An often overlooked part of the queer community, aro and ace people are sometimes lumped together. However, the meaning of aromanticism and asexuality are quite different.
Aro and ace are short for aromantic and asexual, respectively. In both cases, the ‘a’ denotes “without.” Aromantic people do not feel romantic attraction and asexual individuals do not feel sexual attraction in conventional ways. Both aro and ace folks are a part of the queer community. This is because their identities deviate from heteronormative expectations such as sex, romance, marriage and traditional familial roles. Specifically, the ‘A’ in LGBTQIA+ stands for both asexual and aromantic. It also represents agender folks.
While a person can be both aro and ace, asexuality and aromanticism do not inherently overlap. They pertain to very different types of attraction. For example, an aromantic person is more likely to enjoy casual hook-ups, whereas asexual people may not enjoy casual sex and dating but might still fall in love now and then. However, aro and ace identities are not always so black and white. You may be surprised to learn that asexual people do engage in and enjoy sex, and aromantic people have meaningful, loving relationships.
The Meaning of “Ace”: Asexuality Explained
Like any type of sexuality, asexuality is experienced on a spectrum. Some never feel sexual attraction, while some feel it very rarely or only under specific circumstances. There are many different identities which fall under the asexual umbrella. Demisexuality is a more common example. Demisexual individuals are part of the larger asexual community as they can not feel sexual attraction toward strangers or acquaintances. Rather, they require deep emotional intimacy and bonding in order to develop sexual attraction.
Every individual is unique and navigates their asexuality differently. While some may choose abstinence or celibacy, others engage in sexual intimacy with romantic or nonromantic partners. Ace people might have sex to please their partner, to experience physical intimacy, or for a host of other reasons. In fact, many asexual individuals have a high libido and intense desires for sex. They may have sex for pleasure as well. The lack of sexual attraction is what makes somebody asexual. Whereas sexual desire and libido can be experienced by ace people, sexual attraction toward a specific person is rare.
Ace people can and do experience other types of attraction. They might feel romantic, emotional, platonic, sensual, or aesthetic attraction toward others. All of these types of attraction and more help ace people build happy familial relationships, friendships, and romantic partnerships.
The Meaning of “Aro”: Aromanticism Explained
Aromantic people are often misunderstood as having no feelings at all. On the contrary, aro people can and do have intense feelings and deep connections with others. The only difference between the average person and an aromantic person lies in their inability to experience romantic love. Aro people can have strong, healthy and loving relationships with friends, coworkers, family members and more. They simply have difficulty falling in love in the romantic sense.
Aromanticism occurs on a spectrum as well. Similar to asexuality, aromanticism contains a range of identities. Some people will call themselves “grayromantic”, meaning they experience romantic attraction very rarely. Others identify with demiromanticism, as they feel romantic attraction only after building an intense emotional connection.
Many aromantic people do engage in romantic partnerships. Aro people may seek partners out of a desire for emotional intimacy, support or closeness. While they don’t necessarily feel the intense passion and euphoria of romantic love, many aro people do engage in romantic activities in order to please their partners.
Understanding Aro and Ace People: Common Myths
There are many misconceptions about aro and ace communities. It’s important to education yourself on the true meaning of these orientations in order to be respectful and understanding.
Here are some common myths about aro and ace people:
- Aromantics are “heartless”: This is a common myth that pushes the idea that being aro equates being cold-hearted or “anti-romance”. Being aromantic has no correlation to hating romance or feelings in general. Aro people have loving relationships and partnerships, despite their lack of romantic attraction.
- Aro and ace people are just in a phase: Many people think asexuality and aromanticism are temporary choices. They may misconstrue aro and ace people for being scared of commitment and intimacy because they are not ready for sex or romance. Some people think aro and ace individuals simply “haven’t found the right person yet.“ This is unfortunate because it contributes to the notion that aro and ace people can and should be “fixed” over time. It’s important to realize both that aromanticism and asexuality are not chosen lifestyles, and that there is nothing wrong with being aro or ace. While asexuality and aromanticism occur on spectrums and they do have the potential to change over time, this is not a conscious decision made by aro and ace people.
- Asexuality equates to abstinence or celibacy: Again, this myth perpetuates the notion that being ace is a choice. Unlike abstinence and celibacy, asexuality is not a decision.
- Aromantics don’t like sex or touching: This is not necessarily true. Aromanticism refers only to the lack of romantic attraction. Aro people can and do enjoy sex and physical touch.
Aro and Ace Identities in Media
Overall, aro and ace people are just as nuanced as anybody else. You may already know a few aro and ace people. If not, think about characters like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, or Florence from Netflix’s Sex Education. These two are examples of asexual, yet very different individuals. Keep in mind that not every type of representation is useful, however, and many ace people are especially disappointed about the characterization of asexuality as an “eccentricity” in Sheldon Cooper. Florence, on the other hand, is often seen as a more realistic and helpful example of an asexual, but not aromantic, character.
How to Meaningfully Support Ace and Aro Folks
The best way to be respectful of aro and ace folks is to listen to them. Aro and ace people know their own identity best, so it’s important to respect that. If you are friends with an aro or ace person, you may find yourself wanting to convince them to act differently or pursue situations which they aren’t comfortable with. Instead, work hard to be understanding of their identity and trust them to navigate their experiences. If you are dating an aromantic or asexual person, make sure to communicate effectively so you both understand one another’s boundaries.
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