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Ace and aro mental health

Being ace or aro is not a mental health problem. And it doesn't cause mental health problems.

But those of us who are ace or aro may have experiences that lead to poor mental health.

This page covers:

This page is part of our guide to:

LGBTQIA+ mental health

Remember: there can be many positive experiences that come with being ace or aro.

Our page on self-care includes tips for finding these positive experiences.

Ace describes a lack of sexual attraction. Or varying or occasional experiences of sexual attraction.

Aro describes a lack of romantic attraction. Or varying or occasional experiences of romantic attraction.

Not all aro people are ace, and not all ace people are aro. And being ace is not the same as being celibate, which is a choice to not have sex.

Ace and aro are umbrella terms that also cover identities including:

  • Asexual – feeling no sexual attraction
  • Aromantic – feeling no romantic attraction
  • Demisexual – feeling sexual attraction only after forming an emotional bond with someone
  • Demiromantic – feeling romantic attraction only after forming an emotional bond with someone
  • Grey-sexual – occasionally feeling sexual attraction, or not feeling it very strongly
  • Grey-romantic – occasionally feeling romantic attraction, or not feeling it very strongly

You may use one or more of these terms to describe yourself. Or you may use other terms – Stonewall's glossary includes many more. You may also feel like you don't need to define yourself with any terms. 

Acephobia or arophobia

You may experience negative attitudes and treatment for being ace or aro. This could be from people around you, and from wider society.

These experiences could include:

  • Assumptions that you can't have relationships, or that you're cold or robotic.
  • Negative attitudes suggesting that your identity needs to be fixed or cured. Or that you can't have a full life without sex or romance.
  • Dismissing your identity. People may say that it's just a phase, that it's not normal, or that you don't really know what you want.

Acephobia and arophobia can run deeper than any specific incident or person. It can feel like an everyday part of the world we live in.

Difficult experiences of coming out

Telling people you're ace or aro is something you'll likely do many times. You might find it liberating, allowing you to be yourself. It could also be very difficult and have painful consequences.

You may worry about facing discrimination if you tell people. Or if you already tried and it went badly, you might not feel safe doing it again.

Feeling unable to tell people about being ace or aro may affect your wellbeing. And it could contribute to mental health problems like depression and anxiety. Whether you decide to tell everyone, some people or no-one, nobody should make that choice apart from you.

I feared being rejected by everyone, and I feared I was broken and not normal

Social exclusion

You may feel surrounded by messages about sex or romance being a central part of life, adulthood and relationships. Often these messages don't leave space for varying feelings about sex or romance.

You might not know anyone else who feels the same as you, or who understands what you're feeling. You may not see anyone with your experience represented in the media. This could make you feel lonely, invisible, and excluded from other people's experiences, including those of your friends and family.

It can be difficult to find information about ace or aro identities. So it may have taken you a long time to find out that there was a name for your experience, and that other people share it. This may have felt very lonely and confusing.

But finding this name for what you're feeling can be a relief. It can help to realise you're not the only one. And it may help you understand yourself better.

Exclusion from LGBTQI+ spaces

Other people may question whether ace or aro people belong in LGBTQI+ communities.

They may assume that ace or aro people don't face as much discrimination as others. Or they may suggest that ace people don't support the sexual freedoms that others have fought for. These myths could make you feel unwelcome and invalidated. You may feel as if your identity doesn't count, or like you're not 'queer enough'.

Confusion between ace and mental health problems

Sometimes, people who aren't ace may lose interest in sex as a symptom of a mental health problem. They might also receive a mental health diagnosis called 'sexual arousal or interest disorder'. This may happen if they're distressed by losing interest in sex.

This can lead some people to confuse being ace with having a mental health problem. But they are not the same – being ace is not a mental health problem.

This confusion can feel invalidating. It could make you feel like your identity is something that needs to be fixed. In some cases, this confusion can lead to conversion 'therapy'.

Internalised acephobia or arophobia

Experiencing negative attitudes about ace or aro identities could make you feel bad about yourself and affect your self-esteem. This is sometimes called internalised acephobia or arophobia. 

