Navigating a sexual relationship as an asexual person
Recently, I got married. Getting married was something I had come to realize I would never do because my asexual orientation and my queerness just didn’t carve a path for marriage. I’m not interested in sex and really wasn’t all that interested in dating. I had made peace with all of that. The story of my life as a “straight but broken robot person” before I met my partner is for another time. Yet, here I am, recently married to a queer man who is NOT asexual and does like and want sex in our partnership.
One of the unique difficulties asexual folks have is there are almost no models of relationships that include asexual people. Popular media is heteronormative and depictions of relationships almost completely revolve around sex. Even gay and queer models for relationships include sex- usually a lot of it because we still hypersexualize queer people. Whether those models for relationships are healthy or not, asexual people are routinely excluded from hetero narratives AND queer narratives. So we ace (short for asexual) folks are never quite sure we’re doing this relationship thing right.
Those of us who have muddled through somehow and found ourselves in relationships often find ourselves partnered with sexual people. So how do we make that work? While I don’t desire or need sex myself, my partner does. Finding a way to have occasional, consensual, safe, and healthy sex is important to our relationship. Recently, while speaking to another ace friend struggling herself, this is the list of tips I offered her based on what I’ve learned. I’m not prescribing this for anyone, I’m merely offering it as one model since we have so few.
- I’ve worked hard to become precise about the language regarding my (a)sexuality. Some people who identify as asexual (or one of the other identities under the asexual umbrella) can develop sexual arousal for their partners after strong emotional connections and some are completely repulsed by the idea of sex at all. For me, I think of this as different “levels” from oblivious and indifferent to sex all the way up to repulsed by it. I experience all of these levels and the levels change day to day. Being able to clearly tell my partner where I’m at any given day or night reduces my stress and guilt about turning down sex when I need to and saying yes to sex when I can.
- Based on these levels I’ve identified, I assess what kind of sexual activities I am willing or not willing to do with my partner and then communicate them in advance. Today I might be willing to get him off but not want him to touch me, other days I can manage a brief make out session, where many days I don’t want any sexual contact of any kind. Communicating this before we start engaging in sexual activity helps me reduce during-sex stress and sets clear boundaries for my partner. Historically, before I had the language of asexuality, even if I wanted to make out I would become so anxious thinking my partner would expect more once we started, I couldn’t even enjoy the first kiss. Now, with a clear end point defined, I am able to ease some of that stress and better connect with my partner.
- I’ve asked my partner to communicate directly and in advance when he would like to have sex. If it were up to me we’d never have sex because it would never occur to me. If he doesn’t ask, we definitely aren’t having sex. But if he asks to have sex like right now? That usually results in me becoming frozen by stress, anxiety, and indecision as I weigh my guilt from saying no against my level of aversion. Sometimes my partner will ask me as much as a day in advance giving me time to mentally prepare. When I do decide I can have sex, I focus on the fact that this is one way I show love to my partner even if I don’t personally get much out of it. Showing my partner love in this way (when it’s safe and possible for me to do so) is good for him physically/sexually and good for me emotionally.
- When I can’t or don’t want to have sex we don’t. This should be a so-obvious-it-doesn’t-need-to-be-said kind of thing but rape culture is still a thing even within relationships. I say no when I can’t. I sometimes still feel bad when I say no, but I do not do sex out of guilt. And luckily, I have an amazing, supportive partner who does not push it. When I can’t have sex, we focus on other types of physical affection and intimacy. This connection and vulnerability strengthens and grows our relationship. It is only because I can be vulnerable with this man that I can have sex at all.
These tips aren’t rocket science. But they also weren’t easy to figure out right away. It took us a lot of time and tears to figure out a way through. Without any models to show us what our relationship should and could look like, we had to make our own.
If you think you might be asexual, are asexual and need support, or don’t know what asexual means, you can head to asexuality.org where the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) has definitions, frequently asked questions, and safe, supportive message boards. You can also reach out to me directly on Twitter @colocha_rachel.