6 terms that have been redefined by aces

From the very beginning, ace communities have created their own words to describe and talk about our experiences. In some cases, we take previously existing words, and use them in a way that effectively redefines them. This can occasionally lead to confusion, as people who encounter ace language for the first time might misinterpret some of our words. Conversely, aces who have only encountered the words in ace contexts are confused when they find people outside the ace community using those words in a different way.

This is a short list of words that are used both inside and outside ace communities, with different meanings. For purposes of this post, I will take a neutral and descriptive stance, without assuming that ace community meanings are superior or inferior. But this does not mean that I take a neutral stance in general, nor do I think readers should take a neutral stance.

1. Platonic

In ace communities, “platonic” is one of several categories of relationships–other commonly known categories are “sexual” and “romantic”. A platonic relationship is a deep connection that does not have a sexual or romantic element. We also often speak of “platonic attraction” which is some internal feeling that leads people to want or seek platonic relationships.


Outside of ace communities, the phrase “platonic love” is often used to describe non-sexual love. In contrast to ace community usage, it’s usually implied that platonic love is romantic. For example, Urban Dictionary’s current top definition is “A romantic bond between a couple that involves no lust or carnality; often a deep pure love.” The romantic element is also supported by Plato’s dialogues, in which platonic love is a form of eros, a romantic concept of love.

A few caveats: Most people aren’t very familiar with ancient Greek dialogues, so I wouldn’t consider them defining. Often people don’t have a clear idea whether platonic love is romantic or not, because people who aren’t influenced by ace communities simply don’t think about that distinction very much.

2. Libido

In ace communities, “libido” is a synonym for sex drive, or people’s drive to engage in sexual activity (either solo or partnered). In my experience, “sex drive” is slightly more common, but “libido” also has its uses. Most notably, “non-libidoist” is a common term for aces who don’t masturbate.

Outside ace communities, libido usually means the same thing. However, sometimes it refers to a concept in psychoanalysis–the questionably scientific discipline established by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. An old version of the Wikipedia article says, “Libido in its common usage means sexual desire; however more technical definitions, such as those found in the work of Carl Jung, are more general, referring to libido as the free creative—or psychic—energy an individual has to put toward personal development or individuation.”

3. Sexual desire

Outside ace communities, “sexual desire” is synonymous with sex drive, libido, and sexual attraction. Obviously this is unacceptable in an ace context, where sexual attraction and sex drive aren’t even close to being similar.

In ace communities, “sexual desire” can be considered similar to “sex drive”, but with a few differences. In an ace context, “sex drive” emphasizes unpartnered sexual activity. “Sexual desire”, on the other hand, emphasizes partnered sexual activity, often to the exclusion of unpartnered sexual activity. And where “sex drive” is a drive, presumably instinctive and internal, “sexual desire” is a desire, which leaves open the possibility that it is not internally driven. But many people use “sexual desire” to refer to internal instinct, and would not use it to describe a desire based on external factors.

4. LGBTQA

In ace communities, whenever you have one of these acronyms, the A emphatically stands for Ace/Asexual. Ace communities are hyper-aware that some people think the A stands for Ally, and vociferously insist that this is incorrect. I always wonder, are aces being descriptive (“this is what the A stands for”) or prescriptive (“this is what the A should stand for”)?

As a descriptive matter, it is clear that many people use the A to stand for Ally–otherwise, who would we be mad at? There is also concrete evidence that using A for Ally predates using A for Asexual. Although we don’t know when the A started being added, we know that it was first mentioned on Wikipedia in 2004, where it said it stood for “straight allies”. Asexuality was first mentioned in that article in 2006, and even then only under the “variants” subsection.

5. Sex-positive

In ace communities, “sex-positive” refers to a political stance, where you are fine with other people having sex. Note that “sex-positive” may have additional controversial connotations, and people may disidentify with it even if they are fine with other people having sex. Also note that “sex-negative” is not necessarily an opposing political view, it’s a political view with a different emphasis, often inspired by this essay.

