How to Date an
ASEXUAL ...and Other Essays
How to Date an Asexual Person Written by Trevor Hultner May 6, 2015
you’re an allosexual person. You’re attracted to men, women, or anybody, potentially. One day you meet a cutie and agree to go out for drinks, coffee or even dinner. You’re on this date, you’re having a good time, and then they tell you something shocking – they’re asexual! [DRAMATIC MUSIC] Immediately you have all sorts of questions. This is completely natural, especially if you’ve never interacted with an out asexual person before. But this is your first piece of advice, and this is vital:
your most pressing questions anyway. Here’s the thing, though. While they may explain to you whatever they want, this doesn’t mean they’re entitled to give you any information whatsoever about their sex life, or lack thereof. They don’t have to tell you whether they masturbate, or if they’ve ever had sex before. They will likely tell you whether and to what degree they are sex-repulsed in good time, but don’t press for that information. And for fuck’s sake, don’t ask, “Are you sure??”
1. Let the cutie fucking speak.
2. Don’t try to pressure them into having sex with you.
Seriously, there will be a time for questions. Let your date explain what they mean before you inundate them. It’s highly likely they’ve spent more time researching asexuality and considering what that identity means to them than you spent studying throughout your entire college career. If you give them a chance to speak, they will probably answer most of
You’ve made it past the first, second and maybe third or even FOURTH dates. You’ve been having a great time with this person, you’ve been learning what they enjoy and what they loathe with a passion, you’ve been sharing your favorite things with them, and things are going pretty well! That’s pretty fantastic. One might even say it’s pretty... ace.
But you’re worried about the future. You like this person, but you like sex a lot too. You feel like you shouldn’t have to choose between the two, and anyway, sex is part of a healthy balanced relationship. Right? Not necessarily. Everyone in our society has been brought up to believe that sex and intimacy are the same, that having sex means you’re having a functional relationship and that not having sex means everything’s ruined forever, and that sex should be kind of this reward for getting past a certain point in a relationship. Asexuality really does throw a monkeywrench in all of those expectations (which is kind of fantastic if you like dismantling power dynamics). Ultimately, you’ll have to have a frank discussion with the cutie about what they like and dislike, what they feel comfortable with, and what they absolutely will not do. In the same vein, you can explain to them what you enjoy and what you want and feel comfortable with, but you’re going to have to develop the requisite spoons to face a possible rejection of the sexual relationship you want. This is not just true of asexual folks. This kind of conversation
should be the basis of ANY relationship you’re in. 3. Don’t be a douchebag. This kind of flows out of the last tip, but it’s true enough *in general* to deserve its own special section. Contrary to the belief of some very specific online comment threads coughJEZEBELcough, asexual folks aren’t special snowflakes around which you have to walk on eggshells. Generally, we want what you want: a chance at having a rad, fulfilling relationship. But yo check it: if you can’t accept that a cutie doesn’t want to have sex with you or anyone else, then you’re done. It’s the same as in any other relationship where either party’s priorities don’t mesh. For some folks, not having sex is just flat out not up for debate and not available for compromise. Your mileage - and theirs - may vary here, but regardless, respect is the name of the game. And really, that’s it. Seriously. That’s how to date an asexual person. It’s not much different from how two allosexuals date, is it? Or maybe it is. At any rate, every relationship should be built on a framework of mutual respect, otherwise what are we even doing?
