By Laura Hughes (Harmless – Suicide Crisis Service Lead)
Last week was Ace Week, an important awareness week for the ‘A’ in the LGBTQIA+ acronym: Asexuality.
Asexuality refers to those experiencing little to no sexual attraction towards people of any gender. Between 1-2% of the UK’s population are asexual, but this is still a highly misunderstood and underrepresented sexual orientation, with many people having never heard of the term. With an important aim of gaining a better understanding of the ace population within the UK, a new report has been published by asexual activist Yasmin Benoit, in partnership with Stonewall, exploring the experiences of ace people when accessing healthcare and work. This report is titled Ace In The UK.
Experiences of Ace People at Work
- Half of ace respondents state that they are not out to any of their colleagues (compared to 18% of the wider LGBTQIA+ population).
- 68% of ace respondents are not out to their senior colleagues (compared to 29% of the wider LGBTQIA+ population)
- Only one in six asexual respondents (17.6%) had a universally positive experience of being out to their colleagues (compared to 40% of wider LGBTQIA+ respondents).
Many ace people report self-silencing their asexuality, with only one in four people choosing to be open with their friends about it. The findings outlined above illustrates that asexual self-silencing is particularly prevalent at work; this highlights the importance of employers showing continued and genuine public allyship, even if none of their team are out as asexual. It is vital for employers to understand the specific experiences of the ace population, rather than a general understanding of the LGBTQIA+ community as a whole; whilst there are many shared experiences between LGBTQIA+ identities, giving each orientation the care, research, and allyship that they deserve is paramount to gaining their trust.
Shockingly, of all LGBTQIA+ people who were open about their sexuality at work, the asexual population were the least likely to receive positive responses from their colleagues. Negative responses included sexual harassment, disbelief, invalidation, and inappropriate curiosity from their colleagues. With asexuality being excluded from the Equality Act (2010), this leaves ace people vulnerable to bullying and discrimination at work. Further, with over two thirds of ace people hiding their sexuality from senior colleagues, this suggests that many ace people are not able to report these inappropriate behaviours to their managers, thus leaving them even more vulnerable.
Accessing Healthcare as an Ace Person
- 68.6% of ace respondents stated that they had never disclosed their sexuality in a healthcare setting.
- 24.3% stated that their primary reason for this was fear of a negative response from their healthcare practitioner.
- 18.1% of ace people stated that disclosing their asexuality had negative repercussions on their care.
In the UK, asexuality is not listed as a protected sexual orientation. Instead, the ICD-10’s diagnostic criteria for “Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder” (HSSD) pathologises asexuality; people with a lack of or decreased sexual desire are considered as having a sexual dysfunction. This impacts ace people’s access to correct and appropriate healthcare.
The report outlines shocking examples of how this has impacted ace individuals, and goes into depth about the specific negative responses that people have experienced. Most of the settings included smear tests, reproductive health, and access to their GP. Aces were the most heavily impacted sexual orientation compared to the wider LGBTQIA+ population, highlighting the sheer lack of education about asexuality within healthcare settings.
The report also look at specific ace experiences within mental health services. Many ace respondents stated that when coming out to mental health practitioners, they were often met with unsupportive responses. Commonly, asexuality was inappropriately assessed as a mental health condition, and assumed to be a trauma response. This led to mental health professionals attempting to “fix” or “cure” their clients’ lack of sexual desire, leaving clients feeling that their sexuality was “something broken”. With ace people being 10% more likely to receive conversion therapy, a highly dangerous practice of attempting to change someone’s sexuality, this is incredibly concerning to hear.
Harmless is a fierce ally to the LGBTQIA+ community, and we prioritise making our organisation a safe space for all LGBTQIA+ folk. There is ace representation within Harmless’s staff team, and we understand the nuanced experiences that the ace population have within healthcare settings and the workplace. We acknowledge that the ace population are not protected by the law, and we therefore, strive to protect and advocate for our ace staff and clients.
At Harmless, we understand the power of validation. If you are an ace person needing support, your sexuality and your ace experiences will be validated and understood. Your clinician will be your passionate ally, and will do everything in their power to ensure you feel heard and listened to.
We want to encourage other mental health professionals to do the same. With 2 in 5 ace people experiencing mental health difficulties, we understand the importance of a safe mental health system for ace people, especially when it comes to self-harm and suicide prevention. We are currently developing LGBTQIA+ specific self-harm and suicide prevention training, and are inviting professionals working with this community to tell us what training they need. With there being such little understanding about asexuality within UK healthcare services, now is the time to tell us what you need to know about ace mental health, so we can incorporate this into the training courses. The consultation survey can be found here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/P5TR5Q9
Solidarity and strength to all aces – we are your allies and we are here for you. 💜
The Ace In The UK (2023) Report
Stonewall Ace Hub