What is asexuality?
According to the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), asexuality as a sexual orientation (distinct from the method of reproduction with the same name) is characterized by a lack of sexual attraction [source: AVEN]. It's also different from celibacy, which is a choice to remain sexually inactive as a resistance against desire and attraction. That doesn't, however, imply that something is physically wrong with asexuals. Going back to the asexual rams, for example, their lack of interest wasn't linked to deficient reproductive systems or dwindling levels of testosterone [source: Roselli et al]. Likewise, studies among self-identifying asexual humans have yet to establish any physiological differences between them and the greater population. At the same time, academic field work in asexuality is still in its infancy.
Anthony F. Bogaert, a psychologist at Brock University in Canada, ushered asexuality into academia -- and media headlines -- with a study he published in the Journal of Sex Research in August 2004. Bogaert examined survey data collected among British households in 1994 and zeroed in on a question regarding sexual attraction. Out of a sample size of nearly 19,000, 1.5 percent of respondents answered "I have never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all" [source: Bogaert]. Though small, that proportion wasn't much slimmer than the 3 percent of people reporting same-sex attraction [source: Bering]. In a follow-up theoretical paper published in 2006, Bogaert framed asexuality as a distinct sexual orientation, squaring out heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality [source: Scherrer].
Since sex is cornerstone of our evolutionary history and individual identities, it might be challenging to understand what the absence of that drive feels like. In 2005, Indiana University psychologists conducted in-depth interviews with four self-identified asexuals, which revealed their low desires for intercourse and sexual contact alongside yearning for non-sexual bonding and relationship [source: Prause and Graham]. On the flip side, asexuals also recognized certain benefits to their orientation, including more free time and low risks of STD contraction or unwanted pregnancy [source: Prause and Graham].
That initial research probably came as little surprise to David Jay, founder of the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN). Jay started the site www.asexuality.org in 2001 as a home base for a burgeoning online asexual community and a virtual resource center [source: AVEN Wiki]. As a host of media outlets began buzzing about Bogaert's asexuality statistics, Jay, a handsome brunet, became the de facto public face of the orientation, repeatedly explaining that while he had never engaged in sexual intercourse, he built emotionally fulfilling relationships with other people [source: Westphal].
Meanwhile, psychologists, sexologists and gender studies scholars set out to unearth what asexuality looks like and where it fits in the sexual spectrum.