Asexuality and Felt Consent Written by Trevor Hultner and UnquietPirate February 9, 2015 So one of the things that has helped me navigate asexuality better (or at least given me a reference point to be able to talk about certain aspects of asexuality like how we respond to compulsory (allo)sexuality, how our (a)sexual orientation is considered socially conservative, and such) is an essay, titled “You Can Take It Back: Consent as a Felt Sense,” by a couple of friends of mine. Without repeating the entire article back to the Internet, I’ll take this snip from Unquietpirate’s brownie bitesized version: #1: Saying “yes” is necessary but not sufficient for consent. #2: There is no expiration date on realizing that your consent was violated. So it’s kind of weird to talk about sexual consent - felt or otherwise - when also talking about asexuality because I think most people just assume that all of us - 1.5 percent of the human population, which is not a small number in actuality (something
like 10 or 11 million people) - just don’t have sex. That’s not how asexuality works, as I’m sure you’d expect. Some of us are demisexual or grayaces, and we do experience sexual attraction once in a blue moon. Some of us are asexual and simply want to please our romantic partners because pleasing them pleases us in a different sense from sexual gratification. Some of us are sex-repulsed or sexindifferent and find ourselves succumbing to social pressures to have sex because otherwise it would make our partners/our family/our friends sad if we didn’t. Some of us have sex because we are raped; because allosexuals think they can cure our sex drives(?) with their magic sex organs. Or some equally terrible reason. Sex is such an omnipresent force in our lives that yeah, even asexuals do it from time to time. Sometimes we feel that we have to. Sometimes we’re given no other choice, despite how we feel and how we identify. And whether we are getting off to some good, positive and healthy sexytimes ourselves or, alternately, spending an hour exiting our stomach hunched over the porcelain throne after a particularly awful assault, we
should absolutely be including consent as a felt sense in our narratives. Being able to look back at an encounter and say, “I no longer feel comfortable with what happened in this situation, I was clearly not safe and my agency was not being respected here” can be an incredibly helpful thing. And I have to reiterate (read: copy entirely because the authors put it so much fucking better than I can or could [and also I don’t want to risk the pulled quote being taken out of context like Andrea Dworkin’s infamous “All sex is rape” nonquote]) this point from “Consent as a Felt Sense” (emphasis in bold mine): Both mainstream and numerous feminist discourses tend to treat violation through sexual violence as something committed by “abusers” (i.e., “them,” not “us”). Most often, people treat having raped or having been raped as a defining facet of who someone is, as a person; they don’t treat rape like something people do, they treat rape like it’s something people are. We don’t think that’s helpful. Realistically, anybody who is having any kind of sex in the context of rape culture is likely to violate someone’s
consent at some point. The most ethical response to this fact, obviously, is to not have sex—and, in fact, if enough people decided to opt out of rape culture by opting completely out of erotic intimacy, that would ultimately bring rape culture crashing down. But a “sexual hunger strike to bring about the end of rape culture” is an unrealistically high ethical bar to set for most real people who are trying to survive in a world where intimacy is a human necessity. Instead, we need to take it as a given that if you choose to have sex in the context of rape culture, especially if you choose to have sex with people who have less power than you, and especially if you choose to have kinds of sex that explicitly play with that power differential, at some point you are probably going to violate someone’s consent—if you haven’t already. We need a process for dealing with that other than abject denial. We need to develop ways of regularly acknowledging, taking accountability for, and participating in healing work around the damage our coercive behavior causes. When rape is framed as a piece of one’s identity rather
than as an act one committed, the possibility that one could “be a rapist” is simply unconscionable for most people to stomach. Their terror at this prospect spurs them to justify or excuse their behavior. We’re going to have to come to grips with what it means to violate others in a way our justifiable fear of “being rapists” has so far prevented us from doing. Allosexual normativity (I swear to fuck there was a better name for this, I saw it a couple of months ago) can trace a direct line to the attitudes and behaviors that justify and uphold rape culture and kyriarchy. Until these attitudes and behaviors are eliminated, and until rape culture and kyriarchy have bitten the dust, we’re participants in this shitshow along with everyone else. And until we’ve eliminated these underlying problems in society, then consent as a felt sense and working toward developing “ways of regularly acknowledging, taking accountability for, and participating in healing work around the damage our coercive behavior causes” should be our primary weapons. Response from Unquietpirate: Yes!
A woman I know once said something very poignant to me: “If intimacy is something I need to survive, and if there’s an expectation that I can only get intimacy through a sexual relationship, how can any sex I have ever be consensual?“ Consent isn’t consent if it’s happening under threat of starvation. True consent is only possible in a world where “no” is a real option. And “no” is only an option if the consequences for saying it are simply that the thing you said no to doesn’t happen — not that you make other major sacrifices or are subject to stigma and punishment along with your no. For years now, radical asexual folks have been the vanguard of this push to build a world where consent is possible. Not by simply saying “no” to sex (as Trevor points out above, aces often say “yes” to sex for a whole variety of reasons), but by insisting that allosexual society acknowledge and respect the existence of people for whom sex is not choiceworthy. And by theorizing and strategizing around how to reshape interpersonal relationships beyond the normative allosexual narrative (which claims not only that sex is a good thing
everybody likes, but that sex is in fact THE BEST THING and that everyone’s lives revolve around desiring it, whether they’ll admit it or not.)
since any friendly interpersonal intimacy that they share, physical or emotional, is seen as merely a precursor to their eventually wanting to fuck.)
To a great degree, the brunt of this work has fallen to asexuals because – especially for many sex-repulsed aces – the alternatives to resisting that narrative, i.e. “just putting up with” unwanted sex for the sake of smoother social relations, are especially intolerable. But it shouldn’t be up to the people for whom the consequences of compulsory allosexuality are the most dire to be the only ones working against it – because compulsory allosexuality fuels rape culture for everybody.
