“People on the asexuality spectrum, also called ace, experience little to no sexual attraction and/or sexual desire, and these things are not evidenced by either the presence or absence of sexual arousal or activity.” (Sherronda J. Brown, from “Refusing Compulsory Sexuality: A Black Asexual Lens on Our Sex-Obsessed Culture”)
Sarah began with some statistics from the 2022 Stonewall survey, which showed that 5 per cent of Gen Z (born 1997 to 2012), 2 per cent of millennials (born 1981 to 1996) and 2 per cent of Gen X (born 1965 to 1980) identified as asexual. According to the National LGBT Survey, those who identify as asexual, or ace, are least likely to be out in the workplace and to their friends, and the most likely to be offered conversion therapy. Sarah, who started exploring this part of their identity during the pandemic, talked about how learning they are asexual influences their science communication work.
Asexuality is a sexual orientation that encompasses a diverse range of different experiences under the same umbrella term. Sarah uses the spilt attraction model to explain their experiences. This is where attraction can be split into romantic attraction and sexual attraction, so a person can experience both, one of each or varying levels or none at all. This model is not restricted to asexuality, anyone who wants to can use it to describe their experiences.
“I heard this analogy from a demisexual writer, and they said something along the lines of, ‘It's a bit like seeing the colour red. If you've never seen the colour red before, you wouldn't know that you've ever seen it.’ It's one of those things that when I started exploring my identity, I couldn't tell if I was or wasn't asexual, because I've not really experienced sexual attraction. I don't know what that's like, and therefore I don't know what it's like to not have it. So for many years I thought I was experiencing both types of attraction, when I was only really experiencing some romantic attraction.”
Misconceptions about asexuality
#1 The assumption that you have a health problem, which is causing your asexuality, and it needs to be ‘cured’
The National LGBT Survey (2018) showed that asexual people are the least likely to disclose their sexual orientation to healthcare workers. 74.3per cent of cisgender asexual people and 60.8 per cent of transgender asexual people said they would never disclose their sexual orientation. For reference, 36 per cent of cisgender gay and 36.6 per cent of transgender gay respondents said the same thing.
Sarah comments, “I would say I'm not surprised to see how many asexual people would not disclose their sexual orientation to a medical practitioner - quite frankly, I wouldn't. It would just cause so many other problems and it's just not worth it.”
There are also some people who are both disabled and asexual. Because of medicalisation of asexuality and the lack of knowledge of asexuality, disabled aces can experience additional barriers to accessing inclusive healthcare.
#2 Asexuals do not experience oppression
While not every queer person will have bad experiences, oppression can take on different forms. The example above shows oppression in a medical setting. Within STEM and in wider society, there is an assumption that everyone wants a romantic relationship and sex, and that this is essential to the human experience. As this is seen as the norm, it can make those who don’t experience this feel abnormal, which is untrue and incredibly damaging. Another example is when people assume that those who identify as asexual ‘haven’t met the right person’ or ‘aren’t trying hard enough’.
Sarah says, “Feeling like you have to justify your experiences and identity is exhausting and isolating, and leads to many asexuals not telling their friends or colleagues. In addition to this, if you are already a minority in the workplace, or in STEM, it can already be extremely tiring fighting stereotypes, without having to explain another part of yourself.”
- As mentioned above – people are less likely to be out at work and to their friends, and the most likely to be offered conversion therapy, and this is not always talked about.
Sarah also raised the importance of needing to consider intersectionality and how different identities can shape the way someone may experience asexuality. They shared for example the experiences of Black asexual women. “It's important to note that representation from all backgrounds is needed. Asexuality is not restricted to those who are white, western, and able-bodied.”