Asexuality & Mental Health
The term asexual, or “ace,” generally describes someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction or want a sexual relationship. Like most sexualities and labels, asexuality is a spectrum – some asexual people may prefer the term “gray-ace” (experiencing sexual attraction very rarely or with very low intensity), “demisexual” (experiencing sexual attraction only after forming an emotional bond with someone), or something else.
While a lack of sexual desire was once considered a mental health condition, asexuality is now recognized as a variation in human sexuality. Ace and ace-spectrum individuals are valid members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Why Does Asexual Mental Health Matter?
We know that LGBTQ+ individuals are more than twice as likely as their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts to have a mental health condition and continue to show disparities in mental health, but minimal research has focused on the mental health needs of the asexual community. Ace-spectrum people may face unique challenges.
In a 2020 Trevor Project survey, asexual youth reported higher rates of depression and anxiety compared to the overall LGBTQ+ sample. Other research has found asexual people to experience higher rates of depression anxiety, suicidality, and interpersonal challenges as compared to heterosexual individuals.
What are some common mental health challenges in the asexual community?
Uncertainty and self-doubt
The lack of visibility around asexuality can make it hard to realize that you're asexual - it's common to first know something about you is different from many of your peers, but not realize that it's a completely normal and valid identity that others share. This can lead to self-questioning: If sex is natural, am I broken? Can I really be like this, or is something wrong with me? You're not broken and nothing's wrong with you, and it can help to hear that from people who have been in your shoes - do some research and find articles, books, or even social media posts written by asexual people about their journey. If you don't know where to start, www.asexuality.org has some great resources.
Many LGBTQ+ folks deal with imposter syndrome, or feeling like a fraud, about their sexuality, especially soon after coming to terms with a label that feels best. If you identify as asexual, going through a more sexual phase or engaging in sex with a certain person may make you question your overall identity. If you're asexual and heteroromantic (romantically attracted to the biologically opposite sex or gender), you might feel like you can't take up space in the LGBTQ+ community - you can! Labels are meant to serve you. You don't have to force a label that doesn't feel right, and it's okay if what feels right changes over time.
Struggling to fit in
Some ace folks may feel like they're unable to connect with peers, particularly during puberty, college, or early adulthood. At certain life stages, it can feel like sex is the only thing your peers care about, and there can be a lot of pressure to talk about people you find attractive or want to be physical with. Navigating this as someone who is asexual can be confusing and uncomfortable - maybe you fake your way through the conversations to fit in but end up feeling disconnected from your true self. Or maybe you don't engage in talk about sex and find yourself getting left out of social circles. Try to connect with other asexual and LGBTQ+ folks through community events, dating apps, or online groups on social media or meetup.com. Over time, being involved in the community will likely introduce you to new people who are also asexual, which can help reduce feelings of loneliness and help protect your mental health.
Acknowledging that your sexuality is different than you thought - and different than the "norm" - can be difficult, and especially so for asexual individuals living in a sex-focused culture. You might wonder about what this means for your dating life, and even your social life. It can be stressful to figure out when to tell people you go on dates with and anticipate how they'll respond. Think about what feels bet to you - if telling people that you're asexual before you ever go on a date helps relieve some anxiety about their reaction, go for it. If it doesn't, then there's no need to bring it up until the time feels right. Feeling prepared can also help you reduce anxiety - consider what you want to say, their possible reactions, and how to handle any negativity or harassment from dates who feel misled or entitled to sex. Remember: Your sexuality and identity are your own, and you get to decide how and when you talk about them.
Lack of culturally relevant care
Up until 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or the DSM, considered a lack of sexual desire to be a mental health condition. While the scientific community now acknowledges that asexuality is a variation in human sexuality rather than a sexual or mental health disorder, many providers are still ill-informed when it comes to working with the asexual community. It's not uncommon for health care providers to attribute someone's asexuality to an underlying health condition, which is invalidating and often drives those individuals away from continuing care. Seeking out LGBTQ-competent doctors and therapists can help ensure that you're getting care from providers who understand your needs.
While no sexuality or gender identity indicates a mental health condition, the LGBTQ+ community is at great risk for mental health challenges due to societal attitudes - and asexual people report more everyday discrimination and stigma than non-asexual LGB people. If your mental health is making it difficult to live the life you want, take a mental health screen at mhascreening.org to see if you're experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition. For more information on LGBTQ+ mental health, check out MHA's Resource Hub.