For the asexually curious and the curiously asexual

Archive for January, 2010

Small worlds

Today, it happened. One of those moments that the asexual activist always remembers. The first time I saw my name in print connected to asexuality. “[SlightlyMetaphysical’s true name] has never felt sexual attraction in his life,” said an article about virginity in one of my friend’s trashy mags, which we were reading at college. I wanted to scream and jump about with the sheer horror of it, but I couldn’t, because most of the people in the room didn’t know I was asexual. The article was about someone else with the same (common) first and last names as me.

Small worlds.

Mad about the boy

Regular readers will know that I have difficulty finding emotional connections between who I am now and the subject of asexuality. I don’t experience a lot of angst in general, and have very little about my sexuality. Anyway, I’ve found something, something that I’ve long known about, but have been thinking about a lot more recently, which fits nicely into a medium-sized meditation with a Noel Coward song title (and will hopefully make up for the last post, which was rather fragmented).

What I want to talk about today is Hollywood (which I will be using as a shorthand for popular, drama-based and often cliché-rooted films) and my asexuality. For Hollywood and asexuality in general, see some of Ily’s pop-culture musings.

I’ve always been a complete social constructionist, but, with the amount of messages we get about being born the way we are, I find it difficult to even admit to myself that a lot of aspects of my sexuality might well be taken straight from whatever confused ideas my adolescent brain plucked out of the social consciousness. For example, my ideal vision of sex involves two people, in bed, artistically lit, faces working furiously, but no genitals, simply because Hollywood told me that sex doesn’t happen underneath the sheets. Preferably in a montage.

I’ve been wondering more and more about my demihomosexuality, while still trying to keep the whole thing as open as possible. It occurs to me that my attraction to people carries a great deal more of emulation than the average homosexual reports. I have a desire to become the person I find attractive.

I have a suspicion that I’m beginning to see the original causes of that desire. Throughout my life, especially in adolescence, indeed, until about two years ago, I had to confront this bewildering world of sexuality. And I had absolutely nothing interior to guide me. With no desire to form my path through this new world, I had to borrow from other people. David Jay talks about sexual drag, as a form of witty wordplay asexuals can use to free themselves from negative stereotypes. I sometimes wonder if I’m subject to another world of sexual drag, knowing so little about my true sexuality, I hide behind the role of the straight man, adopting his mannerisms and even feelings if I need them. I created a personality in which to store all this, and I wonder if I’ll ever be able to reconcile the created sexual with the overly simplistic asexual and see where that leaves me.

The main recipient of my subconscious scrambling for role-models was Hollywood, and there I found a particular sort of man. He was thin and had an elegantly sculpted face, amazing hair and amazing clothes, and eyes you could get lost in. He tended to have an English accent, and a pretty little smile that betrayed this exact confidence in what he was doing. He always played the lead role. Of these 8 qualities, I possess only the accent, and it’s a lot less sexy when you’re not surrounded by Americans, but the body, face, hair, eyes, clothes and self-assuredness are all things that I’ve felt self-conscious about from a young age. I think what really attracted me to this man, though, was the way he always seemed, in an adolescent way, to know exactly what was going on regarding love. He had his desires precisely worked out, and would smile that neat little smile that told you it was so simple, being him.

I wanted so much to emulate him, and even now, I still do. I’d love to be able to step into that amazing confidence, matched perfectly by looks. I’ve wondered, in the past, why I seem to care about my appearance when a lot of sexual men for whom it might be more important in real terms just get by with confidence. Besides the fact that a lot of them probably hide their emotions, like me, and the fact that they have less notion of what’s pretty in a man, I think it’s because becoming that boy matters so much more to me, it signals this complete ability to ‘pass’, to have, in some way, earned my rank not just as a sexual, but as a real human being. After all, if Hollywood’s taught me one thing, it’s that you don’t get your own plotline until you have damn fine cheekbones.

