So you’ve come to the conclusion that your husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, datemate, sweetheart, smooch, or life partner of some sort… might be asexual. If you’re in this situation, it’s very important that you be careful as you proceed. Here’s what you need to do.
1) Calm down. I’ve seen people act like this is the end of the world, and it’s not. If your partner is asexual, figuring that out is not the same thing as finding out that your partner is an international spy, or a drug lord, or a robot. There are a lot of things that could happen from here, but it’s going to be okay. If you’ve got negative initial feelings about this, you need to put those on hold for now.
2) Research. A lot. Don’t just take a glance at the AVEN wiki and the wikipedia page and then think you’re all set to go. Research. Seriously. This is something personally relevant to your life. Are you going to trust a dictionary definition and a Yahoo Answers page and leave it at that? No, you’re going to root around Asexuality Archive, you’re going to find swankivy’s youtube channel, you’re going to study everything I’ve got on this blog’s Links page, you’re going to look up asexual people’s accounts of their experiences — coming out stories, personal reflections, daily gripes and complaints about non-asexuals who don’t understand, as much and as many as you can find — because you’re going to do this right, and that means looking past the dry definitions into the real meat of the matter, as told by asexual people themselves.
You’re going to make sure you understand exactly what asexuality is and what it isn’t. You’re going to study up on what’s appropriate to say to an asexual and what isn’t. You’re going to learn what kinds of prejudice and negative bias asexuality is subject to and all the illogical, unscientific beliefs they’re founded on. You’re going to learn the difference between sexual attraction, sexual arousal, and sexual behavior. You’re going to learn how to talk about sexual attraction and all the other types of attraction and how they’re different. You’re going to get more familiar with this subject than the back of you hand and then some. And then you’re going to remind yourself: you still don’t know asexuality as well as the people who experience it. Defer to their judgement. You are not an expert.
3) Determine what you need. If you’re reading this guide, chances are you’re not having as much sex as you’d like to (or think you’re supposed to). Regardless, you’ve got two choices before you.
If you think your sexual preferences and your partner’s sexual preferences are incompatible, that is an appropriate reason to break up. If you don’t want to date, marry/be married to or romance/be romanced by a person who doesn’t find you sexy, to the point where that’s an absolute dealbreaker for you, that is an appropriate reason to break up. Anything is an appropriate reason to break up, in any relationship. You’re allowed to take that choice.
The most important thing to remember, though, as you seek to verify whether the aforementioned possibilities are the case, is not to blame your partner for being the way they are. As you should have learned during your research spree, asexuals are often anxious and terrified that they will be seen as defective and unloveable and will be rejected for their asexuality. If you do choose to break up, emphasize that you’re doing so because the two of you are incompatible, not because you see anything inherently wrong with asexuality. Thorough research on asexual people’s experiences will enable you to do so in a way that avoids being passive-aggressive or condescending and will help you to empathize with their situation. Even if you are angry with your partner and still hold certain things against them, it’s important to stress that asexuality itself is not one of these things. For more input, Hezekiah has written some notes on ending a sexless relationship that you can view over on their blog.
However, if you do want to continue the romantic relationship and are even willing to compromise your sexual desires in order to remain with your partner, that is absolutely an option. There are many asexual people who enjoy being in romantic relationships, and there are some allosexual (non-asexual) people who can and do have healthy romantic relationships with asexuals. If your partner is asexual, it does not mean that they do not love you. Not all love is romantic, for that matter, but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. So, consider this good news: if you want it to, your relationship can still continue.
The point of this step — determining what you need — is for you to commit to one of these options. It’s one or the other. If your hunch turns out to be true and your partner is asexual, you’ll have to either accept their asexuality or end the relationship. Continuing the relationship while acting as though you are entitled to their body and trying to change them is not an option.
