Recently, I’ve found myself in conversations with two different friends – one old, one new – both of whom had been identifying as demisexual and both of whom were coming around to the idea that they might actually be at the far end of the asexual spectrum, like me.
That in and of itself wasn’t a big surprise – exploring your sexuality can be a lifelong process, and it’s never too late to grow in your understanding of what your body wants or doesn’t want. What shocked me in both cases was the reason they had been holding on to the label of demisexual long after beginning to suspect it didn’t fit them: they thought being asexual would mean the end of any hope for love.
Easier to be demi?
I’ve spent a long time being sheltered from the idea that not having sex means not having any chance at a happy, healthy relationship. For any readers unaware, I’m twelve years and counting into my own happy, sexless relationship, so as someone who doesn’t generally read ladies’ mags or lifestyle columns it’s been along time since I was exposed to society’s weird ideas about love and sex.
That’s why I was completely pole-axed by some of the things that came out of these conversations. Both friends used phrases like “I managed to convince myself I was demi because it was easier.” Both also talked about the “advantage” they had in being able to tolerate sex (a trick I’ve never managed) – positing the real issue as being the bad feelings they had about themselves because they weren’t enjoying the act. In short: both of them thought of sex as something that was essential to their chances at a relationship, and both saw their lack of sexual desire as being a problem.
The existential horror of a sexless relationship
And honestly, when I look at the messages the world is sending us, the only thing surprising about that is my own naivety. A quick google search for the term “sexless relationships” reveals a slew of headlines that are, frankly, terrifying: ‘Can You Bring Attraction Back to a Sexless Relationship?’ ‘Stuck in a Sexless Relationship? What it could mean and how to fix it.’ ‘Should You Stay in a Sexless Relationship?’ ‘Can a Sexless Marriage Ever Survive?’ (emphasis mine, because good grief).
From the Sydney Morning Herald to the New York Times, everyone is shouting at us that a relationship without sex is a broken relationship, and if you can’t fix it you should run like hell.
For Samantha,* my new acquaintance, it felt safer to hold on to the idea of being demi for a full four years than to tell the man she loved that she wasn’t sexually attracted to him. Sex, to her, was a relationship maintenance activity – something she did to make him happy, not because she enjoyed it herself. Over time, though, “it went from being a thing I didn’t want to do into being a thing I didn’t want to do” (emphasis hers).
Though Sam eventually accepted that she couldn’t hide how she felt, by then their relationship was already on rocky ground – her coming out was just one of the final breaking points. “He was always very understanding,” she told me, “but it’s hard to tell someone that you aren’t attracted to them in the way they wish you were.”
But does that mean there’s no hope for those of us who just don’t want to have sex?
No. Of course it doesn’t. I call bullshit.
Ben and I are living proof that a sexless relationship can work out fine. That isn’t to say our twelve years (and counting) have been an uninterrupted pleasure-trip down a sunbeam of perfect harmony – like any couple, we’ve had to learn to navigate our differences and make compromises for the sake of our mutual happiness.
I’ll get into more detail in an upcoming post (or two) about some of the ways we’ve made things work for our particular asexual-allosexual partnership. But suffice to say for now: like any healthy relationship, the one we have is built on mutual communication.
Working things out together
In my conversation with Sam, the thing she said that really broke my heart was this: “Maybe I need to find a selfish ass who doesn’t care if their partner is satisfied, so that I can just aim for efficiency.”
No, no, no, nopety no. No one deserves a partner who doesn’t care about their happiness! The reason Ben and I work as a couple is precisely because we do care, deeply, about what makes each other happy – and because we’re willing to talk about it.
Before we even got together, I was very open with Ben about my asexuality. Ben understands that sex to me is icky and gross, so even if I was willing to grit my teeth and put up with it, he wouldn’t enjoy the experience because he’d know I wasn’t enjoying it. In the same way, I understand that going out every night and meeting a bunch of new people is in no way his idea of a good time, so I don’t go dragging him along with me every time I go out. He wouldn’t have fun, so I wouldn’t either.
Every relationship is built on compromise. No two people fit together like puzzle pieces, and that’s true regardless of whether your differences are to do with what kind of music you like, what kind of pets you want, or whether you want to have sex.
For Ben, having sex with me isn’t as important as having a loving relationship with me. It helps that I had already figured out my asexuality before we got together, but that doesn’t mean other aspects of who we both are haven’t changed over the years. But we want each other to be happy, and we’re willing to talk things through and work together to make that happen.
Love without sex
Sex is just one of a plethora of possible, optional components to a loving relationship. The idea that love and sex are somehow inextricably entwined is just bizarre – there are so many different ways for people to express their feelings! From kisses and cuddles to intimate words, from tickle fights to knowing just what someone needs when they’re feeling down, there are so many ways to be in love.
So please, please don’t think being asexual means you need to go out there and find a selfish ass who prioritises their own happiness above your collective happiness. Nobody deserves a selfish ass. Or any other selfish equine, for that matter.
Readers – ace and otherwise – if you’re in a loving relationship that doesn’t just revolve around sex, I want to hear from you. What’s essential to your relationship? What are the foundations on which your love is built?
*Not her real name