Deepest desire- Human Instinct

Remember how the msn ‘today’ page is one of my most regular windows into the world of popularised heteronormativity? Well, today, looking around for something to blog in between my ongoing series, I saw an msn story labelled nothing more than ‘sexual attraction’, and I thought “Well, the definition of sexual attraction is one of the big asexual issues”, clicked on it and was taken to a 48 minute long video on the nature of sexual attraction, presented by the odious Professor Winston, who, despite his relatively inclusive and open-ended explorations of the basics of evolutionary psychology at a level pitched to the masses, somehow makes my skin crawl. I think it’s because, even as the relatively dim and socially blinkered kid I was when I last saw him, there was something vaguely disagreeable about his statements, but I may have just been projecting that. Anyway, now my cynicism is in full bud, and often directed towards popular ideas of sexual attraction, I thought I’d note what I think while watching it. This post will be incredibly odd, possibly incredibly long and mostly pointless, and I plan to return to another, much more structured, essay at some point this week.
Oh look, salsa dancing. Duh.

Begins with some statistics: What will each of us do more than 3,000 times in our lives? Oh, the harsh law of averages!

The instinct to have sex is vital if we are to produce the next generation. Really? Really? Cos, with contraception and IVF and such, the instinct to have and raise children seems much more important to me.

3.19 minutes in, and we’ve already limited ourselves to heterosexuals (cos gay people don’t watch documentaries, or expect to be included) and are exploring the difference between men and women.
3.55 seconds in, and we’ve got our first TERRIBLY, TERRIBLY flawed methodology. Hear my teeth grating. (They have one man and one women propositioning people, to see who’s most successful. Not counting at all for which one is prettier, a better speaker, etc). The results are predictable, but I’m afraid that the experiment will be used to support the idea that men and women are really, biologically different- in fact, it just has been!!- when there’s such a lot of social issues- slut-shaming and the idea that men who are direct are probably quite dangerous, but, no, it’s got to be about pregnancy. Gahh!

What underlies sexual attraction? Well, this should be interesting from an asexual point of view.
Oh no, wait, it’s just loads of montages of a guy in his trunks. Who, by the way, I find entirely unattractive, which disproves pretty much everything they’re saying about a universal standard, but then, I am attracted almost entirely to pretty faces and amazing hair.
Science has proven that a man’s body affects how attractive his children are. Well, of course! If you select a perfectly random beauty standard, then the people who are most attractive by that definition will produce those who are most attractive by that standard.

Ok, I know I’m a dyed-in-the-wool social constructionist, but there is completely no accounting for social mores and learnt behaviour in this at all.

Here comes the ‘Mr. Right-Smell’ theory. God, I’m so bored of this. Gonna phase out for the next five minutes.

Men, at least, are always primed for a potential mate, even if they don’t know it. And, we have biological evidence for this hackneyed and socially damaging idea!!
Oh, and it’s about testosterone. Men are constantly sexual because they constantly have testosterone ready. Except for the fact that testosterone does loads and loads of things, it’s not just a sexy, sexy man male sex hormone. And it’s also constantly present in women.
I really hate it when they use entirely spurious science like this to support whatever horribly damaging and hurtful status quo stuff they want to say.

It’s a lot more about gender than it is about sex. Another shoddy methodology, “It’s not as scientific as the stuff I do in my laboratory, but it’s a lot more fun.”
Fun to those who are invested in keeping old, conservative gender and sexuality alive maybe. But if you think about it as an adult, you’ll realise that this sociology-as-biology thing is actually just messing everyone up.
The experiment, by the way, is seeing whether a handful of pretty, middle-class women (who I think may be the millionaire-chasers he just interviewed) preferred him in rags or riches. Except these six women clearly knew exactly what the experiment was, and presumably had a biased view from the start. Also, ‘raggy Winston’ had no fashion sense. Believe me, it doesn’t take money to look sharp.

Infidelity. “What on earth could drive a woman to be unfaithful? The answer begins with biology.” I bet the answer isn’t going to be “Women sometimes like to have sex. Deal with it.”
“Most men are fertile all day, every day, and everyone knows it. But women are a little more complicated.” Thank god. Thank god, as a small child, I wanted to punch this guy. All that’s changed is that I have the vocabulary to disagree with him, and to actually know why his ideas are stupid and wrong. I’m glad that I wasn’t overreacting when I first watched him, and I’m glad that I didn’t just swallow his lies.

More about how women are evil. Sob story, sad music. Like they’re the only ones who cheat. The programme was made for the straight, male viewer.

Winston compares his sexual prowess and testical size to various animals. Eww.

