Since discovering the term a month ago, I finally have a word to describe my relationship preference. (Yes, it’s a preference. For most, I believe sexuality is neither black nor white, but sits somewhere in the midst of a huge range of options, with some degree of flexibility.)
Generally, I hate labels. Once you give someone a label, others tend to define them by it, which is ridiculous because each human being is complex and unique, and far more than the sum of any labels society places on them. But relationships are different. When searching for a potential partner, labels can actually be useful because they provide a starting point. When I come across someone else who uses the ‘asexual’ label, I know they share my preference for no – or very little – sex. Does that mean I’ll immediately jump into a relationship with them? Of course not. Our asexuality may be the only thing we have in common. But it tells me we are likely to be sexually compatible, and sexual compatibility is a very important aspect of a relationship.
Of course, for the majority of people, the obvious question will be: how can you have a relationship if you don’t want to have sex?
You could start by asking yourself another question. How much of your life do you spend actually having sex with your partner?
Relationships aren’t all about sex, and outside of the obvious, such as a straight person in a relationship with someone who is gay, most couples manage to get along just fine if their sexual tastes (the stuff they like to do in bed, or elsewhere) are quite different. They compromise, although in reality the compromise is often one sided, with one partner simply accepting that his or her needs will go unmet, because there’s so much more to the relationship than just sex, and other things are actually more important.
Some asexuals can do the compromise thing, while others can’t. After concluding I must be a lesbian when I couldn’t handle the idea of sex with any of the men I dated (process of elimination and entirely logical – where’s the ‘roll eyes’ smiley?), I finally got into my first serious relationship with a woman at age 28, only to find I was still struggling with the sex thing. When you’re with someone you love and you really want to make them happy, you try very hard to do the thing they want and that society tells you that you are supposed to want too. I failed miserably, and in the end she was the one who had to compromise.
Eighteen months ago, our relationship finally came to an end, and I found myself single again, and hating it. But what do you do when you know you want a relationship, but you don’t want sex? Everyone else wants sex – right? Wrong, as it turns out.
Last month, I stumbled across a profile on a dating site from someone who described herself as asexual. I didn’t even know what the word meant and had to look it up. Then I came across a more detailed overview of asexuality on The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN for short), and I felt like I was reading a description of myself. This was the missing piece of the jigsaw. Finally, after more than 20 years of stumbling through adult life, I had a word to describe my total lack of desire for sex. There wasn’t something ‘wrong’ with me; I was asexual.
For those who have never needed to question their sexual identity, the sense of relief can be hard to imagine. The relief soon translated to excitement, and I spent 2 days solid (the benefits of being self-employed and working very flexible hours) reading everything I could find about asexuality, hanging out on forums and talking to other real, live people who had no interest in sex, and exploring the dating sites that offer a platform for people of ‘alternative’ orientations. (I actually hate that word because it somehow suggests people who aren’t straight aren’t normal, but I can live with it.) It was very different from the time, in my early twenties, when I decided I must be a lesbian. Back then, I was frightened, and did a lot of crying. Now I’m simply happy and excited by my new discovery.
To a newly ‘out’ asexual – although what’s to be out about, really? I don’t go around with a sticker on my forehead stating “I don’t like sex” – asexuality is a big deal. To the rest of the world, it needn’t be. Asexuals are just the same as everyone else. We work and play, laugh and cry; we have jobs and hobbies; we read, watch TV, go to movies, do sports, travel the world (or stay home); we like some foods, and don’t like others; we belong to any religion or none … We just don’t enjoy sex.
One thing many of us do have in common is that we’ve been on a long and difficult journey to get where we are. Some asexuals have experimented with different sexual orientations, some have explored every kind of kink in an effort to find something they enjoy, a few just realised they were asexual from a young age, and most asexuals are pretty tolerant of other people’s weirdness. We may not share your sexuality, or your desire to experiment in bed, but we respect your differences.
UPDATE (30th August 2015): An asexual person is someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction, not necessarily someone who has no interest in or desire for sex. I just happen to fit both descriptions.