This is another post in which I talk about repulsed romantics, which is what a lot of people mean when they say ‘asexuals’, and the nature of sexual compromise in any relationships they may have with sexual people. I am not a repulsed romantic, I am neither repulsed nor romantic. But we as a community need to talk about this, and my blog seems to be mostly useful as a sounding board for cleverer, more productive people to take up the issues. My not-so-secret plan is to continue talking about repulsed romantics in sexual relationships, a subject I’m totally unqualified to talk about, until I offend enough repulsed romantics that they start being vocal in the asexosphere telling me how wrong I am.
So a lot of advice I’ve seen for repulsed romantic people involves non-monogamy as a major component of working around incompatibility. On the one hand, I really like this. The idea of a polyamorous polygon in which not everyone is having sex (and possibly one in which not everyone is having traditional romantic relationships) appeals to me enormously. And it’s good that the asexual community tries to be actively supportive of non-monogamy.
But I often see polyamory as the first advice given. I think it’s a useful sideline (‘Well, there’s always polyamory, doesn’t hurt to consider it for five minutes), but as a main piece of advice, I think it’s useless. A lot of people reliably inform us that being poly isn’t for them, many after genuine and serious consideration. I don’t understand this, but I’m going to accept it as reality. So we could be really alienating the monogamous repulsed romantics by suggesting that you need to be open to polyamory if you’re going to have a successful relationship. In extreme cases, it could even be akin to saying that asexuals being in relationships with people forces suffering upon that person, and the asexual has to do everything possible to alleviate this.
Then we get to practicality. Those who have a general non-monogamous bent might manage to find themselves in polygons where some of the sides are sexual relationships, some are romantic, and some are both. But polyamorous partners don’t exactly drop out of the sky for a lot of people. In many communities, trying to solve an asexual’s number problem by saying “There you go! You can now date not just asexual people, but also any polyamorous people you find who are understanding enough to start a relationship with you!” could increase the prospective number of compatible, likable partners from 0 to… 0.
And taking a traditional monogamous relationship and outsourcing the sex works for some, but has its own practical problems. The polyamorous community tends to be wary of primary relationships where a secondary person is seen as expendable, and the asexual – sexual – bit on the side relationship is capable of becoming notorious for that. Alternatively, there’s a temptation for asexuals to say “You can have sex with whoever you want, but only a romantic relationship with me.” I’m wary of putting any sort of restriction on emotional intimacy anyway, but this seems to allow the asexual to pretend to get rid of any responsibility while not actually creating another workable option(note: the ‘responsibility’ here is NOT the responsibility to appease your partner sexually, but the responsibility to communicate and make sure the relationship is workable for both partners, which MIGHT include acknowledging that your partner needs to be appeased sexually or the relationship must be let go, depending on the strength of the partner’s feelings).
Sex involves another person consenting, and the only way to get that reliably is through sex workers. In a lot of places, this is illegal and very morally questionable, in others, the sexual partner may still not want to visit prostitutes, and it’s quite a large-expenditure solution over the long term. Alternatively, the sexual partner could rely on whatever casual sex they can aquire in bars. Which will involve a lot of nights when they’re forced to choose between snuggling down with the asexual or trawling for one-night stands that might never happen, not to mention the fact that one-night stand communication is notoriously bad, and you end up responsible for the well-being of not just one other person in the relationship, but possibly hundreds of incidental faces.
Hopefully the Craigslist Revolution, combined with a more enlightened sexual attitude, will flourish to the extent that, in 5 years time, the idea of anyone not being able to find a simple and well-communicated purely sexual relationship will be laughable. In the meantime, the ‘open relationship’ model requires a lot of work.
In short, non-monogamy has its drawbacks. By offering it as one of the first and most major ways asexuals can make it work, we’re enforcing the idea that asexuals are responsible for taming this uncontrolled beast of sexual attraction, a beast that I’ll soon argue is fictitious. Non-monogamy is simply not a practical option for a lot of asexuals, and we need to address that.
Unfortunately, that means talking seriously about sexual ‘compromise’, what it really means and how it’s done. And what happens when there is no ground to compromise on- what relationship models do we propose for the totally-repulsed-and-unable-to-recontextualise monogamous romantic?