As a teenager, Cijay Morgan couldn’t understand the fuss her friends made over dating and boys. “My friends were pairing off and talking about crushes on movie stars, and I just didn’t get it,” remembers Morgan, now 42. As an adult, her dating life always stalled because she had absolutely no interest in a physical relationship.
Then, a few years ago, Morgan stumbled across an online community of people who defined themselves as asexual, meaning that they did not experience sexual attraction. “It was absolutely liberating, like bells ringing and doors opening,” she says. “I felt like going up to everybody and saying, ‘There’s a word for me!’”
According to a surprising new study, one in 100 adults has no interest in sex. And as awareness grows, more and more people, like Morgan, feel comfortable proudly identifying as asexual. Although they don’t want to bond between the sheets, many of them do want to fall in love or find a life partner. But in a world where sex can seem all-important, dating and relationships pose special challenges for them.
A recent study suggests that asexuality may be surprisingly common. Of the study’s more than 18,000 participants, one percent said they agreed with the statement, “I have never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all.”
As with any sexual orientation, what’s considered “asexual” ranges widely, and there’s a huge variety in the experiences of people who identify as asexual. “A lot of [asexuals] have had some sexual interest at one point in their lives,” says study author Anthony Bogaert, a professor at Brock University in St. Catherines, Ontario.
Love without sex
But just because someone isn’t interested in sex doesn’t mean they’re not interested in love. While some are happiest alone, asexual people can feel romantic attraction and have intimate relationships. They may like to cuddle and be physically close to others. Some get married and even have children. (In Bogaert’s study, 33 percent of asexuals were currently married or living with a partner.) “When it works, it’s not about the sex you’re not having, it’s about all the other things you share together,” says David Jay, 22, who’s known he was asexual since his early teens.
The challenge, of course, is finding a partner who either has a similar lack of interest in sex or can compromise. If you’re asexual, it’s important to get that out in the open early on, says Tina Tessina, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and author of The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again. She points out that the topic of what you’re looking for in a relationship often comes up during the early stages of dating, and that can provide an opening to say something like, “You should know that I’m not very interested in sex.” “Sex is an expected component of dating these days,” she says. “If you’re truly asexual, you need to let people know that. And if it’s going to chase someone away, so be it—why would you want to hold on to someone who’s not right for you?”
Norman, 20, got to know his current love interest online before breaking the news. “I just braced myself and said, ‘There’s something I have to tell you: I’m asexual,’” he says. Luckily, there was enough interest on both sides that the two are trying to make the relationship work, despite their sexual differences.
Bridging the sexual gap
What if you’re already in a relationship and you think you or your partner may be asexual? “If one of you isn’t responding to sexual overtures, or is constantly putting the other off or avoiding situations that could turn sexual, that’s the indication that something is going on and you have to talk about it,” Tessina says.
To do so, sit down in a calm moment, outside the bedroom, Tessina says. Then open by saying, “I realize that you’re feeling frustrated and that I’m not responding sexually to you as much as you like,” or “I’m feeling frustrated and you’re not responding sexually to me as much as I’d like.” Ask your partner how he or she feels, then give him or her a couple of minutes to talk, without interrupting. If you know or suspect that you’re asexual, say so, but be sure to tell your partner, “I care about you, and this isn’t a personal rejection; I just don’t have an interest in sex.”
Finally, talk about possible compromises. Some asexual people do have sex to make their partners happy, while others can’t tolerate it at all. These couples need to invest in lots of frank communication, as Norman and his partner are doing, knowing the right balance will come with time. His advice to other couples in the same boat? “Talk it through with your partner and find a middle ground. Neither one of you can bend all the way to one extreme. Only the two of you can decide what the right compromise is for you.”
For more information on asexuality, visit the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) at www.asexuality.org.
Article by: Jeannie Kim, a New York-based writer and editor who writes frequently on relationship and health issues.
Updated November 2016
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