love without sex

I am asexual. This is something that has become clear to me only very recently. I never really used to think about my sexuality in terms other than that because I was uninterested in sex, I must be afraid of it, and therefore there must be something very wrong with me. I have combed my childhood for non-existent repressed memories of trauma. Sometimes it felt like I was going a bit crazy.

Thinking back, I can’t believe I didn’t realise my asexuality sooner. As a teenager, when sexuality would inevitably come up in conversation with my friends, and I was asked whether I liked girls or boys, things went a little like this:

me: “I like all pretty things, I guess.”

them: “So… you’re bisexual?”

me: “Er, no, I don’t think so.”

them:

them:

me: “Um, well, it’s more like I like neither than both, I think.”

them: “What?”

And I would have no idea how to reply because I had no idea, or understanding, of what it was that I had just said. Unbelievably, as oblivious as I was, this went on for years. I must have had twenty different variations of this same exchange. Now, however, I have realised that being indifferent to both sexes does not equate to bisexuality.

Being indifferent to both sexes does not equate to bisexuality.

As an adolescent, I had always felt extremely disconnected from my peers growing up. It’s only just come to my attention that a large part of this was because I just couldn’t relate to them in many respects. When we were thirteen, everyone was jerking each other off and making out, and, though I never consciously acknowledged it, I had no idea why anyone would want to do that to anyone else. I didn’t understand. I still don’t. When I was fourteen I quite selfishly started a relationship with someone (let’s call him Gary) who I had a vague interest in but who I was not sexually attracted to whatsoever. I only went out with Gary because it was what everyone else was doing, what everyone else seemed to be obsessed with, and I wanted to feel normal. I suppose I thought that maybe if I tried it too I would understand what seemed like a massive inside joke that I just wasn’t a part of.

I suppose I thought that maybe if I tried it too I would understand what seemed like a massive inside joke that I just wasn’t a part of.

Needless to say, it didn’t work out. I remember a friend telling me that mine and Gary’s relationship was rather like “friends who made out sometimes.” But that’s what I really wanted, in a way – a deep, intimate friendship (not that we were ever particularly close) – bar the making out. Similarly, in the only few intimate relationships I have had, sex has been a compromise; an unwanted obligation that was expected of me in exchange for attention and exclusivity. Though, biologically, my body functions just fine, sex, making out, and even kissing for long periods feels wrong; these things are nothing more to me than odd rituals everyone seems to expect though they have no real purpose, like putting up a tree for Christmas. I see arousal as something mundane; something necessary to take care of – but privately, like going to the bathroom. It’s something that I enjoy, albeit infrequently, but I have never felt the need to include anyone else; it’s a private experience, and doing so feels crude and wrong; the thought of doing such things to people I love feels irreverent, disrespectful – sacrilegious, even.

Growing up, if I ever got caught up in an intimate experience, at a party for example, I would go into autopilot. Sometimes it was easier to just go along with things and pretend to be normal than say no outright, and have to try to explain to surprised and offended boys something I didn’t even understand myself – especially if I was inebriated. The person with me would be having this whole experience that I just wouldn’t be a part of.  They’d be turned on and I’d be thinking about the colour of the shirt they were wearing or how their hair was sticking up at the back or what kissing felt like. I have only really recently considered that other girls probably wouldn’t have felt like that in these situations. It’s weird. My perspective has been shifted entirely.

I’m aromantic, too, I suppose. I feel that same disconnection, that same discomfort when I try to go on dates, or hold hands in a romantic sense, whatever. It just doesn’t feel natural. Whenever I have attempted to have a relationship like this it has felt like a charade, and has given me incredible anxiety. I never used to consider myself aromantic because romance was more bearable than sex; but it still makes me feel extremely uncomfortable and remains something I’ve never genuinely wanted. We live in a society where television, movies, articles and social convention demand that we go on dates and kiss and have awkward vanilla missionary sex in order to find ‘the One’. As if the concept of ‘the One’ couldn’t exist without sex, or romance! As if you can’t devote yourself completely to someone without these things, and that there couldn’t be many different ‘soulmates’ for any given person…

