The next time someone says ‘you’re just making up labels now’, you show them this blog. Let’s dive deep into the history of asexuality.
Our journey into the history of asexuality
We’ll be looking at mentions of asexuality* in history, worldwide. Starting with a first documented mention of ‘monosexual’ in 1869. We’ll go over the specifics, show evidence of these historic pieces if they are available, as well as explaining context if needed. We’ll keep adding on to this post as more information becomes available.
*Keep in mind that the term asexuality/asexuals was formed later and identifying early instances of asexuality is a matter of interpretation. That being said, historical figures have long discussed their low levels of sexual attraction, even if they did not have an official term for it yet.
Mention of monosexual in 1869 by Hungarian doctor
When we look into the history of asexuality, the first mention of it can be traced back all the way to the 1860’s. In 1869 a Hungarian doctor named Karl-Maria Kertbeny anonymously created pamphlets, against a sodomy law in Germany.
In these pamphlets he mentioned three different sexual orientations: heterosexual, homosexual and monosexual. This was also the first known public appearance of the term homosexual.
These days monosexuality means feeling romantic or sexual attraction to only one sex/gender. But when doctor Karl-Maria Kertbeny wrote about ‘monosexual’ he referred to people who only masturbate. (“sexual satisfaction only with themselves“)
Mention of people without any sexual desire in 1896 by German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld
Back in 1896, german sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld created a pamphlet called ‘Sappho und Sokrates’ which mentions people without any sexual desire and links them to the concept of anesthesia sexual. While we could write more about this, a user called ‘Tommy92’ on the AVEN forums put a lot of effort into sharing more information about this with translations and comments of different sections. If you’d like to know more we highly suggest checking out their post instead.
The first definition of asexuality in 1897 by sexual reformist Emma Trosse
It’s 1897 when the German sexual reformist Emma Trosse gave the first definition of asexuality in her work “Ein Weib? Psychologisch-biographische: Studie über eine Konträrsexuelle” (A woman? Psychological-biographical study of a contrary-sexual).
In her work she mentioned that asexuality as well as same-sex attraction were not exceptions or abnormal. Therefor the state should protect their rights to sexual freedom, instead of discriminating against them.
Mention of ‘no socio-sexual contacts or reactions’ in 1948 and 1953
“The Kinsey scale, also called the Heterosexual–Homosexual Rating Scale, is used in research to describe a person’s sexual orientation based on one’s experience or response at a given time.” – Wikipedia
Within the asexual community the Kinsey Scale is well known for many reasons. One of the main reasons being that the scale was used as inspiration for the AVEN logo.
In 1948 the Kinsey Scale included category “X” for men who reported no “socio-sexual contacts or reactions”. In a later research, done in 1953, the same category was used for women. Results showed that 1.5% of adult male interviewees, and 19% of female interviewees fell into this category.
Mention of asexuals and asexuality in The Satanic Bible in 1969
“The Satanic Bible is a collection of essays, observations, and rituals published by Anton LaVey in 1969.” – Wikipedia
In 1969 a book by Anton Szandor LaVey called ‘The Satanic Bible’ mentioned asexuality. Specifically: “Satanism condones any type of sexual activity which properly satisfies your individual desires – be it heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or even asexual.”
He also writes: “Asexuals are invariably sexually sublimated by their jobs or hobbies. All the energy and driving interest which would normally be devoted to sexual activity is channelled into other pastimes or into their chosen occupations. If a person favors other interests over sexual activity, it is his right, and no one is justified in condemning him for it. However, the person should at least recognize the fact that this is a sexual sublimation.”
While this sounds more like celibacy (a choice), it’s still one of the first mentions of asexuality, which is why we want to include this in our blog.
Mention of asexuality in The Asexual Manifesto by Lisa Orlando, in 1972
In The Asexual Manifesto, written by Lisa Orlando, she writes about asexuality. It’s interesting and only 4 pages long, so we highly recommend reading it yourself if you’re interested. You can find the original manifesto or for an easier read, check out the transcribed version of the manifesto by Siggy.
A quote taken from the manifesto: “We chose the term “asexual” to describe ourselves because both “celibate” and “anti-sexual” have connotations we wished to avoid: the first implies that one has sacrificed sexuality for some higher good, the second that sexuality is degrading or somehow inherently bad. “Asexual”, as we use it, does not mean “without sex” but “relating sexually to no one”. This does not, of course, exclude masturbation but implies that if one has sexual feelings they do not require another person for their expression. Asexuality is, simply, self-contained sexuality.”
Mention of ‘asexual’ as a label by activists at Barnard College in 1973
This is the first time the mention of asexuality was photographed. It can be traced back to 1973, when activists at Barnard College (a private women’s liberal arts college in New York City) advocated to “choose your own label”. Among these different labels ‘asexual’ was also mentioned.
