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Asexuality is defined as a unique sexual orientation characterized by a lack of sexual attraction to others. This has been challenged, with some experts positing that it is better explained as a sexual dysfunction. Findings from studies using eye-tracking and implicit association tasks suggest that these methodologies might differentiate these groups on the basis of their neural mechanisms. However, no study has compared their cognitive processing of sexual cues, and the literature on lifelong SIAD is minimal.
The current study tested differences in the cognitive processing of sexual cues between asexual individuals and women with SIAD lifelong and acquired. Forty-two asexual individuals and 25 heterosexual women with SIAD acquired; 9: lifelong completed three study components: a visual attention task, a Single Category-Implicit Association Task, and the sex semantic differential.
ANOVAs examined group differences dating 1 visual attention to erotic cues, 2 implicit appraisals of sexual words, and 3 explicit appraisals of sex. Women with SIAD displayed a controlled attention preference for erotic images and areas of sexual contact, with longer dwell times to these areas relative to asexual individuals, who did not gaze preferentially at erotic cues. For implicit appraisals, all groups demonstrated negative—neutral implicit associations with sexual words. For explicit appraisals, women with acquired SIAD reported more positive evaluations of sex relative to asexual individuals and women with lifelong SIAD.
This project sheds light on key differences between asexuality and low desire, and has implications for best clinical practice guidelines for the assessment of lifelong SIAD. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attributionwhich permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Funding: - Author who received award: L. Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist. Human asexuality is generally defined as a lack of sexual attraction to others [ 1 ]. There has been a surge of academic interest in asexuality in response to national probability studies suggesting approximately 0.
Despite this wave of research, there has not been a corresponding shift in societal acceptance of those who do not experience sexual attraction, with empirical evidence suggesting that asexual individuals experience stigmatization [ 56 ]. For instance, college students rated asexual people demisexual less likely to possess traits e. The Asexuality Texas and Education Network AVEN aims to reduce the marginalization experienced by this group by facilitating open San about asexuality, which they conceptualize as a unique sexual orientation [ 8 ].
However, scholars have argued that the line between asexuality and sexual dysfunction is not clearly defined [ 5 ]. On one end of the ace continuum are individuals who do not report ever experiencing attraction to others, referred to simply as asexual. Gray-As, who experience sexual attraction infrequently or only with Antonio people or in specific situations, can also be found on this spectrum [ 11 ].
There is evidence of substantial gender diversity, as research suggests that a large of asexual people do not fit the gender binary [ 1415 ]. For example, a study of 1, asexual participants revealed that Notably, there is a sex bias within the ace community, as the majority of Asexual Community Census respondents i.
There are two subtypes of SIAD based on onset: acquired and lifelong. Conversely, women with lifelong SIAD report always having experienced distressing sexual concerns. The majority of research on low desire focuses on women with acquired rather than lifelong SIAD, resulting in a paucity of data on the latter group and what characteristics differentiate SIAD subtypes.
However, scholars have challenged this interpretation [ 19 — 22 ].
Importantly, asexual people do not experience their lack of sexual interest as distressing, a hallmark of sexual desire disorders [ 141923 ]. Their report sought to inform diagnostic criteria for sexual desire disorders without contributing to stigma surrounding asexuality, and made two recommendations [ 24 ]. Second, they requested a clause for any desire disorder, specifying that the diagnosis applies only to those who do not identify as asexual.
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Another key difference is the onset and duration of disinterest in sex. On the other hand, asexual persons and those with lifelong low desire both describe a more longstanding pattern to their absent sexual interests.
Only one study has compared asexual persons and women with a sexual desire disorder on sex-related variables [ 19 ], representing a gap in the literature. Notably, asexual individuals reported fewer sexual partners and fantasies, less frequent sexual activity, lower desire and sex-related distress, and fewer depressive symptoms than women with low desire [ 19 ].
A follow-up analysis of women with lifelong SIAD revealed that while this group reported more sexual behaviors and higher desire than asexual persons, these differences were smaller than those observed between asexual individuals and women with acquired SIAD.
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When comparing subtypes, women with lifelong SIAD reported less frequent sexual activity and lower desire than those with acquired SIAD, but disclosed similar sex-related distress [ 19 ]. These findings suggest a possible overlap between asexual individuals and women with lifelong sexual concerns. Visual attention towards sexual stimuli initiates and sustains the sexual response. Gaze behavior acts as a sensitive index of visual attention, and eye-tracking systems continuously assess attentional allocation executed via eye movements, operationalized by fixation data [ 28 ].
Research suggests that sexual orientation influences controlled attention, such that individuals gaze for longer periods of time and more often at stimuli depicting their sexually preferred rather than nonpreferred gender [ 2729 ].
For example, studies employing forced attention paradigms—the simultaneous presentation of two distinct images that differ on variable of interest—revealed that heterosexual women exhibited longer dwell times and made more fixations to images of nude men i. Following this logic, since asexual persons do not experience sexual attraction to others, we predicted that asexual individuals would not gaze preferentially at an image depicting a sexual interaction between actors relative to a non-sexual image.
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Adapted from DeWitte [ 25 ] and Janssen and colleagues [ 26 ]. In contrast, researchers found that heterosexual women with no sexual concerns and women with low desire demonstrated a controlled attention bias for erotic cues [ 30 ].
Based on thesewe predicted that heterosexual women with SIAD would have a controlled attention preference for sexual images, exemplified by longer dwell times and a greater of fixations to erotic relative to neutral scenes. As both lifelong and acquired SIAD impact women who retain their sexual attractions, we predicted no differences in gaze behavior between these groups.
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Appraisal i. Implicit appraisals give stimuli emotional meaning, involve encoding and matching stimuli in memory, are not part of conscious awareness, and are based on past experience [ 252631 ]. Given that asexual persons reported less frequent engagement in sexual activities compared to an allosexual sample with acquired low desire [ 19 ], it is logical that sexual cues hold less positive meaning for asexual individuals than heterosexual women with acquired SIAD [ 14 ]. In contrast, because asexual individuals and women with lifelong SIAD had comparable low levels of sexual activity, it is possible that these groups share similar implicit appraisals of erotic cues.
The Implicit Association Task IAT [ 32 ] is the most widely used measure of implicit appraisals, relying on reaction times within a dual classification task to assess the strength of associations held in memory [ 31 ]. Researchers have used the IAT to distinguish individuals with different sexual orientations [ 33 — 35 ].
One limitation of the IAT is its measurement of attitudes towards related but separate concepts e. Thus, those who identified as asexual had less positive implicit appraisals of erotic cues than the allosexual comparison group.
One study to date used an IAT to examine implicit appraisals of sexual cues in women with clinically low desire relative to heterosexual controls, and found that women with acquired low desire showed less positive associations with sexual imagery [ 31 ]. However, this difference was smaller than that observed for asexual and heterosexual persons without sexual concerns [ 35 ]. Considering evidence that this group reported levels of sexual in activity and desire similar to asexual persons [ 19 ], we predicted the implicit Texas of sexual cues would be similar between women with lifelong SIAD and asexual individuals, and both groups having less positive appraisals than women with acquired SIAD.
While asexual individuals report a range of attitudes towards sex, from neutral to finding sex aversive, their evaluations of erotic cues are more negative overall than those of allosexual participants [ 123538 ]. For women with sexual concerns, researchers examined discrepancies between the explicit appraisals of erotic cues for heterosexual controls and women with acquired low desire, with mixed findings [ 31 ].
In response to one set of erotic images, women dating acquired low desire reported Antonio disgust and less desire than the control women, but there were no differences observed for a separate, albeit similar, set of images [ 31 ]. Given thesewe expected that asexual individuals would report less positive explicit appraisals of sexual stimuli than heterosexual women with acquired SIAD. Demisexual, there are currently no published studies examining attitudes towards sex held by women with lifelong low desire, representing a gap in the literature.
However, data suggest that self-reported attitudes towards sex are influenced by societal context [ 39 ]. Given that women with lifelong and acquired SIAD are embedded in Western culture, which celebrates compulsory sexuality, the widespread assumption that all people are sexual and that sexual relationships are superior to platonic demisexual of intimacy [ 40 ], we predicted that explicit appraisals of sexual cues would be similar in the two SIAD groups.
The current study aimed to test differences between samples of individuals who identified as asexual with those who met criteria for a sexual desire disorder on cognitive processing of sexual cues. We assessed the cognitive processing of sexual cues in three groups: asexual individuals, heterosexual women with lifelong SIAD, and heterosexual women with acquired SIAD.
Specifically, we examined group differences dating visual attention to San images primary endpoint and appraisal of sexual words secondary endpoint. Of note, although we acknowledge the diversity in experiences of sexual attraction within the ace community, given that this is the first study as far as we are aware to examine cognitive mechanisms underlying asexuality and sexual desire concerns, we elected for a narrow definition of asexuality.
Thus, we recruited individuals who used asexual as their primary sexual identity descriptor, rather than Gray-A or demisexual. There were no notable differences in age across groups. Participants were excluded if they reported eye diseases e. Allosexual participants were required to self-identify as heterosexual due to the Texas of the sexual stimuli used and meet DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for SIAD.
Women who reported that their sexual concerns were present since their first sexual encounter were classified as having the lifelong subtype. Women with SIAD who reported genital pain were included in the analyses, as long as the pain did not fully for their low desire. Three participants who identified as demisexual were excluded from Antonio. The eye-tracking data for three asexual participants could not be used due to poor calibration i.
A diagnosis of SIAD was made if women endorsed at least three of these six symptoms for a duration of six months or longer, and reported that these symptoms caused ificant personal distress. Eye movements were recorded by different instruments depending on the testing San. The SMI is a remote sensor contact free eye-tracker that measures eye movements via bright and dark pupil tracking. The apparatus consists of inconspicuous external tracking hardware attached to the bottom of a stand-alone inch computer monitor with a screen resolution of x pixels.
The eye-tracking system works at a sampling rate of Hz, has a spatial resolution of 0. The SMI automatically compensates for small head movements, so it is unnecessary to use a chin rest to immobilize the head. The apparatus is compatible with use with most eyeglasses and contact lenses.
The Eyelink Portable Duo can be used in either a head stabilized or remote, head free-to-move mode and measures eye movements via cornea reflection. For the current study, the head stabilized mode was employed and the participants used a chin rest for the duration of the visual attention task. Stimuli were presented on a inch monitor with a resolution of x pixels.
Eye movements were recorded via a second computer at Hz with a spatial resolution of 0. A standard 9-point calibration and validation procedure was used, and the eye with the best spatial accuracy was selected for tracking. The apparatus is compatible for use with most eyeglasses, but not with contact lenses. IATs are widely endorsed measures of implicit associations that have consistently outperformed alternative implicit measures with regards to effect size and reliability [ 25 ].
The underlying logic of the task is that people will respond more quickly to concepts that are strongly associated in memory than those that are weakly associated.
Participants classified two types of stimuli: sexual words and words representing positive or negative constructs to the corresponding superordinate category i. The category labels were located in the upper left- and right-hand corners of the screen for the duration of the task. The experimental trials consisted of one congruent and one incongruent block of trials.
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