It may come as a surprise to some people who are not asexual that many asexuals are in relationships. Some asexual people are even in sexual relationships. As we reported in the previous installment, asexuality does not equal celibacy, so dating is an option for asexuals.
In fact, many do form various relationships and are committed to their partner(s). Yet dating can come with some difficulties, as asexuality isn’t typically understood. Some asexual people are sex- and genital-repulsed (terminology among asexuals meaning they do not have sex) and do not want to be sexually intimate with anyone.
That doesn’t mean asexuals don’t have attractions. Their attractions are based on the person and not on sexual attraction. That is why asexuals typically identify their romantic attractions with their asexuality. Asexuals can be biromantic, heteroromantic, homoromantic, or a variety of labels that identify where their attractions fall on the spectrum.
Asexuals place a high premium in the romantic aspect of relationships. That emphasis goes against a narrative that tends to say individuals in relationships are — or are going to be — sexually intimate. Yet that emphasis on romance portion of the relationship highlights asexuals ability to create deep, intimate bonds without necessarily being sexually intimate.
In this third installment of #21AceStories, asexuals discuss if they date, how they date, and why they date.
Alyssa, asexual, 22, Rhode Island: There's a tendency to assume that at a certain point in a relationship, people are going to want sex. I don't work that way. I will continue to not want sex. This confuses people.
Stacy, panromantic ace, 29, Texas: I was already married by the time I came out as asexual. My husband, shortly after I came out as asexual, came out as demisexual. In my scenario, I think the biggest difficulty for me was feeling like I could no longer meet my partner's needs. I am not sex-averse or -repulsed, but I do not want to engage in sexual acts often. My fears are completely my own. My partner does not pressure me or make offhand comments about how he's not "getting any," but with the amount of sex and sexual images that are shoved into my face every day, it's hard for me to not feel like I'm serving him some sort of injustice. I think that would be the hardest thing for me. The prevalence of sex in society. The pressure to conform and the push that everyone feels sexual desire and the media uses it to sell everything from clothes to cars.
Lucian, queer gray ace, 24, New Jersey: I don't date. I wasn't asexual when I was dating around. It’s a recent change for me. I have two wonderful partners who may not always understand it, but they try and they respect it. It makes it hard because I was sexual when the relationships started but not anymore, so it is definitely an adjustment for all of us, not just them.
Jack, asexual, 20, New York: It's sort of a universal difficulty, having to explain asexuality, what it is, and clear up some of the misconceptions and misinformation out there. That applies to dating, but it also applies to talking about it in general, since it's so misunderstood. I've never had a conversation about asexuality that's taken less than 10 minutes. It's not like saying "I'm gay," where everyone knows what you're talking about.
Marcia, queer asexual, 29, Missouri: I spent a lot of time dating while not having a clear idea of what I wanted, and so I got myself into many situations where I would have sex and not really know why I wasn't into it. Because I was raised religiously, I believed it was fairly standard not to experience sexual desire for other people until you were married, aand then a switch flipped or something, so when I realized/came out as bi, then lesbian, then queer, marriage wasn't necessarily something I had to look forward to. Sex was on the table, and nine times out of 10 it was a mess of "do not want but am expected to do and want." Probably the biggest difficulty I had was finding the self-confidence and boundaries to be able to say, look, I know you want this, but I don't. It isn't a response to you, it is how I am wired. It's rare to find someone who believes that.
Samantha, asexual, 28, Michigan: I dated once, in high school, for three months. That was 12 years ago. I feel old. Self-deprecation aside, I think my asexuality is a notable factor in my dating inexperience. I guess I’m nervous about how soon to tell someone, and if I get married, we’d have to compromise on it, unless I found someone who’s also asexual.
Jason, asexual, 41, Pennsylvania: I am fortunate to be married to the most wonderful person for the last 16 years. I quite easily remember when I was single, though, and the biggest difficulty in dating was not being able to respond physically in the way my date would desire. I remember one woman I dated specifically telling me that she liked to be touched more. It just does not compute with me to think in sexual terms. To engage in sex, it takes a great amount of effort on my part. I am not sure that is true of all asexuals, but certainly it is for me. To even feel comfortable touching somebody takes time for me. I need to know somebody first and feel connected to them emotionally. Casual sex while dating just was not a healthy option for me.