Since around 2014 or so, some people in the ace community have also used “sex-positive” as a synonym for “sex-favorable”, referring to aces who are willing to have sex. This is nonstandard usage that will make some people (like me) mad.

Outside the ace community, “sex-positive” is still a political term, but it tends to have very different connotations. Outside the ace community, the concept of “being fine with sex” is almost entirely vacuous as it describes most allo people. The meaning and connotations of “sex-positive” are mostly derived from the “feminist sex wars” in the 70s and 80s, which was chiefly about how feminists should address pornography and sex work. The “sex-positive” side would be considered the victor in terms of how much influence it has had on contemporary feminism. Because of the decline of anti-porn feminism, “sex-positive” is now used to describe a large number of feminist views regarding sex.

6. Asexual

In the ace community, an asexual is someone who experiences little or no sexual attraction or sexual desire. There are some variations on that definition, which people like to think really hard about, but I won’t talk about that here.

Of course, the term “asexual” as we know it was defined circa 2000, and people used it to mean a variety of things before then. Because I subscribe to Google alerts for “asexual” I can attest that it continues to mean a variety of things today. Many alerts are for “asexual reproduction” in biology, although I filter those out so I don’t know how common they are. There are also a few instances where people use it to mean “sexless” or “genderless”. And there are some instances where people appear confused about the concept. But asexuality as a sexual orientation is the most common definition outside of biology. The current Merriam-Webster definitions strike me as correct, although they could be reordered to reflect current prevalence.

This was just a short list. Can you think of any more?

About Siggy

Siggy is an ace activist based in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and has a Ph.D. in physics. He has another blog where he also talks about math, philosophy, godlessness, and social criticism. His other hobbies include board games and origami.
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13 Responses to 6 terms that have been redefined by aces

  1. I can’t think of any other term at the moment, but oho, I still see people saying that asexuality is “the sublimation of libido” from time to time and the whole thing about having more energy to dedicate to creative pursuits and stuff.

    Other current use of asexuality I’ve seen, mostly in academic papers, is as a synonym of desexualization and the lack of sexual authonomy that affect certain people, like elders, disabled and neurodivergent folks, people from marginalized ethnic and racial groups, etc.

  2. luvtheheaven says:

    Another one I can think of is ace, which had and still has pretty specific English meanings before it became the slang term for the entire spectrum/umbrella of asexuality/the phonetic shortening…

    And the word Squish was actually a word in English that was chosen because of its English definition but now means something very specific in… Well aro spaces but also ace spaces.

    I am reading a book published in… I think? 1989, where asexual was used to mean celibate(&nonamorous), and I think nowadays it’s still sometimes used that way too. It’s also yes used to mean “not sexually attractive”?

    I certainly feel like the sex-favorable definition of sex-positive has gotten past the point of no return in ace communities, but I still hang out on tumblr too much… 😛 It bothers me a lot too.

    I was just attending a polyamory 101 presentation where the people in charge didn’t seem to agree sex-positive had anything to do with a feminist movement but more that it just meant that sex is overall a positive, good, healthy thing for people to have lots of (in lots of different ways!) and discouraging being judgmental of kink and nonmonogamy and stuff.

    That reminds me – poly and polyamorous kinda is defined differently in ace spaces, even kink is, because these things stop having to be sexual, and yes is expanding into the general poly conversation and the general kink spaces but I think you will see the definitions diverge a bit depending on how ace the space is or isn’t…

    And btw it’s actually spelled “Merriam”… 😉

    • In Spanish we don’t have the “sex-positive” problem, mostly because nobody that isn’t on ace tumblr seems to know those terms… but the few who do know them and use them and make graphics and stuff base the terminology on a page from the Asexualpedia (the AVENes wiki) that’s actually a translation of the 2014 article “Le persone (asessuali) e il sesso” by Lea Vittoria, where she refers to the possible political stances as sex-positive, indifferent, sex-negative and antisexual which… isn’t the way that model(?) is talked about in English. I may have written a whole 1k+ post about this in my blog last year.

