Thursday, December 27, 2012

Romantic Asexual, or Touch Hunger?

[Note: I cannot know for certain how others feel. This is my speculation, and it could be wrong. If you identify as romantic asexual, please don't get offended, but just share your experience if you think I've misunderstood you.]

One thing that has been puzzling me is romantic orientations. According to some people, romantic and sexual orientations are separable, and may not always match up. In particular, you can be asexual and yet long for romance.

This doesn't make any sense to me. Nor can my parents, both heterosexual, explain it. And I'm beginning to wonder if this identification of romantic orientations may in fact be a reflection of some of what's wrong with society.

Our society is obsessed with sex, more than we ever have been before. In ancient and medieval times, sex was just one part of life, not taboo but not focused on either. Then the Victorian era tried to stamp it out entirely, and then we went to the opposite extreme.

I posted awhile back about a guy in World of Warcraft who wasn't very tolerant of asexuality. When I explained it to him, he translated it as 'can't love'. I tried to explain that I loved my family and my closest friends, but in his mind, love meant only romantic love.

In fandoms, you see this too. Virtually any two characters who are very close emotionally will be perceived as romantically involved by a sizeable proportion of fans, even if there is no canon support for any romantic element to their relationship. And although greater awareness of gay and bisexual people has meant some very good things, it also means that even same-sex relationships are being misperceived. Even siblings (such as Sam and Dean Winchester) have been mistaken for romantic partners by fans.

I think, as a society, we have forgotten that closeness can emerge in more than just a romantic context. We sort of recognize that family members can be close nonromantically, but there is virtually no recognition that friendships can be close.

This is something that preteen girls know. Many girls of this age have a 'best friend forever', and they're often closer to this person than to anyone else. But as we leave home, we often leave childhood friendships behind. And boys have it worse - they're not really allowed to feel attachment, because it's seen as unmasculine. Even in the romantic context, boys are portrayed as wanting sex while girls want romance, even though teenage boys report feeling and wanting emotional intimacy with their girlfriends with similar frequency to girls.

And there is little recognition of the joy and security that can come from close nonsexual physical touch. Again, it's generally assumed that touch is for romance. Although we recognize that small children desire affectionate touch from parents, they're expected to outgrow this, especially by the time they develop secondary sexual characteristics. And there are strict rules for touch between friends.

But touch is not sexual. Touch is affectionate. In virtually every mammal species, physical contact is used to convey affection. Horses nuzzle each other. Lionesses greet each other with a head bump and a rub, exactly the same gesture that domestic cats use for their favorite humans. And our closest relatives, chimpanzees, stroke and groom each other as a way of cementing bonds. This is not sexual. It's quite distinct from sexual behavior. It's affection.

And we're wired that way too. But we don't realize it. For sexual people, they often get their needed touch and closeness in life by seeking out sexual partners. In some cases, they luck out and find their life partner, while in others they struggle. A few end up seeking out one night stands, thinking that's what they want, but feeling disappointed every time because there's something important missing.

But asexuals don't really have a socially accepted avenue for getting affection and touch, not if they don't want sex mixed in. Some asexuals put up with the sex to get the affection, not realizing that it's only the love and not the sex they're interested in. Some find other sources of love without even realizing the need it fills in them. And some recognize this need, and seek out or find someone for nonsexual love, but having no other words for such a close relationship with a nonrelative, they call it romance. There are also some, sexual or asexual, who don't want such a close relationship, either because they don't need it or they're afraid of it. If they're sexual, they're the ones who prefer one night stands.*

But we don't need sexuality taking over our lives. We need to get back to what we once knew - that sexuality is only one part of a rich and deep emotional landscape. Romance is only one of many kinds of close, fulfilling relationships. And touch is not just used for sex, but for showing caring and love in all  close relationships. Friendship can be just as close as romantic relationships. And this is especially important for men to learn, because masculine ideals try to turn them into unfeeling islands.

If we recognized that, would people still call themselves romantic asexuals? Personally, I doubt it. They'd be the asexuals who got really close to their friends. And they wouldn't be 'just friends' - their friendships would be beautiful and loving and close, no 'just' about it.

* Incidentally, research shows that many of these people have insecure attachment, suggesting aromantic sexual is not a healthy romantic/sexual style, but rather a reflection of an inadequate parent-child bond. Unlike sexual orientation, romantic orientation is shaped a great deal by the environment a child grows up in.

8 Comments:

Blogger urocyon said...

Interesting take.

I've never been quite able to understand what was supposed to distinguish romantic attractions/feelings/relationships from other deep friendships. Breaking it down, at least for myself, I don't find that my own feelings for my partner are that different than for other close friends, once you substract the sexual attraction component. (Everyone is different, of course, but I've yet to see an explanation of how these are not the same that made much sense to me, either.)

I do have to wonder if it isn't often just the way the person understands what they're experiencing, influenced very much by social context and expectations. While I'm not asexual myself, people who are keep making good points about just how prescriptively sexualized the society we're living in really is. Hard for those expectations of how people are supposed to relate to one another, not to get in the way when trying to understand their own experiences.

(Not trying to tell anyone how they should identify at all, BTW, just talking about my own experiences here.)

11:01 AM  
Blogger Seth Nicholson said...

I disagree. It would be fantastic if society were to become more relaxed about sensual touch, but even if it did, romantic people (aces and allos alike) would go right on experiencing limerence, which is the psychological manifestation of romantic attraction. Romantic orientation would persist as a useful concept.

1:59 PM  
Blogger Lumi said...

Beautiful!

2:59 PM  
Blogger Gibran Elias said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Gibran Elias said...

If we allow friendship to be defined as (generally) aromantic asexual relationships (some friendships may be somewhat romantic and/or somewhat sexual), we're left to define what is romance without sex.

There's the concept of sensual attraction, with is the desire to do/have sensual contact (although not sexual) with someone. Elsewhere I've seen it defined as "everything from hand-holding to kissing to cuddling to even foreplay (but not sex)", and some people here might like hugging and holding hands, but not kissing or making out.

This sensual attraction could be, for Some people, a (somewhat defining) difference between romantic and aromantic asexual relationships? That extra physical (and also emotional) intimacy you allow that special person, more than your friends...?

But, yet, some people (asexuals and non-asexuals alike) may enjoy this kind of contact with friends (to whatever extent they choose, actually), and some asexuals may seek "romance" (in their own words) without sensual attraction...

So, beyond what people physically desire and do together, romance may have more to do with "partnership" than anything else. A friend, as close and intimate as one may be, may not be seen as an intimate emotional partner (or, in other words, a Life partner).

Maybe an asexual does want to share a home, share a life (emotionally, financially, and in personal endeavors), maybe even raise kids (adopted or conceived, whatever way). "Grow old together". Have that one person you can count on as a forever-partner, that one person you devote your love, your care, your energy and your life to...

Maybe that's what asexual people seek in "romance", either with or without any other sensual, physical intimacy/activity.

They themselves may know this better... I'm no asexual either.

10:28 AM  
Blogger vabna islam said...

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2:06 AM  
Blogger vabna islam said...

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1:58 AM  
Blogger idealist said...

I (female) experience emotional attraction toward women and sexual attraction toward men, i.e. develop crushes on girls and having FWB with guys. I have never felt infatuated with a man the way I have with women (a stranger making me self conscious and forget how to speak?). Society has an easier time understanding "lust & arousal" without "having feelings for someone", but not the other way around. I definitely believe affectional and sexual orientations are distinct.

7:41 AM  

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