So, yes: the concepts of asexuality and aromanticism have existed as a vague possibility in the back of my mind for years, but I had never considered them on a deep level, or as something that could exist on a spectrum, before now. When I’d call someone ‘hot’, or ‘cute’, I would always mean that they were aesthetically pleasing in an interesting way – (maybe they had unusual colouring, like dark hair and light eyes, or looked androgynous or unusual or different) – and I would like to talk to them and sit and stare at them and read their mind and find out all their secrets, but that definitely didn’t mean I would ever want to have sex with them or take them on a date. This is what I now realise my friends probably used these words to mean (correct me if I’m wrong). When it comes to conversation about this sort of thing my friends and I have always been on very different wavelengths; it failed to occur to me for a very long time that other people looked at those they were interested in differently to how I did. Somehow, even after all these years, this is a novel idea and one that still feels very odd and shocking to me.

When I’d call someone ‘hot’, or ‘cute’ I would mean that they were aesthetically pleasing in an interesting way, and I would like to talk to them and sit and stare at them and read their mind and find out all their secrets, but that definitely didn’t mean I would ever want to have sex with them or take them on a date.

Because of this confusion and my awful fear of confrontation I have always had a tendency to be attracted to people in the way I have described above, and then get bored very quickly, or push them away as soon as they returned an interest. Now I realise I acted this way because I and these people would both want very different things. Though I didn’t know growing up, my version of “I am attracted to you,” or even “I am in love with you,” meant something very, very different to me than it did to everyone else. Because of this I would be scared off when someone I was interested in tried to take things beyond the sort of flirting and getting to know each other phase to a place that I didn’t know I didn’t want. Needless to say I have caused tremendous amounts of pain for both myself and others in this way. (If this is about you, and you’ll know if it is, for what it’s worth I am truly sorry).

But I’m not missing out, I’m not unhappy, I’m not someone to feel sorry for. Now that I understand who I am I couldn’t be more proud or happy because I know what I want. The kind of relationships I covet are definitely not romantic – or, God forbid, sexual – but far, far more than ‘just friends’, and though I know it is unreasonable to expect everyone to understand what I mean, a sure way to piss me off is to dismiss these odd relationships I have as such. All I will ever want are utterly unromantic, beautiful, deep platonic relationships that are more emotionally intimate than anything else in the world. These relationships, when I can find them, are worth everything I could ever give, and more. It’s not something I can really explain, but maybe someone reading this will understand. That’s the most fulfilling thing ever and that’s what being in love is to me.

All I will ever want are utterly unromantic, beautiful, deep platonic relationships that are more emotionally intimate than anything else in the world. That’s the most fulfilling thing ever and that’s what being in love is to me.

But the problem is that people’s needs are statistically extremely unlikely to match up with mine. Just because I don’t, the people I care about still want romance, and sex, so any sort of exclusivity will probably never be an option for me. But that’s okay. I’m capable of dealing with a little jealousy.

I have lived too long pretending to be different things, taking on different identities, disguising myself over and over because I feel like an alien compared to everyone else. I’m starting to accept my differences, I think. I’ve finally found myself in a way that most of my friends seemed to have accomplished by age sixteen at the latest. It scares me to think that had I been born in a different age when asexuality was completely ignored and unaccepted I might never have come to this realisation about myself. As it is, it’s taken nineteen years.

If you don’t get it, or if there’s anything you want to know at all, ask me anonymously here. Thanks for reading. Try not to be a dick.

14 Comments

  1. I have almost tears in my eyes. I feel all of this so, so much and I love it. I’m 39 and learned only 3 years ago about all those magic words, which describe all the uneasiness and the odd feeling I never could explain.
    I feel so much better now and reading about people with the same needs and not-needs makes me happy.
    My biggest issue with this is what you describe with the most emotional intimate friendship in the world. I want that so badly. I want this exclusivity and stability and feeling of belonging but I feel guilty for denying my partner the other parts. I feel like I can’t have the one without the other (even 3 years later, some thoughts are still so internalised and written in stone).
    I had a relationship for 1,5 years and he left me about 9 months ago for a “normal” woman. (well, she wasn’t everything but normal, but at least, she was allosexual). Currently we are slowly trying to find a common ground and some compromises. Lots of talking, lots of inhibitions… we’re far from being together again, but we’re currently cuddle buddies, which is awesome.
    Technically, that would be enough for me but I know, that I can’t keep him exclusively for myself if we stay on this level. And despite everything, I am jealous and I seriously want him for myself exclusively.
    But the good thing is, he knows of my “limitations” and will never ask too much. Plus, for him, cuddling is also more important than sex. So this will work out eventually (or so I hope).