The picture was published in February 1973, in “Off our backs: a women’s newsjournal”. The photo was actually meant to be released in the previous article which described asexuality to be “an orientation that regards a partner as nonessential to sex, and sex as nonessential to a satisfying relationship.” But unfortunately the photo came in a day after they went to press with the article.
Credit: photograph by Susan Rennie and published in February 1973 in “off our backs: a women’s newsjournal” vol. 3 no. 6.
Mention of asexuality in a photo taken in 1973 by Crawford Barton
During the 1970’s, many people joined the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade and Festival. This photo was taken during the parade in 1973 by Crawford Barton.
It states: “Gay, Straight, Bisexual, Asexual—All God’s Children Need Love”.
Mention of asexuality by David Bowie in Rolling Stone magazine in 1974
In 1973, William S. Burroughs interviews Singer and composer David Bowie. As they talks about sexuality, David states “I’m regarded quite asexually by a lot of people. And the people that understand me the best are nearer to what I understand about me. Which is not very much, for I’m still searching. I don’t know, the people who are coming anywhere close to where I think I’m at regard me more as an erogenous kind of thing. But the people who don’t know so much about me regard me more sexually”. You can read the full interview here.
Mention of asexuality in 1977, in the book ‘The Sexually Oppressed’
In 1977 Myra Johnson wrote one of the first (that we know of) academic papers about asexuality. Her work was called “Asexual and Autoerotic Women: Two Invisible Groups”. This became part of the book ‘The Sexually Oppressed’.
In her academic papers, she described asexuality as “a complete lack of sexual desire”. Johnson labeled those who did experience sexual desire but had no wish to satisfy this need with others, as “autoerotic”.
She focused on the problems experienced by these people, as she felt this group was often ignored by the sexual revolution and feminist movements of the time.
Mention of asexuality in a study published in 1979
In 1979 a study done by Michael D. Storms, was published in “Advances in the Study of Affect”. In this study Storms reimagines the Kinsey Scale as a two-dimensional map which includes asexuality, defined as exhibiting little to no homo-eroticism or hetero-eroticism. This kind of scale accounted for asexuality for the first time. Storm believed that a lot of researchers who followed Kinsey’s model, could be wrongly categorizing asexuals as bisexual, as both were defined by the lack of preference for gender in sexual partners.
Mention of being ‘non-sexual’ during an American talk show in 1989
In 1989, Toby (alias of Jim Sinclair) was interviewed on the The Sally Jessy Raphaël Show. The interview was done by Sally herself. Toby, a then self-described androgynous and nonsexual person, talked about their experiences, thoughts and feelings. You can watch the interview below.
Mention of asexuality in book by Esther D. Rothblum and Kathleen A. Brehony, in 1993
Back in 1993 a book called “Boston Marriages: Romantic but Asexual Relationships Among Contemporary Lesbians was released. The book was written by Kathleen A. Brehony and Esther D. Rothblum. You can read the book for yourself, or check other asexual’s opinion here.
Mention of asexuality in an essay, shared on a website in 1997, by Jim Sinclair
In 1997, activist Jim Sinclair shares an essay called ‘Personal Definitions of Sexuality‘ on their website. This essay was originally written for a class assignment back in 1987 where students were asked to write their personal definition of sexuality. In this essay they define themself as asexual.
“I define myself as asexual, because if I am asexual I have all the equipment I need. I define my expressions of sensuality, eros, and love as nonsexual, because if they are nonsexual they are not rendered invalid by my asexuality. I define my love as authentic, because I define my humanity as complete and unimpaired.“
Mention of asexuality in published article ‘My life as an amoeba’ by Zoe O’ reilly in 1997
In 1997 an article by Zoe O’Reilly gets published, called ‘My life an an amoeba‘. It’s a first-person exploration of asexuality that turned out to spark many responses through the following years by people who identified with it.
“I’m out and proud to be asexual. My people are a definite minority group who wish to be recognized like all the others. We want a colored ribbon, a national holiday, coupons for fast food. We want the world to know that we are out there.
School science books make the barest mention of our kind and even then stick to the single-celled variety. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, asexual organisms with more than one cell don’t exist.“
Creation of one of the original online asexual communities in 2000
On October 12th (2000), the Yahoo group ‘Haven for the Human Amoeba’ (HHA) was founded. It was one of the first original online asexual communities. It was created more than a year before AVEN was founded. Haven for the Human Amoeba had well over 600 users. Here you can find more information about HHA.
David Jay founded the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) in 2001
In 2001 David Jay founded AVEN, which became the most prolific and well known organization for asexuals from all over the world. The two most important goals for AVEN were to create public acceptance and discussion of asexuality, and facilitating the growth of the asexual community.
The AVEN community mostly centers around the forum, which provides a safe space for both asexuals as their family and friends to discuss experiences and ask questions. AVEN also offers informational resources to asexuals, family and friends, researchers, and press.
More years are coming!
More information and mentions of asexuality from 2001 till today, will be added weekly!
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