Journal Club: Antonsen 2020, “Ace and Aro”

After a 7-year hiatus, I revived the ace journal club. I invited a few local people, and we discussed the following paper:

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, 1615–1630.

We’re continuing the journal club on a new Discord server, and will meet once a month. We will discuss a variety of academic works in ace studies, ranging from gender studies to psychology. If you’re interested, please e-mail me at for an invite.

In late August (exact schedule TBD) we will discuss chapter 3 in Ela Przybylo’s new book, Asexual Erotics: “Growing into Asexuality: The Queer Erotics of Childhood”.

Below the fold, we have organized discussion notes.

This paper combines data from 7 previous studies conducted by the Brotto lab, and distinguishes between the aromantic and romantic participants. They found that 74% of asexual participants were romantic and 26% were aromantic, although it should be noted that this is after removing about 15% of participants, who didn’t answer any of the questions that could distinguish them. Differences and similarities between the groups are quantified and discussed.

(By the nature of the journal club discussion format, we do a lot of nitpicking, but this should not be taken as a general judgment on the paper.  Overall, we like the paper a lot, and you can tell because we revived the journal club just to talk about it.)

General comments
– The first author is an undergrad in Brotto’s lab! They seem to be aware of ace community discussions, at one point citing a tumblr post.
– 200 people were not classified as aromantic or romantic, do those reflect people who are neither? It’s really just people who didn’t answer any of the distinguishing questions, so it’s hard to say.
– This is the first major quantitative paper we know of that adopts “allosexual” (although it doesn’t use “alloromantic”).

Gray/demi people
– They included gray/demi people in the asexual category. I agree with this, but I wish they had said how many people were in this group, and tried an analysis without those people to see if the results were robust to their inclusion. Although, we can see why this might have been difficult, as the seven different studies might have completely different ways to distinguish gray/demi people from asexuals.
– In the Ace Community Survey, gray/demi people are more likely to be alloromantic, which is another reason it would have been nice to see that breakdown.
– Also in the interpretation they seem to assume the entire asexual group doesn’t experience sexual attraction, which doesn’t entirely mesh with the inclusion of gray/demi people

Lisa Diamond
– Antonsen prominently cites this 2003 paper by Lisa Diamond. Diamond argued that romantic attraction is not intrinsically gender oriented, but the gender orientation bleeds over from sexual attraction. On the one hand, as Antonsen notes, this seems inconsistent with homo/heteroromantic aces. On the other hand, it does seem to fit with the fact that aces are disproportionately aromantic and bi/panromantic.
– The Lisa Diamond theory is basically an evopsych theory, which makes us skeptical. But at least it makes testable predictions.

Allosexual respondents
– We’re curious where the allosexual participants come from. We’d have to look at all the source studies.
– What are the romantic orientation distributions of the allosexual group? It says 13.3% reported divergent orientations (i.e. romantic and sexual orientations don’t match). That’s surprisingly high! We wish there was a breakdown. Are there any allosexual aromantics? Are they mostly bisexual?
– 76.2% of allosexual people were heteroromantic. (As far as we can tell, that’s only in the abstract and not the main text.)
– Allosexual aromantic people are mentioned in the discussion, but not quantified. At least we have something to cite now.
– I’d expect allosexual aro people to be overrepresented in this study because they were recruiting from ace communities, and I expect that people in ace communities who do not qualify as ace by the standards of this study are disproportionately aro.
– The income and education differences imply some age distribution differences between the allosexual and asexual groups.

Inventory of Interpersonal Problems (IIP)
– Aromantic asexuals scored higher on the cold subscale of the IIP than romantic asexuals.
– An earlier Brotto study found that asexuals scored higher than allosexuals. Here’s an old article discussing the issue.
– As discussed in the paper, this is likely because some of the “coldness” questions ask directly about love and affection.
– Why don’t they just remove the offending questions from the coldness scale if they’re worried about their wording? Probably because there were only 4 questions and at least 2 of them are causing issues.
– Alloromantic aces scored higher on “overly nurturant” and “intrusive” scales. We’re curious why that is.

– The paper used 9 gender categories. Were transgender people really a separate category?
– The 9 categories seemed a bit unnecessary since unfortunately they don’t have enough statistical power to tell if there’s a difference between the asexual and aromantic groups. But still interesting to see.
– The asexual group has relatively more agender/neutrois participants than genderqueer participants, while allosexual groups show the opposite pattern, but it’s not clear if the difference reaches the level of significance.
– Some differences might just be differences in language. Anecdotally it seems asexual people are more likely to identify as agender but sometimes that might mean nearly the same thing as genderqueer in other contexts.

– There’s a potential for duplicate participants.
– They seem to be very careful with their language, a few times feeling the need to justify the use of words like “homosexual” or “divergent”. Some of these notes feel unnecessary (e.g. “divergent” doesn’t really sound negative, sounds more like a dystopian teen with super powers), although in general we appreciate the thoughtfulness.
– In table 1, we notice that 7 people were categorized as romantic on the basis of having a nonzero number of romantic partners in their lifetime, which is curious because elsewhere in the paper they show that aromantic have on average 0.7 past romantic partners. It seemed strange to include these people since 7 isn’t even enough to impact the results much.
– They cite both the 2014 Ace Community Survey and the 2016 one. Nice! Oddly we find that academics often only cite the 2014 Ace Community Survey report, and we wonder if they’re just copying citations from each other.
– In table 6 we were puzzled by the different values of n in each row. Although, it doesn’t seem like there were any interesting findings here anyway.
– Education: what’s the difference between “some college” and “some undergraduate studies”? Must be from different studies?
– It might be interesting to distinguish individual and household income.

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.
This entry was posted in aromanticism, Articles, Research, romantic orientation and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Journal Club: Antonsen 2020, “Ace and Aro”

  1. Coyote says:

    “…although it should be noted that this is after removing about 15% of participants, who didn’t answer any of the questions that could distinguish them.”


    • Sennkestra says:

      To clarify, the vast majority of that group of 191 respondents came from Study 5 (n=185), which was their first study in 2010, and who *couldn’t* answer because the questionnaire just didn’t ask them anything related to romantic identity or interests at that time. So there were probably only a handful sorted out for actually skipping questions.

      Although, that reminds me of one of the things that I forgot to mention in the journal club, which is that their choice of how to number the studies was bizarre, and I have no idea what the logic was (definitely not chronological order). Doesn’t affect the findings at all but made me curious why they did it that way.

      • Siggy says:

        I hadn’t realized they were mostly from one of the studies! That means that the 15% that were excluded are not reflective of people who are neither alloromantic nor aromantic. Instead, quoi/gray/demi/etc.- romantics would have been categorized based on how they responded to dichotomous questions.

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  5. Nat says:

    A little (very late) on this post, but just found this site. On one of the nitpicking points – the study was conducted by Canadians based on the author affiliations. In Canada college and university (aka undergraduate studies) are actually different types of institutions. University is what people in the U.S. would call college, and college in Canada is more similar to community college in the states. So the differentiation between some college and some undergraduate studies is important in studies that include education!

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