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Character Name: Dr. Sheldon Cooper
TV Show: The Big Bang Theory
Network: CBS

   Sheldon is probably the most explicitly, unabashedly, and obviously asexual character in popular culture at the moment. It baffles me that fans still hope for Sheldon to have a sexual partner at some point in the show. And I hope the writers realize that for that to occur in the show would be enormously incongruous with what they have told us of the character thus far. Even when Sheldon does have a girlfriend he shows no interest in the relationship becoming sexual. In the third season when he's set up with his "perfect match" found for him by his friends through an internet dating website, they hit it off after the woman, Amy Farrah Fowler, tells him that "all forms of physical contact up to, and including, coitus are off the table".  (Season 3, Episode 23)

In the same season, Sheldon goes on a couple double dates after being bribed by his friend Raj to be his wingman. Throughout the experience Sheldon shows absolutely no interest in sex despite the fact that his date is an arguably attractive woman who is interested in him physically. A particularly humorous clip from the episode illustrating Sheldon's asexual tendencies can be found here: youtu.be/yQcpAP2mIWE


Some might argue that Sheldon merely is a sort of Peter Pan figure, a perpetual child despite his intelligence and is simply too immature to grasp sexuality. While he is stunted in certain ways, Sheldon displays a working knowledge of sex and sexuality. His bafflement lies in its relationship to him. He doesn't realize when someone is flirting with him, which is shown in Season 2, episode 3 when he is unaware that a gay man is flirting with him and again in episode 6 of that season when a woman asks him out and all he takes away from the exchange is that he's getting a free meal. Sheldon doesn't seem to grasp the appeal of sex, or possess the desire for it his friends do. When discussing a hypothetical choice between sex and playing Halo - playing Halo wins hands down. Sex simply seems to hold no attraction for Sheldon, which is pretty much the definition of an asexual person.

I think one of the clearest and best points of evidence for Sheldon's asexuality is his closest friends' belief that he has no sexuality (which is a sort of crude way of conceptualizing asexuality). His roommate of seven years and best friend, Leonard, states that he was under the firm belief that Sheldon did not like men or women sexually. In Season 2, episode 6, Leonard and Sheldon's other close friends, Raj, Howard, and Penny, have a discussion about Sheldon's orientation after he has a date with a female admirer of his scientific work (which Sheldon seems to be unaware is a romantic date, until later when he recognizes he is in some sort of relationship). Penny asks Leonard and the other guys what Sheldon's "deal" is - whether he likes men or women - and the three guys agree that they all thought Sheldon didn't like men or women. And ultimately, the relationship that ensues with his admirer doesn't prove this assumption wrong. The relationship is more of a working partnership. She is a sort of domestic assistant, brings him food, keeps him on task, and cares for his health. At one point she confronts Penny, thinking that Penny is sexually attracted to Sheldon, and tells her that they both must put aside their sexual attraction to him for the greater good so that they do not distract from him from his work, which suggests that the relationship was not physically romantic at any point (not that physical affection would be antithetical to asexuality, just physical affection of a sexual nature).

Clip of the discussion of Sheldon's orientation: youtu.be/_MModPwl13o
(the few minute or so has the discussion but the rest of the clip details Sheldon's relationship, which is very interesting)

A clearly asexual character in such popular show is definitely a boon to the asexual community. Sheldon is the most developed and sympathetic character on the show. There is the concern that a stereotype could develop linking Sheldon's Asperger's (there is debate amongst viewers whether Sheldon is autistic or has Asperger's, but he definitely has some sort of social disorder) and asexuality. But at this point, the existence of a slightly negative asexual stereotype would mean that enough people know about asexuality for there to be stereotypes and that would be awesome. Watching a tv show that features an asexual main character, who is smart, successful, and rather good looking, is a such a new and enjoyable experience that the show's over reliance on sitcom tropes and its annoying supporting characters (I'm looking at you, Leonard) are forgivable.

It strikes me as interesting that the show's writers seem to be unaware of the importance of Sheldon's character. In interviews they have stated that they didn't intentionally write his character as having any social disorder, such as Asperger's or autism, but now realize that that is how the character turned out. Jim Parsons, who plays Sheldon, has stated that Sheldon does indeed display many of the classic signs of Asperger's. Perhaps someday the writers, and Parsons, will realize the important contribution they've made to the representation of asexuality.

Asexual Culture Allusions in the Big Bang Theory:
In the show, Sheldon and his friends do make some interesting allusions to asexual culture, which is an interesting coincidence (unless the writers do realize that they are writing an asexual character). The clip of the discussion concerning Sheldon's orientation references mitosis, which AVEN (Asexual Visibility and Education Network) makes joking references in its forums with some frequency as it is "asexual reproduction". At another point Sheldon makes references to Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll being a prominent possibly asexual literary figure. One episode reveals that Sheldon is highly knowledgeable  about J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, whose main character can be thought of as an asexual hero. Barrie is also generally believed to have been sexless (again, a crude way of conceptualizing asexuality without having the best vocabulary to do so), supported by the fact that he never consummated his marriage as well as some statements to that effect made by his adopted sons and ex-wife.

--
For information on asexuality visit:
asexuality.org
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asexuality

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
sciatrix
Aug. 11th, 2010 04:48 am (UTC)
I'm not so sure that the character of Sheldon Cooper is an unequivocally positive asexuality representative. For one thing, he's pretty heavily othered and marked as "inhuman" and "strange" by the way the other characters react to him; he's essentially treated as one slight step up from an actual alien. I'm also not so sure that we're often meant to be laughing [i]with him[/i], either; a lot of the humor of the show comes from holding up Sheldon's responses to various things and essentially playing them for laughs; for instance, Sheldon's very analytical approach to relationships is treated as being funny because it's so strange, no [i]normal[/i] human would ever conceptualize relationships that way--except some people do. I would argue that the main time I see jokes aimed at laughing [i]with[/i] Sheldon as opposed to laughing [i]at[/i] some quirk of his would be the running Bazinga! joke. Most of the jokes surrounding him aren't really things I think the character would find funny, and in fact much of the time they're dependent on embarrassment humor.

I do agree with you that he is fairly obviously portrayed as asexual and probably aromantic at that, which is a generally positive thing. I also agree that the loud Sheldon/Penny fanbase seems very problematic to me. I have seen several discussions within that fandom arguing that Sheldon cannot be asexual because he masturbates, for instance. It feels very much like appropriating one of the very few asexual characters present in popular culture and erasing his identity for the sake of a ship.

Also, the syndrome is spelled "Asperger's" and should be capitalized. (I should mention that I happen to be both asexual and autistic, and find a lot of the Big Bang Theory's portrayal of Sheldon Cooper somewhat problematic from that standpoint. I would emphatically not classify Sheldon Cooper as a progressive character from an autism standpoint.)
alivingsign
Aug. 11th, 2010 05:22 am (UTC)
Thanks for catching my spelling and capitalization mistake! I've corrected it.

And I would agree that Sheldon's definitely not a 100% positive portrayal, but my point is that at this point in asexuality's history any representation is progress.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )