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Asexual Community Participation:  How Often? Why? Why not?

Asexual Community Participation: How Often? Why? Why not?

Asexuality has been considered as the “invisible orientation.” (Decker, 2014) Research related to the asexual population has seemingly focused on the theoretical aspects of asexuality. However, there is a wealth of data available from the Ace Community Census that can be analyzed for more pragmatic purposes. Over the past decade, there have been numerous non-academic articles and online discussions where the inclusion of asexuals in the LGBTQ community has been debated. Recently, the Equinox Gym was under fire for releasing a short pride film entitled “LGBTQAlphabet: Six Letters Will Never Be Enough” because the A stood for “Ally.” Some LGBTQ groups are asexual-inclusive and may be places for asexuals to thrive, particularly if they are also another queer identity, such as homoromantic (Decker, 2014).

It would be fair to say that the asexual population is, at best, on the outskirts of the LGBTQ community. In the community-at-large, the asexual population still appears to be relatively unknown and without improvements to both the online and offline experiences, asexuals will continue to be marginalized in society.

It is estimated that approximately 1% of the population is asexual, according to a study of 18,426 individuals from England, Wales, and Scotland (Bogaert, 2004). However, it is reasonable to speculate that their prevalence has increased over the years. There are asexuals who remain hidden in the closet and this is due, at least in part, to difficulties being out among their family, friends, and the general public. One has to wonder if the online and offline communities that do exist are not only well-known to asexuals, but how welcoming are these communities?

There is debate online as to whether or not asexuals belong in the LGBTQ community, with those arguing against inclusion, in part, based on a lack of systematic oppression. For people who want to be accepted and welcomed for who they are, discrimination from the LGBTQ community is both ironic and troubling. Rather than use oppression as an indicator for inclusion, perhaps it would be best to use the fact that we are all human beings as the criterion for welcoming individuals to a place they can call home. The lack of a harmonious, welcoming environment only serves to further alienate the asexual population. Comparative victimization, in which groups may exclude others based, in part, on their level of real or perceived oppression, does no benefit to anyone.

With this in mind, asexuals may have to find asexual-only communities. Finding other asexuals may be difficult, particularly offline, where being out may not be considered safe. As asexuals continue to struggle to find inclusion in the LGBTQ community, they may be forced to stay isolated, perhaps not participating in any asexual community whatsoever. Prior research has dealt with asexual communities and sexual norms (Przybylo, 2011), but what about asexual communities as simply, a community? Some researchers feel asexuality is at odds with traditional gender roles and threatens the self-concept (MacNeela, 2015), and can make it difficult to relate to non-asexuals (Carrigan, 2011). However, regardless of our orientation, we are all human beings. We should be able to relate at that most basic level of our existence.

This research study will both quantify asexual community participation and identify the reasons why asexuals do or do not participate in communities, both online and offline. Knowing and understanding these reasons may help in the development of real-world methods that can be implemented to improve the experiences of asexuals in existing communities. It is also possible that new communities could be created based on data that is taken annually from the Ace Community Census. This, in turn, can create more awareness of asexuals, more inclusive communities, and build greater acceptance of asexuals in the general population. The long-term goals are to ensure that asexuals feel a sense of belonging in any community so that they may be more likely to come out of the closet and enjoy their lives.

METHODS

Data from the 2016 Ace Community Census, a survey completed by 9,870 individuals from around the world, was analyzed using Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) Version 23. The 2016 Ace Community Census was a community research project by the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) Survey Team. The survey, which took approximately fifteen to twenty minutes to complete, was open to anyone over the age of 13, including both asexual and non-asexual individuals.

Responses to specific questions as to why asexuals participate and do not participate in online and offline communities were analyzed and themes were determined and reported. Data specific to both online and offline community participation and frequency were assessed and reported by the label that respondents most closely identify.

RESULTS

The majority of respondents most closely identified with being asexual (64.5%) and considered their sexual orientation to be asexual (71.8%) (Table 1). The reasons for participation in communities listed in Table 2 are not exhaustive, but reveal the themes that were reported by numerous respondents. Additional comments included, but were not limited to, talking about topics other than relationships, an obligation to participate, sharing political opinions, reading posts, lurking, and keeping up with opinions.

