What Are Reciprosexuality and Reciproromanticism?

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Image by John Togasaki / CC BY

A few months ago, I was floating the idea of guest posts to some new writers when one of them asked me, “Has anyone written about reciprosexuality/reciproromanticism yet?”

“No,” I told them. “And that would be a great topic.”

A few other writers urged them on, telling them they should make that article happen. However, nothing ultimately materialized. Which is fine. Writing can be a difficult process. Inspiration doesn’t always lead smoothly into a finished product (it’s easy to get stranded mid-piece). And people’s lives are busy.

But their suggestion did stick with me. As did a lingering curiosity about both terms.

So I did some research. Here’s what I found.

What Are Reciprosexuality and Reciproromanticism?

First, a definition. Here is the most comprehensive yet concise one I found:

Reciprosexual or recipsexual is a sexual orientation on the asexual spectrum meaning someone who does not experience sexual attraction unless they know that the other person is sexually attracted to them first.

Reciprosexual can be a sexual orientation on its own or can be combined with other orientations. For example, one could be reciprosexual and gay, meaning that when one does experience sexual attraction it’s only towards people of the same gender.

The romantic counterpart of reciprosexual is reciproromantic.

Or in other words, a reciprosexual person chiefly experiences sexual attraction and a reciproromantic person chiefly experiences romantic attraction as an act of reciprocation. They might like you back, but they never like you first.

These Terms Aren’t Nearly As New As You Might Think They Are

I had initially suspected that reciprosexual and reciproromantic had to be extremely new labels, perhaps coined in the past few years or so tops. But I was wrong. I was able to find references to both terms dating back as far as 2005.

Admittedly, 2005 is not the Stone Age. But it’s not last week either.

And it’s quite a while in the life cycle of the Internet (in comparison, the word “ghosting” has only been in wide circulation since 2011).

Why Aren’t Reciprosexual and Reciproromantic More Widely Known Terms?

As a consummate lover of neologisms (i.e., new terms for things), I was surprised I hadn’t heard of it sooner.

However, in spite of the fact that I have many people close to me who are asexual and I am myself occasionally mistaken for being demisexual (because I prefer to move slowly in relationships for logistical reasons), I am not on the asexual spectrum (I’m allosexual; well, I’m actually hypersexual). I don’t regularly read or participate in asexual forums either. That’s probably why I hadn’t heard of them before. I was mostly only able to find references to the terms in asexual forums, asexual blogs, and the occasional LGBTQIA online dictionary.

In my research, I also noted that the terms were considered controversial even within the asexual community with many ace folks arguing that the terms were pathologizing. Clinical. Psychological diagnostic labels.

This charge gave me pause. While clinical psych isn’t my preferred field (I’m more into social psych), I do tend to keep myself well read about psychology in general. Had I missed something important?  If they were diagnostic, why hadn’t I even encountered either of this terms before in passing?

What was going on?

With further research, I was able to confirm that no, reciprosexual and reciproromantic aren’t psychological diagnoses at all. Apparently what the detractors of the labels meant when they called them clinical labels was that they felt they were clinical-sounding. (Note: This is not how clinical labeling actually works.)

That led me to wonder: Why did folks think they sounded like clinical labels? It’s impossible to know for sure. Because the critics didn’t give their reasoning for why either term sounded like a diagnosis. Not in any discussion I could find anyway. But my best guess would be is that it’s because the labels are longer words that combine two Latin roots. A lot of medical words have this same structure. (However, a lot of non-medical words do, too. But oh well.)

In any event, I would guess that this infighting about the terms also didn’t help them reach a wider audience, the way a term like demisexuality has.

Very Different Reactions to the Labels

After I did my research, I didn’t have a gut reaction to any of it. It was interesting, but I was having trouble really sinking into the meat of the ideas. Feeling one way or another about them. And in my reading, I’d noticed that people typically had very strong reactions to the terms, positive or negative.

So I approached a couple of friends to talk about what I’d learned. I introduced both terms to them. They had very different reactions.

After I explained the orientation to one friend, they said, “That doesn’t sound healthy. It sounds like control issues. Like you don’t want to put yourself out there and risk getting hurt like the rest of us.”

After I spoke with another, they said something very different. “There are special labels for that? Isn’t that what everyone does though?”

Bridging the Gap Between Two Very Different Reactions

I hadn’t been expecting this. For two people who seem to have a lot in common to have taken such seemingly radically different positions:

  1. That’s an unhealthy coping mechanism.
  2. Everyone does it.

But as I looked at both positions, I realized that they weren’t necessarily opposed. Both things could be true. After all, I can think of other coping mechanisms that are very common that could be considered unhealthy in certain contexts.

But was this a case of that? I wasn’t so sure. I wasn’t sold.

Perhaps one of my friends was way off base on this. They, like everyone else, are both occasionally wrong about things. Typically, however, they’re at least close

And there was yet another scenario: Both positions could be false. However, while still quite possible, I found this scenario to be even more unlikely. Again, they’re usually at least close even when they’re wrong.

And as I thought through my friends’ statements, I saw another possibility. A quite simple explanation  that rang quite true to me: My friends would both be correct — if they weren’t mixing up behavior and orientation.

The Difference Between Sexual/Romantic Orientation and Behavior

I’m personally very familiar with the difference between sexual/romantic orientation and behavior.

Because, you see, while I’m not reciprosexual, I definitely had a period as a young person where I only dated people who seemed like they were into me and then I forced myself to try to reciprocate those feelings.

And that was certainly unhealthy behavior.

I can look back and see it would have been a different matter altogether if I hadn’t had any feelings at all for them and then found feelings emerging in response to theirs. Instead of forcing myself to date people who liked me first as a way of avoiding rejection.

That’s because I have sexual and romantic drives that are independent of whether I’m going to be accepted by that person or not. Desire and interest that spring up of their own volition, without my getting a lot of say in the matter. Those things are my sexual and romantic orientations.

But my behavior? I can modify that. And I often do. When I take things slowly for logistical reasons, it doesn’t mean I’m demisexual. Because it’s not any orientation or drive (or lack thereof) that’s causing my behaviors. But instead, it’s a conscious decision to ignore my predisposition to rush into relationships madly (as a hyperromantic, hypersexual person) and be cautious.

Different Labels for Different Lives

I personally can’t imagine what it’s like to experience sexual or romantic attraction only when someone is interested in me first. That’s simply not the way I work.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s not the way that someone else operates. That could be exactly what their life is like.

And while clearly the label isn’t intended for me to apply to myself personally, I can understand that there are labels that exist to serve people whose needs are different than my own.

And I’m glad that these labels exist for those who have those lightbulb moments. The ones where they say, “Oh wow, there’s a word for it? There’s a word for what I am? Someone else has felt like this? I’m not alone?”

*

Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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3 Comments

  1. I can definitely identify with both of these terms in my life. It definitely brings some of my previous behaviours and choices into better focus.

  2. I appreciate this article because I learned two new words :-).

    Also, I’m hypersexual and take things slow as well. I want to be sure we’re compatible before having sex because sex can sometimes cause an overlooking of incompatibilites, which creates an unhealthy relationship.

  3. Wow, I’m glad to have stumbled across this article. Almost every person I’ve dated has been because I knew they were interested in me, and the same for many people I’ve slept with. Sometimes I’ve wondered if that’s unhealthy, but I’m in my current relationship because of it.

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