The Asexual and Aromantic Identity Spectrums Don’t Make Sense

Within the last couple years, people wise to asexuality and aromanticism started using the terms “ace” and “aro” as shorthand umbrella labels for any and all identities that exist on the “asexual spectrum” and “aromantic spectrum.” You can be demisexual or gray-asexual, demiromantic or grayromantic, and yet call yourself ace or aro whenever you feel like it. You can talk about “aces” and “aros” when you really mean everybody and anybody on the spectrum, as if being asexual is the same thing as being demisexual or gray-asexual or being aromantic is the same thing as being demiromantic or gray-romantic.

I hate it. I think it must be a Tumblr thing, and it must’ve started with younger people who showed up on the ace and aro scene after I left a lot of those spaces. I know not everyone does it—I don’t think I’ve noticed it as a consistent practice amongst my contemporaries who have been blogging and participating in the online communities as long as I have—but it seems to be popular enough now that I may be out of step with conversations about “aces” and “aros” more often than not.

It’s got me thinking about the idea of these spectrums, though, because as far as I’m concerned, you are not ace or aro if you’re demisexual, grayasexual, demiromantic, or grayromantic. If you’re demi, you’re demi, and if you’re gray, you’re gray. These different identity terms exist for a reason: they describe different experiences. If we’re going to define asexuality and aromanticism as “not experiencing sexual/romantic attraction,” does it make any fucking sense to go around talking as if demis and grays, who do experience attraction, are the same as aces and aros? No. It doesn’t.

This language problem is really just a reflection of what was already a problematic organization of non-allo identities into these asexual and aromantic “spectrums.” Demisexuality and gray-asexuality have been around for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been active in online asexual communities for going on 10 years. But we didn’t always frame asexuality, demisexuality, and gray-asexuality as a “spectrum.” Demiromanticism and grayromanticism are, if I’m not mistaken, younger concepts than demisexuality and gray-asexuality, but again—originally, there was no “aromantic spectrum,” only an acknowledgment that demi- and gray-romanticism were experiences that had much in common with aromanticism. Somewhere along the line, when I wasn’t looking, people started thinking of asexuality and aromanticism as “spectrums,” on which demi- and gray- identities fall, and without any real critical thinking that I can find, that view gained popularity and is pretty much just accepted now without question.

I don’t agree with the spectrum model, any more than I agree with using “ace” and “aro” as umbrella terms for every non-allo identity there is. Let me explain why.

Whether we’re talking about sexual orientation or romantic orientation, hetero-, homo-, bi-, pan-, and a- describe WHO a person is attracted to.

But demi- and gray- identities (which can include lith-, fray-, quoi-, etc) describe HOW a person experiences attraction. A demi- or a gray- is also straight or gay or bi or pan. They have two identities, technically, although they can choose to publicly identify as only one.

How much sense does it make to create these spectrums of asexuality and aromanticism, when the identities grouped in the spectrums are actually based on two totally different aspects of attraction? If you’re going to create any kind of “spectrum” to describe HOW people experience the attraction that they experience, doesn’t it make a whole lot more sense to group all the people who DO experience a specific type of attraction together?

I’m sure that defenders of the asexual and aromantic spectrums as they’re currently conceptualized could make the argument that asexuality and aromanticism are also about the HOW of attraction, as much as they are about the WHO, but I can’t imagine an argument for that idea that holds water. It’s redundant to say that asexuality and aromanticism are about both WHO and HOW one experiences sexual or romantic attraction. Arguing that they’re based on both looks like this:

Who are asexuals and aromantics attracted to?

No one.

How are they attracted to “no one”?

They’re not.

It’s pointless. On a basic logic level, it doesn’t make any sense to follow the first question and answer with the second. All you need to know is that asexuals and aromantics aren’t attracted to anyone (sexually or romantically). There is no “HOW” because there is no WHO. HOW a person experiences attraction is only relevant if they actually experience attraction.

