I was recently discussing your column with some new friends I met through Pioneer Valley Aces, a local group of individuals who identify as aromantic and/or asexual. I wasn’t the only one of us who appreciated your witty way of reassuring those who write in that their sexuality is OK.
However, as a 39-year-old woman who has never had all that much interest in having romantic relationships or being sexually active, I don’t generally find affirmation of my identity in The V-Spot. To be honest, it can often reinforce my self-consciousness about my asexuality. Could you please offer some advice on how to feel OK about being aromantic/asexual in a highly sexualized society?
You’re so good at advising people on how to communicate about sex – could you offer some advice on how to communicate about one’s asexuality, especially with people whose worldview does not include an awareness of the wide range of “normal” when it comes to sexual desire (or lack of sexual desire)?
— A Pioneer Valley Ace
Thanks for writing in and giving me this opportunity to write about asexuality. You’re right— not many people write into a sex column asking me questions that are not sexual in nature!
Asexuality (a sexual orientation characterized by a lack of sexual attraction) isn’t new. Sexual practices and identities rarely are — rather, we find the words to describe them. David Jay launched the Asexuality and Visibility Education Network (AVEN) in 2001, which today boasts more than 82,000 members. There are far more than 50 shades of sexuality, and sexual orientation doesn’t dictate one set of feelings and actions. An asexual person may experience zero sexual attraction, or maybe every now and then they do (known sometimes as graysexual). The asexual (and sexual) possibilities are endless.
So how do you exist in a world that is so terrified of difference that it simply cannot resist a good categorizing? Find and create community. You can do this internationally with online resources like AVEN or locally via Pioneer Valley Aces (on Facebook at facebook.com/pvaces).
Find cracks in the norm and widen them. I think about this as a non-monogamous queer person in a heterosexist world who has spent time editing doctor’s forms to change my “husband’s” name to my “spouse’s” name or asking for a “couple’s” massage for more than two people. If the world isn’t designed to handle you in all your authenticity, then tailor it to fit. Make the system uncomfortable with its own assumptions. There’s no need to keep a foundation stable if it doesn’t hold you up.
In my utopian world, there are no assumptions made about sex. The new normal is to co-create your interactions with people from scratch. There are no baseball metaphors, no bases to run, and no relationship escalator to stand on.
Until then, you’ve got some educating to do. When talking to a partner about your asexual self, personalize their understanding by relating it to their identities. Highlight your differences as a gift that allows you to customize your relationship to each of your unique needs, freed from stale sexual traditions. Remind your partner that everyone’s sexuality and gender exists on a spectrum — even theirs!
You’re describing your asexuality, so ask your partner to describe their sexuality — how often do they have sex? What are they attracted to? How do their feelings and attractions translate into physical intimacy? Discuss how your partner’s sexuality might factor into a relationship with you — especially if you have designs to be monogamous.
Remember that your partner doesn’t need to completely understand asexuality, or even what it means specifically for you, in order to respect your boundaries. Being unfamiliar with asexuality doesn’t negate the need for consent and respect for your boundaries. Finally, refer them to resources you trust. Asexuality.org has a plethora targeted to sexual partners, friends and allies of asexual folks.