For many people, the term “LGBTQ+” is an all-encompassing way to describe those whose sexual orientation and/or gender identity may not be considered to be cisgender-heterosexual. Indeed, a popular variant of this term is “LGBTQIA+,” where the I means “intersex” or individuals born with variations in sex characteristics, while the A refers to people who identify as asexual, aromantic or agender. In the context of sexual identities, one might conclude that asexuality involves people who feel no sexual attraction or romance to anyone, while someone who is gay would be understood to have a sexual and/or romantic attraction to others of the same gender. The reality is that there’s a difference between sexual and romantic attractions, and distinguishing between the two is an important part of raising awareness and being inclusive.
Defining the A in LGBTQIA+
The term “LGBTQIA+” includes many people under one large umbrella. While some consider the A to refer to asexuality, it also includes those who identify as aromantic and agender. It’s important to understand who these terms describe:
- Asexual: A lack of sexual attraction to other people or a low or non-existent desire to participate in sex is what’s known as asexuality. It can be considered a sexual orientation or lack thereof. It should not be confused with celibacy or abstention from sex.
- Aromantic: A person who feels no romantic attraction to other people is aromantic. This is not the same as being unable to feel love, as aromantic people can feel non-romantic love toward family and friends, for example.
- Agender: To be agender is to be without gender or not having a specific gender identity.
While it is not the intent of this article to erase agender people, the focus here is on those who don’t feel sexual and/or romantic attraction to others, which may include some agender individuals.
Delving Into Asexuality and Aromanticism
While some people identify as both asexual and aromantic, it’s possible to be one without the other. For many people, sexual attraction tends to be about having the desire to engage in sexual activity with another person. Romantic attraction is usually more about having an attachment to others and/or having the desire to explore a relationship with others. As with other sexual identities, there are variations when it comes to lifestyle and relationships, but some feelings are commonly experienced by those who are both ace (asexual) and aro (aromantic):
- Lack of desire for a sexual or romantic relationship
- Difficulty imagining being in love with or lusting after someone
- Inability to relate to discussions about sexual and/or romantic attraction
- Neutrality towards or repulsion by the idea of sexual and/or romantic acts
- Feeling obligated to have sex or be in a relationship to meet expectations
Examining Asexual and Aromantic People in Relationships
Despite a lack of feelings toward other people, many ace, aro and ace/aro people are in relationships, including marriages. It’s important to know that there are motivations for being in relationships or having sex with others that have nothing to do with one’s sense of attraction:
- Procreation and co-parenting
- Giving pleasure to a partner
- Showing affection
- Sharing emotional or financial support
- Forming emotional bonds with others
- Sexual experimentation
Some ace, aro and ace/aro individuals form what is referred to as a “queerplatonic” relationship with others, where there is no expectation of sex or romance. These relationships, which tend to resemble strong friendships, may include behaviors associated with romantic and sexual pairings, including cohabitation, co-parenting and sharing living expenses.
For reasons that are unique to each individual, a marriage or union may include people who identify as asexual and/or aromantic. These sexual identities are valid and should not be stigmatized. As we work to affirm and hold space for other people in our lives, it is important to be mindful of not marginalizing or erasing individuals who do not feel sexual and/or romantic attractions to other people.