On Aces, Relationships, and Being “Up Front”

This post is about extending the ideas to be found in this tumblr post (go read it, it’s good).  Note that, although that link doesn’t so much, this post deals rather bluntly with issues surrounding consent, rape, and sexual pressure from romantic partners, so be warned of that.

First of all, I just made a post about some of this, and apparently that message needs to get out even more than I thought it did.  However, Tani’s post reminded me of another thought I’ve been mulling over for a while, brought to mind again when I read the paraphrased sentiments at the beginning of their post: this idea that “…asexuals shouldn’t expect allosexuals to be in sexless relationships and should be up front about the fact that they don’t want sex etc.”

Let’s focus on the latter half of that for now, because I think the problem with “you shouldn’t expect your partner to not have sex with you just because that’s what you want” speaks for itself.

Every once in a while, you see allosexuals express this idea that amorous* asexuals have an obligation to “disclose” (i.e. come out) to the people they’re dating, and 1) I am under the impression that much of the ace community agrees that, yes, your sweetheart knowing your orientation is ideal, and 2) I, myself, also agree that your sweetheart knowing your orientation is ideal.

*Using this here to mean “people who engage in romantic-type partnerships or anything similarly coded”.

…However.

I take issue with this perspective in a couple of ways, besides its trivializing of the difficulty (and, yes, real danger) of coming out.

If we agree (as I presume many of those reading this will do) that you cannot reliably determine the sexual availability of an individual by such indirect cues such as what someone is wearing, what location they’re at, etc., and if that the viewing of those behaviors as “implied consent” is a paradigm that is as inaccurate and as it is harmful, then I think it’s just as worth questioning the default assumption (which, to be sure, we’re not going to change overnight) that sexual interest is implied within romantic interest and that, by extension, agreeing to date someone is tantamount to an implied promise of eventual sex, depending on the duration of the relationship.

What I’m saying is — if sex-averse asexuals are asked to disclose a disinterest in sex, can’t we also ask sex-favorable people to disclose an interest in sex?  Can’t we ask allosexuals to be up front about whether they care about their sexual attraction being reciprocated?  Can’t we go beyond acknowledging aces’ existence and edit the script for romantic relationships such that it doesn’t uphold the idea of “everyone’s sex-favorable + allosexual until proven otherwise”?

I get that this could be an awkward thing to bring up, but I’m also under the impression that communicating with your partner or datemate is a better strategy than simply not communicating and just hoping for the best — and if you think it’s too painful and awkward to bring up/communicate about your own desire to actually follow romantic norms, then you’re a hypocrite for expecting aces to do the even more difficult work of broaching the subject of breaking those norms.

Anyway, when people outside the community bring up this idea of aces needing to “be up front” about wanting nonsexual relationships (and, again, this seems to regard sex as something you have to specifically opt out of rather than consent to), I get the impression that those people are not all that concerned with being allies to us, and are more concerned about protecting fellow allosexuals from the bogeyman of the predatory non-sexhaving asexual out to ensnare attractive mates who otherwise could have been available partners to other sexhaving allos, thereby reducing the size of the sexual dating pool.

Not only is this concern kind of… suspicious and possessive, it also overlooks all the fears that aces themselves have in regards to romantic relationships, like some of what I wrote about in this other post, and the culture of love = sex that motivates some people to rape their romantic partners, which will never be less awful than some poor sad allo not having their preferred orgasms.  I refuse to prioritize aces’ responsibility to be “up front” and “disclose” their dislike of sex anywhere near as much as I will prioritize everyone’s responsibility to not rape.

If you believe it’s important for asexuals to tell their datemates if they don’t want sex, then it makes just as much sense to believe that people who do want sex are obligated to do the same, no matter how large a demographic that may be.

In summary: yes, it’s Neat and Preferable to talk to your romantic partner about what you want & don’t want to do with each other — and that goes for everybody, not just aces, because someone unwittingly getting their partner’s hopes up about sex isn’t “unfair” if that person hasn’t bothered to communicate their expectations in the first place.

That said, I recognize even as I say this that there are complications here.  To what extent would someone declaring a preference that their romantic relationships be sexual relationships in effect put pressure on their partner to provide sex, especially if that partner is a closeted asexual person?  To what extent are allosexuals prepared or even capable of clarifying (under conditions where this is the case) that they’re romantically incompatible with sex-averse people, and that such an incompatibility would be an appropriate reason to stop dating them, and that there would be no hard feelings if they did break up for that reason?

I’m worried about these things.  But I’m also uncomfortable with allowing people to assume it’s okay to continue treating “sex-favorable allosexual” as the unquestioned default, on no greater basis than “well, they’re the majority”.

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