A world in which consent is possible is not only one in which asexuality is respected as a sexual orientation for specific people, but one in which asexuality is respected as a legitimate and authentic desire for all people at any time. When being sexually attracted to, aroused by, or constantly desiring sex with another person is not treated as a litmus test of your love for them. When having priorities other than “staying up all night to get lucky” isn’t considered a sign of being “broken.” A world in which there is no punishment attached to saying “no” to sex. For anybody.
I was having a conversation with an asexual friend of mine recently about how difficult she finds it to talk about bodies or touch, much less access touch with her body in a safe way, because even the language we have around those things is so loaded with allosexual assumptions; that all comforting intimate physical contact between adults is framed as sexual. She made the incredibly prescient point that even intimacy we might not consider explicitly erotic is sexualized (and trivialized) as “foreplay.” (Hence the addage that “men and women can’t be friends,”
Let me get a little bit personal for a second. Insofar as there is an asexual spectrum, I am probably somewhere on it – but where I am is much, much closer to the allosexual end of things. I often enjoy sex, desire sex, even crave sex in a deeply visceral way, and I usually experience sexual attraction to my partners, especially when I have a preexisting emotional connection to them. Once in a blue moon, I even feel sexually attracted
to a stranger. (Although that’s usually because I’m reading their blog and their ideas turn me on, rather than because I think they’ve got a hot ass or whatever.) And then sometimes…I just don’t. I don’t know why. (I was recently exposed to the term “requisexual”, which describes someone who experiences limited sexual attraction due to being psychoemotionally drained by past abuse, health issues, living in capitalism, etc. That kinda hit home for me. But who knows.) Regardless, in every significant romantic relationship I’ve had, I have gone through asexual periods often lasting several months at a time. Times when I sort of cease to experience myself or my partner/s in erotic terms and having sex becomes complicated and fraught for me. The impact of these “asexual intervals” on my relationships has varied based on the relationship. Sometimes it has led to months of incredible stress and crying and arguing and guilt-stricken fear of losing the relationship and hurt and sadness all around and feeling like I need to be in therapy. Sometimes, it has led to lots of time watching cartoons together and cooking and cuddling. Interestingly enough, I’m in one
of these periods right now; my partner and I haven’t had sex for a couple of months. What’s interesting is that, this time, it’s not because I’m in an “asexual period” – it’s because they are. Compulsory allosexuality wants me to give some explanation for why my partner, who is certainly not classically asexual, might not feel like having or even thinking about sex right now, and for how and why I’m able to “put up with” that despite currently being in a relatively sexually-desirous phase myself. But I don’t need to justify, because a) their reasons are nobody else’s goddamn business and more importantly b) they don’t need a reason to not want sex besides not wanting sex, and the reason I’m “willing to” just fuckin’ chill and not make that all about me is simple: I’m not a rapist. This isn’t unusual for us. When we first got together about three years ago, we were both in places where sexuality wasn’t really clicking for us, much less clicking between us, and because of specific facts about our sexual histories and orientations we weren’t really sure what sex between us could possibly look like even if we did want to have it. We spent the first six months or so of our relationship talking a lot of theory (including
David Jay’s amazing work on asexuality), collaborating on creative projects, having long intimate emotional-intellectualpolitical conversations late into the night, riffing back and forth across each others’ blogs, trying out some hallucinogenic drugs together, comforting one another when we were crying, and occasionally snuggling or experimenting with bondage. We didn’t know what to call this relationship, since neither one of us identified as asexual but our relationship was essentially an asexual romance, so we didn’t really call it anything. (And it totally freaked the rest of our partners at the time out, because there was obviously something major going on between us but we didn’t know how to talk about it, so we didn’t really talk about it.) Eventually, we did decide we wanted to try seeing what it might feel like to attempt to figure out how to even try having sex with each other – and so, with the judicious intentional application of some inhibition-lowering chemicals and the loving therapeutic guidance of one of Maymay’s former partners, we sort of… gradually felt our way into sex together. And it was amazing. And it was also really challenging.
