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Thursday, Sept. 17, 2009

Asexuality and Relationships

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I am wondering how well asexuality can work in relationships. I am a 25-year-old woman and I have zero sex drive. It's not that my very wonderful boyfriend of over a year is unattractive, overweight, or just an overall bad guy. I just don't have the urge. What is wrong with me? He seems to think it is something wrong with him. I think there is something wrong with me. It's not like he doesn't provide ample foreplay when it does happen. I have thought greatly about this and have tried to connect it with men from the past who, in retrospect, seemed to only want one thing out of relationships. I don't want my relationship to end or to feel as though I have to "force it." What can I do? P.S. I have never had any circumstances of sexual assault that might have put me off of sex.

As I wrote in my previous column, asexuality is largely unknown and/or misunderstood, so I'm glad that you have asked more questions about the topic. I want to reiterate that there is nothing wrong with people who embrace an asexual identity, and there's nothing wrong with their partners either. Conflicts may arise when one person in a relationship wants to be sexual and the other person doesn't, but that conflict doesn't mean that either person is unhealthy, selfish or bad—it just means that they have differing needs and desires.

Asexual people do have romantic, loving relationships. Sex is only one part of a relationship, and mutual affection, commitment, support and caring are perfectly possible without it. Some asexual people seek out other asexuals as romantic partners; dating and personals sites for asexuals exist to help facilitate this. Other asexual people have relationships with people who are sexual and, as with anything else in a relationship, work out a compromise that acknowledges both people's needs. Some asexual people might choose to have sex with their partners even though they themselves don't feel any sexual desire; for others, this might be too difficult. Some couples with mixed sexual/asexual orientations might choose to be non-monogamous so that the sexual partner can get his or her sexual needs met by someone outside the relationship. The Asexuality Visibility and Education Network has an FAQ about asexuality and relationships, links to asexual dating sites, and forums for asexual people and their partners who are negotiating the terms of their relationships.

You mention several possible "causes" for a person's lack of sexual desire, such as past relationships or sexual assault. Asexuality is not a clinical term, and the definition is fluid—it can mean many things to many people. Lots of asexual people, however, feel that this is just how they are and that there isn't any specific cause. This is similar to other sexual orientations. Many (but not all) heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual or queer people feel that their attractions to others are inherent and not caused by any particular event or past relationship. So, your own feelings may not necessarily have anything to do with past boyfriends.

I don't think that asexuality is something that needs to be cured, changed or fixed. However, if you are struggling with whether or not you want to adopt an asexual identity and the conflict that this might cause in your relationship, you might want to seek counseling, either alone or with your boyfriend. This might help both of you to get over your feelings that there's something wrong with you or him and figure out where you want your relationship to go.

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

Laura Anne Stuart has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side.

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