It’s Friday afternoon during finals week, and two undergrads at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville are lounging together on a battered couch in the student center, watching cartoons. They’ve only met twice before, but they’re all over each other. Rae, a tiny pixie of a sophomore wearing a newsboy cap, nuzzles up against Sean, a handsome freshman. He’s got his arm draped across her. They giggle and tease each other, and she sprawls into his lap. Their friend Genevieve, perched on the arm of the couch, smiles and rolls her eyes.
It looks like a standard collegiate prelude to a one-night stand. But there will be no kissing, no fondling, and definitely no Saturday morning walk of shame. Sean and Rae do not have the hots for each other—or anyone else, for that matter. In fact, they’re here hanging out at the campus outreach center, a haven for all who question their sexuality and gender identity, because they’re exploring an unconventional idea: life without sex. Or mostly without sex. They’re pioneers of an emerging sexual identity, one with its own nomenclature and subcategories of romance and desire, all revolving around the novel concept that having little to no interest in sex is itself a valid sexual orientation. Rae tells me she’s an aromantic asexual, Sean identifies as a heteroromantic demisexual, and Genevieve sees herself as a panromantic gray-asexual.
Not sure what these terms mean? You’re not alone. The definitions are still in flux, but most people who describe themselves as demisexual say they only rarely feel desire, and only in the context of a close relationship. Gray-asexuals (or gray-aces) roam the gray area between absolute asexuality and a more typical level of interest. Then there are the host of qualifiers that describe how much romantic attraction you might feel toward other people: Genevieve says she could theoretically develop a nonsexual crush on just about any type of person, so she is “panromantic”; Sean is drawn to women, so he calls himself “heteroromantic.”
The jargon is all nonsense, lifted conceptually from the managerial elite’s fetish for taxonomy, with a healthy dose of the therapeutic culture sprinkled on top. Asexuality is nothing new and it has been with us since forever. Some percentage of humans lack the normal sex drive, just as some people have a hyper-active sex drive.
There’s also the fact that societies in decline have lower fertility rates. This has been understood for a long time. In good times, people have more fun and that results in more babies. In bad times, there’s less fun and fewer babies. It’s not just material good times or bad times either. Periods of material wealth, but spiritual decline can push down fertility rates. Iran is the an interesting example of a society with a very low fertility rate, despite modestly improving material wealth.
Japan is the classic example. It turns out that a people without a unifying purpose, regardless of their material wealth, are just not all that enthusiastic about the procreative acts. David Goldman, in his book How Civilizations Die, notes how fertility rates track church attendance in the West, while the reverse seems to be true in Islam. In America, a transactional, materialistic society is probably not inspiring to young people coming into a world without purpose. In Islam, a world ruled by lunatics who believe in flying carpets and magic inspires little in the way of optimism.