‘I thought there was something wrong with me’: What it’s like coming out as asexual
‘I didn’t have crushes in the same way as everyone else and I didn’t care about celebrities’
TW: Discussions of sexual violence, conversion therapy
When I first came out as asexual, I thought that I was alone. I used to think that no one else ever thought about the word asexuality and considered what it meant to them.
Asexuality is the lack of sexual and/or romantic attraction to all genders. It comes as a spectrum that ranges from people who will sometimes feel attraction (graysexual), people who feel attraction only after an emotional connection has been formed (demisexual), people who will sometimes have and enjoy sex (sex-neutral), and people who feel disgust or strong disinterest towards sex (sex-averse).
A third of asexual young people experience anxiety and panic attacks, according to LGBT+ young people’s charity Just Like Us. It can be hard at times because people, even close friends, often don’t really understand what being asexual means or how it affects us.
The sad truth is that, despite students questioning whether they might be asexual or aromantic, schools and unis are often still not including asexuality in sex education.
Asexual people sometimes force themselves into sexual or romantic situations they don’t want because society tells us that this is normal. In a 2015 survey, over 40 per cent of nearly 8,000 asexual people reported having experienced some form of sexual violence (including rape, assault, and coercion), Buzzfeed reports.
We have a long way to come before all asexual people can feel safe and confident in their identity. According to a 2018 UK government report, 10 per cent of cisgender asexual people had been offered or undergone conversion therapy – the largest demographic of any sexual orientation.
I spoke to asexual students and young people about their experiences of coming out and being asexual at university. Here’s what they had to say:
‘Sex was never a priority for me’
A first year uni student, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “I’ve been in a few relationships but when things started getting more serious and they wanted to be intimate, I wasn’t able to say no. Sex became something I had to do, without wanting to. I thought that if I kept going, maybe I would start enjoying it eventually. I faked so many orgasms that I lost count. When they actually happened, they didn’t feel good at all.
“About three years ago, I started questioning if I was wrong. Then, I saw something on Instagram about Ace Week. I read through the post and all the comments and I finally felt understood.
“It took me a while to accept it because I come from quite a conservative country but eventually I did and I’m so glad that I saw that post. I’m not wrong. I’m part of a surprisingly big community. For the first time, I’m in a healthy relationship with someone who understands me. My ‘sacrifices’ in the past were not necessary. I can have a good relationship without sex being the most important thing.”
‘I didn’t have crushes in the same way as everyone else and I didn’t care about celebrities’
Charli (she/her) is a third-year Lancaster University student studying Politics and International Relations. She told The Tab: “I was quite young when I started to question [my identity] – I didn’t have crushes in the same way as everyone else and I didn’t care about celebrities. I was 14 when I read the term ‘asexual’ on Tumblr.
“I’ve tended to centre myself with people who get it but I’ve occasionally felt left out or awkward. I think it does affect uni in a few ways – I don’t care for hook-up culture or one-night stands (not that there’s anything wrong with either) and I’m also demiromantic so before I got a partner, I wasn’t bothered by dating or Tinder.
“I love my identity but I’m lucky to have had so many years to understand and process it.”
‘It took me a long while to come out to myself’
Ryan, a volunteer with LGBT+ young people’s charity, Just Like Us, told The Tab: “I first found the term ‘asexual’ online when I was 15. The word resonated with me and shortly afterwards, I told someone close to me that I was biromantic [romantic attraction towards two or more genders] asexual. They told me I was too young to know.
“I stopped identifying as asexual for years after that, referring to myself only as bi. I told myself that thinking I was asexual was just a childish mistake. I was convinced that I did experience sexual attraction because I found people physically attractive.
“It wasn’t until I was an adult that I started properly questioning it again. I started to wonder if what I was feeling was really sexual attraction. I realised that most of the time when I found someone attractive, I was more interested in drawing them or just looking at them. It turns out I had been mistaking aesthetic attraction for sexual attraction.
“I never actually came out as asexual at university. It took me a long while to come out to myself after my initial coming out was met with questioning and doubt. I still don’t tell people most of the time unless I know they’re ace too as I don’t want to be questioned on it or for people to think I’m weird. It’s something I’m working on becoming more confident about. My journey to self-acceptance is far from over.”
‘I just never fit in with the awkward hook-up culture’
An anonymous Masters student at Glasgow University spoke about their experience identifying first as a gay man before identifying as demisexual: “For me, it was a case of growing up believing I was gay. I had a few boyfriends until around 2020/21 when I was 21, and that’s when I was single and got Grindr for the first time. I just never fit in with the awkward hook-up culture. My sex drive was never strong. It didn’t feel like me.
“Then, eventually, I got an app called ACE and realised there were other people on the asexual spectrum. ACE is an asexual dating app where you can meet other asexual people who understand a bit better what you’re looking for than non-ace people.
“I guess I feel that now I know more about myself. I realised I am demisexual.”
‘I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that it gets easier’
Rach (she/her) studied History and Politics at Lancaster University in 2019. “I knew I wasn’t straight when I turned 16,” she told The Tab. “I didn’t understand the buzz around it. When I asked someone, they told me, ‘But you’ll be legal!’ And that didn’t feel like a significant milestone to me.”