The reasons for non-participation in communities listed in Table 3 are also not exhaustive but reveal numerous themes. Additional comments included, but were not limited to, disliking the tone or level of debate, not connecting with members of the group, not having much in common with others besides being asexual, drama, and bad posting rules in online communities.

While the majority of respondents had met someone offline that was asexual, gray-A, or demisexual (Table 4), fewer than 20% participate in offline asexual groups. Of these participants, just 3.2% of questioning individuals and 8.0% of asexual individuals participate at least once per month in an offline group. In offline LGBTQ spaces, experiences tended to be positive among those who provided an actual ranking (Table 5). However, there was considerable variance in feeling the most recent offline LGBTQ space they participated in was intended for them, particularly among asexuals, as 511 of 3,350 (15.2%) reported “Not at all.”

For online communities, Tumblr was the most popular for asexual participation. Reading or watching content was most common in Tumblr, followed by AVEN, YouTube, and Facebook (Table 6). Posting or commenting in online communities was most common in Tumblr and Facebook. 

DISCUSSION

One of the questions in the Ace Census asked respondents for reasons why they currently participate in asexual communities (both online and offline, where applicable). While there were responses they could have checked (to find people like myself, to learn more about myself or asexuality, to be an advocate, to talk about asexuality, to have general discussions, to find friends or partners, N/A – I do not participate in asexual communities); several respondents decided to write in their own specific reason(s) by the “Other” option.

There are many reasons why asexual individuals reportedly do or do not participate in online and/or offline groups (Table 3). Asexual individuals want to be part of a community where they feel safe, validated, are respected, and have a voice. Online and offline communities can be a place for support, friendship, discussing experiences, asking questions and seeking advice, social activities, happiness, and raising awareness of asexual individuals and their rights.

However, fear of outing oneself, age differences, familial disapproval, discrimination, harassment, infighting, unwelcoming communities, lack of nearby groups, and uncertainty of finding asexual communities are just some of the many reasons why asexual individuals in this Census do not participate in online or offline groups.

One of the strengths of this study was analyzing the Ace Community Census data collected from 9,870 respondents from around the world. Being an online survey, it may skew the responses to those more familiar with using the Internet, which tends to be younger individuals. The mean age of respondents was 23.1 years and 95% of the study population was age 36 or younger. The ages ranged from 13 years to 109 years.

With this research, evidence-based improvements can be made to existing online and offline communities and new communities can be created that best reflect the findings from this census. Among adult asexuals, there may be a fear of meet-ups with asexuals under the age of 18. The inclusion of more age-specific discussion forums, similar to what AVEN provides online, would be a helpful method of connecting similar-age asexual individuals. Online posting policies could be edited to better create a welcoming community sent to current and new members. This action, along with diligent post moderation, could be implemented to improve the online experience and maintain a more civil, respectful, and accepting environment.

It is fair to state the asexual population is a minority within the LGBTQ+ community. Though asexual awareness has improved over the past couple of decades, the asexual population still struggles to connect with each other, while also finding their acceptance in society. Future research efforts should focus on a more practical, evidence-based approach to addressing the issues facing the asexual population.

 

REFERENCES

Decker, J.S. The invisible orientation: An introduction to
asexuality
. 2014. Skyhorse Publishing, New York, NY.

Bogaert A.F. (2004). Asexuality: prevalence and associated
factors in a national probability sample. The Journal of Sex Research, 41, 279-287.

Przybylo, E. (2011). Crisis and safety: The asexual in
sexusociety. Sexualities, 14, 444–461.

Gupta, G. (2017). “And now I’m just different, but there’s
nothing actually wrong with me”: asexual marginalization and resistance. Journal of Homosexuality, 64, 991–1013.
 
Carrigan, M. (2011). There’s more to life than sex? Difference
and commonality within the asexual community. Sexualities, 14, 462–478.