Thus far, demisexuality, gray-asexuality, demiromanticism, and gray-romanticism have been attached to asexuality and aromanticism on these spectrum models for two reasons that I can see:

1. It’s easier and, for many people, intuitive to group together all the different experiences of sexual and romantic attraction that don’t fit into the dominant categories of allosexuality and alloromanticism, so that you have only two groups of people to think about: who’s allo- and who’s not. In other words, the idea of an asexual spectrum or an aromantic spectrum is based on a negative: on what people are NOT. If you’re not allo-, then you’re on this asexual or aromantic spectrum.

This is like categorizing colors by saying that there is “blue” and there’s every color that is not blue. “Not blue” includes red and green, but the only thing they have in common is that neither one of them is blue. Red and green are not shades of each other. They are not the same color. They each have their own shades, their own sub-colors. It doesn’t make any sense to say that red and green are the same or even closely related, unless you only care that neither one is blue.

2. People make the mistake of thinking that because demisexuality and gray-asexuality are both experiences of attraction and desire that often include a lack or absence of said attraction and desire, that they are logical and natural extensions of asexuality. (The same goes for demi-, gray-, and aromanticism.) But this can only be true if we think of asexuality and aromanticism as “not experiencing sexual/romantic attraction,” without accounting for the objects of that missing attraction. Making asexuality and aromanticism purely about HOW attraction is experienced. Which again, doesn’t make any sense whatsoever because attraction can’t exist without an object in the first place. Asexuality and aromanticism are not about HOW one experiences attraction but about WHO asexuals and aromantics are attracted to: nobody. That demis and grays do experience attraction to other people, sometimes with enough regularity to warrant a specific sexual or romantic orientation, should make it clear that demi- and gray- orientations are not variations of asexuality and aromanticism.

If demi- and gray- orientations are going to be attached to one of the poles of attraction (a- vs. allo-), it would actually make a lot more sense to say that they are extensions of allosexuality and alloromanticism, not asexuality and aromanticism. Why?

1. As I already said, demi’s and gray’s have other identities that describe WHO they are attracted to, when they’re attracted. They, like allos, are straight or gay or bi or pan or queer. They share with allos something that asexuals and aromantics never experience: sexual or romantic attraction. That they experience it differently, often quite differently, doesn’t negate the fact that they DO experience it. Asexuals and aromantics don’t, at all. If you ask me, there’s a big difference between “rarely” or “sometimes” and “never.”

When a demi- or gray- person DOES experience sexual or romantic attraction, there may be no difference whatsoever between their experience and that of an allo- who is also experiencing attraction to a particular person. The difference between a demi- or a gray- who wants to have sex with somebody or who’s in love with someone and an allo- person who wants to have sex with somebody or who’s in love with someone is HOW they arrived at that point or HOW often they have the experience, not what they’re actually feeling.

2. There is enough variation in how allos experience sexual and romantic attraction that if we were to examine the full range of their attraction and desire patterns, especially throughout adulthood instead of during just one phase of it, we would see that there’s enough similarity between how some allos experience their attractions and how demis and grays experience it, that the demis and grays actually have much more in common with those allos than they do with asexuals and aromantics. One could make the argument that a lot of demis and grays go through periods where they don’t experience attraction at all, to anyone, in which case they are identical to asexuals and aromantics at that time. But there are also allos who, if they’re in between romantic/sexual partners and don’t have anyone around that they’re interested in, don’t feel sexual or romantic attraction either. This doesn’t make them less allo-. This just means that they are not, at the moment, attracted to anybody. Being allo- doesn’t mean that you’re in a constant state of sexual or romantic attraction, any more than it means you’re in a constant state of sexual activity or romantic relationship.

