Elizabeth F. Emens
Columbia Law School
March 7, 2013
Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 13-331
Forthcoming: Stanford Law Review, Vol. 66
Asexuality is an emerging identity category that challenges the common assumption that everyone is defined by some type of sexual attraction. Asexuals — those who feel no sexual attraction to others — constitute one percent of the population, according to a prominent study. In recent years, some individuals have begun to identify as asexual and to connect around their experiences interacting with a sexual society. Asexuality has also become a protected classification under one state’s antidiscrimination law, but legal scholarship has thus far neglected the subject.
This article introduces asexuality as a category of analysis, an object of empirical study, and a phenomenon of medical science. It then offers a close examination of the growing community of self-identified asexuals. Asexual identity has revealing intersections with the more familiar categories of gender, sexual orientation, and disability, and inspires new models for understanding sexuality.
Thinking about asexuality also sheds light on our legal system. Ours is arguably a sexual law, organized around the assumption that sex is important. The article traces several ways that our sexual law burdens, and occasionally benefits, asexuals. These indirect legal burdens combine with recent research on bias against asexuals to suggest a plausible case for legally protecting asexuals from discrimination. New York has included asexuality in its antidiscrimination law, and the article uses original research to tell the story of that legal innovation. The article concludes by exploring the common intuition that asexuality is a poor fit with existing antidiscrimination law. A close study of protected classifications identifies the core criteria that track the degrees of protection achieved by different identity categories, few of which are currently met by asexuality, though this could change with time. In so doing, the article provides a novel approach for understanding the landscape of antidiscrimination law.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 69working papers series
Date posted: February 15, 2013 ; Last revised: March 10, 2013
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