“Men posess a powerful instinct for sexual jealousy.” 40.30, and I’ve turned it off. I won’t learn anything useful to asexuality, I won’t learn anything.

What annoys me is that I remember watching this programme. I remember a vague feeling of unquiet, but generally believing everything it said. After all, scientists said so. And if I did, how many others?

Q+A with Joy Davidson, part 3

Copy-paste from last time:

All the disclaimers from last time apply, the article is found in its entirety here, and I don’t own any copyrights, etc, and am quoting from it for the purpose of analysis.

Part 3:
Karen in Cincinnati Writes:
I had sex numerous times in my 20s and 30s (I am currently 43), but I only did it because the males in my life wanted it. Sex has always been extremely uncomfortable for me. I guess I could say that it hurts. However, I have performed it because the men in my life wanted it.
My husband, though, is not asexual, but has an EXTREMELY low sexual libido, and has chosen to be abstinent concerning sex with me. So, we had sex a very few times when we dated, but we haven’t had sex one time since we have been married because he knows that sex is painful for me.
Even though sex is painful for me, I can become aroused with the “right” movie, etc. I can also get “hot” with kissing, etc. However, I can only remember getting aroused one time in the five years we have been married and it was when I was watching a movie.
So, should I go to a doctor again to see if there is a way for me to have pain-free sex, or should I just be content with my asexual lifestyle or can you recommend another solution for me?

It has occurred to me pretty much every time I read a help column, and occurs even stronger now, but I’d hate to be an advice writer. My answer to pretty much every question is ‘that depends’, anyway, and when you get someone who gives you a little information and expects you to know not just what their problem is, but how to solve it, I know I’d have difficulty giving equal weights to all options. There are so many questions here. Is this woman asexual? If not, does she find her husband attractive? Would she enjoy sex if she was aroused? Can she get aroused on her own? Would she enjoy sex if it was done more to fit her individual needs? Does she fantasise about sex? Does she, or would she consider, doing anything other than ‘sex’? Does she have some medical condition that makes sex painful for her? If that was cured, would she enjoy sex?
I’ve thought it over, and my answer would be to give her a list of those questions and tell her that these are things it would be good to know, but not urgently. Her partner seems completely unfazed, and, heck, there’s a lot of stuff you can do in bed that doesn’t involve any form of pain (a lot of asexuals do other things, rather than coital sex), and negotiation on that front could keep the two of them both incredibly happy with their sex life. It’s worth exploring whether she can turn her arousal into that of what we think of as a ‘fully-functioning’ sexual woman, but it’s not necessary to know that, and she’d be better accepting herself fully as who she is at the moment (and a little boost of self-assurance is often just what you need to get the latent arousal flowing). I’ve got a feeling Joy’ll disagree with me on this one.

Davidson Responds:
We live in a culture that is saturated with sexual images, yet it is pitifully devoid of real sexual education for young people, which translates into a poor foundation for adult relationships. Uninformed teens grow into adults who may spend years, even decades, basing relationships on the minimal or incorrect information they accumulated as youngsters. Today’s emphasis on abstinence-only education leaves many couples without basic knowledge about how their bodies work or what to expect in a relationship. Much of your own suffering — as well as your husband’s — might have been prevented had you acquired comprehensive information about sexual health and pleasure. Nevertheless, I’m so glad you wrote now! You’ve described a complex situation, but there are two points that stand out: First, no one should ever have sex that is painful or even uncomfortable. Pain is a symptom that something is amiss and needs attention. And having sex because someone else insists is a surefire way to feel disempowered, which can erase whatever authentic desire you might otherwise have felt. If you were having sex you didn’t want, then you were certainly insufficiently aroused and lubricated, which could have caused sexual intercourse to be painful. In addition, certain medical conditions also make intercourse — and sometimes even gentle sexual touch — painful. Given your background, the precise cause of your pain can only be determined by a thorough sexual history and physical exam.
I would urge you to see a doctor, but, this time, be sure to see someone who is well-trained in the practice of sexual medicine and comfortable discussing the extent of her expertise working with patients who have sexual pain conditions. Anyone who is reluctant to have this conversation with you or doesn’t supply satisfactory answers is not the right doctor.
The second key point is this: Many people think that sexual desire is supposed to hit like a bolt from the blue; that a woman should merely look across the room at her partner and feel overcome with sexual urgency. If she doesn’t feel that way, she may imagine that there is something wrong with her or with her relationship. The reality is quite different. Many people — especially women in long-term relationships — feel desire only after they have experienced sexual pleasure and arousal. So, a long, lovely kissing session, or the right kind of caresses, or the mental stimulation of an erotic movie or conversation, could initiate the arousal that leads to a desire for more. However, building up arousal to the point where you are ready for intercourse — physically and emotionally — can be a slow process. Many women simmer “on low” for a long time before their heat begins to rise. Along the way, any disruption can turn the flame down and leave her cold. A partner who rushes, the experience of pain, even a major mental distraction can snuff out the fire. Anybody who has had only a few poor sexual experiences may conclude she is just not very sexual, when, in fact, it is pretty healthy not to feel sexual under circumstances that are uninspiring, counter-erotic or unpleasant!
I hope you’ll see a doctor about your pain, as well as learn more about your sexuality by taking advantage of the many resources — books, films and Web sites — that provide exceptional adult sexuality education. I have a list of some of the very best sources on my Web site, www. JoyDavidson.com, and invite you to have a look. You’ll also find answers to nearly every sexual question at http://www.LoveandHealth.info. And the AASECT.org Web site has referral information to sex therapists and a list of excellent sex education books written by its members.

