Asexuals and Pansexuals

22 Sep 2014 |

We talk quite a lot about furries and sexual orientation here at [adjective][species]. We do so because furries are unusual. For example: we are spread out almost evenly across the full seven-point Kinsey Scale, from 0 (exclusively heterosexual) to 6 (exclusively homosexual).

Furry sexual preference on the Kinsey scale
Furry sexual preference on the Kinsey scale

We have looked at the tendency of furries to re-evaluate their sexual preference over time, how sexual orientation relates to species choice, how there is a lot of homosexuality but not a lot of homosexuals, and how all of this affects and informs furry culture.

We get all this data by asking about sexual orientation in the Furry Survey. However there are two responses that we collect but rarely mention: those who are asexual and those who are pansexual. Unfortunately, like many unusual sexual orientations and identities, these two groups are often overlooked or ignored inside and outside furry. Such behaviour contributes to a phenomenon known as erasure, which roughly describes how society acts as if entire groups of people don't exist.

The [adjective][species] tendency to ignore these groups when reporting and analyzing Furry Survey data contributes to erasure of these identities within furry. This article will explain how and why we have treated our asexual and pansexual data, and hopefully help redress the balance.

Let's look at the asexuals first.

There isn't much research on asexuality, with the only significant source of data being a 2004 British survey that showed approximately 1% of the population reporting "no sexual attraction to a partner of either sex" (ref).

This conclusion has been subject to some criticism, based on the methodology and the 71.5% participation rate. There is evidence that people with unusual or stigmatic sexuality are more likely to refuse to respond (or respond honestly) to such surveys: homosexuality, for example, is often under-represented using such methodologies. Accordingly there is a good argument that asexuals are more prevalent in the 28.5% who did not participate, and therefore make up more than 1% in the general population. It is not clear what the real number might be.

In furry, we know the answer: around 5% of furries identify as asexual. This number does not vary with age or time in the fandom:

Asexuals are often invisible in conversations and analysis related to sexual identity because they are seen to be irrelevant to the topic at hand. This can cause them to be ignored altogether, which in turn can lead people to believe that they don't exist.

But the challenge for asexuals isn't just erasure. Arguably the larger problem is that asexuals can be treated with suspicion and disdain, because asexuality is often assumed to be a symptom of a problem.

For example, asexuality is sometimes assumed to be evidence that someone is unloveable or unattractive, that their professed lack of sexual drive is just a defensive strategy. The "asexuals are losers" trope is everywhere, such as in this example from Red Dwarf:

Source This "joke" by the way, sets up Rimmer's confession that his only sexual experience was with a concussed women who kept calling him "Norman". Date rape: hilarious.
Source This "joke" by the way, sets up Rimmer's confession that his only sexual experience was with a concussed women who kept calling him "Norman". Date rape: hilarious.

It is also common for asexuals to be assumed to be suffering some kind of mental or physical health issue. And while it is true that health issues can sometimes lead to a reduction in sex drive, it is unreasonable to assume that a low sex drive is due to a health issue. Asexuality isn't a health problem.

Finally, asexuality is often thought to be something that people "grow out of". While it is true that some asexuals will come to re-evaluate their sexuality and identify as something else, there is no evidence of movement away from asexuality over time.

In furry we can show that asexuality is not temporary, as is clear from the data I presented earlier. This is in contrast to data on furry heterosexuality:

89-hetero and homo

The static nature of the data regarding asexuals within furry is partly why we tend to overlook them here on [adjective][species]. It is difficult to provide interesting analysis on the lack of a trend. For example, when I wrote about how heterosexual furries tend to re-evaluate their sexual preference, I opted to remove the asexual data because it didn't add to the discussion.

We come across the same issue when we talk about furry sexual behaviour. The asexuals are (usually) simply not relevant to the subject at hand. It's also fair to say that, in general, people are more interested to read about sexual behaviour than the absence of sexual behaviour.

So while we have the data on asexuals, we are yet to discover anything especially surprising or novel.

More pertinently when it comes to data analysis, asexuality is a bit of an apple among the oranges. It is included as an option to a question about sexual orientation, but asexuality is not a sexual orientation (although some people dispute this).

Asexuality, like a lot of labels around sexuality, is a slippery concept, and so people don't always agree on what it means. It is usually defined as someone with low sexual attraction*, or no feelings of sexual attraction at all. Asexuals may or may not masturbate, they may or may not have sex, they may or may not be inclined towards a relationship.

Asexuals often experience some romantic inclination, although this may be lower, along with their sexual attraction. Accordingly asexuals are usually thought, in addition to being asexual, to be somewhere between the extremes of exclusive homo- and heterosexuality along with everyone else. They simply experience less sexual interest, tending towards zero, something which inspired the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) symbol:

The AVEN asexuality symbol. The top of the triangle represents the spectrum from heterosexuality to homosexuality, the lower portion shows sexual orientation tending towards zero.

Of course, it's difficult to place yourself on the Kinsey Scale if you don't experience any meaningful sexual or romantic drive.

Asexuality is probably better thought of as an identity rather than a sexual orientation. But that doesn't make it any less important or real.

Recently, here on [adjective][species], we published a visualization that showed how species choice varies with sex, gender, and sexual orientation. Due to an early design decision, we didn't show our data on asexuals. That was a mistake.

Our failure to present species data for asexuals is an example of erasure. Please accept my apology—the fault belongs to me, JM.

I have one extra request for the asexuals: do you think we should continue to provide "asexual" as a sexual preference option in the Furry Survey? The alternative would be a separate yes/no question, which might allow a more nuanced response for someone who considers themselves, say, both asexual and heterosexual.

And this brings us to the pansexuals. Like asexuals, pansexuals are rarely mentioned here on [adjective][species].

A pansexual is someone who experiences sexual and romantic attraction where gender is irrelevant. It is similar to bisexuality, but different in that "bisexual" may imply that gender is relevant, and broader in that "bisexual" may imply a lack of interest in people who are genderqueer.

The difference between the two is subtle. I strongly suspect that many, if not most, bisexuals would be happy enough to be labelled pansexual. If anything, pansexual is a better term because of its implied inclusion of people who don't fit on the gender binary.

Here at [a][s], we usually lump pansexuals in with bisexuals and report them together, usually simply as "bisexuals". It's a simplification, one of the many simplifications we make to help us present data in a clear format. In this case, it's clearer to reduce the number of categories, and we think it's okay to do so given that the differences between bisexuality and pansexuality are marginal.

We do this with our Kinsey data as well. If you respond to the Furry Survey as either "completely heterosexual" or "mostly heterosexual" (Kinsey Scale 0 and 1 respectively), we lump you into a general "heterosexual" category. Similarly, our homosexual category is a combination of Kinsey 5 and 6, and our bisexuals are Kinsey 2, 3 & 4 (plus pansexuals).

When we do this, we are compromising accuracy for simplicity. It's a trade-off and we hope we're striking the right balance. Without such compromises, things can get complicated: even the Kinsey Scale and labels like pansexual and asexual are inherently limiting, because it's unreasonable to expect something as complex as sexual orientation to be completely explained with one word or a number on a scale. Unfortunately it's necessary for analysis.

As it turns out, bisexuals and pansexuals within furry tend to exhibit similar patterns in the data:


I hope that's okay, pansexuals. We at [adjective][species] love you all, truly. And we know that you (might) love each and every one of us back.


* Edit 1 October 2014: the original version of this article stated that asexuality is usually defined as someone with a low sex drive. This is incorrect: asexuality is someone who experiences little or no sexual attraction.