You and me could write a panromance

"Ace" is a term often adopted by people that identify with an asexual orientation

After all my talk of limerence and pansexuality, I’ve been thinking more about romance in relation to sexual orientation. Turns out the asexual community is all over this topic, employing the term “panromance” to describe the ability to have romantic feelings for all number of people, not dictated by the gender binary. Probably the greatest quote ever on this subject comes from Urban Dictionary, that gives an example of panromantic in a sentence:

“I don’t get it. Bretta is totally hot, and she’ll date anything, but she’s still a virgin.”
“That’s because she’s panromantic asexual”.

The term panromantic has been embraced by many self-identified asexuals, also known as “aces”. So what does being ace mean, and how does asexuality and panromance trouble our ordinary notions of the importance of sex in relationships? While Wikipedia defines asexuality as a non-orientation that entails having no interest in sexual activities, AVENwiki (a wiki made by the Asexual Visibility and Education Network) describes asexuality as a particular kind of orientation, distinct from practices of abstinence, celibacy, etc. While asexuality is often described in terms of lacking (lack of sexual interest, etc), the ace community reminds us that they are still interested in having meaningful human relationships and deep romances.

However (as usual) there are some people that insist that asexuality is just another example of “not queer enough”. While I can see why some people might get defensive about sex and sluthood in a world where sex has been simultaneously commodified and monogamised, I also think that the asexual not-interested-in-sex orientation is completely valid (and, after all not really that heterosexually hegemonic when you consider that the reproductive family unit is promoted as the foundation of society). The confounding of asexuality with being anti-sex seems commonplace. But just because someone would rather eat cake than have sex, doesn’t mean they want to stop other people from relishing in the activity.

Cake- a symbol often used by aces to describe pleasure in things other than sex (e.g. "Sex? Nah, let's just eat cake")

What I like about the way asexuality embraces romance and other ways of understanding attraction, is the reminder that it’s not all about sex. Like this entry on affectional orientation states, romance and sex are all part of a larger fabric of human relationality. Embracing terms like panromance (or polyromance, biromance, demisexuality, etc!) even if you aren’t an ace, broadens our ability to conceptualise our own orientations and experiences, and can help us to build a multi-faceted self-understanding rather than a straight and narrow approach. So let’s embrace the A in the alphabet soup- we should sit down and share some cake together sometime, we might just learn something new about ourselves in the process.

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Limerence: the key to sexual orientation?

Every day it seems that I am introduced to a new term related to sex, gender, sexuality or gender expression – which serves as a reminder to me of the complexity of human sexuality. Today the word is “limerence“, probably the most poetic term encountered during my week. While “girlfag” might spring to mind a grunged-out beat poetry cafe, “limerence” smacks of English romantics sitting on benches under lime-tree bowers.

When it comes down to it, limerence is a classy name for the word “crush“. Apparently first described by psychologist Dorothy Tennov in the late 1970s (and not in the 18th Century as I had lovingly imagined), limerence describes that anxious/exciting period of time when you can’t stop thinking about someone – also known as having a heavy dose of love blindness or seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses. The “symptoms” include: fantasies and constant thoughts about your Limerent Object, self doubt and rejection fears, feelings of uncertainty versus ones of hope, all those embarrassing physical factors like literally not being able to talk, and a desire for partnership (i.e. not just sexual attraction).

This last aspect of limerence got me thinking about how this idea might relate to our understanding of sexual orientation. Turns out that the font of all knowledge (i.e. Wikipedia) gives a pretty interesting definition of sexual orientation as: “an enduring pattern of attraction – emotional, romantic, sexual, or some combination of these – to the opposite sex, the same sex, both, or neither, and the genders that accompany them” (note: this definition does not account for pansexuality). But what about those that claim polyamory as a sexual orientation? How could a poly disposition be differentiated from other orientations if we use the wiki definition? The answer might be limerence.

Those experiencing limerence may appear wistful

Lawrence Mass’ 1990 work, Dialogues of the Sexual Revolution, includes a conversation with controversial sexologist John Money regarding the relationship between limerence and sexuality. In this interview, Money claims that limerence (as described by the symptoms above- fantasies, desire to partner up, etc) has more to do with our orientations than pure sexual desire. This rings true for the consideration of polyamorous orientation – which is described as the ability to have strong feelings for more than one person and/or ethically maintain more than one partnership at a time. When faced with the concept of polyamory, many people respond with, “I could never do that” – perhaps non-poly people can have attraction to someone else while partnered, but cannot maintain limerence for more than one person? After all, one commonly noted “cure” is finding a new Limerent Object…so maybe the key to poly orientation is the ability for simultaneous-limerence.

Here’s a video exploring limerence and first crushes (lovely):

Pansexuality: because bisexuality is so passé?

Pansexuals strike back

When I talk to people about gender and sexuality, a lot of people tell me that they “don’t fit into any category of sexuality”. Then I tell them about pansexuality, and I usually get an “oh, right. That’s what I am”.

Pansexuality describes a sexual orientation wherein a person has the ability to be attracted to a diverse range of people across sex and gender spectrums. Pansexuals describe their attraction as different from bisexuality, which only considers the gender binary- if you are bisexual, by definition you are attracted to either men or women. Thus it is often claimed that pansexuals are “gender blind” (though some pansexuals would argue that this is not the case- sex and gender may play a role in attraction, but their sexual orientation doesn’t rule anybody out because of their sex or gender presentation).

While academia seems to be running to catch up, some of the most interesting perspectives on pansexuality come from YouTube posts like this. What seems startlingly obvious about the presence of pansexual self-proclaimers on the internet, is their age. While I’m sure that with the evolution of the term into more popular usage there will be more and more people of all ages that adopt the category to describe their own orientation – but for now, it seems that (overwhelmingly) Generation Z is embracing the idea.

The pan flag

It will be interesting to see how this identity discourse will pan out. What effect will pansexuality as an accepted and well known sexual orientation have on our views on sexuality’s relationship with the gender binary in the first place?

What’s great about pansexuality is that it allows a new way of thinking about desire and love, that is (apparently) outside of gender. Though, I do find the pansexuality vs bisexuality debate a little concerning (our sexuality is better than your sexuality- really?). Admittedly there are both those asserting their pansexuality and those reclaiming bisexuality in the face of the new pansexual discourse.

After all, I can’t help but wonder whether some people currently identifying as bisexual meant something closer to pansexual all along?