There are many different words people use to identify and describe themselves. When new (or new to us) terms come to our attention, it’s helpful to do a little digging to understand better what people are trying to express when they use these terms. Today, we’ll explore asexuality and aromanticism, both related to the scope of human desires around relationships and different kinds of intimacy.
It’s important to remember that everyone is different. Suppose you have a friend who tells you she’s asexual. If it’s appropriate in the context of your friendship, don’t be afraid to ask her, “What does asexuality mean to you?” Be sure to bring curiosity and a respectful posture to that conversation. Seek to understand what she wants you to know about her. Instead of trying to peg what the terms your friend is using mean to, say, Merriam Webster, invite her to share what she means when she uses them, or what her own experience is like.
Okay, on with our exploration of aces and aros.
When it comes to human relationships, asexuality can be a confusing term. Given that most of us first came across it in middle school science class when we learned about the asexual reproduction of bacteria, starfish, and fungi, “asexual” comes with some baggage. Obviously, no human being is losing an arm to gain a child who’s genetically identical to them. So when a person identifies as “asexual,” what do they want others to know about them?
What Does It Mean to Be Asexual?
An asexual person, also known as an “ace,” experiences little or no sexual interest or desire. Some asexual people never experience any sexual feelings. Others experience them on occasion. Others experience them and do not have the desire to act on them. There is no single type of asexuality.
What Asexuality Is Not
Asexuality is not necessarily tied to one specific preference regarding
Asexuality is a sexual orientation. Therefore, it’s not the same as
- Celibacy: choosing to refrain from sexual activity for religious reasons permanently, often associated with taking a vow to this effect (think of Catholic priests and nuns, Buddhist monks and nuns, etc.)
- Abstinence: choosing to abstain from sexual activity for a time (think of people who wait until marriage to have sex or a couple waiting six weeks after a partner has had surgery before resuming sexual intercourse)
- A change in sex drive: being uninterested in sex due to circumstances, hormones, or other factors
Some aces do choose to engage in sexual activity, often with partners who are sexually oriented. Within each relationship, people decide what they do and do not want to do.
What Does It Mean to Be Aromantic?
Do you remember your first crush? Aromantic people probably don’t. “Aros,” or aromantic people, are not interested in romantic connections with others. They don’t experience butterflies on a first date, crushes, or falling in love. That doesn’t necessarily make them asexual; in fact, they may enjoy sex.
Aros are not all the same. (That seems like it should be obvious, but it’s important to note all the same.) Many aros tend not to want traditional, committed relationships, but some do. Additionally, there is lingo specific to the aro community that reflects the aromantic spectrum. For example, when it comes to media content, there are three categories: romance positive, romance indifferent, and romance repulsed. Someone who is romance repulsed, for example, probably will not want to watch that rom-com with you. In contrast, someone who is romance positive may thoroughly enjoy it.
What Are the Possible Combinations?
Many people experience sexuality and romance as inseparable in their own lives, but many others don’t. An aro can also be an ace (or not). And there are more possibilities than just these two. People may be demisexual (experiencing sexual attraction to someone only after a strong emotional connection is there) or Grey-A (falling somewhere between sexual and asexual). They may have an affinity for emotionally close but not romantic relationships with people with particular identities (terms we often associate with sexuality, like the prefixes hetero-, homo-, bi-, and pan-, come into play here). There’s a lot more to learn about romantic and sexual spectrums.
It’s also important to note that people who identify as aces or aros may also identify as any gender or as LGBTQIA.
Deepen Your Understanding
It’s helpful to everyone, not just those of us with friends or loved ones who identify as aros or aces, to better appreciate that there is a lot of variety within the human experience. We tend to generalize from our own natures, upbringings, relationships, and knowledge. Often, this results in untrue assumptions about others.
Being willing to explore what life is like for other people is an essential part of growing in empathy and sympathy.
Borresen, K. (2018, October 05). What it means to be ‘aromantic,’ according to aromantic people. Retrieved April 15, 2021, from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/what-does-it-mean-to-be-aromantic_n_5bb501cee4b01470d04de20d
Kaur, H. (2019, October 20). Asexuality isn’t celibacy or abstinence. here’s what it is – and isn’t. Retrieved April 15, 2021, from https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/20/us/asexuality-explainer-trnd/index.html
The Trevor Project. (2020, October 07). Asexual. Retrieved April 15, 2021, from https://www.thetrevorproject.org/trvr_support_center/asexual/#:~:text=People%20who%20identify%20as%20asexual,feel%20about%20your%20boyfriend%2C%20too.
WebMD Medical Reference. (n.d.). Aromanticism: What does it mean? Retrieved April 15, 2021, from https://www.webmd.com/sex/what-does-aromantic-mean#:~:text=Aromantic%20people%20have%20little%20or,people%20or%20aromantic%20asexual%20people.
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