Why Our Culture Needs to Stop Equating Sex and Love

People frequently ask me how I have dealt with having a semi-long-term friends with benefits without getting attached. Then, they ask me how I have had multiple semi-long term friends with benefits without getting attached. I usually reply that I just don’t—forming romantic connections with my friends with benefits has never been a priority. Of course, from time to time it does happen that I develop feelings for someone I casually hook up with, but for the most part it’s not an issue. Romantic feelings and sex, although they can overlap, are not inherently connected.

The belief that the two concepts are inherently linked is a large factor in why people misunderstand concepts like asexuality and aromanticism. The misunderstanding that asexuality and aromanticism are the same thing leads people to question how someone could be one of these but not the other. To clarify for anyone who does not understand these topics: someone who is asexual (ace): feels romantic attraction, but no sexual attraction; aromanticism (aro) is the opposite: someone who experiences sexual attraction, but no romantic attraction.

It is easy to misunderstand these two concepts when they are largely understood as being the same thing. In almost every movie or TV show I can think of people have consistent romantic and sexual attractions. However, the assumption that both types of attraction are the same is harmful to people whose attractions don’t align, and even for those who do.

It harms those who are ace and aro by sending them the message that they need to have both kinds of attraction to be valid. It invalidates their sexual or romantic experiences (or lack thereof). It assumes that to only have one type of attraction is in someway unfulfilling. It lessens the experiences of those who do not experience both by implying that romantic and sexual attraction can only exist together.

Along with those who are aro and/or ace, this method of thinking also negatively affects those whose sexual and romantic attractions do not align. For example, someone who is sexually straight but biromantic, or someone who is homosexual but romantically straight, or literally any combination of the two that do not match. People who have differing romantic and sexual attractions should not feel like they need to conform to the heteronormative view of sex and love as the same thing.

While this form of thinking is particularly harmful to those who are ace and/or aro, it is also damaging to those who experience consistent sexual and romantic attractions. This method of thinking says that if you have sex with someone you are going to catch feels. Conversely, it also says that if you have romantic feelings towards someone, sex is a necessary part of your relationship. Neither of these are true. This type of thinking invalidates relationships such as polyamory, friends-with-benefits, fuck buddies, open relationships, etc.

Conjoining sex and love also adds to the taboo around sex and sexuality. The message that all sex is linked to love adds shame to casual sex, instead of letting people do each freely. Sex is not a shameful act and everyone should be allowed to do it as casually or non-casually as they like.

This method of thinking is why people get so confused by my emotional detachment from my sexual partners. But sex is just sex, and it doesn’t always lead to love. We need to stop portraying the two as the same thing in books, movies and television. How many movies are there about friends with benefits who fall in love? I can think of multiple off the top of my head. How many movies are there with an ace or aro character (let alone protagonist)? Breaking down the barriers of how we talk about sex and love starts with representation. Sex and love should not be inherently equated because in doing so we are hurting the people around us, and even ourselves.