6. You are so right..thisi makes me really want to react very violently.-sigh- what is wrong with people these days..?

    Comment by abothersomeexistence — February 19, 2011 @ 3:26 pm | Reply

  7. I have never experienced XYZ, therefore it must be made up.

    There is no way anyone is possibly self aware enough to label their own identity. Only a trained professional can diagnose identity, and only after thorough testing and psychological analysis.

    ***i’m so bored with this same old crap being written over and over again. it’s the same f’cking thing every f’cking time about every non-mainstream/majority identity ever. Gonna write an article about something you don’t know sh!t about? Maybe you shouldn’t be writing it. Or at least read a BINGO card or two before making a complete ass of yourself.***

    Comment by tomatl — February 19, 2011 @ 4:13 pm | Reply

    • I had an interesting discussion about with the creator of Kink For All about the sexological community the other day. I told him how frustrated I was that they seem to just keep repeating the same bullshit as if they are the only reliable sources of information on anything instead of consulting all of the different (and better!) resources that are out there and I think he put it in great perspective: It’s just one big academic circle jerk.

      Comment by asexualsexologist — February 19, 2011 @ 4:18 pm | Reply

  8. Is anyone else aware of any other responses to this article? I’d like to link to them on the response that I posted.

    Comment by asexualsexologist — February 19, 2011 @ 4:19 pm | Reply

  9. […] another great response to this article  on Writings From Factor X which can be found here:  https://writingfromfactorx.wordpress.com/2011/02/19/this-college-ace-is-unimpressed/ from → Uncategorized ← Article on HerCampus.com makes me proud of my alma […]

    Pingback by Response to Dr. Fawver’s comments about asexuality in HerCollege.com article. « The Asexual Sexologist — February 19, 2011 @ 4:25 pm | Reply

  10. This is why I disagree with people who think labels are inherently oppressive. Just look how scared people in power get when oppressed groups claim their own identities! Keep fighting the good fight.

    Comment by semiel — February 19, 2011 @ 7:03 pm | Reply

  11. :/ I spent the last couple of semesters in my magazines major being trained how to write longform, and this just sucks as an article. My professors would have torn this apart. You don’t wait so long to include perspectives from the people you’re writing about, and you get definitions right. How did they get so far into the topic that they ran a poll on AVEN and still failed this hard? I guess the perception of “balance” as voices from both sides, always, which means dredging up another side to any possible issue, is pretty pervasive. I’m tempted to comment on the website itself but I’m not sure if I have the energy.

    The part where they focused on people hiding their asexuality seemed weird to me. And also illogical. I don’t see how their questions about not feeling they have a place to discuss asexuality and feeling uncomfortable in social situations was interpreted as “find[ing] it easier to let their peers make their own assumptions.”

    The last section just boggled me. I’ve seen this trend before, but it’s the first time I’ve seen asexuality explicitly stated as something non-asexuals have to “come to terms with.”

    Comment by ace eccentric — February 19, 2011 @ 7:11 pm | Reply

    • I didn’t see a problem with the author’s statement that many choose to be vague and just let their peers make their own assumptions. It’s like lying by omission and people of all orientations (though rarely straight people) do it all the time to avoid an awkward discussion of their sexuality or to avoid being teased or bullied etc. The structure of the paragraph may have been the confusing issue, I don’t know that the stats she cited and the comment about people hiding their sexuality were necessarily related. Presumably there were other questions on the poll and it was also indicated that respondents had the ability to write in any other statement they would like to make so it may have been related to other questions on the poll or a theme mentioned in the free-response section.

      Comment by asexualsexologist — February 19, 2011 @ 10:42 pm | Reply

      • That’s what I meant — the structure of the section didn’t make sense, not the idea. The stats didn’t follow what the first sentence was indicating they did. You wouldn’t want to mix things together like that if you were publishing an article. My professors or an editor would’ve pulled those things apart and made us put the other stats somewhere that made sense. It was weird because it read badly.

        Comment by ace eccentric — February 19, 2011 @ 10:49 pm | Reply

        • Oohhh, yes, that makes sense. I read your comment and thought “wait… I’m *pretty* sure I’m not the only person who was very intentionally vague…” 🙂

          Comment by asexualsexologist — February 19, 2011 @ 11:00 pm | Reply

  12. When I started the Examiner.com column, I used to report on these every time they came up. Eventually I gave up. I came to the realization that a newspaper reporting on the existence of Asexuals.

    We need to stop getting worked up over these and just ignore them. The most recent such articles have appeared in college newspapers and indignant Asexuals have given these articles more play than they would have had otherwise.