    Ok, I hope, this was not too confusing, since Englisch isn’t my first language and sometimes I tend to write a bit complicated and scrambled.

    However, thank you very much for that post and I wish you the very best for the future!

    1. Thank you so much for such a heartfelt response! I can absolutely understand the struggle of trying to have a relationship like this with someone while having to balance their different needs. The closest I have ever come was with a boy who was my best friend (it was more intimate than that, but I can’t think of another way to describe what we were), but we would never have any sort of monogamous friendship because I knew that he needed a sexual and romantic relationship that I couldn’t provide. Eventually he got a boyfriend, who I became obscenely jealous of, but I didn’t care that they were having sex; the issue was that the emotional duties of ‘boyfriend’ and ‘weird soulmate thing’ would often overlap.

      It’s hard, I know, but keep working for it, and never compromise! We’ll get there sooner or later.

  2. You just described my own experience more or less to a tee, and you did it very eloquently. I’m aro ace as well. In highschool I never experienced sexual attraction to anyone (and I never have) and was bored and irritated by everyone else’s (to me) bizarre obsession with sex and romance. I attempted to date guys because I thought that was what you were supposed to do, but hand holding, kissing, and anything else intimate made me extremely anxious and uncomfortable. I didn’t know what asexuality was until I got a Facebook account, relatively late in life, and then everything finally fell into place.
    Like you, I’m not unhappy with being what I am. But like you I often feel lonely and isolated, and would like to have the sort of deep friendship some people are lucky enough to come across, and which I never really have. But what can one do? Everyone knows you go to Tinder or the club if you’re looking for a date, but where do you go looking for a best friend?

    1. Wow, I can relate so much to your comment. You’re literally describing my own thought process. But there are some things I do to meet like-minded people, if it helps:

      – go to asexual community events/pride/conventions.
      – become involved in the online queer community; you can go to arranged asexual meetups and you might meet some cool people.
      – go to clubs and societies for your particular interests.

      I try and go about it just like meeting any other friend. If something forms naturally, awesome; if your new friend wants to go out with you, or attempts anything romantic/sexual, tell them how you feel and who you are. Some people can be really understanding; maybe someone will surprise you.

      Anyway, these are just my own experiences, hope they helped a bit! Best of luck for the future!

  3. I was drawn to this article by the title on FB (and also because of the cat drawing) but I must say, it’s been a while since I’ve read an aro/ace post that truly resonated with me. I read this and was filling in images from my life because so much of that has happened to me as well: the disconnect between you and everyone else, the social pressure to get a boyfriend only to discover it doesn’t feel right to you, not wanting romance or sex, looking at kissing as a weird concept, etc.
    I usually find these types of writings on Tumblr, that’s where I post mine as well, so it’s unusual for me to find this via fb. It’s also rare to find pieces by aroaces, I’m also aroace, but they do usually seem divided and aimed at asexuals 90% of the time.

    I discovered I was asexual & then aromantic a month later when I was 18, because a friend seriously asked me if I was asexual. They’d never seen me interested in anyone in a romantic/sexual way, I never talked about how “hot” people were, and I would lose interest & ignore conversations that revolved around people discussing their crushes or sex lives. Suffice to say that I was stunned into silence, that’s never happened before. The hardest aspect for me to overcome was that I had just labeled myself as hetero, it was hard to undo my own perspective of myself. It’s been 2 and a half years since then and I’ve become comfortable with my aroaceness, but I only tell people I’m closest to about it. I’m not fully open about it yet, which is annoying because sometimes I want to make aro/ace jokes, like how my gay friends can make gay jokes, but I can only do that with a very limited number of people- nobody else would get the jokes.

    The way I describe my relationships to myself is platonic, familial, and miscellaneous; and there are varying levels of intimacy within each one for different people. I think of it as people have different needs and that’s what they’re attracted towards. Since I don’t need or want sex or romance, I’m not attracted to people that ooze those qualities or are searching for a date/sex. The weird thing is, there is a part of me that is technically “hetero”, but it’s a whole different attraction. I don’t experience sexual or romantic attraction, but I still experience emotional, sensual, intellectual, & aesthetic attraction (also, one I call spiritual-poetic-enlightening attraction, it’s very important to me, but it doesn’t have a specific name).