MacNeela, P, Murphy, A. (2015). Freedom, invisibility, and
community: a qualitative study of self-identification with asexuality. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44, 799–812.

 

Table 1. Demographic Characteristics of Ace Census Population
Which of the following labels do you most closely identify with?
Identity    N    %
Asexual    6,367    64.5
Gray-A    1,063    10.8
Demisexual    848    8.6
Questioning if asexual/GrayA/    1,054    10.7
None of the above    538    5.4
Total    9,870    100.0
        
Sexual Orientation
Orientation    N    %
Asexual    7,067    71.8
Gay    109    1.1
Lesbian    218    2.2
Pansexual    354    3.6
Queer    1,044    10.6
Straight    608    6.2
Bisexual    447    4.5
Missing    23    
Total    9,870    100.0

Table 2. Reasons for Participation in Online and Offline Asexual Communities
Acceptance
Ace humor
A way to remind myself it is ok to be ace.
Ask questions and seek advice from other aces.
Be able to better defend myself against harassment.
Belonging
Clear misconceptions about non-ace people and sexual attraction.
Coping
Discuss alternative definitions to asexuality.
Ease anxiety.
Feels like coming home. 
Friends
Fun
Happiness to meet other people like myself.
In hopes that younger people will figure themselves out sooner than I did.
Learn about the evolving conceptualization of sexuality.
Participate in educational dialogue with non-ace people.
Positivity
Safe place
Social activities
Spread awareness in the LGBTQ community.
Support
Talk about gender
Talking about personal experiences.
To be comfortable in my own skin.
To be in an asexual-positive environment.
To be informed enough to treat others who identify as asexual in a relatively informed manner, in order to be a more kind and decent person.
To be part of a community.
To be visible so that other aces know they are not alone.
To encourage aces to create their own community that suits their needs.
To feel normal.
To help individuals and offer advice.
To help my friends with understanding.
To not feel alone.
To stand up for our rights and the rights of all other LGBTQA+ people.
To talk about aces in LGBT spaces.
To talk about relationships.
To vent my frustrations over ignorance about asexuality.
Trust
Understand why people have problems with asexuality.
Validation 

Table 3. Reasons for Non-Participation in Online and Offline Asexual Communities
Afraid as a demisexual that I am not ace enough.
Afraid friends or relatives would find out and out me.
Afraid of outing myself.
Afraid of the impact it might have on my partner.
Age
Age group seemed too young for me.
Asexual elitism
Being called “it”.
Busy
Cannot drive.
Depend on others for money and transportation.
Depression
Did not consider asexuality to be a part of the LGBTQ community.
Did not know there were any communities.
Family disapproval and prejudice.
Fear of ace discrimination.
Feeling the need to prove I am ace.
Going to new places and meeting new people is scary.
Group is far away.
Happily closeted.
Harassment from non-asexuals.
Have not come out yet.
Have not found a suitable community.
Have not looked.
Homophobia.
I am quite old now and used to being in the closet about everything towards everyone.
I do not feel the need to be in a community.
Infighting between various populations of the asexual spectrum.
Introverted
LGBT community not welcoming.
Like observing more than participating.
Negative discourse
Non-ace people kept causing trouble.
Online site “ace discourse” made the ace community contentious and unsafe.
Online site filled with people disagreeing with asexuality.
Religious reasons.
Shame
Shyness
Social anxiety
The vibe turned me off.
Too much hate and toxic discourse.
Unsure about identity.
Unsure where to find ace communities.
Worried it would affect my career.

