Asexuality is a complex construct with a considerable lack of research until recently. Building upon available findings, we examined the extent to which romantic orientation shapes individual and relationship experiences, and expectations of asexual individuals. Specifically, our research focused on the distinction between romantic asexual individuals, who experience romantic attraction, and aromantic asexual individuals, who do not experience romantic attraction. A cross-sectional study with members of different asexual online communities (N = 447, 55.02% women; Mage = 24.77 years, SD = 7.21) aimed at examining how both groups differ in their identification with the asexuality construct as measured by the Asexuality Identification Scale (Yule et al., 2017), individual perspectives on sexuality, sexual behavior and relationships, concerns about commitment and sexual performance in a relationship, and attachment style. Results showed that aromantic asexual individuals identified more with asexuality, reported a more avoidant attachment style, and were more concerned with relationship commitment. In contrast, romantic asexual individuals reported less sex aversion, more sexual experiences (both past and current), and more sexual partners in the past. These individuals also engaged in romantic relationships more frequently in the past, had a stronger desire to engage in a romantic relationship in future (either with or without sexual intimacy), and were more concerned with sexual performance. Overall, our findings contribute to the literature by highlighting the need to consider romantic orientation when examining asexuality and its interpersonal outcomes.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
All data and materials that support the findings of this study are available upon request from the corresponding author.
Aicken, C. R. H., Mercer, C. H., & Cassell, J. A. (2013). Who reports absence of sexual attraction in Britain? Evidence from national probability surveys. Psychology & Sexuality, 4(2), 121–135. https://doi.org/10.1080/19419899.2013.774161
Antonsen, A. N., Zdaniuk, B., Yule, M., & Brotto, L. A. (2020). Ace and aro: Understanding differences in romantic attractions among persons identifying as asexual. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 49(5), 1615–1630. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-019-01600-1
Bauer, C., Miller, T., Ginoza, M., Guo, Y., Youngblom, K., Baba, A., Penten, P., Meinhold, M., Ramaraj, V., Ziebert, J., Trieu, T., & Adroit, M. (2018). The 2016 Asexual Community Survey Summary Report. The Asexual Community Survey Team.
Bell, C. (2019, February 4). Asexuality explained: Sky Data poll shows widespread lack of understanding. Sky News. https://news.sky.com/story/asexuality-explained-sky-data-poll-shows-widespread-lack-of-understanding-11626697
Bogaert, A. F. (2004). Asexuality: Prevalence and associated factors in a national probability sample. Journal of Sex Research, 41(3), 279–287. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224490409552235
Bogaert, A. F. (2006). Toward a conceptual understanding of asexuality. Review of General Psychology, 10(3), 241–250. https://doi.org/10.1037/1089-26220.127.116.11
Brennan, K. A., Clark, C. L., & Shaver, P. R. (1998). Self-report measurement of adult attachment: An integrative overview. In J. A. Simpson & W. S. Rholes (Eds.), Attachment theory and close relationships (pp. 46–76). The Guilford Press.
Brotto, L. A., Knudson, G., Inskip, J., Rhodes, K., & Erskine, Y. (2010). Asexuality: A mixed-methods approach. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39(3), 599–618. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-008-9434-x
Carrigan, M. (2011). There’s more to life than sex? Difference and commonality within the asexual community. Sexualities, 14(4), 462–478. https://doi.org/10.1177/1363460711406462
Chasin, C. D. (2015). Making sense in and of the asexual community: Navigating relationships and identities in a context of resistance. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 25(2), 167–180. https://doi.org/10.1002/casp.2203
Collins, N. L., & Read, S. J. (1990). Adult attachment, working models, and relationship quality in dating couples. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58(4), 644–663. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.1684
Dawson, M., McDonnell, L., & Scott, S. (2016). Negotiating the boundaries of intimacy: The personal lives of asexual people. Sociological Review, 64(2), 349–365. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-954X.12362
de Oliveira, L., Carvalho, J., Sarikaya, S., Urkmez, A., Salonia, A., & Russo, G. I. (2021). Patterns of sexual behavior and psychological processes in asexual persons: A systematic review. International Journal of Impotence Research, 33, 641–651. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41443-020-0336-3
Decker, J. S. (2015). The invisible orientation: An introduction to asexuality. Skyhorse.
Fraley, R. C., & Shaver, P. R. (2000). Adult romantic attachment: Theoretical developments, emerging controversies, and unanswered questions. Review of General Psychology, 4(2), 132–154. https://doi.org/10.1037/1089-2622.214.171.124
Gentzler, A. L., & Kerns, K. A. (2004). Associations between insecure attachment and sexual experiences. Personal Relationships, 11(2), 249–265. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-6811.2004.00081.x
Gupta, K. (2017). “And now I’m just different, but there’s nothing actually wrong with me”: Asexual marginalization and resistance. Journal of Homosexuality, 64(8), 991–1013. https://doi.org/10.1080/00918369.2016.1236590
Haefner, C. (2011). Asexual scripts: A grounded theory inquiry into the intrapsychic scripts asexuals use to negotiate romantic relationships [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Institute of Transpersonal Psychology.
