Over here at FHM, we’re always talking about how great sex is—because it is. For many of us, the worldly pleasures that top it are few and far between. But whether or not this surprises you, there are actual people in the world who don’t typically feel sexual urges. Or even romantic urges, for that matter. You may have heard of asexual or aromantic characters through the pop culture grapevine—Riverdale’s Jughead Jones, One Piece’s Luffy, Star Trek’s Lt. Commander Data, BoJack Horseman’s Todd—but the real-life ace/aro community is shrouded in misconceptions. Here’s what you need to know.
You can be asexual but not aromantic.
Asexuality, in the most general terms, is defined as a lack of interest in sex or lack of sexual attraction to others. According to Anthony Bogaert, author of Understanding Asexuality, asexuality can fall under two categories: “People who have a sex drive but do not direct this towards others—they may masturbate, and people who have no sex drive at all.” However, people who identify themselves as asexual might not prefer to be categorized in this way—there exists what you call an “asexuality spectrum.”
Asexuality isn’t a choice, but you don’t have to crave or be interested in sex to feel romantic feelings. That’s why some asexual persons are perfectly capable of being in romantic relationships. “I was in a two-year relationship with a fellow asexual back in college,” shares Shou, 26. “We were a normal couple in every respect. We just didn’t have sex.” (In some cases, asexual persons can find themselves in relationships with people who do have sex. They could opt to indulge their partners by participating in sex, but the consent issues that come along with that is a whole different story.)
On the far end of the spectrum, you also have asexual and aromantic folks who just aren’t interested in either love or sex. If you think about it, they’re spared from a world of uncertainty and pain.
Is asexuality or aromanticism a sexual orientation?
Frankly, this issue remains wide open for debate amongst psychologists the world over. “Some have argued that it’s a mental disorder, others have called it a sexual dysfunction, some think of it as a paraphilia (i.e., an unusual sexual interest), and yet others consider it a sexual orientation,” explains Dr. Justin Lehmiller of Sex and Psychology. An April 2017 study in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior has determined that there isn’t sufficient evidence to claim that it’s a psychiatric condition or a disorder. In the same way that it would be uncalled for to refer to homosexuality as a mental disorder, the preferences of ace/aro persons ought to be respected.
“I get really pissed when my parents and relatives brush my asexuality off. They say I just haven’t dated enough people, or I haven’t explored enough yet. They make it seem like it’s a phase,” laments Marielle, 22. “But ever since I figured out my asexuality in high school, I’ve always been like this. I don’t need people to tell me what I am and what I’m not.”
There are gray areas, too.
For example, you could be straight but have moments where you’re kind of attracted to members of the same sex. Asexual persons feel the same way sometimes, and that’s totally normal. On the asexual spectrum, there are demisexuals, or asexuals who feel sexual attraction if and only if a strong emotional bond has been formed.
A good rule of thumb is to remember the “some do, some don’t” mantra. Some asexual people fall in love, while some don’t. Some enjoy kissing and cuddling—everything besides sex—while some don’t. Some are okay with participating in sexual acts because they love their partner, while some don’t. Bottomline, they’re regular people with regular lives, and whose choices are ultimately their own.
Finally, you’re probably wondering: Do they ever get sexually aroused? They’re still human beings, after all. Well, we can think of no better way to sum things up than the top answer from this AskReddit post about what that’s like:
“You know that feeling you get when you’re hungry, so you look in the fridge but can't find anything you want to eat, so you look in the cabinets and drawers for something to eat, but you still don't find anything? Like no matter where you look, there is nothing to eat? That is what a sexually aroused asexual feels like.”