Table 4 – Meeting Others and Participation in Offline Asexual Groups
Have you ever met someone offline who identified as asexual, gray-A, 
or demisexual that you know of?
    Asexual
N (%)    Gray-A
N (%)    Demisexual
N (%)    Questioning
N (%)    None of the Above
N (%)    Total
Yes    3,954 (62.2)    698 (66.0)    575 (67.8)    507 (48.4)    397 (74.9)    6,131
No    1,910 (30.0)    253 (23.9)    192 (22.6)    400 (38.2)    80 (15.1)    2,835
Unsure    491 (7.7)    106 (10.0)    81 (9.5)    140 (13.4)    53 (10.0)    871
Total    6,355    1,057    848    1,047    530    9,837
Missing                        33
                        
How often do you currently participate in offline asexual groups?
    Asexual
N (%)    Gray-A
N (%)    Demisexual
N (%)    Questioning
N (%)    None of the Above
N (%)    Total
Never    5,071 (80.0)    876 (82.9)    712 (84.4)    943 (90.8)    454 (88.0)    8,056
Few times a year or less    752 (11.8)    115 (10.9)    89 (10.5)    61 (5.9)    39 (7.5)    1,056
Once a month    179 (2.8)    24 (2.2)    11 (1.3)    9 (0.8)    4 (0.8)    227
Few times a month    223 (3.5)    28 (2.6)    22 (2.6)    21 (2.0)    7 (1.3)    301
Few times a week    82 (1.3)    10 (0.9)    8 (0.9)    3 (0.3)    10 (1.9)    113
At least once a day    29 (0.4)    3 (0.3)    1 (0.1)    1 (0.1)    2 (0.4)    36
Total    6,336    1,056    843    1,038    516    9,789
Missing                        81

Table 5. Experiences in Offline LGBTQ Spaces
How was your experience in the most recent offline LGBTQ space you participated in?
    Asexual
N    Gray-A
N    Demisexual
N    Questioning
N    None of the Above
N    Total
Negative    137    26    26    21    13    223
1    156    43    24    22    15    260
2    477    82    64    67    38    728
3    821    178    117    119    97    1,332
Positive    1,473    249    213    205    179    2,319
NA    3,303    485    404    619    196    5,007
Total    6,367    1,063    848    1,053    538    9,869
                        
To what degree did you feel that the most recent offline LGBTQ space
you participated in was intended for you?
    Asexual
N    Gray-A
N    Demisexual
N    Questioning
N    None of the Above
N    Total
Not at all    511    91    76    76    32    786
1    573    121    75    77    37    883
2    756    130    105    95    61    1,147
3    589    113    79    89    87    957
Mostly    621    121    113    95    119    1,069
NA    3,317    487    400    621    202    5,027
Total    6,367    1,063    848    1,053    538    9,869

Table 6. Reading, Watching, Posting, and Commenting on Online Sites
How much do you currently read or watch content from …?
Site    Never    Few times a year or less    Few times a month    Few times a week    At least once a day    NA    Total
AVEN    4,308    3,528    1,138    375    109    412    9,870
Non-English asexual forum    8,493    446    174    89    31    637    9,870
Tumblr    1,615    1,283    2,009    2,639    2,055    269    9,870
Livejournal    8,554    516    140    23    7    630    9,870
Blogs (excl. Tumblr and Livejournal)    6,950    1,333    752    211    57    567    9,870
Facebook    5,870    1,145    1,010    812    546    487    9,870
Twitter    7,166    818    751    405    189    541    9,870
Reddit    7,891    639    410    259    98    573    9,870
Youtube    5,020    2,419    1,439    410    97    485    9,870
Meetup.com    8,878    227    138    27    5    595    9,870
Chat room    8,540    370    172    103    96    589    9,870
                            
How much do you post or comment in …?
    Never    Few times a year or less    Few times a month    Few times a week    At least once a day    NA    Total
AVEN    8,379    748    178    66    46    453    9,870
Non-English asexual forum    9,121    141    72    15    4    517    9,870
Tumblr    5,041    1,970    1,514    745    244    356    9,870
Livejournal    9,207    84    19    3    0    557    9,870
Blogs (excl. Tumblr and Livejournal)    9,028    210    78    18    8    528    9,870
Facebook    7,663    906    565    197    61    478    9,870
Twitter    8,403    506    279    127    43    512    9,870
Reddit    8,903    303    109    27    5    523    9,870
Youtube    8,794    403    121    35    6    511    9,870
Meetup.com    9,145    120    45    6    0    554    9,870
Chat room    8,833    204    115    83    74    561    9,870

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice

Dear Sex Ed

Dear Sex Ed