And, seriously, every inch of our theorizing around consent as a felt sense has come out of own interpersonal work to figure out how to be intimate with each other consensually in spite of the fact that sex is not something that reliably feels good or desirable to either one of us. (And a great deal of the rolequeer theorizing has come out of our shared realization that, in some ways, taking on a submissive D/s role in previous partnerships was, for each of us, a coping mechanism for smoothing out the relationship strain caused by our respective tendencies toward intermittent asexuality – by essentially giving our allosexual partners a way to “ethically” force us to have sex when we didn’t want it.) And this is sort of what I’m coming around to: The concept of asexuality as a sexual orientation, with all of contemporary culture’s essentialism around the inalienability of sexual orientations, is a powerful hack for pushing the overton window in the direction of acknowledging peoples’ right to not desire sex or experience sexual attraction constantly. But, ultimately, it’s fucked that we live in a society where the expectation of everpresent sexual attraction and desire is
so unquestioned that many allosexual people will unconsciously risk raping someone they love rather than cope with the ego blow of accepting that their partner “just isn’t that into them” sexually right now, or possibly ever. And that goes for everybody, not just asexual-identified folks – although, like I pointed out above, the consequences of failing to make a cultural shift are most dire for asexuals. That’s a grammatically convoluted way of saying that any movement toward a culture that values consensual experiences needs the work that the Asexuality Movement has been doing to reject the normalization of area-level sexual coercion – and that work needs to be getting done by more than just asexual-identified folks.
So, if notions of consent as a felt sense can help us work toward developing “ways of regularly acknowledging, taking accountability for, and participating in healing work around the damage our coercive behavior causes,” – and if those tools can help continue forwarding the work of dismantling allosexual assumptions about all “permitted” sex being desired and experienced consensually by the person giving permission – then I think we might have a bit of a feedback loop going that could potentially...
blow some shit up.
Asexuality is not Cultural Conservatism
Written by Trevor Hultner October 26, 2014 I’ve been out as an ace for only about three weeks, and this is my first week writing about it. Already I’m starting to get the impression that asexuality as an identity throws a wrench into commonly-held ideas about how sex and political ideology collide.
of sex-positive feminism, you get stuck in what is essentially the waiting room of the concept. For many individuals, sex-positivity simply means “anything is great as long as it’s consensual,” and “anyone who finds grounds to critique sex as a cultural institution is automatically a conservative/fascist/my enemy.”
A little bit about me. Years before I started to investigate the possibility that I was a gray-asexual, I sort of tumbled head-first into anarchism - where I learned about the ills of hierarchy and domination - and then, subsequently, sex-positive feminism. It was feminism, and specifically the sex-positive kind, that really opened the door for me to explore my own sexual identity in the way that I have.
Now, this is obviously a problem for those in the aro-ace community, because our whole thing is that we don’t experience sexual attraction that much, if at all. Reductionist sex-positivity has no room for the sex-repulsed, anyone who dares to criticize the volume of sexualization in modern media, or anyone who feels uncomfortable with the idea that a healthy relationship must necessarily be a sexual one. Allosexual normativity is above questioning. And yet, here we still are.
So, I’m always going to be a little bit partial to sex+ feminism. I like that it emphasizes the fact that patriarchy forces a lot of toxic, archaic and ultimately predatory frameworks on individuals, and that the process of unlearning patriarchy actively increases the freedom and autonomy of an individual to imagine new possibilities for themselves and their partners. But it seems like if you’re not fully exploring the complexities
Asexual people are not internalized fascists. We’re not prudes, conservatives or people trying to take your sex away from you. Many of us, despite not feeling sexual attraction at all, will still have sex just because we want our partners to be happy, because that in itself makes us happy. We simply want what everyone else wants: a world where we’re free to be ourselves.
Aromantics are Fantastic Written by Trevor Hultner October 24, 2014 So last night, a friend of mine who had been reading the blog texted me while at work with what seemed to be a fairly simple question (which she has allowed me to repost, as well as the ensuing conversation): “Do you think it’s possible to be aromantic but also sexual?” “I don’t see why not,” I replied. I said that romantic attraction is just as much of a spectrum as sexuality is; they’re all connected-but-also-not-connected at the same time. Then the conversation got complicated. “Idk, some people might call that a sociopath. I watched this documentary about asexuality on Netflix recently, and I’ve been reading some on AVEN, plus the relationship I’m in currently and now I’m questioning everything ever,” she said. “Not feeling ‘romantic’ feels but being on a sexual spectrum, I mean. At least that’s what I’ve kind of been led to think. It’s ultra confusing. Not having romantic feels doesn’t mean you don’t have any at all?”
So, I have words about this. This is heteropatriarchy at work, first of all. But we’ll get to that in a second. My friend says that all of her emotional needs are met from platonic and familial relationships, and that she doesn’t desire anything else on that end of things. “Anything outside of ‘friends with benefits’ situations just wears me down because I have to work so hard to meet expectations and fulfill the other person’s need for intimacy when it doesn’t exist for me,” she said. “But when I try to explain it I’m accused of being ‘cold’ or ‘deceiving.’” There was more, but this is a good, natural stopping point to Hulk Rage. To directly answer the question, yes it’s possible to be aromantic and still exist on a sexual spectrum. I mean, of fucking course it’s possible. No gender/sexuality/romantic proclivity rulebook exists that I’m aware of that isn’t also tied up in some seriously screwy ways of thinking about interpersonal dynamics.
