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Navigating Romantic Relationships as an Asexual

Author: Alexandra Brozowski
Author Contact: Michigan State University
Published: 12th Nov 2022
Peer-Reviewed Publication: Yes
Additional References: LGBTQ Stories - Mainstream Publications

Summary: Asexual people remain relatively invisible, rarely researched, and often subjected to discrimination and stereotyping.

Definition

Asexual

Asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction to others or low or absent interest in or desire for sexual activity. It may be considered a sexual orientation or the lack thereof. Asexuality is distinct from abstention from sexual activity and celibacy. It may also be categorized more widely to include a broad spectrum of asexual sub-identities. While some researchers assert that asexuality is a sexual orientation, others disagree. Asexual individuals may represent about one percent of the population.

Also See: The Asexual Pride Flag, the Asexuality Symbol, and how to use the Asexuality Unicode Code Symbol

Main Document

Though an estimated 1% of people identify as asexual1 - a sexual orientation most commonly defined as lacking sexual attraction - asexual people remain relatively invisible and are rarely researched. For these reasons, they're frequently subjected to discrimination and stereotyping.2

For example, it's often assumed that all people who are asexual are also "aromantic" - that they aren't interested in being in romantic relationships or aren't capable of doing so.

However, that couldn't be further from the truth. Asexuality exists on a spectrum, and there is a wide range in how the members of this group experience sexuality and romance.3

In a recently published study4 that I conducted with several Michigan State faculty members and other research associates, we surveyed people on the asexual spectrum who were currently in romantic relationships. We wanted to learn more about how asexuals experience romantic relationships and bring attention to their experiences - many of which, it turns out, isn't all that different from those of people who aren't on the asexual spectrum.

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Image of the Asexual pride flag consisting of a black stripe at the top for asexuality, a grey stripe for the grey area between sexual and asexual, a white stripe for sexuality, and a purple stripe at the bottom for the community.Image of the Asexual pride flag consisting of a black stripe at the top for asexuality, a grey stripe for the grey area between sexual and asexual, a white stripe for sexuality, and a purple stripe at the bottom for the community.

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The Invisible Sexuality

Outside of my work as a psychology researcher5, I am a member of the asexual community.

Specifically, I am a heteroromantic gray-asexual6: I am someone who feels a romantic attraction to people of other sexes or genders but experiences fluctuating or limited sexual attractions.

In existing research, I found a few examples of people like me. Most studies seem to focus on people who are completely asexual, not in the gray area.

In popular media, asexuals rarely even appear at all. When they do7, they're often portrayed as weird, robotic, and incapable of love. In mainstream culture, there's also an element of denialism, with many people believing that asexuality is impossible - that those who identify asexual must have something wrong with them, such as hormonal issues. Perhaps they "haven't found the right person"8 or need to "try harder."

So this study was born out of my experiences as a person on the asexual spectrum, which is why it was so important for me to address all the different asexuals out there and give a voice to my own community.

Many asexual people choose to be in relationships; they may go about the process differently. Some might participate in non-monogamous relationships9. Others might be forced to disclose their identities and preferences in different ways, wondering when - if ever - they should open up about it to potential partners, fearing that the reactions could be less than positive and lead to relationship difficulties.

However, many asexuals relate to the Split Attraction Model10, which is a theory that shows how romantic and sexual attraction are two distinct experiences. Therefore, one can experience sex without love and love without sex. With this in mind, asexuals can identify with a romantic orientation and pursue romantic relationships since these are different experiences.

Relationships Centered on Romance

For our study, we looked exactly at this split and surveyed 485 people who self-identified as being on the asexual spectrum and were currently in a romantic relationship.

The participants identified as heteroromantic, biromantic, homoromantic, panromantic, and more, showing significant diversity among the romantic interests of this group. We then asked them about their relationship satisfaction, their level of investment in the relationship, and how they viewed the quality of alternatives to their relationship.

Additionally, we explored their attachment orientation11. This is defined as how people approach their close relationships. It's usually formed in childhood and is a pattern that continues into adulthood. People tend to either exhibit an "anxious attachment style," which is often characterized by feeling worried about abandonment and being anxious about losing the relationship; an "avoidant attachment style," which means someone may push people away or fear emotional intimacy; or a "secure attachment style," which is when people feel secure in their emotions and can maintain long-lasting relationships.

Ultimately, our results were generally consistent with previous work12 on all forms of relationships. As with those relationships, we found that asexual people who were more satisfied and more invested were more committed in their relationships. When they weren't pining for other people or didn't see being alone as a better alternative, their relationships tended to flourish.

Attachment orientation patterns were also generally consistent with past research on other sexuality groups. Much like work done13 on other relationships, avoidant asexual individuals were less committed, satisfied, and invested in their relationships, as one would expect.

However, there were also some inconsistencies with past research. For example, among asexual people, an anxious attachment style correlated to higher commitment and satisfaction. The opposite tends to occur in other types of relationships14.

Nonetheless, I hope this research will help normalize the idea that asexuals can thrive in romantic relationships. It turns out that asexuals can experience romantic love as much as other sexual orientations do: with the same opportunities for joy and growth, the same challenges of navigating conflict and compromise, and the same possibility of a lifelong commitment.

References:

References and Source(s):

Navigating Romantic Relationships as an Asexual | Alexandra Brozowski (Michigan State University). SexualDiversity.org makes no warranties or representations in connection therewith. Content may have been edited for style, clarity or length.

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• (APA): Alexandra Brozowski. (2022, November 12). Navigating Romantic Relationships as an Asexual. SexualDiversity.org. Retrieved April 12, 2024 from www.sexualdiversity.org/literature/stories/1084.php


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