Friday, September 9, 2011

Asexuality and Mental Health

In honor of national suicide prevention week, I thought that I ought to share the results of some data I recently discovered.

Lucassen, M. F. G., Merry, S. N., Robinson, E. M., Denny, S., Clark, T., Ameratunga, S., & Crengle, S. (2011). Sexual attraction, depression, self-harm, suicidality and help-seeking behaviour in New Zealand secondary school students. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 45(5), 376-383.

Their analysis was based a large-scale sampling secondary students in New Zealand. The study required everyone taking it to identify themselves as either male or female (thus preventing analysis for transgender youth), and in the sexual orientation question, people were asked if they were sexually attracted to the opposite sex, the same sex, both, neither, or unsure. Around 2% said neither. (2.4% of those 15 or younger, and 0.7 of those 16 or older, although the population of asexuals is small enough that this still allows for considerable room for random error, especially as the 16 or older group was much smaller overall.)

Anyway, here are some numbers for asexuality and ethnicity (absolute number in the sample followed by percent of total in parentheses.)

NZ European 69 (1.3)
Maori 10 (1.3)
Pacific 531 (3.6)
Asian 768 (4.3)
Other 346 (2.1)

Neither-attracted had comparable levels of depressive symptoms as opposite-sex attracted people, which was considerably less than that of same-sex-attracted, both-sex-attracted, and unsure groups. The neither-attracted group had a rate comparable to (and sometimes lower than) the opposite-sex-attracted people for reported deliberate self-harming behavior, and having seriously thought about attempting suicide, and suicide attempts. Rates for same-sex-attracted, and both-sex-attracted youth was considerably higher. (The "unsure" group sometimes patterned with the heterosexual group and sometimes with the same-sex-attracted and opposite-sex-attracted groups.)

While it is problematic to try to generalize this data to other populations in other countries (although the trends they report on for heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual groups is similar to what has been found in the US), the data that we do have suggests that asexuals are not at elevated risk for suicide.


miller said...

Interesting. As you probably knew, AVEN polls suggest higher risk of suicide. The two major possibilities are: 1) The AVEN polls are unreliable and meaningless, or 2) The higher risk is true of the AVEN population but not the asexual population in general.

ACH said...

I don't consider AVEN polls to be representative of any group other than AVENites who answer polls on that particular subject. If we really wanted to get a sample that is representative of AVENites, it should be possible to get a list of all people who joined/posted in a a certain time period (this can be gotten from publicly available data), and then get someone from admods/PT to mass PM a link to a survey to a random sample of that group (along with a description of it and who is doing it0. No one has attempted this so far, and generally recruiting from Announcements has been done--and I figure that this method probably isn't too terribly bad. But for a poll in census forum, the people who vote are those who like answering polls. And of all of polls, people are likely to choose ones of some degree of personal relevance/interest to them, so I expect that the sampling method biases the polls in favor of people who have seriously considered suicide before, people who have/have had serious problems with depression, and people who have had someone close to them attempt/commit suicide before.

So I wouldn't trust data from AVEN unless it was at least gathered in an off-site poll, linked to in announcements, and suicide was not the sole/primary topic of the survey.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see a study done on asexual adults, personally. In my own personal experience, the problems that come with asexuality hadn't really set in by age 16. I was pretty oblivious of sexual expectations at that point, but they started to set in more as time wore on. I didn't even start identifying as asexual until I was 17, either. So for those reasons, I don't think this study is particularly representative of asexuals as a whole.

ACH said...

When I was reading the paper, I had wondered if something along those lines might be the case--for a lot of asexuals, the difficulties involved might not become as serious until maybe college age. (Also, this sample was heavily weighted towards the less than 16 group, a fact that would be especially relevant if such a hypothesis was correct.) On the other hand, a rather large part of AVENites are high-school aged.\

Still, I definitely agree that looking at similar issues in college populations would be something important for people to research in the future, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if things looked quite a bit different there.