How Asexuals Navigate Romantic Relationships

Summary: 1% of the population identifies as asexual, a sexual orientation defined as lacking sexual attraction to others. While asexual people lack sexual attraction, it does not mean they do not desire romantic attachments or relationships. Researchers reveal asexual people often feel more satisfied when they were invested in a committed relationship.

Source: The Conversation

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.

However, many asexuals relate to the Split Attraction Model, which is a theory that shows how romantic and sexual attraction are two distinct experiences, and therefore, one can experience sex without love and love without sex. With this in mind, it is possible for asexuals to 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.

This shows heart shaped wind chimes
Asexuality exists on a spectrum, and there is a wide range in how the members of this group experience sexuality and romance. Image is in the public domain

Additionally, we explored their attachment orientation. This is defined as the way in which 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 work on relationships in all of their forms. 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 done on other relationships, avoidant asexual individuals were also 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 actually correlated to higher commitment and satisfaction. The opposite tends to occur in other types of relationships.

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.

About this sexuality and relationships research news

Author: Alexandra Brozowski
Source: The Conversation
Contact: Alexandra Brozowski – The Conversation
Image: The image is in the public domain

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  1. I am an asexual man that is attracted to women. I haven’t been in a relationship for years because I have yet to find any asexual women and I know that the vast majority of people are not asexual. So I only have female friends. I don’t care to have male friends because males don’t seem to be very deep in an emotional sense (I am an exception to that so I know there are other males like me but I have yet to find one. Since I’m not in a relationship I get my feeling of romance by having deep talks and really getting to know my female friends. I believe love is wanting the best for a person and doing what is in my power to help them achieve their goals. But in the end coming across a woman with a beautiful soul is like finding a beautiful flower in a field to pluck it is to kill it so I choose to let it be and not pluck it and try to make it mine. I can always come back to see it. I’m odd and I know it lol.

  2. Sometimes sex just mess a relationdhip up.
    I have been married three children. There is so much I want to learn now, too do much to do.
    I chose to be asexual heterosexual woman.
    Love romance doing things for the man in a relationship. Can’t deal with jealousies, I know who I want and don’t want. I need the same kind of man, high self esteem, team player, fearless. Purpose driven. Also sex is an expression of love for me. Problem, there don’t seem to be too many out there.

  3. I can agree, that it’s great to hear a voice from our part of the spectrum, the asexual. Ten years passed in my relationship with my spouse without sex and neither of us really want it, with each other or anyone at all. But we do want a romantic relationship (at least, I do, and my wife keeps staying together — without sex). We do have one daughter and asexuals occasionally have sex as part of the romantic relationship. But it’s not how we primarily identify, and I distinctly remember wondering why others acted on sexual impulses and drives so much. So after a 20 year relationship, mostly without sex, it seems obvious to me that all people are not the same and some of us are happily engaged in relationships minus the sexual part.

  4. We just have to try and fit in the society, try to be romantic when necessary, show people love and you never know we can be great family people always there for one another. I do have a difficult past but it shouldn’t take everything away from me. Life is short.

  5. I would be interested to know what the corresponding relationship satisfaction was of the romantic partners. My
    30 year experience was that without clear and honest communication about this issue, it will at some point destroy the romantic relationship.

  6. I am in a commited relationship with an gray asexual man. It was extremely difficult for me at first, but soon realized that sex doesn’t have to be part of a really good life (though it is nice). This relationship, of 15 years, has taught me how to love and grow in so many other ways.

  7. I agree in that the study is somewhat parcial just because there was a better aproachment to do this study, and it ain’t interviews. They can’t show us the reality of a situation and only give us a subjective and partial view. However, in response to mr. Pugh here, I’m a woman and I don’t wanna be in a relationship, no matter what, not even if is a person that I care for. I am unable to experience romantic affection. To make this more clear if you say that every woman want to be in a committed relationship is like saying that everyone loves bitter things and you know that this last statement is incorrect, in fact, it’s determinated by your genetics in most cases, and is the same for sexuality, and labels can be a help in order to investigate this phenomenon. I do not deny that it can be a social factor in some cases, but please don’t label things in absolutes, if you do this you stop asking questions and making science is asking questions.

  8. I’ve been asexual long before I understood what the term was there’s a couple other terms that I guess could fit me as well but this article was the first time that i read something reflective and i thank you so so much for your work and a voice …its heartbreaking I’m not considered normal in fact most can’t understand how I haven’t been sexually active in 10 years but it’s not that I don’t want to be….this was fkn awesome ty

  9. With all due respect, this is all just nonsensical research. I feel like your studies could be out to much better use. Everything you said sounds like everyone I’ve ever met. What woman do you know that does not want to be in a romantic and committed relationship? We are taking all of these natural experiences and labelling them in unnecessary ways.

    1. With all do respect, as an asexual WOMAN I am more then happy to NOT be in a committed relationship. I don’t get to have these “natural experiences” in the same way others do and I am okay with that. I LIKE knowing that I’m not the only one out there who feels like I do. So with all do respect, keep your opinions to yourself, there are others out there who feel like I do.

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