Asexuals Push for Greater Recognition

In a society obsessed with sex, David Jay wants no part of it.

Jay, a 26-year-old graduate student at the Presidio School of Management in San Francisco, acknowledges that his lack of interest in sex may seem unusual to many who view intercourse as the epitome of intimacy.

But research suggests that about 1 percent of the population may share Jay's view on sex. And he said that for many of these people, coming to terms with their feelings about sex can be a major challenge.

"When I was younger, the message I would always hear is that you need sex to be happy," he said. "I realized probably around the age of 14 or 15 that all of my friends were actively talking about sex. I just couldn't relate to it; I had no interest at all."

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Jay said that it took him about four years of struggling to adjust to the fact that he simply did not view sex in the same way as most other people.

"It was really scary, really frightening," Jay said. "I think that throughout the asexual community, there are a lot of people who really start in that place of being isolated and confused."

Jay says it's his choice not to engage in sex. To be sure, there are millions of other people who have no interest in sex or are unable to perform sexually who are not at all happy to be members of this club. For them, a variety of psychiatric and medical procedures are available.

But asexuals like Jay are perfectly happy to take a pass on sex. Today, Jay is one of the most prominent voices in the asexuality community. In 2001, he started the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) with the aim of providing a community for people who identify themselves as asexual.

And he said that while one of the primary aims of the group is to foster a greater general understanding of asexuality, this does not mean that there should be less talk about sex. In fact, he believes more such talk is needed.

"The problem is not that there is too much discussion about sex; 99 percent of the world really, really likes sex, so it is something that should be talked about openly and honestly," Jay said. "But we need to have more discussion about how people can not have sex and still be happy."

Recently, Jay and others within AVEN began lobbying for greater understanding of asexuality among the psychological community as well. Their message is simple: they want increased recognition of asexuality among psychological professionals -- while ensuring that it is seen as a legitimate sexual orientation rather than diagnosed as a mental illness.

The group's current goal is to foster greater understanding among the architects of the new version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is scheduled for release in 2012. The DSM, which is published by the American Psychiatric Association, provides diagnostic criteria for mental disorders.

Asexuality researcher Lori Brotto, assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of British Columbia, is one of the medical experts working with AVEN toward this goal. And she said it is little surprise that this confusion exists -- not only in the clinical realm, but among the general public as well.

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