I think I remember, reading this through for the first time and thinking “maybe I should make a blog series on this”, that this answer was about when I started to actually like Joy. Until then, I could grudgingly admit that she maybe had a point in her problems about the asexual community, and I knew she was probably very good at being a therapist, but, based on hasty first impressions, there seemed something a little too conservative in the (few) views I’d seen her share. It was at this point that I finally realised she was on the same page as me with a lot of the important issues- too little real sex education, abstinence-only that doesn’t work, a sexual model that doesn’t support women’s arousal patterns and physiology, we agree on pretty much everything except, maybe, the importance of sex in a healthy relationship (which is an incredibly fraught and complicated issue anyway, and I’m not too sure where I stand on it myself).
Also, isn’t it sad that we have the need, in our society, to give advice like “sex that doesn’t attempt to stimulate you mentally or physically isn’t the best sex to arouse you” to a woman who has the intellectual capacity and maturity to write and send a letter?

(Aside: Joy’s comments about the ill-preparedness of young people reminded me of this speech, which I read very recently, and which implores me to propagate it. Worth a read, I think)

Joy, as I suspected, focuses much more on how the woman can enquire about her sexuality, learning new things. This is partly because she has a greater range of useful knowledge than me on where you go to find out all that stuff, but I notice that Joy’s position in this article urges a far less ‘adapt to what you’ve got’ approach than the majority of asexual-written advice. Sure, this means that an awful lot of people will find out ways in which they can live closer to the sexual standard, but I would argue that this doesn’t always make you happy. It can often be best just to have the confidence to say “I like who I am. I like what I want and don’t want, and I’m going to work around every issue,” which is what you’d have to say eventually.
It’d be particularly easy in the case of this woman, who doesn’t have to force herself to change, all she has to do is learn to be happy with what she is, and deal with whatever comes of it. It’s a more important skill, that’ll probably make you a lot happier, and end up a lot truer to yourself, in the end.

On a different matter entirely, I wanted to look at the asexual connotations for a moment of this idea; “Many people think that sexual desire is supposed to hit like a bolt from the blue; that a woman should merely look across the room at her partner and feel overcome with sexual urgency. If she doesn’t feel that way, she may imagine that there is something wrong with her or with her relationship. The reality is quite different. Many people — especially women in long-term relationships — feel desire only after they have experienced sexual pleasure and arousal.”

