How asexuals navigate romantic relationships

Though an estimated 1% of people identify as asexual – 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.

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.

In a recently published study 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, aren’t all that different from those of people who aren’t on the asexual spectrum.

The invisible sexuality

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

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

Yet in existing research, I found 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 do, 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 as asexual must have something wrong with them, such as hormonal issues. Perhaps they simply “haven’t found the right person” 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 just may go about the process differently. Some might participate in non-monogamous relationships. 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.