That being said, I don’t think it’s necessary for demi- and gray- identities to be part of a spectrum of allosexuality and alloromanticism, any more than it’s necessary to attach them to asexuality and aromanticism. I think that demi- and gray- and their related expressions can stand on their own, as a third category. That would probably make the most sense, considering that these experiences of attraction are literally a kind of middle-ground between a- and allo-, a kind of blending of the two poles. (Thus, the “gray.”) Personally, I think of demi- and gray- folks as being in their own, third category. But if, for some reason, the masses are hot to make demi- and gray- identities a part of either the a- or allo- category, I say that it makes more sense to go with the allo-.

Please understand that I am NOT denying the legitimacy or the necessity of demi- and gray- identities here. They are real, and they are valid. The labels themselves are necessary. Demis and grays are NOT allos. I’m just pointing out that grouping the demi- and gray- identities with asexuality and aromanticism, to create these ace and aro spectrums, is a flawed and problematic practice. I understand that demi- and gray- experiences were originally given voice and recognition through the asexual and aromantic communities, through dialogues had in those communities, and I understand also that some demis and grays feel far more kinship with aces and aros than they do with allos. I know that some demis and grays lean closer to the allo- pole of attraction, while others lean closer to the a- pole. That’s why I personally tend to think of demis and grays as neither part of an asexual spectrum categorically nor part of the allo- population categorically. There is enough variation within demi- and gray- experiences that grouping all of them with aces and aros or all of them with allos- doesn’t work well.

Eliminating the “asexual spectrum” and “aromantic spectrum” model doesn’t mean that we dismiss the legitimacy of demi- and gray- identities or that we cut off demis and grays from the asexual and aromantic communities. It pretty much means we go back to the way things were originally, where demis and grays could be a part of ace and aro spaces and conversations as much or as little as they chose but where there is enough acknowledgment of the differences between demis, grays, and aces/aros that nobody lumps them all together into a singular group.

Asexuality and Aromanticism are Spectrums

So unless you spend a lot of time hanging out in asexual and/or aromantic circles online or in person, you probably think that asexuality and aromanticism are narrow categories of orientation: either you’re asexual or allosexual, aromantic or alloromantic. I want to clarify that asexuality and aromanticism are both spectrums of identity.

The asexual spectrum includes: asexuality, demisexuality, and gray-asexuality.

The aromantic spectrum includes: aromanticism, demiromanticism, and gray-aromanticism.

I’ve already written a fairly thorough 101 post about demisexuality and gray-asexuality that you can find over here, but let’s briefly review how they differ from full-blown asexuality.


Asexuals do not experience sexual attraction and/or directed sexual desire, meaning that they do not feel an involuntary desire to have partnered sex with other human beings for their own pleasure. They don’t have involuntary sexual thoughts and feelings about other people based on looks, personality, or any other quality.

Demisexuals can experience sexual attraction and desire for others but only after they’ve developed an emotional connection or attachment to someone, whether that attachment is romantic or nonromantic. Demisexuals are basically asexual until and unless they meet someone, get close to them, feel connected to them emotionally, and then at some point start to feel sexual attraction/desire for that person. They don’t experience sexual attraction/desire to strangers, celebrities, acquaintances, blind dates, people they think are good-looking but don’t know or don’t have any emotional connection to.

Gray-asexuals come in a variety of types: some gray-a’s rarely experience sexual attraction, some gray-a’s experience sexual attraction regularly or semi-regularly but rarely or never feel the desire to follow through and engage in partnered sex, some gray-a’s experience sexual attraction infrequently and are sex-repulsed, some gray-a’s can only experience sexual attraction to a partner during a kink session, some gray-a’s experience sexual attraction regularly but have no libido, some gray-a’s experience sexual attraction but don’t actually care about having sex enough to bother and are perfectly content to be celibate. People who experience sexual attraction regularly but are repulsed by partnered sex can also identify as gray-asexual, if they want to.


Aromantic-spectrum identities correspond to the asexual-spectrum.

Aromantics do not experience romantic attraction or the desire to form normative romantic relationships with other people. (Note: like asexuals who end up in sexual relationships, aromantics can end up in romantic relationships, despite not having an ongoing and abstract interest in them. This is especially true for aromantic allosexuals, who can easily end up dating a sexual partner, even when they’re not romantically attracted to them.) For an in-depth exploration of aromanticism, please check out my Aromantic Primer.

