Yasmin Benoit, 26, is a model and asexual activist. She has never had sex and never wants to date or have a romantic relationship. Here she explains why...
I first realised I wasn’t interested in sex or romance when I was 11 – at the time everyone around me realised they were. We’d chase boys around the playground and, while I’d do it for fun, for the other girls, it turned more into chasing boys because they had crushes on them. I noticed that I wasn’t feeling the same.
I remember the girls were always fighting over the boys. It made me want to go to an all-girls secondary school because I had a theory that if you got rid of the problem of boys, the girls wouldn't care about dating or sex. But that backfired because when I did join a single sex school, the girls were riled up all the time, feeling deprived of boys.
I assumed it would happen to me too, that I would develop these feelings, but I wasn't going to encourage them because, observing other girls, it looked like a lot of effort.
I thought, give it a few months and I will also want to grab the girl by the hair because she spoke to my boyfriend. But I was fine with who I was, I’ve never been someone who blended in. I was the only Black girl at my school, for a start, and I'm a huge heavy metal fan, I dress like Alice Cooper.
I’m just not the sort of person who wants to be like everyone else. I do care about what people think but I’m not a very conventional person. If I was, I’d be more bothered about what people thought of me, but I don’t want to be worrying about that stuff. It all seemed very silly to me.
What was wrong with me?
People at school came up with theories as to what was wrong with me. They’d say maybe I was gay and hadn’t worked it out yet, maybe I had some kind of weird perversion, maybe I’d been abused and was traumatised. Maybe I was just a prude, maybe I was emotionally and physically stunted, maybe I needed medication.
It was frustrating and annoying, to the point where I just avoided the questions and the topic of sexuality completely. It also made me doubt myself because everyone seemed so concerned, like they knew me better than I knew myself.
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People were telling me I must have been molested so often that I found myself racking my brain to work out whether or not I'd been traumatised at some point. But no. I was a weird kid, but my childhood was quite pleasant. I grew up with my mum in Reading, where I’ve lived all my life, and I still live there with her now.
I did have questions in my head about what was wrong with me, why I wasn’t feeling like them, did I need to change to fit in, but not to the point where I felt inclined to do anything about it. I don’t know why, it’s not in my nature.
As I was a little unusual anyway, it wasn't the end of the world to realise there was another thing that was different about me. So when I realised I didn't experience attraction, I was like, ‘Sure, of course. Why not?’ Let’s just throw that in the mix.’
People didn’t find me good-looking back then, so I didn't get hit on much during my teenage years. My friends were always better looking, I was the one people skimmed over. There were creepy older guys who paid me attention sometimes, but of course I had no interest in them. Those my own age had zero interest.
Besides, I wasn't in many instances where I’d give people the opportunity to hit on me. I was always very good at dodging the scenario. I’d just go to school and do my work, and then go straight home.
I don't know that I had a full blown 'this is it' moment but, by the time I was 15, a friend suggested maybe I was asexual. I hadn’t had a word for it until then but I Googled it and there were YouTubers talking about asexuality and being aromantic, and it seemed like that might be me.
I had answers to my question and I realised that I wasn’t broken, that there were other people like me and I wasn’t alone in this. It gave me the language to explain who I was.
A wider conversation didn’t exist though and I didn’t gain a sense of community from it, so I went back to avoiding the subject and carried on my life, until a few years ago I decided to become an activist and campaign to get people to better understand asexuality.
Now, I sometimes get guys chatting me up in the street or if I’m in a bar or a club, or working somewhere. They’ll hit on me, and it’s rare for me to say, ‘Actually, I'm asexual’ because they don't know what I'm talking about. So I usually say I’m not interested but if I do say, ‘It's not personal, I'm not attracted to anyone,” then they’re like, ‘If you haven't done it before, how do you know?’
My answer is, “Have you ever had sex with a man to know that you're straight? No.” I’ve never felt like I wanted to try having sex.
People immediately think asexuals are conservative or uptight, emotionally disconnected, insecure, shy or a wallflower. There are so many myths and stereotypes, but I’m none of those things. I think sex is great. Cover yourself in candle wax, hang from the ceiling, go for it. I just don’t want to do that myself.
Asexuality is not the same thing as celibacy either – if you're a gay man, it's not your lifestyle choice not to have sex with women, you're just gay, it’s the same thing with asexuality.
People don’t think of this as a sexuality, but it is a sexual orientation like any other. I described it as a sexuality that isn’t oriented towards anyone. Assexual people still have hormones.
People are often surprised to know that I’m an underwear model. I get a lot of comments like, ‘If you’re asexual, why do you do lingerie shoots?’ but it's just part of the job. A gay actor can play a straight character, an asexual person can model underwear. It's just fabric to me.
It's thought around 1% of the population is asexual, which might not seem high, but 1-2% of the population is ginger, and we all know ginger people.
Of course, not all asexual people are the same. You could be asexual and still be ‘sex favourable’ – you might enjoy the act of sex without experiencing sexual attraction, or you can be totally sexual repulsed.
Personally, I have nothing against sex but, for me, it's like skydiving. I can see how cool it could be to go free-flowing through the air, but I'm not about to jump on the plane.
I’m not lonely, either. I'm sure there are asexual people who do feel lonely, especially if they have romantic feelings – if you're not interested in having sex, that will be a burden in forming relationships, but I am aromantic too and wouldn't want to date or ever have a relationship anyway.
I’m happy living with my mum, I have friends and, anyway, you can be having sex every day and still feel lonely or you can be dating someone and still be isolated.
We prioritise romantic relationships in our culture but having a boyfriend or having sex isn’t the be all and end all. You don’t need to have sex to be liberated. If you're comfortable with whatever sexuality you have, whatever form it takes, that is liberation.
Yasmin Benoit recently won Campaigner of the Year at the Rainbow Honours. She is working with Stonewall on research into 'ace' (asexual) people in the UK to understand their experiences, needs and priorities for change, with a focus on employment, healthcare and higher education. Find out more here.
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