Marie Crosswell defines terms that may be new to you, but are becoming more common as people redefine their desires, or lack thereof.
For some people, monogamy is not the only way. Relationships change, shift, reform, and continue to be redefined.
Attitudes toward sex vary in the asexual community. Some asexuals are sex-repulsed or sex-averse, meaning that they are highly uncomfortable with participating in sex and may or may not be uncomfortable viewing sexually explicit content. Some asexuals are sex-indifferent, meaning that they are neutral about participating in sex enough that they are able to do so in order to maintain a romantic relationship with someone sexual, even if they would prefer to never have sex. (What kind of sexual acts and the frequency of sexual activity that an indifferent asexual is comfortable with varies by individual.) Some asexuals are enthusiastic about sex: they are capable of arousal and orgasm and enjoy having sex, despite their lack of sexual attraction/desire for other people. For these asexuals, sex is no different than a massage given by a professional masseuse: it is an activity sought for the physical pleasure, not for the person giving the pleasure. You don’t go to a massage therapist to receive a massage because you desire the therapist; you go because you desire the massage. Likewise, sex-enthusiastic asexuals like sex because it feels good to them but when they aren’t having sex, they still don’t experience sexual attraction or desire for other people, even people they’ve had sex with before or would willingly have sex with in the future.
Some asexuals want romantic relationships that look identical to the romantic relationships sexual people have, except without any sex. Some asexuals do not want a traditional romantic relationship—one that rides The Relationship Escalator and includes coded romantic behaviors—but they do want a primary partner or a group of partners/chosen family/committed friends to share their lives with. Some asexuals want nothing more than their own home and good friends with whom they have an average level of friendly involvement. Interest in things like marriage, cohabitation with a partner, and child rearing varies by the asexual. Some romantic asexuals are monogamous, and some of them are polyamorous.
Asexuals can be romantically involved with sexual people, in mixed romantic relationships, and have sex for the sake of the union. Some mixed romantic relationships are sexually open, so that the sexual person can have their sexual needs met with other people and the asexual does not have to have sex to satisfy their partner. Some mixed romantic relationships are both sexually and romantically open because both people are polyamorous, including the asexual who wants more than one romantic connection but no sex. Asexuals also form romantic relationships and important nonromantic relationships with each other.
Beyond traditional romantic relationships, some asexuals want or have romantic friendships, passionate friendships, or queerplatonic relationships, and sometimes, these nonromantic or gray-area relationships become an asexual’s primary partnership. “Romantic friendship” is a term coined in the 19th century to describe a kind of emotionally intense, usually nonsexual friendship that has existed throughout history in different civilizations, usually between members of the same sex. Romantic friends would verbalize their feelings for each other in highly sentimental ways, write love letters to each other, engage in a lot of physical/nonsexual affection (hand holding, cuddling, co-sleeping, kisses, etc), and generally behave the way a romantic couple would today, but without having sex, experiencing sexual desire for each other, marrying and having children together, or forbidding each other from having romantic-sexual relationships with other people. Romantic friendship usually happened between two unmarried youths and often did not survive the marriage of one friend to a third party. During its existence, a romantic friendship frequently functioned as the primary emotional bond in the lives of both friends.
Today’s asexuals who want romantic friendship sometimes see it as equal and interchangeable with a committed romantic relationship but sometimes see it as a different kind of relationship, even if behaviorally a romantic friendship and an asexual romantic relationship can look identical. The differences, for those who consider them different, usually amount to monogamy and priority. A romantic relationship, for monogamist asexuals, must be exclusive in whatever way the asexual frames monogamy, but romantic friendship is non-monogamous. A romantic partner may come first for a romantic asexual, even if the asexual has a romantic friend, too. An ace may want to live with a romantic partner but not with a romantic friend or get married to a romantic partner but not a romantic friend. A romantic ace may feel “in love” with a romantic partner but experience love for a romantic friend differently.
Passionate friendship describes a relationship that is very similar to romantic friendship, in that it does not include sex/sexual attraction and does not require romantic attraction but entails a deep, intense love and emotional bond, a high amount of intimacy and physical affection, and more exclusivity than common friendship. A passionate friendship does usually become the primary relationship or partnership for the two passionate friends, regardless of any romantic and/or sexual relationships they have with others. A passionate friend is usually the most important person in one’s life. Life partner type acts—such as living together, financial interdependence, physical caretaking, childrearing, etc—become a part of the passionate friendship if those are things the people in the friendship desire individually, instead of being a part of some other romantic relationship. One thinks of their passionate friend as a partner, rather than a common friend subordinate to romantic partners. A passionate friendship can happen between any two people regardless of age difference, gender, romantic and sexual orientations, etc. It’s pretty much always a long-term relationship because it is rare, tremendously important to the people involved, and emotionally compelling to a point that nothing short of death or unforgivable betrayal/abuse will drive the passionate friends apart. A passionate friendship usually does not happen more than once in a person’s life, unlike romantic friendship and queerplatonic relationships which can occur many times with different people.
Queerplatonic relationships are more varied than romantic friendships and passionate friendships. The term “queerplatonic” was coined in the aromantic section of the asexual community to describe the kind of special nonromantic relationships that aromantics often desire, which typically exceeds common friendship in emotion and involvement but does not feel or necessarily look like a traditional romantic relationship. (The “queer” in queerplatonic describes the relationship, not the people in the relationship. Anyone can have a queerplatonic friendship.) Queerplatonic relationships specifically do not include romantic attraction or romantic feelings but do feel more important and perhaps more emotional than common friendship. The amount of time, trust, touch, intimacy, and involvement in a queerplatonic relationship often exceed that of a common friendship, and for some people, their queerplatonic friend is also their primary partner. Queerplatonic relationships can go in a number of different directions: primary partnership, most important nonromantic relationship secondary to romantic relationships, typical best friendship, one-sided most important relationship, etc. Queerplatonic relationships can be sexual, but they are not romantic. Sexual queerplatonic relationships do include a level of emotional attachment and caring that surpasses a casual sexual relationship or “fuck buddy” arrangement and can also surpass the feelings the two people have for other friends. For some queerplatonic friends, the major difference between their relationship and other friendships is the way they feel about each other, and behaviorally there may be no other differences.
A squish is the nonromantic version of a crush. Aromantic asexuals created this word to describe the nonromantic feelings and interest they sometimes experience in someone that basically entails a very strong admiration and enthusiasm for someone and a desire to be close and/or special to that other person without dating them. Anyone can have a squish on someone, regardless of orientation. Sometimes, a person wants a queerplatonic relationship with their squish but not always.
By constructing a framework to understand that romantic and sexual orientations are two separate things (even when they correspond), the asexual community has come to discover that some sexual people also have a split in their attractions: their romantic and sexual orientations do not match. They are cross-orientation or mixed orientation sexual people. Their identities can include: heteromantic homosexuals, homoromantic heterosexuals, biromantic heterosexuals and homosexuals, hetero- and homoromantic bisexuals, aromantic hetero-/homo-/bi-/pansexuals, panromantic hetero-/homo-/bisexuals, and hetero-/homo-/biromantic pansexuals. They can fall in love with people they feel no sexual desire for and feel sexual desire for people they cannot fall in love with, based on gender.
See also: A New Sexual Dictionary
Extended original published at The Thinking Asexual-The Basics
Also by Marie Crosswell: Life Partner is Not Synonomous with Romantic Partner
—Photo Speaking Latino/Flickr