When I discovered Yasmin Benoit, I had already been out as asexual for a few years. Still, the label scared me; I hesitated to use it amidst a culture that puts so much emphasis on sex. I was afraid of being seen as conservative, anti-sex, or—a label used too often for women—a prude.
It is these very misconceptions that Yasmin Benoit continues to dispel. A lingerie model, Benoit is not who you would expect to be the face of the asexual community. This “shock value,” she believes, is often what stirs conversations around asexuality, reminding people that asexual people don’t have to look or behave a certain way. It’ also the motivation behind Benoit's social media campaign: #ThisIsWhatAsexualLooksLike.
Aside from co-founding International Asexuality Day (April 6th, if anyone was wondering), Yasmin Benoit's work has included features in Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and more. She’s given talks at Pride events around the world; she’s conducted seminars at the University of Cambridge and King's College London.
By challenging preconceived notions regarding asexuality, Benoit—who is also a brilliant writer with a bachelor's degree in sociology and a master's in crime science—represents the asexual community as it should be represented: bold, wise, and “normal.” Over Zoom, Benoit is calm and insightful, with a sharp sense of humor. In this conversation, we dispelled some myths about asexuality, discussed racism within the LGBTQ+ community, and talked about furries playing basketball.
Adolescent Content: You've talked about how the internet played an important role in coming to terms with your asexuality. What was that journey like, and where else did you receive support?
Yasmin Benoit: I was in school when people started asking me what my sexuality was, and I didn't really have a good answer to give them. Thanks to people spending so much time on the internet, and specifically websites like Tumblr, which was really popular at that point, they were more familiar with the lesser known sexualities. It was others who suggested I might be asexual. Then I went on YouTube and saw people talking about their experiences. That's when I realized I was probably asexual as well. It wasn't until quite a few years later, when I had to use social media for my job as a model, that I [used] it to speak about my asexuality, too.
Adolescent: How has your understanding of asexuality expanded since you first came out?
Yasmin: When I discovered the terminology as a teenager, I didn't really bother doing a deep dive—which I think was quite good at the time, because it wouldn't necessarily have been helpful for me to get into micro-labels. But as an adult and someone who does educational work, it's been helpful, and I've definitely been encouraged to take a deep, theoretical, conceptual dive into the intricacies of asexuality—so I like to think that my knowledge has expanded quite a lot over the last few years. But there's still things I don't know, and things I'll never be able to grasp a hundred percent.
Adolescent: What are some things you've found people don't understand about asexuality? Do they often confuse it with aromanticism?
Yasmin: Yeah, they do often confuse the two. But they confuse it with a lot of things: celibacy, abstinence, being anti-sex, not being able to have sex, not being able to feel aroused, not being able to connect with people or get a date. Like it's just some kind of lifestyle choice or temporary situation, or a hormonal issue, or a physical problem. I can understand where those [misunderstandings] come from because there isn't a lot of clear information on asexuality available—there's like a hundred wrong definitions online—but I definitely try to correct them. This is my job now, and I'm used to tackling any kind of question. I'm not offended easily. More often than not, people don't come from a place of malice. They're just confused about how it works.
Adolescent: You've been the target of a lot of hate on social media. How do you cope with it?
Yasmin: For me, it's irritating but not devastating. It happens often, but I'm pretty thick-skinned. I don't place much value on the opinions of complete strangers who don't actually care that much. They're just trying to get a reaction out of me. I try to use it as an example, to raise awareness for the issue—I tell people to use me as a case study because a lot of people don't really know the ways that acephobia can manifest. It isn't something you really see unless it's something you're experiencing or someone you know is experiencing. And if I can use it as a constructive learning experience, that's quite cathartic for me.
Adolescent: What role do you think the media plays in people's perception of sex, sexuality, and asexuality?
Yasmin: I feel like the media kind of overemphasizes the role that sexuality plays in people's lives nowadays. It creates the impression that everybody is continuously having loads of sex, when statistically, our generation is having the least sex—that’s not what you would guess if you were to watch your average Netflix show or listen to music that is marketed to young people. It all adds to the idea that sex is a very compulsory behaviour, and that in turn, asexuality is very unusual. The media doesn't know how to tie asexuality into narratives because it's so overly reliant on sex, which is why it's often referred to as the “invisible orientation.”
Adolescent: How do you think social media has made a difference?
Yasmin: I think social media has always played a big role with asexuality. Our orientation was probably one of the few where the community was birthed on the internet around the 2000s. You can find representation of pretty much anything on the internet—you could find furries playing basketball, if you wanted to.
Adolescent: What are your favorite examples of asexual representation in mainstream media?
Yasmin: Favorite would suggest something I very much relate to or personally enjoy consuming, and with those criteria, I don't have one. I'm going to give the cliché answer and say that I'm my favorite representation, which is why I started doing this.
Adolescent: How do you feel about your branding as an “asexual model”?
Yasmin: In some ways, it's helpful because you debunk a bunch of misconceptions right off the bat. The second they see me, they think “this isn't what I expected” and that shock value can be a great way to stir conversation. At other times, I feel like it becomes too much of the conversation. I'll do an interview somewhere and think about so many interesting things I can talk about, but people tend to overfocus on my clothing—it's always a political statement—and sometimes it can drown out the actual message.
Adolescent: Do you feel a lot of pressure to be a role model?
Yasmin: I didn't really do this in the hopes of becoming a role model, but I'm definitely not against it—I'm happy if I can help other people along their journey in some way. There’s definitely a pressure when people see you as any kind of leader and put you on a pedestal. Being a part of the community like a normal person becomes borderline impossible when your identity becomes your job and your community becomes your critics. But I'm grateful I can make a positive impact in any way, because that was always my goal.
Adolescent: You've talked a lot about how racism in the LGBTQ+ and ace communities has affected you. How do you think the queer experience has been different for you as a Black person?
Yasmin: Queerness in general is quite whitewashed. That's a lasting legacy of colonialism. Particularly in Black communities, they still kind of hold on to these traditional, religious, conservative ideas about sexuality and are quite likely to be homophobic, in my observation. So you're less likely to see Black people being as loud with their queerness, and they're also less likely to be chosen to be the face of anything. With regards to the ace community, it's a very white space. That's why, statistically, my experiences [with] racism there are higher. If I worked with bankers, I'd probably notice racism in banking. I always say it's not an asexual thing, it's a white people thing. When you add the element of being perceived as a role model, it opens you up to a different level of dehumanization because people think they can say anything and it won't reach me.
Adolescent: How do you believe myths surrounding asexuality can be dispelled?
Yasmin: A lot of misconceptions come from seeing sexuality at [the] surface level on social media. I can write a thousand-word essay dispelling misconceptions, but people will just see the headlines and jump to their own conclusions. So while social media can be helpful, it just ends up being an echo chamber sometimes. What I find most constructive is [discussing the experience with people] outside of your own bubble. When I go into banks or tech companies and speak to people who aren't already floating around TikTok, that’s constructive. They see an asexual person, a normal person, and are able to relate to me in some way. Human interaction helps the message sink in. It's an actual conversation as opposed to a post.
You can keep up with Yasmin Benoit on Instagram and Twitter.
Photo by Sarah Carpentieri for Notion.