On a purple background, two birds made out of thumbprints hesitantly touch beaks

Asexual in love pt. 1: what does it mean for a relationship when you don’t want sex?

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?

Newsflash: nope

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

Part 2 in this series

Part 3 in this series

Image source: Pixabay
Share this post:

8 Replies to “Asexual in love pt. 1: what does it mean for a relationship when you don’t want sex?”

  1. This is wonderful! I am an asexual who has been in a loving romantic relationship with an allosexual for 7 years (our anniversary is in a few days). I discovered my identity while we were dating, but, instead of causing issues, it actually gave us answers.
    Our relationship is based on companionship. While this might sound like a cliche, we are truly best friends and a romantic couple. We have similar interests and love spending time doing various activities together.
    I wish more people would understand that sex is not vital for all romantic relationships.

    1. Hi Rae – and a big congratulations on your seven year-versary!

      I’m glad you like my post! And so glad you and your partner were able to learn about your asexuality together – it sounds like a really positive experience. <3

      I know what you mean about doing things together. Ben and I both love going for walks, brainstorming story ideas, playing computer games, and overanalysing the plots of complex TV shows together. If best friends is a cliche, then I'm right there living it with you!

      On the subject of love without sex - I didn't get permission to use this image on my post, but it's one of my absolute favourite ace images on the internet: http://onepercentworld.tumblr.com/post/94327721786/73645-likes-o

  2. I consider myself something of a blend of things on the ace spectrum. It’s either demi-sexual, or grey-ace, depending on how my body and brain react to each particular person, as looking back, it’s variable and apparently random.

    Sex can be nice and wonderful and squishy and giggly, but it’s not something I go looking for, or miss when it’s not happening. I am a hopeless romantic though, and loooove just spending date-like time with my squishes.

    1. N’yawwwwwww! <3

      I only encountered "squishes" as a concept relatively recently - not that I haven't had squishes before, but I always just called them "friend-crushes".

      So what's your favourite way to spend date-like time with your squishes?

  3. While I and my relationship with my husband are both *very* sexual, it’s interesting to read this because age has affected how this all works rather a lot. Our relationship and marriage has crossed enough decades of our life that you really become aware how much it depends on things that are not sex – intimacy, communication, humour, caring for each other, shared problem-solving, playfulness. And how it has to depend on those things because, frankly, sex and your body and your ability to do sexy things all change significantly over time. But the ability to laugh with each other just gets better.

  4. Me and my partner are both sexual but I cant really have sex with him because of trauma that occured while we were together (I can, these days, have sex with other people, but I get too irritable with him). We still try sometimes when I get horny but its more mechanical than bonding.

    There’s also a difference between romance and love – again although I am (very) romantic, I dont necessarily get a lot of that from my husband, more from other partners. I feel a need for romance and sex, but not to make our relationship work, more like… its a thing I spiritually yearn for, like doing art or being out in the hills.

    Read an aro article earlier so my head is processing the difference between romance and love.

    What does love / romance look like for me? The lines are blurry of course. Is it romance or NRE? Romance or love? Romance or sexual? Even sex itself can be an expression of either sexual OR romantic attraction for me, and they kinda feel different. You could probably feel romance without love but for me it might feel uneasy. A lot of the things I have put in ‘romance’ exist in a more tame form for ‘love’ (eg thinking of them makes me happy). Also love vs trust is another question? When I think about love a lot of it is about trust rather than wanting well for that person because the former is what comes less easily.

    Romance: Thinking about this person makes me happy. Kissing them makes me forget about the rest of the world. We laugh together a lot. I want to impress them. Knowing they are mine / love me is enough to brighten my day. Looking into their eyes. Listening to them wax lyrical about something they like, because watching their enthusiasm is enchanting. They feel my pain as their own. They think Im great (not on a pedestal but a little rose tinted 😉 ).

    Love: I know they will look after me when I am hurting. My butt on their butt when we are falling asleep. My face on their belly to say hello. Nose nuzzles for miles. Listening to them wax lyrical about something they like, because even though you dont really care at this point, its cute and you want them to have an outlet. They call me on my shit and push me to grow. Do the things together. SQUEE TOGETHER. “I appreciate you” when they do the chores (and payment in nose-nuzzles). Over-analyzing the characters arcs and cultural implications of TV shows together 😉

    Sorry, this turned into a massive brain dump, if all else fails it helped me process some thoughts lol

    sex – romance – love – trust – relationship-setup
    they exist independently, have different but overlapping expressions
    I am sexual & romantic in myself & other relationships, but not in my very happy marriage


    1. Thank you, Zoe – this is beautiful. Your descriptions of romance and love both give me all the feels, and resonate really strongly with my own experiences, albeit it all with the one person (especially the over-analysing of TV shows – a core element of mine and Ben’s relationship too!).

      It sucks so hard that your sexual relationship with your partner got messed up by trauma, but I’m so glad you still have what sounds like a beautiful, loving relationship. They sound like an absolute keeper. <3 And your differentiation of love and romance has given *me* lots to think about in turn, so thank you for that. How would you feel about me quoting some of what you've written here about in my next blog post? Only if you 100% OK with it, of course.

      I'm very glad my post got you thought-processing, and that you were up for posting about your thoughts!

      It also sounds like poly is working out well for you? (I'm definitely getting into poly in a future post - big fan)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *