No Sex, No Love: Exploring asexuality, aromanticism at Pitt


At parties, Allison likes to dance, to bump and grind, but not in a sexual way. Chelsea has danced and hooked up after a party, but didn’t enjoy it. Samantha, too, has had medicore sex after a frat party, but when the boy wanted to see her again, she turned him down. 

These three women, all Pitt students, fall on the asexual-aromantic spectrum. Allison and Chelsea, which is not her real name, both identify as asexual, meaning they do not experience any sexual attraction, and Samantha identifies as aromantic, meaning she does not experience romantic love. 

Asexuality falls on one end of the sexual spectrum, according to the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), and includes several subcategories. The starkest is asexuality itself, in which individuals feel no sexual attraction towards anyone else at all. 

Further towards the middle are two categories, gray-asexual, known as gray-ace or gray-A, and demisexual. Gray-ace individuals “experience sexual attraction very rarely, only under specific circumstances, or of an intensity so low that it’s ignorable,” according to AVEN, and demisexual individuals experience sexual attraction but only after an emotional connection has been formed. Aromanticism is even less common and less understood than asexuality, because some people, according to Samantha, think it is a result of past emotional turmoil.

“There’s the broken stereotype. People ask, ‘Who hurt you?’ which is frustrating. No one hurt me — this is just who I am,” Samantha said. “There’s also the misconception that I’m a robot. I’m not — I do have feelings, just not romantic feelings.”

Nothing is wrong with them, they say, and they are not broken. They’ve just had few, if any, serious relationships. For the last three and a half years, these women have immersed themselves in the heteronormative hook-up culture of Pitt, but their personal orientations have resulted in very different experiences.

In 1994, the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles found that 1 percent of respondents said they had “never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all.” AVEN’s 2014 asexual census reported that 1.6 percent of respondents identified on the asexual spectrum.

All individuals who identify somewhere on the asexuality spectrum can feel romantic love and can fall in love, and some do. 

At the other end of the spectrum, opposite asexuality, is sexuality. Sexuality is common and includes all individuals who feel sexual attraction in any way. Sexual individuals may feel sexual attraction toward the opposite gender, their own gender or toward someone who is trans- or pangender.

Samantha, the aromantic, avoids relationships and doesn’t get “tangled up in emotions.”

“I don’t have a lot of experience in that, but, when it does happen, I don’t have that emotional reaction, so it’s like hitting a wall almost, except I’m the wall,” she said. “I only have platonic feelings. I have familial relationships, really intense friendships.”

Allison is able to fall in love, she said, but is not sexually attracted to anyone. Occasionally, she’ll find someone “aesthetically attractive.”

For example, she said, she doesn’t want to have sex with Channing Tatum. 

“I agree that he’s attractive, but he can keep that to himself. On the flip side, the people I have had crushes on, I really do like them, and I want to be in a relationship with them.” Allison said.

If she had a relationship one day and was “really in love” with her partner, she said, she would consider having sex with that person. Asexuals can have sex, according to AVEN, even if they don’t necessarily desire the experience.

For asexuals in romantic relationships, Allison said, this is often viewed as “giving something up.”

“You don’t give up part of yourself. It’s just you care so much about the other person, you’re willing to do things to make them happy,” Allison said.

For Chelsea, falling in love has not happened yet, partly due to the hook-up culture of college. Hooking up is “a game,” she said, that she’d play with her friends. She didn’t realize she was asexual until last January, her junior year at Pitt, and until then, slept with men because her friends were.

“It was a competition,” she said, “‘Oh, they’re hooking up with someone. I should try to hook up with someone.’ When I realized I was asexual, that’s when I realized I was doing it for different reasons.”

When Chelsea did hook up, she hooked up with men, even though she wasn’t into it.

“Hooking up with guys was just boring. I wasn’t into it, but I went along with it because I thought that’s what people do. I would think, “Oh this is nice, I guess, because they’re into me.’”

It was only after she had hooked up with a number of guys her freshman and sophomore years that Chelsea realized she was asexual. She remembers one night, when one of her roommates was sleeping with someone for the second time. She was confused, and didn’t understand how her roommate would want to sleep with someone more than once. 

“And I was just like ‘Why? Isn’t the game over?’ I’d be interested in someone for a night, but it was just for a night,” she said.

Through blogs on Tumblr, Chelsea found the words she needed to describe herself and communicate her sexuality to other people. Both Chelsea and Samantha have told similar stories, and searching the “asexual” tag on Tumblr shows a thriving haven of support and information for young asexuals. 

Memes and user-generated art are popular, and one user recently posted asexual and aromantic Valentine hearts. Black, white, gray, and purple striped hearts with “Dayum, you’re aestetically pleasing” and “#NoRomo” have gotten reblogged over 40 thousand time. AVEN, too, the largest online community for asexuals, provides concrete definitions and message boards for individuals exploring their sexuality. 

Alison said she has not hooked up because once someone learns she is asexual, their interest vanishes.

“If I meet someone new, and we hit it off, and they’re really cute [and they find out I’m asexual], any sexual iterest they had in me is thrown under the rug. Usually, with most sexual people, that’s the first thing you worry about before love,” she said.

At parties, she said, she does dance with other people, including the standard “bump and grind.”

Allison said she started to realize she had no sexual attraction to other people when she was in the ninth grade. All of her friends had boyfriends, and she said she “was so game” to have a relationship, too, to fit in. A boy came over one night, she said, and they kissed.

“It didn’t feel like anything,” she said. “I’ve tried kissing again, and it doesn’t do anything for me. It’s just like wet touching wet.”

Before she had the word “asexual” to describe herself, she said, it was difficult to communicate that, no, she didn’t like someone’s kiss, but she also didn’t like anyone else’s kiss either.

“It was things like that, being in the moment and not feeling anything that made me feel, like, ‘other’ for a while,” she said.

She is now comfortable with who she is and sees many possibilities for her future that she might not otherwise have seen if she were to someday get married and stay in one place. 

Samantha, too, is glad she won’t be held back by love or relationships.

“There’re always concessions you have to make when you’re attached to someone romantically, and I don’t have to make those concessions,” she said. “[Those concessions] can be turned toward my career, and it’ll be easier for me to pick up and move somewhere. I won’t have to pick up my family — it’ll just be me.”

The kind of love she can feel, she said, and the kind of love she desires, she will be able to get from her friends.

“Sometimes I do desire companionship, but I can always find that in my friends,” she said. “I wouldn’t say that I’m missing out. No … I get that fulfillment from my friendships.”