All pillow talk and (almost) no sex - how does that work in a relationship? We speak to asexual individuals about their dating experiences.
The new and modern world of dating is a wonderful place. Sure, it might’ve gotten a little complicated with all the new lingo floating around. Like “cobwebbing”, where you metaphorically dust off your list of old matches from your dating apps. Or concepts like “soft launching”, where you post a photo showcasing your new beau without actually showing their face. But more dynamic conversations covering various topics like sexuality, gender identity, and alternative relationships create more welcoming spaces for exploration and discovery. We’ve already talked about aromanticism, now let’s dive into another part of the greysexual spectrum – asexuality.
What does it mean to be asexual?
In its simplest terms, asexuality is when someone experiences zero sexual desire. Like many sexual identities, there are several layers to asexuality and the experiences vary from person to person. Alexandra Bohnen, a senior counsellor at Sofia Wellness Clinic, describes it as an umbrella term. There are asexuals who are repulsed by the idea of sex, and there are asexuals who simply don’t crave physical intimacy. Asexuality can co-exist with trauma, but that’s not always the reason a person identifies as such. Alexandra says that lacking sexual attraction may very well be just another part of human nature.
For Addigni (not her real name), discovering her identity as an asexual aromantic was a process of elimination. After reading up on asexuality online, the 29-year-old found herself falling into the greysexual spectrum. “I don’t think I can even describe what sexual attraction feels like,” she jokes playfully, explaining that she’s not drawn to anyone in that way.
However, the experience was more instinctive for 26-year-old Zoey (not her real name). Asking her how she knows she’s asexual is like asking someone how they know they’re gay. “It’s not something you can explain away, it’s something you know in your heart,” she tells me. In her experience, despite having crushes on people she interacts with, she never sees herself sleeping with them.
Let’s play a (messy) love game
The biggest misunderstanding about asexuals is that they don’t participate in sexual activity. While there is an absence of desire, this isn’t the same as being celibate or practising abstinence, as Martine Hill, a counsellor at Alliance Counselling, tells us. Unlike aromanticism, asexual people can still feel and seek out romantic relationships, sans the spicy bits because this element in a relationship isn’t a priority for them. Some other misconceptions are that asexual people can’t form intimate relationships or don’t seek out romantic affairs.
With Addigni’s asexual-aromantic identity, her ideal relationship is something that sits between a companion and a romantic partner. “I want a perfectly platonic best friend,” she says. Love comes from being each other’s priority while keeping romance out of the equation. But there are understandably a lot of challenges in finding someone with the same expectations. “In some ways, it appears similar to a romantic relationship because it requires a deep level of care and affection. But for me, it remains platonic in nature,” she explains.
On the flip side, Zoey is an asexual who has dated many people on and off. She’s been with her current partner for over five years. Unlike Addigni, Zoey sought people out with the intention to date them, but it hasn’t been all smooth sailing. People often misunderstand what being asexual means, and this has become a sore spot for her.
“I can’t count the number of times someone tried to convince me that I’m asexual just because I haven’t had life-changing sex,” she sighs. This often leads to suggestions from potential partners that they could possibly “fix her”, which turns Zoey off from the conversation altogether. And really, who can blame her?
Redefining love and intimacy
For a typical couple, being in a relationship encompasses a few things. Besides spending time on dates and having strong feelings of affection for each other, a relationship’s progression often comes with intimacy. Conversations can go deeper than just the day-to-day grind. There are discussions of communication, love languages, and expectations as you spend extended periods of time together. Another defining element is sex, which is often the differentiating factor between platonic and romantic relationships. So what does a relationship look like when it misses one (supposed) key element?
While Zoey is asexual, her partner is heterosexual. And for the most part, they have a fairly “regular” relationship. “Our intimacy comes in the form of communication,” she says, explaining that she and her partner know each other inside and out. Their relationship isn’t completely sex-free though. “Physical intimacy is important to my partner. So even though I don’t always have urges, we try to make time to fulfil his needs as well,” she explains. Despite not having any sexual desires, Zoey still finds some pleasure in it. “It can be hard to grasp, but just because I don’t desire sex doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it,” she explains.
As Addigni recounts her experience of falling in love, she explains that there was never any sexual desire. She fell deeply in love with her best friend at the time and became afraid of losing him as they were going to different countries for university.
“I remember telling him that I liked him, but didn’t want to be his girlfriend,” she says. Addigni’s worries were about being replaced as her best friend was meeting new people. But despite this intense connection, there was no longing for her to engage in physical intimacy with him. Sadly, the two ended up drifting apart as her best friend became more preoccupied with finding a romantic partner – a role that Addigni couldn’t fulfil.
Navigating the asexual maze
As complicated as asexuality can be, navigating through it can be straightforward. Like any relationship, communication is key. For an asexual person, Martine recommends expressing expectations regarding intimacy with their partner. “Asexuality varies for everyone. Some might be comfortable with sexual activity for the sake of emotional connection, and others may not want to engage,” she explains. Getting to know each other’s boundaries and desires is a great first step in reaching common ground and understanding.
Alexandra advises reading up on relationships and working on being in tune with yourself and your partner. Figuring out your needs and your partner’s needs can be liberating and aids in conversations about your relationship. There’s even the option of couples therapy to get professional help. “Think about how your relationship can be enriching, rather than limiting,” she recommends.
If you’re in the midst of figuring yourself out, it’s okay to take time to sort out your thoughts. Putting labels on yourself can be daunting, but you don’t have to declare an identity immediately (or ever). Remember: it’s all about your comfort. If you aren’t ready to sleep with someone, be clear about that boundary until you feel ready to move on to the next step of a relationship. Most importantly, understand what you want and communicate it with confidence.
Asexuality exists on a spectrum and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to it. At the end of the day, you’re the one to decide what asexuality looks like for you and how it fits into your life.