It has a couple of very different meanings taken in an asexual context. Firstly, this is an incredibly good use of Pretzelboy’s rarely seen ‘Argument from Below’ * – basically, how do you know you’re asexual when you have no way of quantifying your level of desire compared to everyone else’s? Maybe you’re perfectly normal, or normal enough to not really be asexual, but you have this weird idea of how sexuality works, that it involves this sudden pheromone change like mating season on the discovery channel, when, for most people, it’s a whole ragbag of intimacy and romance and physical attraction and the physical desire for sex all mixed up together.
It was something I struggled with, from the opposite angle, before realising myself to be demisexual, trying to quantify all my feelings as “Well, that’s not sexual, because…” and then thinking “But there’s probably loads of people out there who have exactly the same emotions, who define themselves as straight or gay or bi, when the only differences between them and you are their ability to be satisfied by romantic relationships and not to wildly over-analyse everything”. I think it’s an argument worth looking at.

The other interesting thing about this idea is its relationship with the conventional asexual idea of demisexuality, which is often described as only being able to experience sexual attraction once you’re in a romantic relationship. I don’t know how this fits with my ‘ragbag’ theory of sexuality, presumably only in the presence of intimacy and trust can sexual attraction and desire develop. What’s interesting here is that Joy would define this as part of the normal range of sexual responses of straight women, while a lot of demisexuals prefer to label themselves as asexuals, because they feel it’s more representative of their normal state of being. It’s this whole idea of the Line between asexuality and sexuality, and that asexuals might actually draw the Line higher than sexuals would. People like me and the conventional demisexual mess it up completely by saying ‘Well, we feel sexual attraction, but the label of asexuality is still more useful for us to identify by’, and that gets confusing, because asexuality is based on not feeling sexual attraction. (more thoughts on the Line to follow at some point in the future, once I’ve thought them)

NOTE: If the only function of this series were to spark a conversation between myself and Joy, I would probably have written that last part very differently. It discusses things right in the deep end of asexual thought, things we haven’t really discussed ourselves yet, but it flowed so naturally on from the letter that I thought I might as well bring it up, in case there are still other asexuals reading this series.

*part of being asexual appears to be in having a birdwatcher-style ticklist of things people say when you come out to them, and I feel like I’ve just spotted a red kite.

Apositive

I don’t go on it much, though I’ve somehow managed to figure how to get a feed from it (despite a dismal understanding of Web 2.0), so hopefully that’ll alert me on any interesting topics that I feel I could make an impact on.

However, on the basis of this post, I’m going to link to it, because it really should be in the first google page results for ‘asexual’ and ‘asexuality’, and I want to do my (small) bit.

Check it out.

Q + A with Joy Davidson- part 2

All the disclaimers from last time apply, the article is found in its entirety here, and I don’t own any copyrights, etc, and am quoting from it for the purpose of analysis.

Also, a considerable amount has changed since last week. One of the main reasons I took this article and decided to look at it more closely was because I wanted something approaching a dialogue between the asexual community and Joy Davidson, and I thought a fair analysis of her words was the only way. Since then, she’s come forward and said that she is prepared to have that dialogue, which I completely wasn’t expecting. There are still a number of reasons to examine the article more closely, even though I think it’s best to measure Joy’s opinion by her current words, not what was reported 4 or 5 years ago.
Hopefully it’ll kickstart that discussion, and I think many of the views are those likely to be similar for many therapists. It’ll also produce some interesting ideas about or linked to asexuality that aren’t the ones asexuals necessarily think of. It may show how asexuality is represented in the media. If it fails to do any of those things, or have any current relevance whatsoever, it’ll at least be a history lesson, and those are always useful.

Having said that, I think this’ll be a disappointing part of the series. I’ve had a glance through the article, and decided to do letters 2 and 3 together, because they’re quite short and focused more around relationships with a low libido than around asexuality, and I don’t feel I can add much to Joy’s relationship guidance.

Part 2:

Cecelia in San Antonio, Texas, Writes:
We’ve been married for 13 years and haven’t had sex in over 11 years. Looking back at the first year of our marriage, I realized I had been the one to initiate anything physical. It was my second marriage, and I have one child; it was his first marriage and we met, got engaged, married and went on a weeklong honeymoon all in less than three months. Before we married he claimed to have too much respect for me to resort to sex before marriage. We have wonderful vacations in remote and romantic settings; we love to cuddle. We sleep late on the weekends and take afternoon naps together, but on his part there is absolutely not a hint of desire or passion much less sex, I’ve seen the uninterested look on his face and his less than willingness to touch me anywhere! I sometimes wake up in a panic, knowing I will never in the boundaries … of this marriage have the pleasure of sex again. I married at 39. I am now 52 and extremely frustrated!

