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There are many ways that people experience attraction. Think about people you know, what do you want to do with them? Do you want to hold their hand and skip down the street, or kiss them hard on the mouth? Do you want to have a long, honest conversation with them, or bang the shit out of them?

This was the topic of conversation as I had coffee with a colleague of mine, Erin McLaren, a Youth Sexual Health Worker at The AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and Area (ACCKWA). We were discussing the differences between sexual and romantic attraction as Erin helped me better understand the Ace/Aro community, which is part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Ace is short for asexual, while aro is short for aromantic. Someone who is asexual experiences little, or no, sexual attraction or little, or no, desire to “bump uglies” as Erin describes it. They may experience closeness and connection with others and enjoy kissing, hugging, and cuddling.  Someone who is aromantic does not experience romantic attraction or the desire for a romantic relationship, but may desire sexual activity with other people.

Feelings of sexual and romantic attraction each exist on a spectrum. The limited definition I have given above will not include everyone’s experience, however, it may be useful as a starting point for those new to the language or concept.

As we continued our conversation Erin explained that identifying as asexual or aromantic tells you nothing about a person’s gender, sexual orientation, or behaviour, which are all separate from the ways in which people experience attraction. All of these identities can be fluid and change as a person changes and grows, or they may never change – everyone is unique.

Because people make choices for various reasons, people may choose to engage sexually with a person and identify as asexual, just as someone may choose to be in a romantic relationship and identify as aromantic. Sexual activity for someone who identifies as asexual can feel pleasurable, and lead to orgasm. People who identify as both asexual or aromantic may masturbate, it is completely up to them.

Our discussion left me thinking about the way our society and media has socially constructed attraction, sex, and romantic relationships. Many assumptions are made which can be extremely harmful to the relationships we have and want to have. Sex is portrayed as the ultimate way to connect with someone, when, in reality, there are many ways to be intimate and connect with a person, sex being simply one of hundreds.

It is also assumed that everyone wants to be in a relationship with romance and sex, when many people are happy and fulfilled with relationships of all kinds, whether sex and romance are involved or not. Communication, honesty and understanding are ways to strengthen any relationship and ensure that you are being true to yourself.

Being aware and open about the various ways in which people experience attraction, as well as giving yourself the freedom and space to think through how you, yourself, experience attraction, is a step towards embracing and celebrating the paths we use when navigating sex and relationships. We all have boundaries and expectations regarding sex and romance. Open communication about this will be beneficial to any type of relationship.