4) Put yourself in their shoes. Before approaching your partner on the subject of asexuality and whether or not it may describe them, take a good, long time to ponder, if they’re asexual, what it must be like for them to live in a culture that pressures them into pretending to be someone they’re not. Think about the stigma against asexuality as a personal flaw, a product of emotional damage, as a mental disorder, as a severe, unacceptable problem and its casual association with of a lack of humanity, and then think about the hesitance that they might have to apply that label to themselves in such a context. It is extremely common for asexual people to discover the word for their orientation (and that it’s an orientation at all) rather late in life — usually on the internet or through a friend, by complete chance or happenstance — and it’s common for them be slow and doubtful about adopting it as their identity label. If you haven’t already found at least half a dozen separate instances of asexuals reporting this experience, that’s a sign that you have not researched enough.
Understand that many asexual people experience a period of feeling lost and confused about their sexuality and identifying instead with a different (incorrect) label, which they may be hesitant to part with. The way sexuality is commonly talked about in our culture can make it difficult for them to come to terms with their true feelings until they can be reassured of what asexuality is and is not. As such, even if your partner is 100% asexual, they may not know that they’re asexual. It is not fair to hold that against them. They are not intentionally deceiving you or victimizing you by not having access to a complete understanding of themselves. If you need someone or something to blame for this unnecessary confusion in your relationship, blame the society that thinks educating people about asexuality is unimportant. Keep these things in mind as you go forward.
5) Communicate with your partner. Do not confront your partner. It is important not to be hostile, or else they will not be receptive to anything you have to say, and then the entire conversation will have no hope of being productive.
First, it may be helpful to pick an article or compile some resources to share with your partner (it might be helpful to include something like this, but look for other things, too). Bring what you’ve selected to the table with them or send them some links as in an email. Then be prepared to have a discussion about their thoughts. What do they think? Have they heard of this before? How do they feel about it?
Regardless of whether your partner ever decides to adopt the label for themselves, they may react in one of two ways: 1) cautiously/positively, in a way that is accepting of asexuality as a valid sexual orientation that deserves support, or 2) critically/negatively, with a dismissive or scornful response that raises allegations you should already be familiar with — claiming (or asking whether) asexuality is a mental disorder, an attempt to “look special”, simply a choice and not a real orientation, etc. If their reaction falls into the latter category, it is important that you redirect them to the correct information and properly defend the validity of asexuality as an orientation. This is for two reasons: 1) because they could be an allosexual who might go on to harm an asexual person with their prejudiced attitudes, and 2) because they might be an asexual person who needs your help overcoming internalized anti-asexual beliefs. It’s your responsibility to communicate your disagreement in either case. Be confident but gentle.
During the discussion, if things are proceeding smoothly (or even if they aren’t), give them the information they need, communicate that you would accept them (and, if this is true for you, still love them) if they turned out to be asexual, and let them have time to process. You should keep your expectations reasonable here — don’t go into this conversation expecting your partner to immediately say, “Yes. That is what I am. You found me out.” Be open to the possibility that your suspicions were wrong (you don’t necessarily have to bring those up) but be sure to let them know — if you’re choosing to keep the relationship — that you’d be okay with having an asexual partner. Leave it available as an “option”, so to speak.
Be willing to talk about the subject multiple times and have this conversation more than once. Be willing to compare your experiences with theirs and talk to them about how sexual attraction feels for you, while being willing to retreat from the subject if they seem uncomfortable. Let them know, if this has been a point of contention between you, that you understand that they don’t have an obligation to have sex with you under any circumstances, and reassure them of their right to bodily autonomy. During this conversation, or after some time, your partner might inform you that they think they might be asexual. At this point, confirm again that you would be okay with it and reassure them of your acceptance.
If you have more questions about asexuality, you can always send them to me (anonymously, if you wish) via my Askbox.
Note: I am writing this as a response to the posts I’ve seen by people who were suspecting that their husbands might be asexual and who were handling the matter inappropriately. My hope is that this post will reach someone in the same situation before they make any of the same mistakes.