Can someone help me understand the Ace Spectrum, please? I'm trying to make sense of... things and I'm so confused I don't know what to do.
So, the place where I think most of us get confused on our ace identity journey is with separating out types of attraction, and also separating out attraction from sex drive. So let’s talk about those two things:
There are many kinds of attraction, but we’re going to talk about these: sexual, romantic, aesthetic, and sensual. The idea of the split attraction model is that you don’t have to be attracted to someone in more than one of the ways above at the same time to still experience real and powerful attraction of a specific kind. For most allosexual (non-ace spectrum) folks, they tend to experience all four modes of attraction at the same time, and in particular sexual, aesthetic, and sensual attraction are so deeply tied together that they may not realize they’re actually three separate things. In ace folks, those modes of attraction are often not experienced at the same time, and one of them (sexual attraction) may not ever be experienced at all.
Romantic attraction is, well, someone you’re romantically attracted to. You want to spend your time with them, you think about them when they’re gone, they inspire poetry in you, etc etc.
Sexual attraction is basically when you see a person and think, Wow, I’d hit that. This is the kind of attraction people on the ace spectrum either don’t experience at all or don’t experience as often/broadly as allosexual folks, so we’ll come back to this one in a bit.
Aesthetic attraction is when something hits you just right in the beauty department and you want to look at it for a while. In my own personal experience with both myself and my ace friends, this type of attraction is often (but by all means not always or in everyone) hyper-powered in aces. I’m ace, and lemme tell you, there are people I could stare at forever. But I have never once in my entire life looked at one of those people and thought Wow I’d climb them like a tree. Just never happened, probably never will, because I don’t actually experience sexual attraction.
This particular kind of attraction often trips up people who are struggling to understand asexuality, to which I’d suggest this amazing example I’ve seen floating round the interwebs: You ever go out hiking, and you come to the top of a mountain and you see this breathtaking view of other mountains and valleys stretched out for miles before you, and it’s so incredibly beautiful that you just sit right down and stare at it for a while, and maybe you decide to take an early lunch so you can enjoy the view some more because it’s that lovely. But do you at any point want to bang the mountains? No, you do not. (I mean, if you do, we’re not judging, but let’s assume for most folks the answer is no :-p) And that is the difference between aesthetic and sexual attraction.
Sensual attraction is when you see a person and want to touch or hug or cuddle them in a non-sexual way. Some aces don’t experience this at all. Others experience it quite a lot. Still others experience it somewhere in the middle. For some aces it’s tied exclusively to romantic attraction. For others it’s tied to affection in general (familial, platonic, romantic, etc.). For others, it’s tied to aesthetic attraction. There are all kinds of reasons you might experience sensual attraction, but it’s important to remember that it doesn’t have to be tied to sexual attraction in any way.
So, that’s the split attraction model. To make a personal example, I experience aesthetic attraction roughly every 0.4 seconds, romantic and sensual attraction very rarely (and not always together), and sexual attraction literally never (I’m all the way on the far end of the ace spectrum). And my aesthetic attractions don’t necessarily line up with my romantic or sensual attractions, and vice versa. But aces are many and varied and beautiful, and everyone’s going to experience these attractions differently.
The other thing I wanted to talk about is how sexual attraction =/= sex drive. Folks struggling to identify on the ace spectrum often think they’re not “allowed” to be ace because they masturbate, or they watch porn, or they’re experiencing sexual attraction to their current partner. But here’s the thing: all of those experiences are 100% valid and do not make you any less ace.
First, remember that asexuality, like all sexualities, is a spectrum. So you may be all the way on one end of the spectrum like me (never experiences sexual attraction under any circumstance), or you may be demisexual (only experiences sexual attraction with someone to whom you’ve formed a deep emotional relationship) gray ace (only experiences sexual attraction rarely, for reasons that may or may not involve emotional connection). Both of those orientations are valid asexual identities that involve sexual attraction, and experiencing sexual attraction in those ways does not invalidate your identity on the ace spectrum.
Second, it’s important to remember that sex drive doesn’t actually have to be tied in any way to sexual attraction. Think about the human body like a machine. Just because you’re ace doesn’t mean the pipes don’t still work, you know? You can still experience arousal, you can still enjoy orgasm, you can still enjoy porn, you can even still enjoy sex with other people. None of those things means you experience sexual attraction to the person(s) you’re watching or with. Many aces have extremely active sex drives. Many aces have robust solo sex lives. Many aces read or watch porn to get off (check out autochorissexual; it’s an identity many aces feel at home with, including me). And there are endless valid reasons why an ace person might have sex with someone (you want the emotional intimacy, you’re horny, it makes your partner happy and you don’t mind it at all, you’re wildly in love and want to express it physically, you’re sensually attracted and want the physical closeness, you want to get/get someone pregnant, it just plain feels good, etc. etc. etc.), not one of which need involve sexual attraction to the person you’re sleeping with. Of course, if you’re gray ace or demisexual, you may very well experience a deep sexual attraction to the person you’re with. The point is, aces can and do have sex drives, masturbate, watch porn, and have sex with other people. Although I feel it’s also important to point out here that it’s perfectly okay not to do any of these things; some aces are sex repulsed and/or touch-averse and that is 100% valid too.
Okay so this answer is getting crazy long now, and I feel like I’ve covered the general bases, so I’m going to wrap up. But if you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to ask! Half the staff here is ace and we’re always happy to talk about it, either in broad strokes or via our own personal experiences.