Here's Everything You Need to Know About Aromantic Sexuality
Plus, how it's different from asexuality.
Growing up in a heteronormative world as an LGBTQ+ person can be hellishly confusing. Things get even more complicated if your identity lives under one of the additional letters covered by the plus sign that mystifies so many straight people. The "A", or asexuality, for instance, is often a source of bewilderment where multiple sexual identities—such as asexual, agender—live under. However, one of the "A" identities that are often not discussed enough is aromantic.
But what is aromatic? We tapped a few experts to help explain the aromantic spectrum and how to know if you identify as one.
Aromantic vs asexual:
Usually symbolizing asexuality, the letter "A" encompasses a broad spectrum of identities and is not as simply defined as Google might lead you to believe. According to the dictionary, asexual applies to someone who experiences little to no sexual attraction. Aromanticism is defined as having little to no romantic attraction to other people. Sadly, there is little data on the prevalence of aromantic and asexual people but one 2016 study of 414 Americans found that almost one percent were asexual.
Though there are plenty of people who are both, not all asexual people are also aromantic, and not all aromantic people consider themselves asexual. Mainstream media implies that romance and sexual attraction are the same but sometimes, they are worlds apart. Both identities live on spectrums, where people feel different levels of sexual or romantic attraction than other asexual or aromantic people.
Casper Oliver, who is genderqueer, nonbinary, and polyamorous, is on the aromantic and asexual spectrum. They say: "My way of experiencing romance is different than the way society told me that it would be. It's always been a distant thing. I've loved the idea of romance and partnerships, but the way I desire it doesn't necessarily include the 'typical' romantic desires. Because of this, I've gotten confused between platonic and romantic feelings."
While some people simply identify as aromantic, others may use a whole variety of words to describe their experience of romantic attraction. Some of the most commonly used terms are:
- Quoiromantic: an inability to differentiate between romantic and platonic attraction.
- Gray aromantic: someone who rarely experiences romantic attraction.
- Demiromantic: typically only experiences romantic attraction after forming an emotional bond.
- Cupioromantic: those who are aromantic but still want a romantic relationship.
1. They don't enjoy sex.
There are many misjudgments around both asexuality and aromanticism. Most common for asexual folks is the belief that all are completely sexless. The truth is, this varies for each individual and is defined by their own personal preferences.
Oliver explains: "The biggest misconceptions about asexuality are that we don't enjoy sex–I do from time to time with certain people–and that we don't want romantic relationships. I am happily married to a wonderful woman who I'm blessed to have as a life partner!"
2. They don't know how to love others.
For aromantic people, some presume they are uninterested in affection or are heartless for their lack of romantic attraction to others.
"Misconceptions about aromantic people include that we are cold and loveless," continues Oliver. "I have so much love! I just don't feel romantic attraction towards people the same way society said I would. Another is that we are just waiting for the 'right person,' which is just gross to be told."
What does aromantic mean in LGBTQ+?
However, even if asexual and aromantic people are totally uninterested in love or sex or affection, this should never discount their humanity. Anyone who lives outside of heteronormative expectations should be equal to every heterosexual person confidently walking the streets.
Society's presumptions about asexuality and aromanticism are precisely why these identities are so important for people to discover. They are signposts for folks who do not understand why their feelings do not follow the prescribed route of sex and romance society lays out for us.
"Finding a label has helped me feel less alone," says Oliver. "I've known people who are aromantic and asexual for years, but finding my place within the asexual and aromantic spectrum and community has been the first step towards making many of my current bonds and realizing that I'm not broken."
Though finding a loving community is important for everyone, it's a lifeboat for LGBTQ+ people who are frequently relegated to the sidelines of society or live in daily fear of persecution for being anything other than heterosexual and cisgender.
"Finding an identity that describes your experience is a powerful moment for any LGBTQ identifying person," explains Kristjana McCarthy, MHC-LP at Humantold. "It can be a revolutionary experience of self-acceptance and love to find an identity and make it your own. Claiming an identity allows access to a community of like-minded individuals. This community attempts to create an environment of acceptance and belongingness, which are essential protective factors against the development of mental health conditions."
Considering a 2020 study by the Trevor Project revealed that 47 percent of LGBTQ+ youths reported engaging in self-harm in the past 12 months and 68 percent stated that they had symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder in the past two weeks, ensuring asexual and aromantic people understand their identities and have access to the community is far more important than rigidly defining either one.
"How it's helped me understand myself is very much rooted in helping me feel less broken and like I am a bad spouse," explains Oliver. "After talks with my wife and my experiences as a writer and writing characters within the aromantic, asexual, and polyamorous communities, I came to realize that it was completely normal, natural, and beautiful how I, and many others, feel and perceive things like love and relationships."
Like all sexualities and gender identities, aromanticism and asexuality live on an infinite spectrum. Where each person sits on it can fluctuate or remain static, but the only people who fully understand—or even need to know—are those who identify as aromantic or asexual. What matters most is that all aromantic and asexual folks feel seen, heard, and accepted under the LGBTQ banner.