Beyond X & Y

Beyond X & Y: Sexual Engagement

"Asexual" and "aromantic" are identities that in themselves contain multitudes

November 9, 2020
The letters "se" and "xy" moving toward each other horizontally, pressing together, and then separating as "s" and "x" move upward and "e" and "y" move downward out of frame
Gender and sex beyond X & Y. [Credit: Niko McCarty | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Just like gender and sexual orientation, sexual engagement exists on — you guessed it — a spectrum. Most humans feel some compulsion to engage in pleasurable, consensual sexual activity, but this compulsion widely varies. Some seek out sex in purely romantic contexts; others seek out sex regardless of emotional connection. Some look for sex in completely different contexts.

On the spectrum of sexuality, one thing that’s not included as much as it should be, especially in sex positive settings, is asexuality. “Asexual” is an umbrella term that describes people who don’t experience sexual attraction. Along the same lines is “aromantic” — people who don’t experience romantic attraction. (Asexual people are sometimes referred to as “ace” and aromantic people as “aro.”) Being asexual and aromantic are not mutually exclusive; some people are both, some are one or the other. But both terms are often misunderstood. Here are a few major misconceptions about asexuality and aromanticism:


1. Misconception: Asexuality/aromanticism is a problem, or a symptom of a problem — “They just haven’t met the right person yet.” 

Some people adhere to the errant logic of, “Living creatures are programmed to follow the biological imperative of reproduction to perpetuate the species, so if a creature doesn’t feel that need, that is an abnormality that must be resolved.” There’s very little research on asexuality, but the research we do have doesn’t indicate any kind of abnormality. This isn’t to say that not engaging in sexual or romantic behavior is never something that must be addressed, but it is not a problem in and of itself.

As for not meeting the “right person?” Whoever that person is, they should be understanding and accepting of their partner’s sexuality.


2. Misconception: Asexual people don’t have sex at all. 

Just because one does not experience sexual attraction does not mean they don’t ever have sex. This choice depends on their attitude toward sex and the person with whom they’d have sex. Ace folks might be in committed, sexually active relationships and parent children.


3. Misconception: Ace/aro folks don’t have intimate relationships.

This particular frame of thought reinforces the belief that romantic love is the most profound sort of connection, and that sex is the most profound way to connect with someone physically. It fails to recognize the depth of non-romantic, non-sexual relationships.


Asexuality is as much a sexual orientation as hetero, homo and bisexuality. It’s predicted that about 1 percent of the population is asexual, but that number could be much higher because there hasn’t been much research devoted to asexuality. It’s crucial (especially for medical providers) to recognize that not everyone wants to have sex, and not everyone does. It’s just as crucial for crusaders of sex positivity to include ace folks. Sex positivity often brings to mind open conversations about sexual activities, and while that’s progress in its own right, that same acceptance is often not extended to asexual and aromantic folks.


About the Author

Elana Spivack

Elana Spivack is a science writer in New York City. When not on deadline, she enjoys salsa dancing, bike riding and befriending bodega cats.


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