Leverhulme-funded project will explore asexuality

Dr Susie Scott (Department of Sociology) and Dr Matt Dawson (formerly of the same department; now at Glasgow University) have been awarded a Leverhulme research grant of £103,782 for their project, ‘A qualitative exploration of asexual identities and practices of intimacy’.

The project will run for two years from March 2013, and will be led by Dr Scott as Principal Investigator, with Dr Dawson as Co-Investigator, as well as a Research Fellow, to be appointed.

Dr Scott says: “Asexuality is a sexual orientation defined by a lack of sexual desire, which tends to be viewed as an individual problem – an abnormality or deficiency - and socially stigmatised. Sociologically, however, we seek to understand how this identity is experienced and lived, and how asexual people build intimate relationships that can be equally fulfilling.”

The project will attempt to answer two sets of questions about this group.

Firstly, how does someone come to define themselves as ‘asexual’? Is there a process of ‘coming out’ involved and how does the idea of being asexual change – or not change – over time?  How are the experiences of someone who becomes asexual in midlife different from those of someone who has always identified as asexual?

Secondly, what are the distinguishing characteristics of asexual intimate partnerships, compared to friendships or other relationships? What does love or intimacy mean without sexual desire, and how are these feelings demonstrated, or practised, in everyday life? How might asexual relationships be conducted differently when only one partner, rather than both, lacks sexual desire?

Dr Scott adds: “In exploring these questions, we will be especially interested in factors of social interaction and negotiation with others in the peer group, family and the growing online asexual community.

“We hope to show how the experiences and practices of asexual life are not simply a matter of biological fate, nor even individual choices, but rather influenced by our societal and cultural context.”

The methods used will be semi-structured interviews with people who self-identify as asexual, in combination with diaries in which participants will record narrative accounts of their everyday practices of intimacy.