“That was when I realised most of my friends were already having sex or wanting to have sex”, Rach said.
“It didn’t cross my mind at all. I tried not to dwell on it because I hoped I was a ‘late bloomer’ or maybe I’d meet the right person and something would just click. It never did. I was miserable.
“In my first year at uni, there were some posters up around campus for Asexual Awareness Week. I’d already heard about asexuality on Tumblr in my teens but that was the first time that I’d heard it mentioned ‘in real life.’ It was like a lightbulb moment. I wasn’t broken. There were other people like me out there.
“Sometimes at uni, I felt like I was on the outside. I spent a lot of my time in social situations feeling like I was just observing, rather than participating, like a David Attenborough documentary. My mistake was waiting as long as I did to come out. I knew I was ace in first year but I waited until June of my fourth year to come out to my friends – and even longer to tell my parents.
“I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that it gets easier. When I think of all the time I spent wondering ‘maybe him?’ or ‘how do I feel about him?’, I want to give myself a good shake. I’ve been able to recognise myself in other people’s experiences and I feel a lot more comfortable with myself. I have fewer questions. I feel less alone. When I see my friends with their partners, I still feel a little jealous that I haven’t got that – that I might not ever have that – but I value my relationships with my family and friends so much. I think they’re stronger now that I’m out and not hiding part of myself from them anymore.”
‘I always thought there was something wrong with me’
Hanna (she/her) from Malaysia discussed her experience across the ace spectrum: “I think I always knew I was a little different since I was a kid because I never had that urge to have a romantic relationship.
“I only found out about asexuality when I was 20 after a friend brought it up. I identified with the term ‘grey ace’ [limited or fluctuating sexual attraction] then but lately, I feel like that’s changed. It made me a lot more curious about the asexual spectrum and helped me to feel validated because I always thought there was something wrong with me.”
‘Discovering I am asexual has been a positive impact on my time at university’
Callie (she/they), the Queer+ Welfare Officer for Lancaster University’s LGBTQ+ Forum, told The Tab: “My experience of discovering that I am ace began at university. A lot of my flatmates and people I knew would talk about being attracted to people in a sexual way and wanting to do things with people. This was the first time I realised that I didn’t feel that kind of attraction.
“I’d never been around people who spoke openly about these things before uni so I never understood until then that I was different. Realising this caused me to question a lot of my identity. I wondered if there was anything ‘wrong’ with me.”
“For anyone who resonates with what I say here, please know that there is nothing wrong with you. You are not broken. You are perfectly valid.
“I started looking at online forums and pages made by asexual people. I read about activists like Yasmin Benoit. I began to realise that, despite being the only asexual person I knew, there are actually plenty of other people like me in the world who have had the same experience. This gave me the sense of community and belonging I had been missing.
“Discovering that I am asexual has been a positive impact on my time at university. It led me to be passionate about queer+ identities and run for Queer+ Welfare Officer. There are still periods where I question my identity or get confused when my non-ace friends mention things that might be normal for them but are things I don’t experience.
“But overall, the people I’ve met at uni are accepting and the sense of community from asexual people online is always welcome when I start to question my validity.”
‘If sex wasn’t seen as so important in society, I would never have felt the pressure to force myself into it’
Some asexual people face traumatic sexual experiences and damaging mental health issues before they’re able to understand their sexuality.
Speaking about her experiences with forcing herself into sexual situations, Sophie (she/her), a second year marketing with psychology student told The Tab: “My sexuality always felt a bit weird generally. I identified as bisexual for most of my life because, aesthetically, I found everyone pretty. I thought I just had really high standards because the only people I really had ‘crushes’ on were fictional.
“Sex is so hyped up in society and seen as this milestone. So, in my first year at uni, I ended up in bed with someone. I thought that maybe if I did it, I’d finally feel something. We were both drunk and I felt nothing (except for the happiness of being able to lower my Rice Purity score).
“It left me feeling uncomfortable and disgusted. If sex wasn’t seen as so important in society, I would never have felt the pressure to force myself into it.”
Sophie said: “A lot of myself was stripped away by my estranged parents when I was younger so I treat solid labels as a steady thing to hold on to while I try to build myself back up. Being able to say, ‘I am this’ (even if it changes in future) has been amazing for grounding myself and being able to look at myself in a new light, instead of being the ‘sexually repressed freak’ I used to see myself as.
“Since then, the label asexual has become a comfort for me. I’ve found out that ‘sexual orientation’ actually means which genders you look at and instantly want to have sex with. That doesn’t get explained enough in education. If it was, people could discover their identity, people could learn about how to treat ace people, and people could avoid traumatic experiences.”
The Tab’s Pride reporting series is putting a focus on highlighting LGBTQ+ issues and celebrating queer voices across UK campuses.
If you or someone you know has been affected by this story you can contact Switchboard, the LGBTQ+ helpline, on 0300 330 0630 or visit their website. You can also find help through young people’s charity The Mix, and Galop, the LGBTQ+ anti-violence charity.
If you’ve got a story you’d like to tell us – whether it’s an incident of homophobia on campus, an experience you’d like to share, or anything you think we should hear, get in touch in confidence by emailing [email protected]