Asexuality and Youth

This is for this month’s Carnival of Aces, whose topic is Age/Ageism.

Since I only have experiences related to youth-related dismissal of my asexuality, I will only write about that phenomenon. While it is also important to talk about, age-related discrimination affecting older asexual-spectrum people is not something I have experience with, as I am only 23.

I figured out I was asexual at a very young age, compared to the other asexual-spectrum people whom I’ve met at meetups. I was 13 when I came to the conclusion—after having observed other people in books, films and at school—that I did not experience sexual attraction. I had several different words to describe this phenomenon in myself, including words that I didn’t understand were actually derogatory (“prude” and “frigid”), but I eventually settled on “asexual” as an identity term, long before I discovered AVEN on the brink of turning 15.

Since I had very few friends early on in high school, the people at school with whom I had the best relationships were teachers. The first person to whom I disclosed my asexuality was my biology teacher, whose response was negative. He told me that my identity as asexual was invalid because I was younger than 16 years old, and he said to come back to him then if it’s still the case. I got a similarly negative response two years later from another teacher to whom I disclosed my asexuality, who insisted to me that humans couldn’t be asexual.

(Interestingly, the second teacher revised his position on my asexuality when I showed him a photocopy from my high school’s sociology textbook, which had the extremely rare virtue of listing asexuality among its sexual orientations. The biology teacher never recanted his position, and when I was 16 and still asexual—and 18 and still asexual—he still refused to believe me.)

Youth-related dismissal of asexuality is not an old phenomenon, and I often now see and hear stories from people who report that when they tried to come out as asexual to parents, their parents disbelieved them on basis of their youth. I have heard stories like these from asexual people as old as 25. It is also very common for people on AVEN to reply to a 13-year-old or other teenage user, “You might turn out not to be asexual. Keep an open mind!” Youth-related dismissal of asexual identification is even more rampant on Tumblr, and often employs hostility.

I don’t entirely know how to combat the phenomenon of youth-related dismissal of asexuality, but I do know that there is research that demonstrates that the average age of first sexual attraction is ten, and that the vast majority of people who do experience it experience it by the age of 16 [1]. I don’t know how much good it will do to spread that information from individual to individual, though, because youth-related dismissal of non-heterosexual orientations is a problem that extends beyond individuals (and beyond asexuals). Youth-related dismissal of non-heterosexual orientations is too heavily ingrained in Western culture to take a purely individual-based approach.

[1] McClintock, M. K., & Herdt, G. (1996). Rethinking puberty: The development of sexual attraction. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 5(6). 178-183.

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