The majority of young asexual people have experienced deteriorating mental health in the past year, according to troubling new research released on Asexual Visibility Day (8 May).
An independent survey commissioned by the LGBT+ youth charity Just Like Us found that 63 per cent of asexuals aged 11-18 reported worsening mental health since the pandemic began.
A third (27 per cent) of asexual young people are struggling with daily tension at home; 33 per cent report experiencing anxiety disorder and panic attacks; and 45 per cent are worrying daily about their mental health.
Tragically, one in 10 (nine per cent) say they have never felt optimistic about the future.
While mental health problems are disproportionately high across the LGBT+ community as a whole, asexual people experience a unique set of challenges, explains Ramses Oliva, a demisexual gay trans man.
“I am 25 now, but I can definitely see myself in those replies,” he told PinkNews. “Growing up, the asexual label was definitely the one that was the hardest for me to define and to accept.”
A huge part of that came down to the lack of visibility. When Ramses came out as gay and trans at 13 he felt he understood what that meant, but he wouldn’t even hear the term “asexual” until he was 18.
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Today as many as one in ten young LGBT+ people now identify on the asexual spectrum, yet the number of visible role models remains vanishingly small.
“The lack of authentic representation definitely affects the mental health,” Ramses said. “I just didn’t have anyone to talk to that was going through the same experiences.
“Initially, I didn’t even feel pride when when I found the label. Even if it fit, even if I knew that that was what I was, I remember feeling scared because it just put a lot of pressure on on me to answer very intrusive questions.”
Those questions came from other LGBT+ people, too, leaving him feeling lonely and isolated from his community.
“I knew that if I was walking into an LGBT+ support space, I could easily say that I was gay, maybe a bit more worried to say that I was transgender – but any time I’d have mentioned I was asexual, that would just lead to a lot of questions,” Ramses said.
“You know, ‘Have you ever had sex? Have you ever kissed someone? Haven’t you ever had a boyfriend? How does it work?’
“And for a teenager, that’s a lot of pressure to be pulled under. So there’s definitely the lack of visibility in the representation of asexual people in all spaces, not just mainstream spaces but LGBT+ ones as well.”
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This lack of understanding can be devastating for young asexuals, who must navigate a world dominated by narratives of sex and romance with little guidance.
It’s made all the harder by people telling them their identity is a dysfunction, or a result of trauma, or that they can never have a romantic relationship.
“People say, ‘If you’re asexual you’re never going to find anyone, if you can’t have sex you’re going to be alone forever.’ That really adds to the loneliness, especially for young people who are already struggling,” Ramses said.
He stressed that it’s important not to dismiss an asexual person’s identity simply because they’re struggling with their mental health, as this risks isolating them further.
The best way to show support is to avoid asking intrusive questions and respect their identity without pressuring them to define it.
“And remember that behind these labels, there are real people,” Ramses added. “A label is just a way to describe yourself and find your place in the community. But an asexual person is still your sister, your sibling, your colleague, your friend.
“Do your research, understand what these identities mean, and find out how to support the person, not just the label.”