Celestine, asexual panromantic, 34, Louisiana: Finding other asexual people or people who know about and understand what asexuality is and means. I've often been told there's medication to fix me or that I shouldn't discount sex until I've basically "done it right."
Kate, demi-panromantic asexual, 27, South Carolina: I'm a genital/sex-repulsed asexual, so my difficulties in relationships come from the understanding that a lot of people want/need sex in a relationship and that I don't want that — there are not many people I know who would be willing to be in a sexless relationship, no matter how intimate. I'm incompatible with the vast majority of potential partners. It's a lonely feeling.
Lydia, queer panromantic asexual, 21, Washington, D.C.: Not knowing whether a relationship will last if the other person turns out to be sexual and depends on sexual intimacy to express and experience romantic intimacy, while I can't imagine wanting any part of that.
Ashley, asexual, 19, Texas: That's a tough question, since I've never dated. To me the most daunting prospect would be finding someone, asexual or allosexual, who accepts my sexuality and comfort levels with sex. I would immediately inform them of my sexuality and boundaries. Sex isn't important in an intimate relationship for me; it isn't a necessary part of building a meaningful connection. But what if I date someone feels otherwise? What if the other person needs sex in a relationship? How do we compromise? I'm not sex-repulsed, and I'd be willing to have sex, not just because my partner would want to, so I can see myself being in a relationship with an allosexual if they understood and respected my sexuality. But it would be much more complicated for a sex-repulsed asexual to be in a relationship with an allosexual.
Elizabeth, asexual heteroromantic, 19, South Carolina: The asexual community makes up 1 percent of the world’s population, so the likelihood that two asexuals will randomly meet and fall in love is next to none. A relationship of two different sexualities is almost our only expectation. Though I’ve been in love with two different guys, I have never dated anyone because I’m a bit pessimistic that relationships with allosexuals (those who experience sexual attraction) will work out in the long run. I feel that either they would have to have no sex drive at all or we’d have to compromise for the relationship to last. Some asexuals are OK with compromise because, although sex may disinterest them, they want to please their partner. But for sex-repulsed and genital-repulsed aces like me, sexual relationships are pretty much out of the question. Unless we want to lead on allosexuals, dating them is not a luxury that we have. Compromise is the biggest difficulty with dating, because both parties will have to be willing to give up something important to them. In my case, it would be part of my identity — which is too high a cost.
Brittney, asexual biromantic, 21, Washington: Sex. Ninety-nine percent of the world’s population apparently wants to have sex or is having sex, and when sex is considered a meaningful part of a romantic relationship, asexuals definitely drew the short straw. Some asexuals make it work: They either find a partner who is asexual, or they’re sex-positive and are able to have some form of a sexual relationship. I feel sex-repulsed asexuals — like myself — have a harder time dating. Every romantic relationship I’ve had has ended as soon as my partner realized my asexuality wasn’t a phase. Having a string of relationships that didn’t work out can become disheartening, but it’s even more painful when your partner tries to fix you.
Rae, asexual, 26, Maryland: Juggling expectations and compromise were the hard things. I once dated a Catholic guy who eventually told me my asexuality was sinful because it wouldn't produce children in marriage. At the time he seemed "safe" because he was noisy about being anti–premarital sex. With later partners, I had to learn that just because you feel neutral about something doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile to make your partner happy. That can apply to seeing a band you're not into in concert just as well as it can apply in the bedroom.
AJ, asexual heteroromantic, 30, Ohio: I’m not sex-repulsed and I think I have a relatively high sex drive, but being in a relationship with me involves accepting that I will never find you sexually desirable. There’s really no pleasant way to say “I’m never going to want to have sex with you,” even if you follow it with “but let’s see if we can find some middle ground.”
As tough as that conversation can be, the biggest difficulty for me has been making sure that my boundaries are respected afterward. Some men have entered into a relationship with me only to realize later that we aren’t compatible, and that’s OK. But some men seem to think they have a magical penis that can slowly but surely “cure” me of my asexuality. They do not.