David Jay is a virgin and he doesn’t care who knows. The 25-year-old has been vocal about his disinterest in sex since his freshman year at Wesleyan University. He has become the poster child for asexuality, the lack of sexual attraction to either gender.

Asexuality is mostly ignored because it is characterized by a lack of—rather than an expression of—sexuality, according to David, who grew tired of invisibility.

“There was no language with which to understand myself, and it was really scary,” he said on the phone from San Francisco.

In 2001, David started the Asexual Visibility and Education Network at asexuality.org, a website that now has over 13,500 registered users.

Members of AVEN need not be “strictly asexual,” said John, a 24-year-old volunteer moderator and recent Brock University graduate. Some simply feel more comfortable with asexuals, seeking refuge from an aggressively sexual world. John, who prefers cuddling and Crazy 8s to getting frisky, has gone to “third base, not all the way.”

“Asexual is an absolutist term, and like all absolutist terms, it’s flawed,” said John, who calls himself a Grey-A because he has experienced sexual attraction— for three people.

“I think that’s somewhat below average,” he deadpanned.

“I don’t really speak that language. I don’t send out signals, I don’t pick up signals.”

He gave an example of a date at Brock.

“In hindsight I could tell she was trying to get physical. She was trying to get physical and I was like, cuddle cuddle. I was completely oblivious.”

But lack of attraction to others doesn’t translate to an indifference to physical pleasure. “I enjoy physical contact,” said John. “It’s just easier by myself.”

“Almost all asexuals masturbate. They’d rather masturbate than get it on with another person. It’s easier, it’s cleaner, it’s simpler, and it’s just all around nicer.”

Nor does asexuality correspond with celibacy. Most AVEN members, according to a poll, prize romance. Only 15 per cent self-identified as aromantic.

“Romance and sexuality are entirely different things,” said John. “I have a good friend who is bisexual homo-romantic (he gets turned on by guys and girls but only wants that romantic relationship with guys).”

But how do asexuals manage to find love in a nympho world?

David said that asexualove. net, the most prominent dating site for asexuals, shut down due to lack of demand. “Numerically speaking, it’s hard for people to find dates, and that will change as the community grows,” he said. AVEN plans to launch a dating website within the next several months. Still, he said, members meet through the website, which boasts two marriages.

John met Carolyn, his girlfriend of a year and a half, through AVEN. Carolyn’s brother is asexual, but she isn’t. “My girlfriend is constantly trying to drag me to the bedroom, and I’m like, ‘Come on, you got to kill the ogre, roll the dice!’ I want to play cards and go for a nice walk in the park, and she’s like, ‘Bedroom! Bedroom! Bedroom!’”

“Things that I should be enjoying just feel like a chore,” he said, but added, “Every couple has to expect to work through some sort of sexual incompatibility. It’s part of a normal relationship process.”

Has David ever had a girlfriend? “I don’t like that label,” he replied, laughing. “Rather than think about a girlfriend or a boyfriend where I’m emotionally fulfilled, I think about a community where I’m emotionally fulfilled.”

“The person I’m closest to dating right now, I just bought flowers for her, we say ‘I love you’ to each other, we sleep in the same bed sometimes—she is a lesbian, and I’m helping her look for a girlfriend as a part of my relationship with her. There’s elements of friendship and romance that mingle together.”

“You don’t need sex to be happy.”

The medical and academic communities have no concensus on asexuality because little research has been done, according to Dr. Anthony Bogaert, a psychology professor at Brock University.

Bogaert found that around one per cent of the population reported themselves as asexual, similar to the rate of same-sex attraction found in the same survey. The paper, published in 2004 in the Journal of Sex Research, surveyed 18,000 Britons.

But, Bogaert noted, asexuality could be under-reported. “There’s a stigma associated with being asexual,” he said. “Certainly the media presents everyone as hypersexual—you have to be superbeautiful and supersexual all the time.”

Bogaert called asexuality a “unique sexual orientation,” a view shared by Dr. Lori Brotto, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia and director of the UBC Sexual Health Laboratory.

Brotto was working in a sexual dysfunction clinic when she noticed a common occurrence: women and men who had no interest in sex. “It led us to wonder if this was more than just low desire, if this was a completely separate phenomenon. Was this really asexuality?” She surveyed 200 respondents through AVEN, interviewing 15 of them in-depth.

“There’s a distinction between loss of sexual desire and asexuality as an orientation, on the basis of our research.” she said. Her research, conducted from 2006 to 2007, has been submitted for publication.

Critics of asexuality, doctors and therapists among them, say it is a suppression of natural human desires.

Dr. Alex Alterescu, a North Yorkbased sex therapist, said he had mixed feelings on the subject. “If people decide not to be sexual, that’s their problem,” he said. “But from my point of view as a physician, as a therapist with a long experience, I feel that these people have some personal problem that led to that because remember, sexuality is a part of normal life.”

“Why do these people decide to be asexual, to go against something that is very natural for everybody, and most people enjoy?”

The assumption that sex is an indispensable part of life pressures many asexuals into providing sex or faking desire for their partners, said John.

“This is the form that relationships follow: In the beginning there’s sex, and it trails off quickly. Or only under duress. It’s horrible, it destroys relationships and it breaks hearts on both sides.”

With more research and awareness, he said, asexuals can be open in relationships and avoid stringing their partners along for months before “dropping the hammer.”

“We want people to understand and accept it as a concept.”

“Then when they’re confronted with the practice, they’ll be able to deal with it and put it into a category, a nice little box they have set aside.”