You might have heard words like asexual, demisexual, aromantic, and grey-aromantic before. These are all some of the terms that people in the ace community have come up with to describe ourselves.
Having words to describe our experiences and identities can be really helpful in understanding ourselves and connecting with other people. Not everyone wants to label themselves, and that’s totally fine, but for those of us who do, these terms are really helpful.
There’s no one way to be ace, just like there’s no one way to be bi, or lesbian, or queer, so these terms can all mean different things to different people, but they share a basic definition.
Sexual and Romantic Attraction
Broadly speaking, sexual attraction refers to some level of sexual interest or desire around another person, which could include wanting to make out, wanting to have sex with them, or being aroused by them.
Romantic attraction refers to some level of romantic interest or desire around another person, which could include wanting to date them, giving each other cute nicknames, or saying “I love you”.
That’s just a basic overview, and it’s different for everyone. You can read more about different sorts of attraction here.
Asexual means not experience any sexual attraction towards other people.
Aromantic means not experiencing any romantic attraction towards other people.
Grey-asexualmeans rarely experience sexual attraction, or only experiencing it under a small number of circumstances.
Grey-romanticmeans rarely experience romantic attraction, or only experiencing it under a small number of circumstances.
Demisexualmeans only experiencing sexual attraction towards people when there’s an emotional bond with the other person already.
Demiromanticmeans only experiencing romantic attraction towards people when there’s an emotional bond with the other person already.
Aroace is a short, casual way of referring to someone who is both aromantic and asexual.
Ace is a short, casual way of referring to anyone on the asexual spectrum (including asexuals, demisexuals, grey-asexuals, etc), and sometimes also the aromantic spectrum.
The ace umbrella, ace spectrum, and ace-spec are all umbrella terms for any identities where someone doesn’t experience attraction, experiences attraction rarely, or only experiences it under limited situations.
Some people use those terms to talk about any form of attraction, and some people use them to only talk about sexuality, and have the terms aro umbrella, aro spectrum, and aro-spec to talk about romantic orientations.
Attraction, Not Actions
For all these identities, it’s super important to remember that we’re talking about what attraction someone does or doesn’t experience, not what actions they might or might not do.
Who you have or might date or have sex with doesn’t determine your identity, and nothing anyone does can invalidate who they are. The most important thing is to respect how people describe themselves.
Asexuality is the same as abstinence
There’s nothing wrong with deciding not to have sex, and anyone with any sexuality might decide not to have sex for any reason, and that’s completely up to them.
However, asexuality isn’t the same as abstinence. Abstinence is about deciding not to have sex, regardless of whether you’re sexually attracted to anyone or not. Asexuality is not being sexually attracted to anyone, regardless of whether you have sex or not.
Asexual people can have a range of attitudes towards sexual acts. Some don’t want anything to do with sex, others might enjoy it, and others still are ambivalent about the whole thing.
Demisexuality isn’t an orientation, lots of people don’t want to have sex with strangers
Being demisexual isn’t the same as not wanting to have sex with people unless you’re emotionally connected. Anyone of any identity might only want to have sex with people they’re close to, but for demisexual people, there’s no sexual attraction at all without that bond.
It’s just a phase, so it doesn’t matter
This is a really harmful idea that’s often pushed onto ace/aro-spec people to dismiss our identities. A lot of aro/ace-spec people continue to identify as aro/ace-spec their whole lives, and even if someone’s identity changes later, they’re still feeling this way now, so it still matters today.
It’s a disorder or illness
Nope. Some medical professionals have called asexuality a disorder or illness, but that comes from stigma and ignorance. The vast majority of ace people are happy to be ace, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.
There’s no one way to be ace, but here’s what it means to a couple of us!
It took a few years for me to realise that I was ace. I didn’t relate to the descriptions of sexual attraction that I heard from other people, and honestly, I found it kind of hard to believe that anyone did. But I’d also never heard anyone talk about sexual attraction as something that some people experienced and others didn’t, and without that knowledge, it was hard to make sense of my own experiences.
For me being ace means that I don't experience sexual attraction. This doesn't mean that I'm discounting the possibility of this changing in the future, or that I'm sex averse. It just means that this is how I identify right now, and right now, that matters.
Being aro-spec is definitely a bit confusing at times. I look at all of my relationships and I often can’t define them as being strictly romantic, or platonic, or something else, but that’s kind of one of the things I’ve loved most.
Being this way means that I’ve realised that there is no point in trying to squish (hehe) my feelings for people in my life into one box or another. Things don’t have to fit society’s idea of what a “relationship” should be to be fulfilling and beautiful and wonderful so, for the time being at least, I am more than content to not be able to label some of my relationships in that way.
I sometimes also try to blame being aro-spec for being the reason that I hate rom-coms - I mean I honestly cannot relate - but to be honest, I mostly just hate the way they are so predictable and so heteronormative!
A huge thanks to the Minus18 ace reference group for their input on this article!