Putting aside questions of whether these are genuine or created to address an issue, this letter rings so true to a lot of things said on the Sexual Partners and Allies forum on AVEN. The romance and the cuddling (which I think are often signs of overcompensation in an unknowing asexual), the complete lack of desire which the asexual partner thinks is perfectly normal, the buying into conservative ideas of sex to normalise your lack of desire for it, the plea for understanding from the partner, which, unfortunately, not knowing her husband, is very hard for a stranger to give.
(side note: If a guy says he respects you too much to have sex with you before marriage, being a closeted gay or asexual is actually one of the better scenarios. The other is that he has a load of weird ideas about the purity of women and sex being evil that you, as his future sexual partner, should definitely address before you get to the altar)

Anyway, none of this means he’s asexual. Asexuality could very well be causing all of it, but there are a number of alternatives. You could argue that, in a pragmatic sense, that doesn’t matter. The problem is that he won’t have sex with her, and she can’t foresee a relationship without sex. I suppose it depends whether your advice is “Ditch him,” or “Talk it through. Try to work something out. Then, if he doesn’t pull his weight, or you decide you’re too different, ditch him.” If the latter, you’re going to need to at least touch on what it is he doesn’t like about sex.

Davidson Responds:
Unfortunately, you can’t “work out” a sexual problem with an unwilling partner. What you can do, however, is tell your husband that you love him dearly but don’t want to live a sexless existence forever. You need make no apologies for desiring a new level of intimacy in your relationship. Let him know you understand and respect the fact that he has blocks and resistances to sex with you , but that you’d like to explore them with him in counseling. If he is willing to consider couples therapy, don’t wait another day. If he is not, I urge you to get counseling for yourself. You deserve some help in considering all your options and making clear and responsible decisions about your future.
This is a good place to mention that I highly recommend that anyone who chooses to see a sex therapist select one who is certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists. AASECT’s standards for education, training, and supervision are rigorous, and knowing that someone is AASECT certified is the only way to be certain that they have the qualifications you need in a sex therapist. Many general therapists call themselves sex therapists because they talk to clients about sexual matters, but the only gold standard for training and certification among sexuality professionals is AASECT. A therapist in your area can be found on its Web site at http://www.aasect.org.

Joy’s definitely in her element here, and all that is good advice. What they need is structured communication, to see what common ground they have, to explore the partner’s issues around sex, and to negotiate, and the best place to get that is with a qualified therapist.
One of the key issues that comes up again and again in the story of sexual/asexual relationships, those that failed and those that succeeded, are ideas of blame and naturalness. Undoubtedly, at least one partner will feel that they or the other person is to blame, that they or the other person should be ashamed of their unnatural interest, or lack of it. It seems to be one of the hardest things to get past.
In that case, and with so many asexuals out there looking for relationships with sexuals, I think making sexual people feel comfortable in their sexuality is just as fundamental to the wellbeing of asexuals as making asexual people comfortable in theirs. So I think the asexual community should be completely behind Joy when she starts by saying that the writer should be proud and confident in her identity and needs. It’s only when both partners accept that of themselves and the other person that they can start to negotiate.*
However, for the sake of balance, it would be nice to also have a little bit that says “While you’re not to blame, and you need to be respected, he deserves the same treatment.” The ‘make no apologies’ line on its own reads a little too close to a disregard for his consent and lack of desire for my liking.

*This is where the asexual community comes in useful. For asexual individuals, it does so much good to be able to say “There are people like me. There’s a name for what I am,” and it helps build confidence and the ability to really think about and have the words for what you want (and don’t).

Frederick in Pennsylvania Writes:
I am 56 years old. I have been married for 11 years. My wife and I have not had sex or any affectionate relations for many years. We have a 17-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter. We rationalize and claim that we do not want to divorce for the children’s sake. Recently, we realized that we are not diplaying an accurate representation of the type of loving relationship we would want our children to experience in their lives. Any suggestions ?

