Love and sex usually go hand in hand, but for some people, the desire simply isn’t there.
Asexuality and aromanticism are two lesser known LGBT+ identities, but awareness of these terms not only helps to quell misconceptions, but also create an accepting environment for those who identify as aro and ace.
Asexuality can be defined as the lack of sexual attraction, and aromanticism as the lack of romantic attraction, but for those identifying as one or both of these identities, it can be more nuanced than that.
Nich is a college student who has been openly identifying as both asexual and aromantic since they were sixteen. They came across the term on the internet and found that it clicked with what they were feeling. “I just forgot that sex and romance are things I’m supposed to want,” they say, “They’re like that one tv show you keep meaning to check out because you’ve heard it’s really good, but you don’t care enough to actually sit down and watch it.”
Many asexual and aromantic people find out about the terms online, but others realise their identity after speaking with aro and ace people in the community. Brittany, a 23 year old retail worker, found out about asexuality in high school after a friend confided in her that she too was asexual. “I’ve identified as asexual for two years,” she says, “But I’ve known there was something different about me for a lot longer.”
Building strong relationships is essential, and for many asexual and aromantic people, friendships are of the upmost importance. That being said, romantic and sexual relationships aren’t entirely out of the question. While aromantic and asexual people like Nich prefer to stick to platonic relationships, asexual people like Brittany can pursue romance. It all comes down to personal preference. Despite their lack of attraction, some asexual people might have sex, while some aromantic people might enter a romantic relationship.
Coming across other asexual and aromantic people is like finding a unicorn in real life, Nich says, but the ace and aro community has been nothing but supportive. Websites such as Tumblr and Reddit have fostered asexual and aromantic communities, where members can interact with other people going through the same experiences and feelings that they are, and those questioning their sexuality can go for advice. It was communities like these that helped Brittany discover her sexuality and has helped many more come to terms with their asexuality.
I realised that I was ‘supposed’ to want to have sex. That people actually got butterflies in their stomach when they saw someone they had a crush on. I realised that I hadn’t felt either of those things—and I still haven’t.
Other communities are less than accepting. Many asexual and aromantic people face exclusion and discrimination from not only heterosexual and cisgender people, but also from the LGBT+ community. Much of the prejudice towards asexual and aromantic people stems from a lack of understanding. For the majority of society, sex and romance are essential to the human experience, and so they believe asexuality and aromanticism to be celibacy, a phase, or the lack of experience in dating, which Brittany says is the biggest challenge. “I’ve dealt with backlash from people who don’t understand asexuality and disregard it entirely, or just thought it’d be something I’d get over one day when I meet someone special,” she says, “Even today, being in a loving relationship with my girlfriend, who is also asexual, I still have people ask whether I’m still asexual or if my feelings about having sex have changed.”
Asexual and aromantic people also face discrimination in a more professional setting. When Nich came out to their psychologist, they were asked to take a test determining if they had psychopathic tendencies. Up until 2013, the DSM-V listed asexuality as a sexual disorder, and many asexuals find themselves discriminated against when it comes to medical professions, who confuse their lack of sexual attraction to a non-existing sex drive. Aromantic people may also face the same challenges; they can be labelled as psychopathic or robotic for their lack of romantic attraction, which is often confused for an inability to feel love.
The biggest challenge comes from within the queer community. Despite the ‘A’ in LGBTQIA standing for asexuality and aromanticism, some queer people are vocal about their beliefs that ace and aro people are not part of the community. Nich and Brittany in particular have been called “basically straight”, “diet straight”, and have been thought to be “not queer enough” for the LGBT+ community.
It’s really hard just telling people that I’m asexual out of fear of being judged and thought of as weird, as sex is typically an important part of people’s lives.
Many members of the asexual and aromantic community have to deal with such comments on a regular basis, but like Nich and Brittany, they focus on their community, and remind themselves that there are so many others who are like them and are going through the same challenges.
Asexuality and aromanticism are valid identities that many people relate to and identity as, and learning about these identities is extremely important not just for asexual and aromantic people themselves, but for everyone else as well.
To find out more about asexuality and aromanticism, support an asexual/aromantic friend or family member, or to figure out if you might be asexual or aromantic, visit the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN).