Created 2 Feb 2014 • Last modified 23 Jun 2016

There's something here to offend just about everyone. —A reviewer of a submitted journal article, quoted in Quinsey (2008), p. 80

In the preface of this book, I mentioned that "I'm more sex-negative than sex-positive". The contents of this book, particularly the later chapters, show that a certain degree of antagonism or suspicion towards human sexual emotion is justifiable, if not required. We have seen that not only are humans innately predisposed to find sexual matters somewhat upsetting, sexual stimuli have various strange effects on people's thinking and decision-making, sexual desire provides motivation for an enormous amount of sexual abuse, and victims of severe sexual abuse are psychologically harmed even more than victims of non-sexual traumas. Culture can ameliorate or aggravate these problems but not, so far as we have seen, eliminate them. Clearly, human sexuality is not all rainbows and sunshine.

But it's also possible to be too sex-negative. First of all, don't forget those earlier chapters. A wide variety of sexual practices and preferences are common, and in most cases, we have no good reason to think they do any harm, outside of harm induced by a culture that irrationally condemns them. And we have seen that the traditional view that sexuality is for reproduction alone faces many challenges. To see sex-negativity in its purest and most extreme form, though, you'd have to look at the antisexual community, a loose coalition of people on the Internet that I considered myself part of for a few years. In particular, I participated in a Web forum for Anglophone antisexuals that no longer exists today. There is no research on antisexuals, so I will describe my own perceptions.

Self-described antisexuals have never been very numerous or ideologically homogeneous. The solidarity of the movement has been hindered by the language divide between English and Russian speakers as well as by an ambivalent relationship with the asexual movement (which, unlike the antisexual movement, has lately rapidly increased in visibility and perceived legitimacy by the public, partly by ostracizing antisexuals; it is not a mistake that AVEN policy is adamantly sex-positive despite how not all AVENites are sex-positive themselves). The central idea of antisexualism is that sexual affect and sexual behavior are destructive to personal health and social harmony. Antisexuals frequently characterize sex as a distraction or addiction. Although they may happen to agree with religious prescriptions, their arguments are secular. They frequently, although not invariably, feel no sexual attraction or desire. They are almost always celibate.

Initially, I was excited to learn that the antisexual community existed. Here, for the first time, were people who shared my antagonism towards sexuality itself, as opposed to some particular sexual preference. Over time, as I discussed with other antisexuals the ideas that eventually led to this book, I began to both moderate my own views on sexuality and realize that antisexuals were not interested in moderation. While I liked and agreed with a number of individual antisexuals, the community as a whole turned out to be too dogmatically sex-negative for my tastes. There is too much emphasis on portraying sexuality in a bad light by any means handy rather than trying to understand, characterize, and control it. Antisexuals see sexuality less as a force of nature to be coped with than a social evil to be quashed. Now, I am convinced that if we want to best limit whatever harm sexuality may do, we need to understand it realistically, not demonize it. We need empirical sexual attitudes.

On that note, I want to return to a very general theme I touched on in the preface. Sexuality is something people have strong opinions about, although they are unaware of both the empirical research that has been conducted and how much research is left to be done to answer the questions that they think they already know the answers to. But sexuality is not the only topic for which this is the case. Political controversies of all sorts rage on in the United States and around the world with no consideration of empirical research. Moral and philosophical arguments are tossed about as if everybody already knew the facts, and yet, by and large, we don't know the facts. We are obliged to make countless uninformed decisions. We try to circumnavigate the globe in a rowboat without a map.

Awareness of our own ignorance is the first step towards fixing it.


Quinsey, V. L. (2008). Seeking enlightenment on the dark side of psychology. Trauma, Violence, and Abuse, 9(2), 72–83. doi:10.1177/1524838008314936. Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20150406210328/http://www.queensu.ca/psychology/Quinsey/publications/Other/darkside2008.pdf