      And about the poly things, i was surprised one or two panels i saw with ace folks in Spain along with local polyamorous / non-traditional relationship groups where the latter seemed to have a better knowledge and understanding of QPRs that what i see on our ace communities here. Like, they knew the term and the meaning, considered them when talking about the types of significant non-romantic relationships one can form, included them when talking about open and group relationships, etc. That’s like, impressive for me. Specially because i’m not sure if the people in those panels knew each other before the events, so the poly groups may not have got that knowledge from local ace folks.

      • luvtheheaven says:

        Oh yeah, this poly 101 thing I happened to be at last Friday also explicitly was explaining platonic life partnerships, no sex but different than “just friendship”, they didn’t use the word queerplatonic and even “platonic life partner” seemed like half a struggle for the leading speaker guy to remember how to phrase it, but he seemed to accept and understand it overall better than what I see in my local ace community too lol!! That is pretty cool and makes me happy. All the people in this audience were perplexed and confused by the concept but the actual poly people were very “this just is a thing, not impossible to wrap your head around”. 😛

  3. Joshua Oliver says:

    “In ace communities, whenever you have one of these acronyms, the A emphatically stands for Ace/Asexual.”

    God forbid the ace community remember that aros exist, amirite.

    • Rivers says:

      It’s almost like the general acronym isn’t the best way to be inclusive and accepting of all people.

      • I’m so used to LGBTQA (or variations that include an A) standing for Allies that I don’t even bother to push for changing the acronym. I just consider myself under the Q and leave it at that.

        • Rivers says:

          Overall, I think I would prefer we change the whole acronym to something like MOGAI or SAGA. There’s just no way to be properly inclusive and practical at the same time with the current state of things. I know there are places out there that use alternative community terms, but I wish it was more the norm.

          • toafan says:

            I know I’ve seen MOGAI before, but I don’t remember what it stands for. I haven’t encounted SAGA in this context. (Says the newbie, so.)

            FWIW, the term I reach for is GSRM (for Gender, Sexual, & Romantic Minorities).

          • Rivers says:

            SAGA is very rarely used. I just really like it. It stands for “Sexual and Gender Awareness”, though there are a few variations. Such as the “A” standing for “Acceptance” or “Alliance”. It’s just very easy to say, includes everybody under the sun without putting some identities over others, and it has positive connotations, making it a very cool community term (my opinion).

            I’ve also heard about GSRM, and I do think I might start using that as one of my preferred terms too. It’s nice and inclusive, short, and easy to remember. I personally have trouble remembering acronyms sometimes (I put the letters all out of order and switch everything around), which is one of the reasons I like SAGA, but GSRM is easy (I say as I mentally switch the S and the R).

  4. Coyote says:

    “This is nonstandard usage that will make some people (like me) mad.”
    I was about to say!

  5. demiandproud says:

    Well, terms that certainly changed for me, inside/outside the ace community are:

    Sexual:
    As in, the opposite of asexual, especially as adjective, especially when referring to attraction and orientation. Helped along by the fact that Dutchies have no gay/straight/queer people, we have homosexuals, heterosexuals, bisexuals, and identify as “I am a hetero” (noun) or “I am bi” (adjective). So “sexual people” seems like a really logical collective way to refer to them… though a confusing one if the context isn’t right.

    Sexuality:
    Now having two meanings, as in, the entirety of everything you associate with gender and sexual identities and behaviours in a person, essentially a translation of “Seksualiteit”, even if the terms in Dutch and English are not exact equivalents. The second, again as an antonym of asexuality. (which, yeah, I really need to find a different word)

    Romantic:
    Now as a level of attraction, often with a prefix, far more than “oh that’s so romantic”. Also as orientation, how asexual people define the preferred gender of their partner in phrases like “gray-asexual homoromantic”. Also as an antonym of aromantic.

    Orientation:
    From “sexual orientation” to “description of preferred partner, type of attraction and how often you do/don’t want to have sex (never/rarely/conditionally)”

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