We interviewed three people who identify as asexual and aromantic for an informative piece on these little-known sexual and romantic orientations.
Let’s face it, we live in a world obsessed with love, sex, and romance.
We grow up listening to stories like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty; daily, we’re inundated with movies and TV shows about sex and relationships; and more than likely, if you’re reading this, you’ve at least tried online dating or hooking up on an app like Grindr or Tinder.
We can’t escape it. Society wants us to find that special someone to settle down with, have children, watch each other grow old, and increasingly grow annoyed with every day.
And if you find this person, it's a huge bonus if they’re semi-competent in between the sheets and can accommodate that random kink you have for listening to Celine Dion while you rub your nipples during sex.
But what if you’re not wired that way? What if you don’t have the desire to meet “The One”? What if your most daring fetish is reading a Michael Crichton novel on a warm summer evening?
Take Ziel Zaccardi, for example. Zaccardi identifies as asexual, meaning he has little to no interest in sex—and he’s fine with that.
“I realized I was asexual in my sophomore year of college,” he said. “Actually, my best friend figured it out in high school when I was confused about why people liked butts so much, but it took me a few more years to come around to the same conclusion.”
Believe it or not, Zaccardi isn’t alone in how he identifies himself. As a matter of fact, when you see that widely-known LGBTQ+ acronym, people like Zaccardi, while a small minority, sit on the other side of that plus sign.
What does it mean to be asexual and aromantic?
“Asexuality is a term used to describe people who experience little to no sexual attraction,” according to LGBT Hero, a health and sexual wellness charity in the United Kingdom.
Think of sexuality as a spectrum. On the very far end sit people who don’t experience sexual attraction at all or, if they do experience it, it’s not as prevalent as others.
And let’s not forget that there are several different kinds of attraction: physical, intellectual, emotional, platonic, etc. Being asexual does not mean someone can’t feel those other forms of attraction.
The Aromantic-Spectrum Union for Recognition, Education, and Advocacy (AUREA) defines aromantic as “... a romantic orientation, which most commonly describes people who experience little to no romantic attraction to others.”
Now here’s where things get tricky. Being asexual doesn’t mean you’re aromantic; being aromantic doesn’t mean you’re asexual. It’s kind of like those annoying Venn diagrams you used to learn about in Mrs. Williams' statistics class junior year in high school.
Think of each orientation as a separate circle. Now push the circles together until they overlap in the middle. Anyone in that small space is asexual and aromantic. Anyone outside of that space identifies with the label of their respective circle. Also, think about it this way: Sex is what goes on in between your legs. Love and romance are what’s happening in your heart.
Got it? Good. The hip young kids nowadays refer to asexual as “ace” and aromantic as “aro.” Do me a favour? Try to keep up with the lingo.
So, Zaccardi identifies as ace, but not aro. So, he doesn’t really feel any sexual attraction or desire for sex, but he does have a desire for love and romance.
Zaccardi identifies as demi-panromantic. What exactly is that? Well, the “demi” means that he forms romantic attraction solely in the context of a pre-existing emotional bond. Basically, he’s only going to really develop feelings for you if he gets to know you and becomes attached.
You’re probably saying to yourself, “Wait, what? Don’t all people feel romantic attraction when there’s an emotional bond?” Great question. Here’s what the interwebs had to say about that.
“It is important to distinguish between typical romantic attraction to friends, sexual partners, and other people of close emotional bonds, and demiromanticism, which implies that there would be no romantic attraction to anyone unless a close relationship was to be established,” reads a Wiki entry on the subject.
“The already existing relationship is the only way a demiromantic person would be able to experience romantic attraction. Being romantically attracted to one's close friends does not necessarily mean that one is demiromantic, for example.”
“Pan” means that he is attracted to males, females, and all genders on the spectrum. So, basically, it doesn’t matter your gender. If Zaccardi gets to know you on a deep level, he has the potential to become attracted to you—there’s just very little chance sex will be involved.
“Before I knew I was ace, I got myself in a lot of uncomfortable situations with my then-boyfriend because I didn't realize we were feeling a different kind of attraction,” he said. “I was feeling romantic attraction and aesthetic attraction, but he was also feeling sexual attraction.
There’s a lack of data on what percentage of the world’s population identifies as asexual. Studies estimate that a little more than one percent of the population of the United States identifies as asexual. Unfortunately, there’s even less data on people who identify as aromantic.
It’s just a phase, right?
Remember that Venn diagram from statistics class? The one with that small space where the two circles overlap? Sirena* sits quite comfortably in that small space.
“By far the most common response to me telling someone I'm aromantic and asexual is, ‘What?’” she said. “When I was younger, the follow-up after I explained the orientations was often, ‘That's not real,’ but now it's usually, ‘Oh, okay.’”
Sirena said that usually when she meets new people she has to disclose that she’s both ace and aro just to dispel any notion that she may be interested in sex or romance.
“My experience with romantic relationships is voyeuristic,” she said. “When I was younger, I thought it was strange and confusing to want romance, and I used to ask a lot of prying questions to friends who were in romantic relationships because of that.”