Demiromantics can experience romantic attraction but only after they’ve developed an emotional attachment to someone. Basically, demiromantics only ever fall in love with people they’re already pretty good friends with. They’re not going to feel romantic attraction to a total stranger they aren’t close to, not even after 10 dates. The actual amount of time it takes a demiromantic person to feel romantic attraction to a friend varies by person and situation, just like sexual attraction does for demisexuals. Demiromantics may still only experience romantic feelings sporadically or rarely.

Gray-aromantics may: rarely experience romantic attraction, experience romantic attraction but feel repulsed by romantic relationships and never actually want to get involved in them, experience a kind of emotional attraction that cannot easily be defined as “romantic” or “nonromantic,” want queerplatonic or other gray-area relationships regardless of their attraction experience.

Subtypes of gray-aromantics also include WTFromantics and lithromantics. Lithromantics fall in love with people romantically but don’t actually want or need that romantic attraction to be reciprocated. They’re happy just to feel romantic attraction to someone, with nothing coming of it. “WTFromantic” is a term coined in the asexual community out of frustration with the whole “What is romantic attraction and how is it different from emotional attraction?” mystery. It basically describes people who can’t tell the difference between romantic attraction and nonromantic emotional attraction at all, not even enough to say “I’m definitely aromantic” as opposed to “I’m definitely romantic.” The whole concept of romantic attraction/love vs. nonromantic feelings/friendship just doesn’t compute to WTFromantic people, so they give up trying to figure it out and put themselves in an aromantic or romantic identity box.

Clarification of Demisexuality and Gray-Asexuality

I’m suddenly in the mood to write a brief post offering clarity on those other sections of the asexual spectrum that I usually don’t write about because I’m totally ace. I hope this is helpful.


People who are demisexual do not experience sexual attraction, unless it comes as a result of an emotional and/or romantic attachment. As always, the rate of their sexual attraction experience has nothing to do with their sex drive (which is the body’s craving for sexual stimulation or release) or the pattern of their romantic attractions or their sexual activity.

Some demisexuals can experience sexual attraction to people they’re emotional about but not romantically attracted to. As in: “I really care about my friend and all of a sudden, I’m feeling sexually attracted to them. But I don’t necessarily want to date them.”

Some demisexuals are capable of being sexually attracted to more than one person at a time: more than one friend, more than one romantic partner if they’re poly, a friend they really like and the person they’re dating, etc.

The actual frequency of sexual attraction for any given demisexual varies. The fact that their sexual attractions depend on a pre-existing emotional/romantic attachment doesn’t mean that every single emotional/romantic attachment they have results in sexual attraction. Please go back and read that again so you get it. There are probably demisexuals who DO experience sexual attraction to every person they’re romantically attached to, but there are also other demi’s who sometimes get the sexy component in romance and sometimes don’t.

What NEVER happens to a demisexual is sexual attraction/desire for someone they don’t know or aren’t close to. They are, effectively, asexual when interacting with strangers, acquaintances, even someone they’re casually dating but not close to yet, etc. They don’t sit there and sexually fantasize, get turned on by, or simply WANT sex with good-looking celebrities or the hot person at the store or their friend’s hot friend they’re meeting for the first time. They’re not going to feel sexual desire for someone they meet on a blind date, even if they do think that person is good-looking. They may even feel uncomfortable if strangers or people they don’t know well express sexual interest in them.

And the other thing is, the amount of time it takes a demisexual to develop sexual attraction to someone they are romantically attracted to also varies by person and by relationship. It’s not like a sexual attraction switch goes on the second a demi- becomes officially coupled to someone. It may take them weeks, months, a year or more. Even if the romantic feelings are in full swing.