And it really should not be hard, in 2014, for someone to reasonably expect to be able to create an arrangement where sex stuff happens, but none of the mushy-gushy relationship stuff goes down. The term “friends with benefits” has existed since at LEAST 1995 (thanks Alanis) FOR EXACTLY THAT PURPOSE. Wanting sex but not romantic love does not make one a sociopath. Sociopathy is a serious mental health/personality disorder characterized by a lack of empathy and remorse, and marked antisocial behavior. Taking the view, as apparently some of my friend’s past boyfriends have taken, that experiencing a desire for sex but not a desire for intimate, romantic relationships means that my friend is fundamentally broken, IS A HUGE FUCKING PROBLEM. Calling someone cold and deceptive when they’ve told you what they want and don’t want in a relationship is supremely screwed up. It’s disregarding their wishes for your own personal emotional or sexual satisfaction. Telling someone that they haven’t found the right person, or randomly bringing up any latent “daddy issues” that they may or may not even have, or saying “I’d never hurt you”
while you’re trying to force your intimacy on them - all blatant disregards to their desires and hella abusive to boot. A good relationship is one where these desires are respected, and if either party’s desires are incongruous, then the relationship should absolutely break off with no hard feelings. If I go out with someone and it’s our first date, I want to let them know that I’m a gray-asexual, tell them what that means, and let them decide whether or not the romantic side of things is worth pursuing. If not, that’s fine. We have a good meal, we see a movie, we either stay friends or go our separate ways. I could think of worse ways to spend a night. Bottom line, don’t be a douchebag to people whose priorities and orientations don’t align perfectly with yours.
Toasting the End of Amatonormativity Written by Trevor Hultner October 24, 2014 Throughout the decades, the anarcha-queer project has kept the goals of sexual and gender liberation alive among the prevalent discussions of class, capital and culture in the anarchist milieu. In their same vein, we who identify as asexual and aromantic anarchists aim to spark discussion, dialogue and action around the goal of dismantling amatonormativity and its benefactors, kyriarchy and capitalism. As anarchists, our ultimate desire is for a brighter, freer and more just future. As aromantic and asexual individuals, our desire is for a world free from sex as a rite of passage and a prerequisite to full and unvarnished personhood and more receptive to diverse forms of love and intimacy outside the romantic realm. Critics of asexual and aromantic visibility often levy the accusation that we are pining for attention as unique, special snowflakes. According to our detractors, we see the issues that face asexual and aromantic individuals, especially adolescents,
as somehow being more important than issues facing transgender teens, or bisexual, gay and lesbian individuals. We stand accused of playing the ultimate game of identity politics. In reality, anyone who has been involved in visibility efforts for the aro, ace and agender community - regardless of whether they are anarchist - knows the truth: the negative patterns of behavior that are occasionally directed at us adversely affect everyone else, as well. When you realize that amatonormativity - â€œthe assumption that a central, exclusive, amorous relationship is normal for humans, in that it is a universally shared goal, and that such a relationship is normative, in the sense that it should be aimed at in preference to other relationship typesâ€? - is informed primarily by cisnormativity and heteropatriarchy, it doesnâ€™t take long to adopt a hard stance against those social norms. This should not be misconstrued, however; we are not interested in an attack on sex qua sex. We know that sexual
experiences and relationships can be intensely meaningful to those who participate in them. Likewise, our interest is not to dismantle romantic love as such. Unlike the rest of the asexual and aromantic visibility communities, however, we are not interested in merely raising up alternative forms of relationships while leaving the existing status quo untouched. If we are being honest, there will never be a time under the current order where things like queerplatonic relationships will be taken as seriously as monogamous relationships based purely on sexual and romantic attraction *as expressed in a way that does not upset patriarchy, gender binaries or models of consent that resemble work contracts.* No, we are instead rather interested in taking the whole motherfucker apart.
So this is a toast: to the end of amatonormativity, and all destructive hierarchies everywhere.
Ask yourself: What if tomorrow everyone participating in our society shed their preconceptions about what preferred relationships looked like and formed wholly new iterations of relationships that better suited them and the people they associated with? Well it’s not going to happen tomorrow, so now, instead ask: how can we make that “fantasy” real?
This zine collects articles published by The Asexual Anarchist on Tumblr.