A Bit of Attraction

So, you’re asexual. That means you can’t love anyone and are going to die alone, right?

Asexuality only means that a person does not experience sexual attraction. It doesn’t mean that they can’t fall in love. It doesn’t mean that they want to be alone forever. It just means that they don’t see someone and immediately want to jump their bones. There have been asexual people who have fallen in love and gotten married.

Wait, so… Some asexuals get married? What do they do on the honeymoon?

Play Scrabble.

(No, really.)

But how can you fall in love with someone and not want to have sex with them?

Love and sex are different things. Appreciation of beauty and sex are different things. It is quite possible to think someone is stunningly gorgeous and be dumb-struck in love with them and not be interested in having sex with them.

There’s a word for a relationship without sex. It’s “Friendship”.

There are many non-asexual couples where the sexual flame has long been extinguished, but who are still inseparable. There are many non-asexual couples who are in circumstances where they can’t have sex, but they’re still madly in love. Just because there’s no sex, that doesn’t negate the romantic aspect of the relationship. Would you say to an elderly couple that they’re “just friends” because he’s no longer able to perform? Would you tell a couple who’ve been in a bad car accident that they’re “just friends” because she’s paralyzed?

But those people are still attracted to each other. How can you have a relationship without attraction?

There are actually multiple different kinds of attraction. Sexual attraction is just one. Asexuals don’t experience sexual attraction, however, they may experience other types of attraction. Romantic attraction is what draws a person toward someone else and makes them want to get into a relationship with that person. For most people, romantic attraction and sexual attraction are directed toward the same person. They will find someone romantically and sexually attractive, that is, they will want to have a relationship with that person and they’ll want to include sex as part of that relationship.

It’s possible to experience sexual attraction without romantic attraction. A one-night stand, a friends-with-benefits situation, even some extramarital affairs are often examples of this arrangement. A person will only see the partner as sexually interesting, but not want to become romantically involved.

For many asexuals, they will experience romantic attraction without sexual attraction. They’ll want a girlfriend or boyfriend, and want to do most of the things that couples do, like go on dates, live together, take trips with each other, even get married and spend every moment of the rest of their lives together. But amongst all of that, there’s no burning desire to do the horizontal mambo. And it’s not a temporary “Not tonight dear, I have a headache” type of thing. The interest just isn’t there.

So do asexuals just randomly pick someone out of the phone book and call them up for a date?

Um. No.

Just like the different sexual orientations you’re probably already familiar with, there are multiple romantic orientations:

  • Heteroromantic: Romantically attracted to the opposite sex/gender.
  • Homoromantic: Romantically attracted to the same sex/gender.
  • Biromantic/Panromantic: Romantically attracted to both/all sexes/genders.
  • Aromantic: Romantically attracted to no one.

For instance, a heteroromantic man would be interested in a romantic relationship with women. Likewise, a homoromantic woman would be interested in having a relationship with other women.

In some cases, a heteroromantic asexual might call themselves a “straight asexual” or a homoromantic ace might say they’re a “gay asexual” or “asexual lesbian”. Those terms are used as convenient shorthand, because saying the word “heteroromantic” is a mouthful and will probably get a confused blank stare from whoever you’re talking to. However, other asexuals will refuse to use those words to describe themselves, as they carry such a strong sexual connotation.

(By the way, there are other romantic orientations that I did not include in the list above.  If your feelings on love and romance don’t fit into one of the boxes above, I’d recommend looking around for a more complete list.  Something like “androromantic”, “gynoromantic”, or perhaps even “wtfromantic” might suit you better.)

In my case, I lie somewhere between heteroromantic and aromantic and I still haven’t quite sorted it out yet. I know that I’m not homo- or bi-romantic because I’ve never felt any interest in having a relationship with a man. But at the same time, I’m not terribly drawn into wanting a relationship with a woman, either. I had a girlfriend once, but it never felt quite right. Whenever I think about being in a relationship, I don’t desire closeness or inseparability. It’s more that I want someone who’ll take the wheel on long road trips or run interference against salespeople in the store or help me load Ikea furniture into the car. But I know that I’d want it to be a woman. So yeah, still totally confused there… Moving on.

In addition to romantic attraction, there’s aesthetic attraction. Aesthetic attraction, aside from being remarkably troublesome to spell, is being attracted to the way someone looks. This may sound sexual in nature, but it is not. Instead of thinking, “She’s hot, I’d totally tap that”, aesthetic attraction is more along the lines of “She’s cute, I’d totally stare at her for hours and study the lines and curves and contours and the interaction of the lighting on her hair and the way the colors she is wearing highlight her fingernails”. It’s more like the sense one gets looking at a beautiful landscape or a masterful painting, and there’s no sexual desire connected to it.

I definitely experience aesthetic attraction. There are certain people or certain types that will draw my eye, but I have no desire to have sex with them, I don’t picture them naked, I don’t really even want to talk to them. I just like the way they look and they stand out to me for some reason.

Are asexuals only romantically attracted to other asexuals?

No, not necessarily. Love is blind and doesn’t really care about sexual orientation. Very often asexual people will end up in relationships with non-asexual people.

And how does that work out?

It works out like any other relationship. Most of them fade away within a few months, some will last a year or two, sometimes they’ll move in together, maybe even get married, have children, get divorced and end up in a bitter custody dispute. You know, the usual.

No, I mean, how does a rela- Wait… Have kids? What?

Asexual people aren’t inherently incapable of having sex, and they’re not inherently infertile. Since asexuals generally can have sex and are generally fertile, I’ll let you figure out the rest.

Okay, that brings me to the point. How does a relationship work between someone who wants sex and someone who just isn’t interested?

Sometimes it just works. If the non-asexual partner has a low sex drive or the asexual partner is willing to have sex as often as the other partner wants, then it may be a non-issue.

Sometimes it’s difficult. If the asexual partner doesn’t want to have sex or isn’t willing to have sex as often as the non-asexual partner would like, then there could be trouble in the relationship. Often both partners will have to compromise in some way, but if both partners are committed and loving, they may find a way to make it work.

Sometimes it doesn’t work at all. If the asexual partner flat out refuses any kind of sexual activity and the non-asexual partner requires it three times a day, and neither party is willing to give, that relationship will not last. It will probably end in a pit of misery and resentment.

Sometimes it’s comically misguided. Like when the asexual partner talks about the sexual activities of night before with all the passion and fire of an economics textbook. But that’s a topic for another time…

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