Dr. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist, has conducted extensive research using fMRI scans to study the human brain in lust and romantic love. The above link is a video of a lecture she gave in 2010 on her work in this area.
The reason I want to share this with you is because of how groundbreaking her findings are in connection to nonsexual love and romance (and also, perhaps help people confused about romantic attraction understand what it is, in a way?): Fisher discovered that sexual lust, romantic love, and attachment are three separate and different chemical processes in the brain. While she has framed these as consecutive stages of romantic-sexual pair-bonding, she also acknowledges that each of these brain systems can operate individually, without the other two. This scientific evidence can support the experiences of nonsexual romance and even nonsexual/nonromantic attachment (nonromantic sexual attraction is nothing new to anyone, of course). Her work is proof that sexual attraction and romantic attraction are two separate functions, on a basic neurological level, even when they’re happening at the same time. Because sexual attraction and romantic love are two different neurological processes, there’s an easily available explanation for romantic asexuals, aromantic sexual people, and mixed orientation sexual people, on a scientific level. If the romance system activates when a romantic asexual falls in love but the lust system doesn’t or if the lust system activates in the brain of an aromantic sexual person but the romance system doesn’t, we can thus scientifically confirm these experiences. We should also be able to study the brains of mixed orientation sexual people and see a consistency of the lust system lighting up for one gender (or both genders) and the romance system lighting up for a different gender. Another thing these separate systems/reactions suggest is the potential for a person to feel romantic feelings toward someone that both exist without sexual attraction and that exist contrary to the person’s romantic orientation (ex: a heteromantic heterosexual man developing romantic nonsexual feelings for another man).
In the future, I would love for scientists to study the brain chemistry of self-identified asexuals and aromantics, both for the purpose of analyzing how romantic asexuals experience romantic attraction in the brain, in the absence of sexual lust, and what goes on in the brains of aromantics who love a person or people in a primary way. Is romance in the brain of an asexual any different than it is in the brain of a romantic-sexual person? If the romance center of the brain and the romance chemicals don’t act up in aromantics, what does love look like in their brains? Do they skip right to the attachment brain system that is responsible for emotional bonding in long-term romantic relationships or is there something different going on? What goes on in the brain of a person who feels intense nonsexual, nonromantic love? How different is that reaction from lust or romance, chemically? What if it isn’t very different at all?
For a succinct breakdown of the brain science behind the stages, visit the science of love.