This person lives in a completely different world from me, and I’m seriously rather stumped as to his problem. I know from my parents that, if you’re willing to do absolutely anything for the sake of the children, a clean, friendly divorce is possible, and that’s going to teach your kids loads more stuff, about maturity and not just accepting what life gives you than being stuck in a bad relationship would. Also, 17 and 11 year olds are nowhere near so fragile that some major, mature life decision by their parents is going to mess up their ability to love (their parents being constantly aggressive or passive aggressive might, though).

So I have absolutely no idea where this letter is coming from (it’s the result of a time, place and value system that are largely alien to me), and can’t really comment on the big asexual issues. Sorry to disappoint.

Instead, I’m going to briefly mention the problems caused by most of the external representations of asexuality being in the form of problem pages (it’s either that or life-affirming curiosity of the week, which is probably only slightly better).
Asexuals, and asexual/sexual couples, need positive role-models as well as negative ones, they need to see asexuals who are confident in their sexuality doing their own thing, and examples of the great things that can happen when an asexual and a sexual get it right. There’s something about these articles that suggests relationships between asexuals and sexuals are one big seething mass of pain and heartbreak on all sides, mostly due to the quite obvious sampling bias, only people with problems write in, but it all builds up after a while and the situation looks rather hopeless.
True, they’re difficult relationships to pull off, but I’d like to see more acknowledgement (among asexuals, too) of their good sides. These relationships rely on communication and non-sexual activities (which are like the transferable skills of the social world, in that you can use them to deepen any relationship, not just a romantic one), the sexual ones have a pick-and-mix approach to sex that can work better than doing it in the ‘right’ way, they bring together two people with different viewpoints and force them to co-operate, they force issues of non-sexual adultery a long time before the tricky issue will be figured out for most people, and I expect a stable asexual/sexual relationship may well adapt better into middle age, a time when a formerly well-matched pair often get differing sex drives, amid some confusion.
Yes, these are often minor things, but they’re there, and I’m sure there’s a lot more that haven’t occurred to me, and the point is that these relationships shouldn’t be seen as just a problem, something to overcome. In an ideal world, they should also be celebrated for what they are.

Davidson Responds:
I applaud you for realizing that staying together for the sake of the children may not be doing them a real service. The absence of touching, kissing, and general physical affection — not to mention the void in romantic energy between you — offers your children no reliable template for intimacy. If you do plan to stay together, you need to get serious about rekindling the romantic and affectionate side of your relationship. If doing it for yourselves seems awkward and embarrassing after all these years, think of it as a hurdle you need to leap for the children. This may be where “for the sake of the kids” actually means something!
There are many books that can help you find direction, including David Schnarch’s “Passionate Marriage.” You will probably need some counseling as well, since change of this nature can be difficult even with help, and head-spinning without it.
If you’re unable to re-ignite intimacy within your marriage, counseling can help you separate in a way that supports your ongoing relationship as co-parents and generates the least amount of disruption or insecurity for your children.

It’s reasonable that Joy doesn’t mention asexuality here. The original letter doesn’t mention it, and it’d be wrong to presume. But the answer also seems to deny the possibility that this woman really doesn’t want sex, has no intimacy left to ignite.

Joy’s answer assumes that a marriage without ‘intimacy’ should be separated in a way that’s as harmless as possible. I don’t know if I agree with this. It depends on the definition of intimacy. It could mean ‘any form of human connection’, in which case I completely agree. It could mean ‘hugging, kissing, dating, the more corny aspects of romance and sex’, in which case the decision is far less clear. It is true that there are relationships which don’t have those elements and can still thrive for what they are. I personally believe that relationships without any of these elements can still be strong enough to base a marriage on, and I’d like to see that represented more. However, these relationships are difficult to manufacture, and starting from a basis of a relationship that never questioned all this before, with two partners who are having to question all their basic conceptions about how everything goes, and with the risk that, if you get it wrong, things could get nasty and not good for the children, I can completely see where a new asexual and their partner would decide to respectfully cut the ties and build up from scratch.

One final after-thought: An awful lot of asexual culture directly relates to the gay culture of decades before. Back when homosexuality first became a common word, there were lots of people who realised, in a marriage, that this new label applied to them, causing heartbreak all round. The spread of asexuality could result in a powerful new set of tools for people deciding and communicating just how much sexual interest/attraction they have, and, in a generation’s time, the asexual (or similar) who discovers themselves too late could also become greatly reduced.

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