University of Iowa Honors Theses

Major Department

Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies

College

College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

Degree

BA (Bachelor of Arts)

Session and Year of Graduation

Spring 2017

Honors Major Advisor

Maryann Rasmussen

Thesis Mentor

Gigi Durham

Abstract

This senior capstone research project is a double thesis in GWSS and Journalism & Mass Communication. This thesis critically analyses the representation of asexuality in contemporary film and television and argues that popular culture often “symbolically annihilates” asexuality, misrepresenting it as a lack of social skills or as a physical or mental disability rather than a legitimate sexual orientation. It asserts that the vast majority of asexual representation in media exists through hints, clues and insinuations, not outright statements of identity, and that unfortunately, those few times characters are actually named as asexual, they very rarely depict it as a legitimate sexual orientation.

For most of its history, a lack of sexual desire has been pathologized as a medical disorder or illness, or conversely praised as a religious virtue like abstinence. It has only been viewed as a legitimate sexual orientation by researchers very recently. Given this, this thesis begins by examining how researchers, as well as the asexual community defines asexuality, and seperates it from other, terms like celibacy, assistance, or Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder. The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), the largest online community of asexual individuals, defines asexuality simply as “a person who does not experience sexual attraction.” This author, however, prefer the more complex definition of “low or absent sexual desire or attractions, low or absent sexual behaviors, exclusively romantic non-sexual partnerships, or a combination of both absent sexual desires and behavior.” This definition is preferred because it places asexuality on a spectrum. It allows people to identify with varying levels of romantic/sexual attraction without feeling invalidated, and it doesn’t impose a “one-size-fits-all” definition on people who might fall in many places on the spectrum.

It also explores how different pop culture genres such as children’s shows, or comedies allow characters to resist heteronormative boundaries, and how that impacts depictions of asexuality. The analysis focuses on three works, the television shows Bojack Horseman and Sirens, and the film the Olivia Experiment, however, a host of other ancillary works and their impact on asexual representation is examined as well.

This thesis also examines asexuality’s impact on sexualnormativity. Sexualnormativity is the process by which sexual desire and sex is normalized, privileged, and socially supported Western society, it creates a space where sexual desire is invisible and inherent, a space that assumes people are “sexual unless otherwise specified,” meaning that a lack of sexual desire must then be justified and possibly treated clinically.

Keywords

asexuality, ace, media, popular culture, journalism

Total Pages

52 pages

Copyright

Copyright © 2017 Benjamin Marks

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

COinS
 

URL

http://ir.uiowa.edu/honors_theses/68