Which also means that if a demi- is in a romantic relationship but hasn’t yet experienced sexual attraction to their partner, whether or not sex happens is quite possibly irrelevant to them. In the same way that it’s irrelevant to an asexual. A demisexual may agree to have sex with whoever they’re dating, sans sexual attraction, just because the other person wants it and the demi- is romantically attached to them…. But if it was totally up to the demi-, sex could be nonexistent in that relationship at that point (before their own sexual attraction/desire surfaces) and they would be 100% happy anyway.


There are a lot of possible expressions of this type of asexuality. Gray-A’s determine their identity by sexual attraction, sex drive, and attitudes toward having sex. A gray-a can be someone who:

  • does experience sexual attraction but has a very low sex drive or no sex drive at all
  • never or almost never experiences sexual attraction but does have a moderate to high sex drive (some of these individuals ID as gray and others just as ace)
  • rarely experiences sexual attraction and has a low or nonexistent sex drive
  • experiences sexual attraction rarely or sometimes but usually doesn’t care to pursue actual sex
  • experiences sexual attraction but is sex-repulsed
  • experiences sexual attraction only within a specific context and/or based on required elements

The point being, a gray-a is someone who’s more asexual than not, in comparison to the average allosexual person, even though the gray-a might experience sexual attraction.

Frequency of sexual attraction for gray-a’s can vary. Some might turn 30 and be able to count the number of times they’ve been sexually attracted to somebody on one hand. Some may experience sexual attraction more often than that but, as indicated above, rarely care enough to do something about it. A gray-a may be sexually attracted to a partner but not care if sex happens ever or feel satisfied by sex a few times a year.

A gray-a could be someone who never remotely bothers trying to access sex unless they’re already in a romantic relationship (because they don’t care), and if they’re single, sex has no influence over their interest or lack thereof in finding a romantic companion. A gray-a may be someone whose sexual attraction/desire exists only for a certain period of time of a romantic relationship’s duration and it has nothing to do with their romantic feelings. A gray-a might be someone who only experiences sexual attraction in connection to a kink they have (as in, when they’re in the middle of acting out a kink, they’re attracted to their partner, but the rest of time? Nope.) A gray-a might experience sexual attraction to specific person once or twice or for a certain period of time, but otherwise not feel it (even though it’s the same person and even if nothing about the connection changes).

A gray-a probably isn’t going to see sex as necessary to their happiness, to their romantic relationships, etc. Some of them could go years without sex and not care. Some of them could never have sex again and be cool with that. Some of them may really want sex on the rare (i.e. handful of times a year, few times in five-ten years, etc) occasions they feel attraction/desire but the rest of the time, the interest is totally absent.

A gray-a can strongly prefer celibacy, even if they’re the kind who occasionally experiences sexual attraction or even if they’re the kind with an active sex drive. There are a thousand reasons why they might have this preference. They may well be the type who’s uncomfortable, bored, or otherwise averse to sex whenever they’re not experiencing sexual attraction, which is most of the time. Or they could prefer to deal with their sex drive and/or sexual attraction to someone by masturbating instead of having sex with someone else.

Food Analogies to Explain Asexual Attitudes Toward Sex


The Sex-Indifferent Asexual (Who Has Sex Any Number of Times): 

So let’s say you go to a restaurant with your friends. Everybody orders: appetizer, soup or salad, entree. When the entrees have been eaten, your friends look at the dessert menu. You’re totally full and have no interest in dessert, so you don’t order it. Your friends do, and the dessert shows up. The person sitting next to you ordered double chocolate cheesecake, eats half or three-quarters of the piece, then says, “I’m full, and this is too rich. Here, you finish it.”

So there you are with this piece of double chocolate cheesecake. You aren’t hungry, you’re not particularly a fan of it, nor do you hate it. It looks like it probably tastes decent, if not good. So you decide, what the hell, I’ll try it. You eat the remaining chunk. It’s all right. You like it but you don’t love it. You ate it for the taste and because it was put in front of you, despite your total lack of hunger. You probably won’t order it in the future, of your own volition. If you never eat it again, you won’t give a shit. But it’s not the worst thing you’ve ever eaten. It actually wasn’t bad. You just aren’t enthusiastic about it enough to want it for its own sake. If you come back to this restaurant with your friends in the future and somebody orders the cheesecake and then offers you some again, you might eat it just because it’s offered to you or you might decline. Whatever.

