Googling ‘asexual relationships’ generates thousands of results about how to date an asexual person. The vast majority of these results feature allosexuals writing about their experiences of dating an ace person. These pieces all feature similar prose — the writer talks about how difficult it was to date the person and how the lack of sex emotionally devasted them.
The numerous results suggest that either there’s a small group of asexual people ruining excellent relationships, or allosexuals with ‘high sex drives’ actively choose to be with asexual people despite knowing what is at stake. It reads like allosexuals trying to learn something from asexual relationships, tourists shopping for an experience to turn into a funny anecdote. Often, they’re trying to derive some nugget of wisdom about relationships while depicting asexuality through the lens of allosexuality. More specifically, they’re using compulsory sexuality to inform their understanding of the relationship.
Compulsory sexuality describes the assumption that all people are sexual and describes the social norms and practices that marginalize asexuality. In principle, compulsory sexuality is a system of social control that sets out the parameters for ‘acceptable’ sexuality. The concept emphasises that society’s definition of humanity and normality are tied to the sexual. The implicit assumption is that asexuals are abnormal for not experiencing sexual attraction.
“Compulsory sexuality is a system of social control that sets out the parameters for ‘acceptable’ sexuality.”
Unsurprising. Society has been socially engineered to view existence through the lens of sex. Our post-industrial, consumer-oriented capitalist system has turned sex into a commodity. Sex is exploited to sell products, which creates an environment that thrives on cultivating a diversity of sexual identities.
Our contemporary ideas about human psychology are intensely focused on the experience of sex. Freud based most of his psychoanalysis on exploring the interaction between the psyche and sex. He affirmed the necessity of having a satisfying sexual life to be fulfilled and healthy. For him and his successors, asexuality was a neurosis; a mental disorder to pathologize and eliminate.
The Erasure of Asexuality
We comprise only one percent of the population, which renders us susceptible to erasure, especially when medical institutions routinely pathologized our identity throughout the 20th century. In 1980, the DSM 3 listed asexuality as sexual dysfunction. Biomedicine further entrenched the pathologizing of asexuality through the invention of drugs like Viagra. Lack of sexual performance or desire was branded as a medical problem to be treated with pills.
We were branded as abnormal; our lack of sexual attraction was described as a mental ‘disorder’. Asexuality was only stripped of its classification as sexual dysfunction in 2013.
Despite this, we are still an invisible sexual orientation. Asexuality is frequently misrepresented in popular media. We’re described as robot-like. We’re depicted as cruel or heartless for not giving in to our base Freudian desires. Popular culture reinforces the belief that we cannot possibly exist because sex is human nature — for example, the ‘Better Half’ episode from season 8 of House. Dr House proclaims that sex is a fundamental drive of our species — anyone who doesn’t want to have sex is sick, dead or lying.
The Reality of Asexuality
Yet, here I am: I’m asexual, and there’s nothing wrong with me, nor am I lying. I’m in a happy, loving relationship with my partner. We’re both asexual and have been dating for over a year. We live together with a spoiled cat. Our relationship exists outside of the definitions of romance created by the binary of compulsory sexuality and is subject to constant scrutiny.
There’s no set template for an asexual relationship. I’ve been asked whether my relationship is like Todd Chavez and Emily’s in Bojack Horseman — one of the only compelling and accurate representations of asexuality in modern TV. This is difficult to answer since the question assumes that my partner is allosexual. Xe isn’t. Our relationship looks the same as every other happy relationship of cohabitation. We cuddle and watch TV series. We exist together and create a life for ourselves that exists beyond the expectations of the sexual.
“Our relationship looks the same as every other happy relationship of cohabitation.”
Sex happens, sometimes. It’s rare but it also occurs within a blissful mutual consent and trust cocoon. There are no expectations — merely the ecstasy of a shared experience.
However, to assume this is the norm is problematic. It reinforces the binary of consumption and reproduction that plagues society. The expectation of sex in a relationship directly results from the commodification of sexuality. Sometimes a relationship is just a relationship — there is no need to scrutinise its constituent parts.