You may worry that your orientation is a problem, such as a health problem. Or it might make you feel like you're abnormal.

Discrimination

You may be treated unfairly because of your sexual and romantic attraction if you're ace or aro.

Not everyone will have these negative experiences. Excellent services and organisations do exist. But in society as a whole, LGBTQIA+ people are treated unequally.

Discrimination could happen in many areas of life, including:

  • The healthcare system. Some health professionals may not know enough about ace and aro people's needs and experiences. For example, they may assume that asexuality doesn't exist. Or that it's the result of a health problem. This can make it harder for you to be open about your identity with health services.
  • Workplaces. You may face negative attitudes from employers and colleagues. You may feel the need to hide your identity at work, if you're worried about being treated badly.

Experiencing discrimination can increase your risk of poor mental health. This is especially if you face different types of discrimination. For example, discrimination to do with your sexual orientation and your race. See our page on intersectionality and LGBTQIA+ to find out more about different types of discrimination.

The Equality Act 2010 protects people from discrimination and gives them a legal right to challenge it. But it does not currently include being ace or aro as a protected characteristic. This means you might not be able to complain about discrimination based on your ace or aro identity under the Equality Act.

But this doesn't mean you can't complain about how you're treated. You have a right to be treated fairly and for your identity to be treated with respect.

Places like NHS trusts and employers may have their own LGBTQIA+ policies that include ace and aro identities. You may be able to complain if a service hasn't followed their own policies.

See our page on complaining about health and social care for information on how to challenge discrimination by healthcare professionals.

Abuse and hate crime

Abuse is when someone hurts you physically, sexually, emotionally or financially. It can also include making threats towards you or damaging your belongings. A hate crime is when this abuse happens because of who you are, such as being ace or aro.

You might experience abuse and hate online or in person. It could be from a stranger, or someone you know. These experiences could make you feel unsafe. They can also impact your mental health – such as causing anxiety, sleep problems, suicidal feelings or PTSD.

Other experiences of discrimination, acephobia or arophobia might make it harder to tell people what happened. You might worry that it won't be taken seriously. Or you might not realise that what you've experienced was abuse or hate.

Abuse is illegal. You deserve to feel safe.

In the UK, hate crime law does not specifically cover ace and aro people. But this doesn't mean you can't report abuse to the police.

To find out more, visit the charity Galop's information about hate and abuse. Or call Galop's confidential helpline for support. 

Conversion 'therapy'

Conversion 'therapy' means any practice that tries to change or suppress your sexual or gender identity. It is a form of abuse. It may happen even though there's nothing wrong with being ace or aro. You do not need to be 'cured' or changed.

These practices can include:

  • Formal sessions that present themselves as 'therapy'
  • More subtle practices, such as family members or faith groups advising you how to be in sexual or romantic relationships
  • More extreme practices, such as physical and sexual violence or exorcisms

Some medical professionals don't have good knowledge about ace or aro people. This can lead some mental health services to do certain types of conversion 'therapy'. This could include:

  • Believing being ace or aro is caused by trauma and forcing someone to have trauma-related therapy to 'cure' them.
  • Requiring or forcing people to have psychosexual therapy, couples therapy or take libido-related medication. This is because they assume that someone is ace or aro because of a mental or physical health problem.
  • Denying ace or aro people access to healthcare until they have these sorts of treatment or therapy. For example, denying access to fertility treatment.

Conversion 'therapy' practices are unethical and harmful. Among other things, they can contribute to:

Mind is calling for an outright ban of conversion practices. The government has proposed a ban to end conversion 'therapy'. But this ban does not specifically cover ace and aro people, or intersex, non-binary and bi+ people. Mind has called for the ban to include these groups.

In the UK, many major health organisations have also condemned this dangerous practice. And all major counselling and psychotherapy bodies have called for an end to it.

Remember: you do not need to be changed or 'cured'. If you're experiencing poor care or conversion 'therapy' in healthcare, you can complain. You have a right to be treated fairly and for your identity to be treated with respect. 

Published: May 2024

Next review planned: May 2027

References and bibliography available on request.

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