    Comment by Shawn Landis — February 19, 2011 @ 11:51 pm | Reply

    • Okay, for one thing? There is no we. The asexuality blogosphere is not a collective with Shawn Landis at its head. This is my personal blog, and you actually don’t get to dictate what I do and don’t write about here, nor do you get to tell me how I should write about it. If you don’t think this is worth writing about, refrain from writing about it on your own blog. But do not presume to tell me what I should and should not talk about here.

      For another thing, the fact that this post has gotten hands down more play than anything else I’ve written tells me that critiquing articles like this and explaining why they’re full of shit, why they’re asinine, is important. It tells me that people care about taking these things down. If nothing else, the fact that this piece is extraordinarily widely read for my usual level of blog traffic tells me that a readership exists for it.

      And there’s another reason that critiquing this shit is important: it shows that the asexual community is not happy to sit back and let writers say whatever they damn well please without criticism. I expect more from writers who deal with my sexual orientation. I’m not surprised by this article, as I pointed out repeatedly in the original post, it is unoriginal in the extreme. What I’m angry about is that the same unoriginal pap is getting regurgitated again by sexuals who expect us to smile and be grateful. Discussing how poor quality this piece is sends a message of its own.

      So seriously, I’ll get angry and criticize anything I damn well please. If this article is getting more play than it otherwise would have, it’s getting that play attached to a piece that points out that its writer is shoddy, its expert is nothing of the sort, and its message is offensive. Worse things have happened.

      Comment by Sciatrix — February 20, 2011 @ 11:48 am | Reply

  13. Now I don’t know much at all about asexuality, from the ’causes’ (if you can even talk about that, but to me it seems like that would be talking about ’causes’ for homosexuality?) to the appropriate language and terms to use. Everything I know I have picked up from people I follow on tumblr! But I always want to find out more about it and understand it better, because there’s no reason not to when it’s just (not in an offensive sense) another lifestyle, so thankyou for this engaging and enlightening post. Without it I might have accepted some of the points in the other article unknowingly, but I think even then I would’ve had a fair amount of doubt… it isn’t a particularly well-researched or well-written article, and as you point out, falls into the increasingly common and frustrating trap of “provid[ing] a balanced opinion, as if there really are two legitimate sides to every issue”. Sorry if this comment is a little rambling or accidentally offensive, I still have a lot to learn about the whole area.

    Comment by Kelemta — February 20, 2011 @ 12:34 am | Reply

    • Thank you for reading it, and no, your comment’s not offensive. I’m glad that you found the piece useful.

      Comment by Sciatrix — February 20, 2011 @ 11:52 am | Reply

  14. That. I. What.

    I am not reading that article aaaaaah your criticism tells me enough. D: and oh god I never understand how anyone can decide to have a theoretical argument about other groups’ existence. It happens with sexuality, it happens with gender identity, it happens with other issues and it’s just. I am standing RIGHT HERE godfuckingdamnit.

    Also, lately I have been boggling hardcore at sexual fluidity being used to invalidate asexuality (of course, as you rightly point out, not heterosexuality! if you’re straight you’re straight for life, apparently.) Because honestly? Sexual fluidity ought to support asexuality. Because sexual fluidity means that rather than waiting forever and ever for your “real” “true” sexual orientation to show itself, continuing on with “well I MIGHT eventually develop sexual attraction or I MIGHT have these issues so I can’t say for sure”, it means that you can say you are asexual right here right now. (I had this giant epiphanical moment on the subject recently, realising that if tomorrow I wake up with sexual attraction it doesn’t mean I was wrong calling myself asexual for the past six years, it means I was asexual and it changed.) Saying nobody ought to ever identify as asexual because fluidity!!! seems to me to be the complete opposite of what fluidity actually means and is used for.

    Also also, since you’ve come under fire for writing this I’d like to say I consider this attitude very important; I sometimes get this “any visibility is good visibility” whiff off the ace community and someone needs to say that sorry, we refuse to let ourselves be treated like shit and have our identities called into question.

    Comment by Kaz — February 21, 2011 @ 7:00 am | Reply

  15. For as long as I can remember,I’ve hated “sexologists” since all they seem to care about is sex and their “OMG, sex is sooo important” talk annoyed me,and I’m talking about my child self thinking this,so even before I was really thinking of sex,I was already disgusted by them…
    And I do fall into the “something must have happened to them in the past/childhood to swear them off sex” but I do not believe for a second that my less than stellar experiences w/ any type of sex had anything to do w/ my lack of sexual desire…
    I think that people that have been traumatized by sex for whatever reasons might still long for the “normalcy” they felt before their trauma,and in my case I’ve never felt like I was missing something because sex is not important to me.
    I am perfectly content w/ my sexuality,it’s the rest of the world that is not!

    Comment by Me — March 3, 2011 @ 8:11 pm | Reply

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