Only one in six asexuals have ‘universally positive experience’ of being out 

Only one in six asexual people have had a universally positive experience of being out, new research highlighting the negative experiences of ace people in healthcare, work and society has shown. 

A joint collaboration between Stonewall and asexual activist and researcher Yasmin Benoit, the report entitled ‘Ace in the UK’ focuses on the experiences of people who are ace – an umbrella term for asexual people who experience little, fluctuating or no sexual attraction.– and how discrimination has impacted their lives. 

Four main sources were used to gather data for the report: the 2021 England and Wales Census, the Government’s 2018 National LGBT Survey, Stonewall’s 2022 Rainbow Britain study with Ipsos and a series of focus groups and interviews with ace people in the UK. 

The research has revealed the significant prejudice, negativity and obstacles asexual people face due to widespread misunderstanding about their identity, including – but not limited to – probing questions, isolation, sexual harassment, conversion therapy, delayed healthcare and having their identity treated as an illness. 

Due to many of these factors, ace people are less likely than other groups to be open about their identity with friends and family.  

Information gathered from the report’s respondents showed just 5.7 per cent of ace people are open with all family members they do not live about their identity, compared to 21.5 per cent of all respondents. As well as this, they are also the least likely sexual orientation group to be open with all family they do live with (23.8 per cent, compared to 32 per cent). 

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Just one in four (26.3 per cent) asexual people are open about their sexuality with friends, a number which is below the 33.1 per cent figure for all respondents. 

Asexual activist Yasmin Benoit.
Asexual activist Yasmin Benoit. (Apollo Flux)

Notably, other statistics in the report show ace respondents are the most likely group (83.8 per cent) to say that they avoid being open about their sexuality for fear of a negative reaction from others, compared with all respondents (69.6 per cent). 

One ace person quoted in the report recalled: “I was quite excited to tell my best friend about it. And her response was, ‘Oh, you just haven’t met the right person yet’ or ‘It’s your medication that’s causing it.’”

These negative reactions include inappropriate and intrusive questions about their identity, many of which feel would never be asked if they had a different sexual orientation. 

“I have definitely had plenty of intrusive questions. You know, things like. ‘Do you masturbate? Do you watch porn?’ And then there was ‘How do you feel when a sex scene comes on television?’. You just think that you wouldn’t ask anybody else that question, any other kind of sexual identity? So why ask me?,” another respondent said. 

In work settings, just under half of ace people (49 per cent) said they not out to their colleagues, a far higher figure than the rate for all LGBTQ+ respondents (18 per cent). 

Those who are out, only one in six (17.6 per cent) said they had a universally positive experience of being out, this is once again a significantly different figure to than of the wider LGBTQ+ community who were surveyed (40.8). 

Ace people said this down to workplaces having highly sexualised cultures, they face disbelief and inappropriate curiosity from colleagues and sexual harassment after they disclose their identity. 

“I had an experience where I was working for a company, and every single day, my colleagues would berate me, and they didn’t believe that I was [asexual]; they would not stop talking about it. I even tried raising it as an issue to my team leaders,” one person recalled. 

Another said: “My partner is openly ace as well, and we work in a very similar field and that tends to lead to more questions. Someone I am meant to be collaborating on something with who knows my partner, just out and out asked me how much sex we were having. The collaboration just didn’t end up happening.”

“They think it is trauma”

In healthcare settings, the report found ace people were 50 per cent more likely to have never told healthcare staff about their asexuality, with a quarter (24.3 per cent) citing fear of a negative reaction and 8.4 per cent having had a previously negative experience.  

Nearly a fifth (18.1 per cent) of ace respondents said sharing their ace identity had a negative impact on their care, with the researching finding these issues were  principally in reproductive health – such as smear tests – and having their asexuality assessed as a mental health condition. 

“They want to know so much and they want to know why, and they think it is trauma . . . it’s a bit gross, especially when it’s not what you’re there to talk about. . . It borders on perverse,” one person said of healthcare professionals. 

Commenting on the report, Yasmin Benoit – asexual activist and researcher – said: “The ace community deserves legal recognition. We deserve protection. We deserve acceptance, and we deserve to be heard. 

“With this report, I wanted to dig into the issues facing the ace community today and amplify the voices we never usually hear. 

“This is a much-needed step in understanding what asexuality is, what asexual discrimination looks like and setting the ball in motion for actually doing something about it. 

“It’s time that the world paid attention. I’m grateful that I’ve had the chance to start this project with an accomplished organisation like Stonewall, and to use my platform and education to publish a report that is really going to make a difference.” 

Director of communications and external affairs at Stonewall, Robbie de Santos, said: ‘This report shines a long-overdue light on the barriers that ace people in the UK face. It’s vital that all LGBTQ+ people are allowed to go about their lives free from discrimination and prejudice.  

“But – as our findings show – there are widespread societal misconceptions of what it means to be ace and how to best support ace people at work and in healthcare settings.  

“We hope that this important project will further people’s understanding of the very real challenges that ace people currently face and we urge political leaders to adopt our recommendations to better support ace people to get their basic needs met and thrive as themselves.”