Repulsed Asexual:

You go to a restaurant with friends. Somebody orders pork. You HATE pork. You can’t stand it. You absolutely refuse to touch it. Thinking about eating pork can sometimes make you nauseous. It doesn’t matter to you that your friend’s at the table eating it, you just can’t really understand how she likes it because you hate it so intensely. But as long as no one shoves it in your mouth against your will, you’re fine. You order what you like.

The Asexual Who Isn’t Quite Repulsed But Still Refuses to Have Sex for Other Reasons:

You decide to become a vegetarian because you feel strongly about animal rights, and eating meat doesn’t feel good to you, even though it tastes good. (Though it never tasted so good that you have a hard time cutting it out of your diet.) You don’t really care if your friends continue to eat meat, you don’t have any strong reaction to meat when you’re around it, you don’t hate it, you just feel better as a vegetarian. You feel better physically and emotionally. You know that it’s more difficult eating out as a vegetarian than it is as an omnivore, but you’re willing to deal with that because vegetarianism feels best to you.

Or maybe you’ve always been vegetarian. You grew up in a vegetarian home or you rejected meat as a kid for no apparent reason. You don’t know what meat even tastes like and you don’t care. You’re happy as a vegetarian. You feel no desire or curiosity to eat meat, though people tell you that it’s awesome. You figure it probably does taste awesome but you’re accustomed to your lifestyle as a vegetarian and the way you feel in your body and mind and heart based on that lifestyle choice. Being a vegetarian feels comfortable. So you stick to it.

Gray-Asexual (Who Either Occasionally Experiences Sexual Attraction or Sometimes Has a Libido):

You go to a restaurant with friends in June. On the menu, you see they have a seared tuna steak entree. You went through a phase a few years ago where you absolutely fucking loved seared tuna steak. You ate it all the time. Then you got over it and moved onto a different food. The menu description of this tuna steak sounds pretty awesome but you pick something else instead because you’re just not in the mood.

You come back to the same restaurant with friends in October. There’s that tuna steak again, and you sort of feel like eating it tonight. So you order it. It’s delicious. You enjoy it. You leave the restaurant satisfied but you don’t feel the need to eat that dish again anytime soon. You know it tastes good, but it isn’t your favorite thing. And you have to really be in the mood for it now. Doesn’t happen that often anymore but when it does, you’ll act on it if you happen to have access to a restaurant that serves seared tuna steak. If you don’t have access? Eh, no big deal. It’s not all that important to you.


So you happen to really love cheeseburgers. But you’re sort of picky about it. You won’t eat them just anywhere. In fact, you have a favorite place that serves them, a place where you have a lot of cool memories because you’re a regular. You don’t want to eat burgers anywhere else, even if they taste just as good, because you really, really like the burgers at your place. And part of the reason why you like those burgers so much is because of the place itself. There’s a whole sort of personal mystique you’ve built around this restaurant. Maybe you could get a burger elsewhere that’s just as good or better, maybe there are awesome burgers out there that you don’t even know about, but it doesn’t matter to you. You’re attached to your place, so that’s where you go. You like the way you feel when you go to your place, and that’s part of what makes the experience good for you. And if you can’t go there, then you don’t feel particularly enthusiastic about eating burgers.

The Kinky Asexual Who Only Does Sexual Things in Connection to Their Kink:

You don’t like sushi except for this ONE roll, at this Japanese restaurant where you went with friends once and tried it because it looked interesting. You fucking love that roll. But just that roll. All other sushi doesn’t look very appetizing to you. So you’re not really a sushi eater, you’re someone who eats that special sushi roll when you can get it, and otherwise, you don’t give a shit about sushi.