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For Anwen Hayward, a 20-year-old student at Aberystwyth University, it was when her twin sister got her first boyfriend at 17 that she thought, 'Hang on, I’m a bit different here.’ She explains: 'When you’re in school and university, everyone’s really focused on relationships.
I never wanted that at all.’ At first she thought she was a slow developer, or a lesbian, but then she heard about the global online community for asexuality, AVEN (the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network).
I’d sit up writing comments on the website until stupid o’clock in the morning.’ AVEN now has about 50,000 to 60,000 members around the world, who chat on its online forums as well as meeting up in person, and even dating through the site.
The founder, David Jay, a 30-year-old scientific researcher from San Francisco, says that human asexuality started to be hypothesised by scientific researchers in the 1970s and 1980s, but that it has only been in the past decade that a community of people started to identify with the term. The first major book on the subject, Understanding Asexuality, by Prof Anthony Bogaert, of Brock University, Canada, has just been published and this summer the first worldwide conference on asexuality was held in London.
Someone can be healthy and happy as an asexual person.’ It can be stressful, though, to be in a sexual/asexual relationship.
And asexuals are more likely than sexual people to stay single, he says, 'but some asexual people may still have nonsexual love or romantic bonds with partners’.
What is often hardest for 'sexuals’ to get their heads around is that this is not the same as sexual dysfunction or celibacy. 'Some asexuals do not have any masturbation experiences, and perhaps very little arousal experience. But some asexuals have arousal experiences and do masturbate.
For most asexuals, 'It’s like a sexual orientation because it’s not a choice, it’s the way most of us have been for our entire lives.’ Jay himself is in a romantic relationship with an asexual girlfriend and they hope to adopt a child in future.
According to Prof Bogaert, one in 100 people is asexual, although many may not realise they are. In one study, using data collected in the 1990s from 18,000 British people, Prof Bogaert found that about 70 per cent of asexual people were women.