In its simplest form, aromantic (often shortened to aro) means that you’re not romantically attracted to other folks. Seems simple enough, right? Nope! That’s because being aromantic, like most (arguably all) sexualities, exists on a spectrum. Additionally, it’s not super clear what qualifies as romance. No gesture in itself is inherently romantic. For example, some aromantics enjoy holding hands with a partner or friend, whereas others do not.
There are many misconceptions about aromantic folks—the biggest one being that they’re emotionless or don’t experience love. Aromantic people still feel familial love (like that between a mother and her child) and love their friends, platonically. Aromantic folks can also have what’s commonly referred to as platonic life partner. Someone who they cherish and love (platonically). They can even be married to their PLP if they so choose. Aromantic folks also can and often do enjoy having sex, since romance and sex don’t automatically go hand-in-hand.
Asexual (often abbreviated as ace) is a label used to describe someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction. But again, asexuality is a spectrum. Whereas some asexual folks experience absolutely zero sexual attraction to other folks, others may feel slight sexual attraction. While some folks are both aromantic and asexual, that’s not always the case. As I mentioned, you can have sex while being aromantic and you can experience and enjoy romance as an asexual.
There are numerous misconceptions about asexuality as well. Asexuals can acknowledge when a person is objectively attractive—or even think someone is good looking—they simply have no desire to be with that person sexually. Asexuals can also date. Since romantic attraction is different from sexual attraction, ace folks are still interested in relationships, even if they’re not interested in having sex. Similarly, ace folks can and often do fall in love. But sex isn’t an expression of the love they have for their partner. Lastly, asexual folks still masturbate. Maybe they do it to relive stress, or because it feels good, or any number of reasons, but being asexual doesn’t mean you can’t touch yourself.
Grey-Aromantic (Greyromantic) Meaning
A greyromantic person falls on the aromantic spectrum, but still, from time to time, desires a romantic relationship, though far less than most individuals. Since I wasn’t too familiar with the label myself, I reached out to my friend Hugo, 41, who identifies as greyromantic. He tells Prevention: “Back in the 90s, I would simply say that I rarely fall in love. Today, we have fancy, polysyllabic words to describe what I feel.” Hugo recalls feeling “broken” growing up, “because everyone else was falling in love left and right, and I wasn’t.” Now, however, he’s embraced being grey-aromantic and has also learned to revel in the area between romantic partner and just-friends. “I’ve thought for a long time our culture lacked words to express those nuances,” Hugo says, “but I wonder if I notice them because I’ve stopped trying to fit everything stronger than plain friendship into the romantic box.”
Grey-Asexual (Greysexual) Meaning
Similar to greyromantics, greysexuals folks fall on the asexual spectrum, not often experiencing sexual desire, but sometimes, greysexuals do, and they can act on these urges if they so choose.
While few folks are aware of the term demisexual or embrace the label for themselves, I believe demisexuality is in fact very common. There hasn’t been research on this, so I can’t support my claim scientifically, but I bet you know at least one person who fits the demisexual definition to a T. A demisexual person only feels sexual attraction to someone once they’ve formed a strong emotional bond. Demisexuals typically are not fans of one-night-stands or more casual encounters. They want to have an emotional connection with a person before sleeping with them.
A final note on aro and ace identities:
Being ace and/or aro manifests slightly differently from person to person, especially since the two identifies fall on spectrums. That’s why it’s always good to ask an ace or aro person what being ace/aro means to them if you’re trying to be supportive of (or want to better understand) their identity. Lastly, being aro or ace has nothing to do with being gay/straight/bi. Hugo, for example, identifies as a bisexual greyromantic. You can identify as a gay asexual man if you’re desire for romance/intimacy is with another man. Similarly, you can be hetero-aro if you only like having sex with the opposite sex.
This article originally appeared on Prevention US.