For the asexually curious and the curiously asexual

Compromising positions

I’m going to start with the disclaimer that this is not my particular field. In the past, I’ve displayed a lot of visible privilege in the area of asexual/sexual compromise, being non-repulsed and also probably poly. Sometimes, I’m afraid that my comments on off-hand sexual compromise and polyamorous polygons are akin to ‘let them eat cake’ in the obvious privilege stakes. So, essentially, feel more entitled to tell me I’m wrong when I talk about this than you do when I talk about, say, how sexual aromantics aren’t evil.

I think the word compromise has massive connotations, both positive and negative. I’m of a generation that was always taught compromise is the maturest thing you can do. If you’re not willing to compromise, if you’re not willing to meet someone halfway, then you’re the worse party. At the same time, I grew up with language like ‘compromising yourself’, the idea that any form of compromise is selling out, that compromise tears something from the very marrow of your existance.

And this incendiary word is not always the best word to apply to the gunpowdery world of sex, especially mismatched sexual desires. I was thinking about this some more, and I’d like to propose a typology. This largely comes after reading Greta Christina’s explaination of why some sexual act are like tofu and some are like broccoli (worth a read), and trying to apply it to some of the concepts I’ve heard in the Sexual Partners AVEN thread and on Elizabeth’s blog.

Enthusiastic consent:

Sex acts which you like doing, primarily for  your own pleasure. In my opinion, this could include your psychological pleasure, if there’s some sex act which you love which doesn’t happen to tickle any of your nerve endings. Things you’d miss, if you didn’t have them.

Secondary enthusiasm:

Sex acts which you enjoy, but not in an especially sexual way. For instance, sex acts which you like seeing your partner get off on, but you wouldn’t be bothered about if your partner didn’t like them.


This can happen as part of secondary enthusiasm. The example which most obviously strikes me is a foot fetishist and a non-foot fetishist and a foot massage. One activity can often be deeply sexual to one person and completely not sexual to another person, and this is an important practical point.

Relationship maintanance:

An act you put about as much into as the hoovering or the washing up. I really don’t want to come down on the side of good or bad with this. On the one hand, I think for something to be what I would consider ‘sex’, both people have to get something from it, that’s what makes it meaningful, and if you can find SOMETHING you want out of some sexual activity your partner wants, I think that’s the right way to go. On the other hand, I can easily imagine a relationship with two sexual people, both of whom love recieving oral sex and both of whom are really not phased by giving it. Their sex life ends up better if they both indulge in maintainancy-type sex.

Sex you don’t like having:

See next category.

Sex you don’t have:

A category which is definately worth identifying, and building on as and when you see fit. It’s pretty self-explanatory.

This is just a rough sketching out of some ideas, but this is how I tend to see sexual ‘compromise’, and there isn’t actually that much compromise in there. I can’t really see where it would happen. Because neither party is ‘giving up’ anything, both parties are coming together to see that they can have sexual (or potentially sexual) activity that appeals to both of them, in whatever way.

(And that is, actually, quite an asexual way of looking at a relationship, starting from the assumption that there is no sex and seeing if there’s any compatibility from there. But I’d argue it’s also a feminist, queer, sex-positive way of looking at sex, NOT starting from the assumption that there is kissing and [] minutes of ‘foreplay’ and then intercourse. I’d argue it’s a much richer way of looking at sex in relationships.)


Comments on: "Compromising positions" (11)

  1. I passed this post and the others you suggested on to my colleague, thank you so much for the suggestions! You were the only person who responded to my call for resources on mixed relationships and I’m really enjoying the articles! I may have to create a page with links specifically referencing mixed relationships!

  2. Oh, I actually like this quite a lot, particularly the bit about starting from the assumption that nothing is involved and working up to what both people like and/or are comfortable with. Taking the expectation of anything off the table, the entitlement that if I am in this kind of relationship these things are a package deal, seems to me that it would take a lot of the pressure off the people in it as well.

    (I also think it’s worth remembering that not all asexuals are repulsed in having these conversations, for what it’s worth–no, compromise in general is not going to work for everyone, but it’s not totally unthinkable for everyone either. The point ought to be to consider everyone when thinking of things to talk about in relationships.)

    • See, that was kinda my point. I really don’t think anyone should be advocating that people who are repulsed by sex and can’t recontextualise anything sexual into anything positive should have sex. But the discussion around ‘compromise’ tends to take the nuance away from the seperate discussions of repulsion and sexless relationships and indifference and ways to still get something positive out of sex. It’s not a case of ‘compromise or not’, it’s a case of everyone having whatever sex is sensible for them.

  3. […] needs to be a broader understanding of models of consent. SlightlyMetaphysical recently posted a piece discussing ideas for this which I like–does it count as enthusiastic if the enthusiasm is […]

  4. LettersToSherlock said:

    Hi, I find this entry interesting for the fact that you have nearly completely skipped the category where all the compromise is happening – i.e. sex you don’t like having. Because this can include things from acts which one partner is uncomfortable with (not just unfussed about, but finds uncomfortable, distasteful or painful) but puts up with for the partner’s sake, up to within- and outside-relationship rape. Which, unfortunately, also fall under the heading of sex. On the lower end of the scale a partner may compromise to save a wonky relationship, on the higher end of the scale the victim may be forced to compromise in order to live. They are not trivial and there are many shades in between.

    Myself, I go through periods of intense asexuality and periods of high sexual activity. This periodic nature of my brain and body also has lead to many compromises in order to keep a long-term relationship going. So time is also a factor.

    • The reason I didn’t spend much time on that category is because I think that sex someone genuinely doesn’t want to have is sex they shouldn’t have. My point was that what we call ‘compromise’, and dress up as ‘the unwilling asexual lying back and thinking of England’ actually covers a massive range of different ways of and reasons to relate to sexuality.

  5. […] offered “reasoned consent” as an option, and slightlymetaphysical offered his own model.  More recently, ace-muslim suggested “informed consent” as a useful model for sexual […]

  6. […] offered “reasoned consent” as an option, and slightlymetaphysical offered his own model.  More recently, ace-muslim suggested “informed consent” as a useful model for sexual […]

  7. […] not particularly well-read on the subject outside of asexual space, but even more detailed models  of consent don’t seem to address this gap I feel. I don’t think it’s a problem with the consent, at […]

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