Hatfield, E., Brinton, C., & Cornelius, J. (1989). Passionate love and anxiety in young adolescents. Motivation and Emotion, 13(4), 271–289. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00995539
Hazan, C., & Shaver, P. (1987). Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(3), 511–524. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.1991
Hille, J. J., Simmons, M. K., & Sanders, S. A. (2020). “Sex” and the ace spectrum: Definitions of sex, behavioral histories, and future interest for individuals who identify as asexual, graysexual, or demisexual. Journal of Sex Research, 57(7), 813–823. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2019.1689378
Jones, C., Hayter, M., & Jomeen, J. (2017). Understanding asexual identity as a means to facilitate culturally competent care: A systematic literature review. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 26(23–24), 3811–3831. https://doi.org/10.1111/jocn.13862
Kalichman, S. C., Sarwer, D. B., Johnson, J. R., Ali, S. A., Early, J., & Tuten, J. T. (1994). Sexually coercive behavior and love styles: A replication and extension. Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality, 6(1), 93–106. https://doi.org/10.1300/J056v06n01_06
Kirkpatrick, L. A., & Davis, K. E. (1994). Attachment style, gender, and relationship stability: A longitudinal analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66(3), 502–512. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.522
Koch, P. B., & Cowden, C. R. (2011). Attitudes related to sexual concerns scale. In T. D. Fisher, W. L. Yarber, & S. L. Davis (Eds.), Handbook of sexuality-related measures (3rd ed., pp. 205–207). Routledge.
MacNeela, P., & Murphy, A. (2015). Freedom, invisibility, and community: A qualitative study of self-identification with asexuality. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44(3), 799–812. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-014-0458-0
Mikulincer, M., & Florian, V. (1999). The association between spouses’ self-reports of attachment styles and representations of family dynamics. Family Process, 38(1), 69–83. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1545-5300.1999.00069.x
Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2007). Attachment in adulthood: Structure, dynamics, and change. Guilford Press.
Mikulincer, M., Orbach, I., & Iavnieli, D. (1998). Adult attachment style and affect regulation: Strategic variations in subjective self–other similarity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(2), 436–448. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2066
Mikulincer, M., Shaver, P. R., & Pereg, D. (2003). Attachment theory and affect regulation: The dynamics, development, and cognitive consequences of attachment-related strategies. Motivation and Emotion, 27(2), 77–102. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1024515519160
Prause, N., & Graham, C. A. (2007). Asexuality: Classification and characterization. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 36(3), 341–356. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-006-9142-3
Scherrer, K. S. (2008). Coming to an asexual identity: Negotiating identity, negotiating desire. Sexualities, 11(5), 621–641. https://doi.org/10.1177/1363460708094269
Scott, S., McDonnell, L., & Dawson, M. (2016). Stories of non-becoming: Non-issues, non-events and non-identities in asexual lives. Symbolic Interaction, 39(2), 268–286. https://doi.org/10.1002/symb.215
Shaver, P. R., & Brennan, K. A. (1992). Attachment styles and the “Big Five” personality traits: Their connections with each other and with romantic relationship outcomes. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 18(5), 536–545. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167292185003
Shaver, P. R., & Hazan, C. (1987). Being lonely, falling in love: Perspectives from attachment theory. Journal of Social Behavior & Personality, 2(2, Pt 2), 105–124.
Shaver, P. R., & Hazan, C. (1988). A biased overview of the study of love. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 5(4), 473–501. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407588054005
Simpson, J. A. (1990). Influence of attachment styles on romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59(5), 971–980. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.111
Simpson, J. A., & Rholes, W. S. (2017). Adult attachment, stress, and romantic relationships. Current Opinion in Psychology, 13, 19–24. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2016.04.006
Simpson, J. A., Rholes, W. S., & Phillips, D. (1996). Conflict in close relationships: An attachment perspective. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71(5), 899–914. https://doi.org/10.1037//0022-3518.104.22.1689
Tracy, J. L., Shaver, P. R., Albino, A. W., & Cooper, M. L. (2003). Attachment styles and adolescent sexuality. In P. Florsheim (Ed.), Adolescent romantic relations and sexual behavior: Theory, research, and practical implications (pp. 137–159). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
Van Houdenhove, E., Enzlin, P., & Gijs, L. (2017). A positive approach toward asexuality: Some first steps, but still a long way to go [Commentary]. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46(3), 647–651. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-016-0921-1
Van Houdenhove, E., Gijs, L., T’Sjoen, G., & Enzlin, P. (2014). Asexuality: Few facts, many questions. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 40(3), 175–192. https://doi.org/10.1080/0092623X.2012.751073
Van Houdenhove, E., Gijs, L., T’Sjoen, G., & Enzlin, P. (2015a). Stories about asexuality: A qualitative study on asexual women. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 41(3), 262–281. https://doi.org/10.1080/0092623X.2014.889053
Van Houdenhove, E., Gijs, L., T’Sjoen, G., & Enzlin, P. (2015b). Asexuality: A multidimensional approach. Journal of Sex Research, 52(6), 669–678. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2014.898015
Yule, M. A., Brotto, L. A., & Gorzalka, B. B. (2015). A validated measure of no sexual attraction: The Asexuality Identification Scale. Psychological Assessment, 27(1), 148–160. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0038196
Yule, M. A., Brotto, L. A., & Gorzalka, B. B. (2017). Sexual fantasy and masturbation among asexual individuals: An in-depth exploration. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46(1), 311–328. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-016-0870-8
Zheng, L., & Su, Y. (2018). Patterns of asexuality in China: Sexual activity, sexual and romantic attraction, and sexual desire. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 47(4), 1265–1276. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-018-1158-y
Part of this research was funded by a research grant awarded by Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia to David L. Rodrigues (Ref.: 2020.00523.CEECIND).
Conflicts of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
All procedures were in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Ethics Committee at Iscte-Instituto Universitário de Lisboa and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Carvalho, A.C., Rodrigues, D.L. Sexuality, Sexual Behavior, and Relationships of Asexual Individuals: Differences Between Aromantic and Romantic Orientation. Arch Sex Behav 51, 2159–2168 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-021-02187-2