Asexuality, broadly defined as a lack of sexual attraction, is experienced by an estimated 1% of the population (Bogaert, 2004). Though asexuality has been historically viewed as a pathological symptom, it is now recognized as a sexual orientation. Despite the efforts of organization such as AVEN, asexuals are still an “invisible” minority, as the issues faced by asexuals are largely unknown to the public, nor to medical doctors or therapists. At the same time, asexuals face prejudice, including specific social stereotypes. In particular, asexuals report that people view them as childish, immature, and socially inept (MacNeela & Murphy, 2015).
On the face of it, public invisibility should not be accompanied with social stereotypes. If an individual has little or no awareness of asexual as a social group, it seems unlikely for that individual to hold onto specific social stereotypes regarding asexuals. However, we (Zivony & Lobel, 2014; Zivony & Saguy, 2018) have previously suggested that stereotypes about sexual minority groups can be deduced based on shared understanding of sexuality. Asexual stereotypes may therefore stem from the overarching notion that the development of sexual attraction is a necessary outcome of puberty. A person who holds this view may come to the conclusion that asexual individuals are underdeveloped and immature, even if they had never met an asexual person before. A tell-tale sign of this deduction process is a negative correlation between stereotype knowledge about a certain group and biased evaluation towards a member of said group (Zivony & Saguy, 2018). That is because that an individual who has deduced that asexuals should have certain traits, but is unaware that these associations are stereotypes, should have no motivation to avoid using these stereotypes and will adhere to these conclusions more freely.
In this study, we aim to test the stereotype deduction hypothesis of asexual stereotypes. To do so, we will test two predictions:
Asexual individuals will be evaluated as more socially inept (awkward, solitary) and more immature (confused, child-like) than heterosexuals, gay men and lesbians.
Stereotype knowledge about asexuals would be negatively correlated with stereotypical evaluation of asexuals, but not negatively correlated with the evaluation of non-asexuals.
The experiment will include three parts.
Participants will be asked to provide descriptions of social stereotypes regarding several social groups, including asexuals. These descriptions would reflect their knowledge of social stereotypes. Stereotype knowledge categories will be coded by two judges blind to the hypotheses, and scores will be percentage of ‘hits’, i.e., mentions of unique stereotype categories associated with that group, divided by the overall number of categories associated with that group (see, e.g., Devine, 1989).
Participants will be asked to help evaluate a character based on a social interaction. They will be presented with a vignette describing an interaction between three characters. Two of the characters (non-target characters) will ask the other (the target character, either a man or a woman) a series of questions. Among these questions would be one question whose answer that indicates the target’s sexual orientation (heterosexual, gay\lesbian, or asexual). Then, participants will evaluate the target’s personality on the Ten-Item Personality Inventory (TIPI): a very brief measure of the Big-Five personality domains, and four additional items pertaining to asexual stereotypes.
Participants will provide demographic details. They will also fill questionnaires about their social dominance orientation and views about gender and sexual essentialism.
We will recruit 1,200 participants, 200 for each one of the six groups (target’s gender X target’s orientation). This sample size is based on a previous study that examined the relationship between stereotypes knowledge and stereotypical evaluation (about bisexual stereotypes). In that study, a two-way interaction between stereotype knowledge (high vs. low) and the evaluated target’s sexual orientation (bisexual vs. non-bisexual) was observed: stereotype knowledge was negatively correlated with the stereotypical evaluation of bisexuals, but not of non-bisexuals. This analysis resulted in an effect size (partial eta squared) of η2p = .0235. A power analysis based on this effect indicated that a minimal sample size of N = 543 will be required to achieve 95% power. However, that study only included the evaluation of bisexual women. Recruiting double than that amount will ensure sufficient power, while allowing us to detect possible effects of gender, and will also allow us to take into account typical exclusion rates in the Prolific platform. Based on the estimated length of the questionnaire (20 minutes) and the target sample size of 1200 participants, we estimate that our experiment will cost 4000£ in total.
Preregistration of all the main hypotheses and auxiliary exploratory analyses will be detailed in AsPredicted.com, under “ Asexual stereotypes - May 2021 . ” All the raw data, including the full questionnaires, will be uploaded to the first author’s FigShare account.
The importance of studies on this subject is underscored by the potential implications of the findings: if people do not acknowledge that their beliefs are stereotypical, they should have less motivation to suppress their stereotypical-related prejudicial behavior (Devine, 1989; Kunda & Spencer, 2003). In fact, they might not consider certain behaviors as prejudicial at all. As such, even well-meaning individuals may trat asexuals prejudicially, as they do not know better. Consequently, asexuals face minority stress and may be less inclined to disclose their identity, even to peers. This likely result in further negative mental health outcomes. Enhancing scientific and social knowledge regarding asexuality should improve understanding and acceptance of asexuality as a valid sexual orientation, which should consequently reduce prejudice and social stress experienced by asexual individuals.
In addition, if our stereotype deduction hypothesis towards asexuals is confirmed, it will have encouraging implications as well. It will indicate that some aspects of the prejudice toward asexuals do not stem from bigotry but rather from ignorance and inaccurate assumptions regarding asexuality. If that is the case, it would open the door to interventions that reduce prejudice: educating individuals about asexuality might have immediate beneficial outcomes, as the behavior of informed individuals is less likely to be guided by uninhibited stereotypes.