    I like looking for people who I can truly talk to, have deep conversations with, and open their eyes to things as well as have my eyes opened by their words. I like finding people who listen to me and I feel comfortable and safe around. I like being around people who are as encouraging and weird as I am. I also believe that people can have monogamous, polyamorous, or open relationships. I think it would be selfish of me to only tie myself to one person, but if other people want to do that, then why not?

    Finally, I’ll just quickly explain the paradox of emotions for me. I’m not sure if every aromantic &/or asexual person goes through this, but sometimes I’ll get extremely close to someone and it’s aganozing because:
    1) it’s hella distracting
    2) my emotions can overwhelm me, and I don’t like losing control
    3) I want to be closer to them but I also know that I would not be able to provide everything they would want out of a closer relationship so it’s unrealistic and unwise to pursue that.
    I think I would be alright with having a QPR, or multiple QPR’s, but it’s difficult to find a person like that.

    I’m honestly someone who is “passing straight”, I’m too focused on academics and my vocation to have time to date, and I’m just a really innocent person. That’s how most people perceive me.

    And thank you for making this piece about you experience as an aroace.

    1. Thank you so much for leaving such a great response. It is beyond comforting to know that other people feel the same way as I do, I’m used to feeling like a different species. Please add me on fb, if you ever want to talk about anything I’m here!

  4. I have known about asexuality for maybe two or three years at this point, but I didn’t really understand it until very recently. I’ve been identifying as ace for maybe four or five months now and when I learned about what it was, so many things I did made sense. When I was pretty young (like 12) I’d choose a guy who I found maybe aesthetically attractive and thought was nice and decided he was going to be my crush, simply because it’s what other girls did, other girls always talked about the boys they liked and who they wanted to go out with and I felt weird and out of place for not having that or thinking and feeling those things.

    This little habit of mine followed me into highschool, except now people were talking about who was “hot”, which celebrity you wanted to have sex with, and, as you would expect from immature highschool students, lots of sex jokes. I mixed up what people described as “hot” with aesthetic attraction or boys I would find as cute, which is why it confused me when I’d say some actor was hot and many of my female friends would disagree, they’d say “he’s more cute than hot”, or “yeah he’s attractive but not hot”. All my male friends obsession with sex (and honestly, the rest of society’s obsession with it) came off to me like a joke. Like, for several years I thought everyone was joking when they said most people masturbated or watched porn. I felt immature around them, since I was uncomfortable with sex talk and since I didn’t do any of the things they described, I put it up to the fact that I grew up in a conservative and religious household, that I was just too sheltered for it, that I would eventually grow into it.

    After watching Bojack Horseman’s portrayal of asexuality through Todd I had a moment where I thought, “That’s… like me” After a bit of research here I am, asexual and proud. Going back through my life with the lens of asexuality everything made sense, people did like and want to have sex with people, it wasn’t this huge joke society had created that I just didn’t get. Me making up crushes to fit in, there was this huge moment of clarity for me to recontextualize my life with. I think I might be aro-spec, since I was romantically attracted to at least two of the people I had ‘crushes’ on but definitely not for the majority of them.

    It took me 18 years to get here, which honestly is a pretty decent time to find out, so for you 19 is 100% a fine time. Of course it would’ve been nice to know earlier, but it really isn’t your fault. Aro/Ace visibility was basically non-existent until recently. Not many people understand it and for a long time I didn’t even know it was an option. Being Aro/Ace is also something hard to prove, since it’s defined by the lack of something as opposed to the presence of something, so many find it easy to brush off.

    Anyways this is super long, welcome, hope you have a nice time here and why don’t you help yourself to some cake 😉

    1. When Todd came out as asexual on BoJack Horseman (my favourite show!) – no joke, I burst into tears. I had never seen anyone on TV who was like me before, and it meant so much. That was when I truly came to understand just how important representation is.

      1. Okay yes! I’m watching BoJack for the first time at the moment and I’m so excited that there’s an asexual character, especially one voiced by Aaron Paul! We have so little representation in the media.

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