Romance and sex are seemingly ever-present in our society, our media and even our campus life, but they’re far from universal. Students from ace and aro communities are frequently caught in between the day-to-day misconceptions of asexuality and aromanticism as they navigate a hyper-sexualized campus environment.
“I think the main thing is that people just don’t know what it is here,” said Aiden Synkova, who identifies as gray ace/aro.
Asexuality is defined as the persistent lack of sexual attraction. Similarly, aromanticism is defined as the persistent lack of romantic attraction. However, it’s important to note that asexuality and aromanticism are not the same thing and aren’t necessarily mutually inclusive.
The split attraction model is a theoretical model of attraction used within ace/aro communities, and views sexual and romantic attraction as separate but parallel drives.
“The split attraction model is what we talk about when we say aromantic versus asexual,” said Evelyn Elgie, a graduate student in gender, race, sexuality and social justice (GRSJ) who identifies as ace-aro. “Because until you get into that extra binary, you don't think of sexual and romantic as being different orientations.”
These distinctions are an important part of the way different individuals on campus identify and navigate the relationships they enter into. There are asexuals who are repulsed by sex and disgusted by sex, there are asexuals who are sex-positive and are okay with sex, and there are asexuals who are sex neutral and indifferent towards sex — “different shades of asexuality,” said Synkova.
“An asexual can have sex, can be married, can have kids, and they’d still be asexual,” said UBC student Joyce Chung, who identifies as gray-ace. “It’s just a matter of attraction. So what they do doesn’t change their orientation.”
Chung engages in sex with her partner but notes that this doesn’t negate her orientation.
“Another huge misconception is that asexuality is a choice. It isn’t. So some people tend to link asexuality with celibacy, which is the choice to abstain. Asexuality is not a choice, it is a sexual orientation. It’s not something you can control,” said Chung.
“We still have perfectly functioning libidos and perfectly functioning body parts. Asexuality has nothing to do with the capability of having sex.”
Some asexuals watch porn and some asexuals masturbate for the purpose of physical relief, explained Chung, which is where the relationship between orientation and a body’s physical ability to be aroused is further complicated.
“Sometimes you can be asexual but have a really high sex drive, which really sucks, because you don’t really want to do anything sexual but your body is like, ‘But I do!’,” said Synkova.
Despite this myriad of experiences and practices by students who identify as ace or aro, many still experience push-back when they self-identify on campus.
“Sometimes asexuality is written off as just a hormone imbalance that can be checked out, or that there’s medication for that, or that we haven’t met the right person yet. Which is not the case,” said Chung.
“Most [comments] that I personally experience [are] that something is wrong with me, psychologically or biologically, or that I haven’t found the right one — the person that ignites the flame inside me to finally turn to the light,” said Synkova.
For many people who identify as ace or aro, meeting “the one” isn’t about finding a sexual connection or necessarily a romantic one. Their relationships may look different than the typical college relationships the movies sell us on, but they still fulfill basic human needs of connection, support and community like any sexual or romantic relationship.
Elgie and her partner are in a queerplatonic relationship (QPR), and a frequent assumption they receive is that they are sexually involved. To Elgie, being in a QPR means “we are going to treat each other as partners now. We're going to give this friendship the same amount of investment and future planning and deliberate care that we might give a romantic relationship.”
“And I found that there isn't really good language to describe the importance of having multiple, important platonic partners or multiple friendships being your priority,” said Elgie.
The language gaps around relationships like Elgie’s are plentiful on campus, in her experience, because the campus environment has a tendency to be so hyper-sexual.
“How do you talk [about] the importance of those relationships, even with the people in the frame? ... How do I say you're really important to me, you are important to my life, this is a load-bearing relationship in my life, right?”
Chung recalled waiting to take a final last term, and how she overheard a group of girls talking about their sex lives right before the exam.
“I mean at its best, hearing so much about sex is amusing. But at its worst, I imagine for some people, it might make people feel broken,” said Chung.
Romance and sex are placed on a high pedestal within our society and are considered paradigms of what a healthy relationship should have.
“The romantic relationship gets this privilege put on it that you don't even get for casual sexual relationships or friendships. It's sort of the be-all, end-all of adulthood and happiness, and all these concepts that we use to talk about you know, what the good life is ... Romantic attraction is sort of a cultural term that, when we break it down, really ends up meaning a lot of really different things to different people,” said Elgie.
“People have the idea that it is necessary to have sex to have healthy relationships. And that you can't fully experience romantic love if you are not sexually attracted to the person,” wrote Synkova to The Ubyssey.
“For the folks out there, know that nothing is wrong with you, you’re just the way you are, and there are other people like that,” said Synkova. As a member of UBC’s Pride Collective, they encourage people to reach out to Pride for resources or support.
As celebrations of romantic and sexual relationships intensify around Valentine’s Day, Elgie is celebrating the diversity of relationships that ace and aro people at UBC are cultivating each and every day, too.
“Just because your experience is different from someone else's, doesn't make it invalid, or doesn't make it not ace,” said Elgie.