She’s encountered her fair share of ignorant people when she identifies herself as ace and aro. Take, for example, the woefully challenged person who said, “Maybe I can change that,” in response to her telling them that she had no interest in sex.
That conversation rattled around in her head for several months before she confronted the person about how utterly stupid a thing that was to say.
Sirena scoffs at those who say that her orientations are a phase.
“Reconsider how you think about people in general,” she says to the naysayers. “When someone tells you something about themself, listen to what they are trying to communicate to you in the present.”
Joshua** identifies as aromantic and says he falls “somewhere on the asexual or demisexual spectrum.” Like Sirena, he also contends that his identities are not a phase.
“Many of us experience our asexuality or aromanticism as a fixed and lasting trait, as well as a positive aspect of our identities that we are not looking to change,” he said. “It’s also true that some people’s sexual and romantic interests and identities may fluctuate or change over the course of their lifespan—as is true for all sexual orientations and experiences.
“But this does not mean that everyone experiences their aromanticism or asexuality in this way—many of us do not—and it also doesn’t diminish the reality of people’s lived experience and self-definition in the here-and-now.”
How can someone not like sex?
“Usually people are just curious about why I'm interested in romantic relationships if I'm not in it for the sex,” Zaccardi said of his coming out to others about his lack of interest in sex.
And he’s faced a barrage of criticism ranging from people telling him that he and his partner are just “good friends” to being told that his relationship isn’t “real” because no sex is involved.
“So much of queer activism has historically been about sex and relationships that I think some older queer people can feel threatened by the idea that some people are queer specifically because of their lack of or different interest in those things,” he said.
If being lectured about how sex is critical to a relationship is frustrating for Zaccardi, your jaw will drop when you learn of Sirena’s experience.
In high school, she told someone that she was ace and had no interest in sex. This person proceeded to tell her that, “unless I attempted every single possible sexual thing then I couldn't know that, and that I should in fact try everything.”
Quite wisely, Sirena decided to cut off all contact with this person.
You poor thing, you must be lonely
Joshua’s experience with coming out to people has had its fair share of cringeworthy moments.
“If people can be brought around to seeing that aromanticism is actually an aspect of my identity that I take seriously and see as an important part of myself, then they often view this as a tragedy,” he said, noting that a common refrain is, “aren’t you lonely?”
“They assume that it is the product of early childhood trauma, or sexual repression, or some personal deficiency. The thought that aromanticism may actually be something I regard as a positive feature of my life, something that I affirm and am not looking to change, is often a new idea for folks and takes some getting used to.”
It seems that most people can’t wrap their heads around the fact that there is a small but confident contingent of folks who just don’t desire a romantic relationship.
Sirena sees this as a moral failing of our society.
“Mainstream culture is the common narrative around sex and romantic relationships,” she said. The fact that people say ‘relationships’ and we are expected to know they usually mean ‘romantic relationships’ is a part of that. These narratives are internalized and universalized.
“The fact that everyone is assumed to want romantic love, that it and romance are better than anything else, and that if one fails to get romance they are failing at life, that is why aromantic people are not accepted.”
Okay, I accept you. What can I do to be an ally?
“I think the biggest thing the community could do to help ace and aro people is kind of self-police ace and aro exclusion,” Zaccardi said. “Like, if you are not ace and/or aro, take it on yourself to stand up for those who are, whether that’s actively mentioning that you support those identities or holding exclusionists accountable when they rear their heads.”
Zaccardi contends that people need to educate themselves and show solidarity with those who are often excluded from mainstream conversations. Whether you like butt sex, vag sex, or sex on a sidewalk bench, we've got to be more accepting when it comes to people who just aren’t into it.
“Awareness and normalization are more important than they seem,” he said.
Sirena thinks everyone should know that the word “Respect” is more than just a hit single by Aretha Franklin.
“A person is more than a label; they are nuanced and may not have the experiences or desires or needs that you might expect if you only think about the labels they use,” she said. “Communication is key in every single kind of relationship—not just romantic or sexual. You don't have to follow the script. If you're not hurting anyone without their consent, you can live however the heck you want.”
Joshua takes a more kumbaya approach to how people can be more accepting. Stressing that people need to recognize similarities and honour differences, he believes that when interacting with members of the ace and aro communities, anyone outside of those communities needs to approach differences with an unquestioning acceptance.
“I think being a good ally means honouring [a few] truths,” he said. “Not everyone on the LGBTQ+ spectrum has exactly the same experience or faces the exact same kind of social marginalization. However, there are commonalities across our diverse experiences that also give us a basis for solidarity and mutual support.”
While it may be difficult for some to wrap their heads around a lack of desire for sex or romantic relationships, we owe it to ourselves to offer acceptance rather than alienation. The Stonewall riots in June of 1969 that kicked off the modern-day LGBTQ+ rights movement wasn’t just about people who identify as gay, lesbian, or transgender, but anyone who faces oppression because their sexual and gender identity doesn’t fit into mainstream thinking. Let’s lead with love, okay?
*Sirena asked that her last name not be used
**Joshua asked that his last name not be used