Ace And Aro: Expanding What Relationships Can Mean

Graphic by Xuan Vu

College is well known as a time for sexual and romantic exploration. It can be a time where people expand their conceptions of who they are, who they can be and who and how they love. For many students in college, they are discovering that sexual desire is not a universal desire. Many people are beginning to identify as asexual or aromantic. This emerging awareness represents an expansion of how we perceive and conceive relationships. 

One of the first confusions people have regarding asexuality is how it differs from celibacy. Asexuality is defined as “a sexual orientation characterized by a persistent lack of sexual attraction toward any gender.” This is not the same as celibacy. Celibacy for personal, societal or religious reasons is merely the lack of acting on sexual desires despite still having those desires. In the case of asexuality, that desire is not present at all. 

Asexuality is also coupled with another concept known as aromaticity. Aro people do not experience the feeling of romantic attraction. The two ideas are often discussed together as Ace/Aro; however, one does not have to be aromantic to be asexual or vice versa.                                                                        

Many Ace/Aro folks have some barriers in how they are perceived.

”People think I don’t like sex because of personal stuff,“ fourth-year Psychological Science student Estevan Garcia said.  “Whether it be due to body image and self esteem, etc. while it may be true for some, that’s not the case. People think I’m not comfortable with sexuality so that’s why I say I’m ace … I just crave intimacy. Whether it be in a relationship with a woman or through a platonic relationship with friends and family.”

Ace/Aro concepts are often difficult for people to understand and to educate others about. Daisy Licon, a student employee at the LBGTQ Resource Center, gave their thoughts. 

“People become set in their ideas of the world as they perceive the world … it is hard for people to see that you aren’t lacking something essentially human,” Licon said. 

Licon further states that the educational system reinforces that “the fact that some people don’t desire to procreate, people think that there is something wrong.” A common misconception is that being Ace/Aro is an absence of a sexual orientation. 

“You aren’t lacking an orientation with asexuality, it is itself an orientation,” Licon explained.

The Ace/Aro discourse has also produced another term called “Demisexuality.” Demisexuality is a term that is defined by asexuality.org as a person “who does not experience sexual attraction to another person unless or until they have formed an emotional connection with that person.” This conception of relationships seems to be rather intuitive to our understandings of romance and sexuality. But, this is a part of how LGBTQA+ language can recontextualize and give more definition to concepts and expand them. 

As a queer person, there is an entire vocabulary to learn. It is often daunting to explain it to non-queer audiences. Sometimes it can even be hard to explain to other LGBTQA+ people. Despite the extensiveness of our vocabulary, the conversations expand the realm of human possibility. Having such a broad spectrum of words to describe these concepts allows for more people to describe themselves more effectively. The Ace/Aro discourse adds to this tradition and pushes every person, LGBTQA+ or not, to reflect on how we perceive ourselves and others.

A contention exists within the queer community about the acceptance of Aro people who still feel sexual attraction into the umbrella of LGBTQA+. The issue here is that many LGBTQA+ folks feel that “straight Aro” people do not experience discrimination because of their straight-passing privilege. According to a Huffington Post Series on Ace issues from 2017, there exists a perception of Ace/Aro folks as a kind of Trojan Horse. This idea is based on “[t]he supposition that asexual people do not experience oppression and that any prejudice, discrimination or discomfort we experience is not ‘as bad’ as theirs. The article argues that “queerness is not — or should not be — defined by negative experiences.”

This controversy, regulated mostly through online discourse, calls into the question of the easy categorization of queer identities. It is commonplace in the queer community for people to move through multiple labels to describe themselves over their lifetime. Queerness comes within a shade of fluidity. This fluidity precludes a fixed categorization which is often how LGBTQA+ issues are framed. Queerness is a state where one can live their entire lives — for others it is a waystation. To exist in queerness is to not be easily categorizable, nor should it ever be.

I think that the Ace/Aro distinction can make us reflect on how we connect romance, companionship and sex. It offers a vocabulary that we can use to describe our feelings towards sex and sexuality more accurately and develop our relationships more consciously as result.

If you are interested in learning more about Ace/Aro issues, the UCI LGBTQ Resource Center hosts an Ace/Aro program every other week from 2-3 p.m. in their offices in the Student Center.   

Ian Edwards is a third year Earth System Science and Comparative Literature double major. They can be reached at edwardsi@uci.edu.