My Friend's Partner Was Asexual

Carolyn Light

How important is sex in an intimate relationship?
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

*This is a true story that I’m telling with the full consent of all involved parties (names have been changed).

A few months ago, I was having cocktails with friends, when one of them burst into tears. Another one of our friends had been sharing with us a sex joke (it was also kind of a dad joke) that her boyfriend had told her the night before. We’d all been laughing, so we were shocked by the sudden switch of emotion.

Are you okay? a friend asked her. Why are you crying? What’s wrong?

Sorry, she said, I’m just buzzed.

Buzzed, and crying, our friend said to her. Do you want to tell us why?

Chris and I don’t have regular sex anymore, she cried.

Oh, honey, I think that’s fairly typical in long-term relationships, our friend said. It just kind of falls by the wayside of a busy life. Maybe you could talk to him about it.

It’s not that I haven’t been trying to have sex with him, our crying friend continued. I’ve tried romantic dinners, lingerie, candles — all of the generic ideas. We always have a nice night, but he rejects any attempts at sex. I asked him why and he said he’s tired. He’s always tired.

Is there something big going on at work? one of us asked her. He could definitely be genuinely tired.

Not to my knowledge, she said. I think he might be cheating on me.

We spent the rest of the evening trying to reassure her she wasn’t being cheated on. 

He’s tired, we said.

Cheating doesn’t seem like him, we said.

Long-term relationships have hiccups, we said.

You should have a conversation with him about this, we said. He’s really the only one who can clear this up with you.

The next day, she called me on her way to work. I spoke to Chris, she told me. 

Oh good! I said. How did it go?

I don’t know, she said. I haven’t decided.

What do you mean? I asked.

Well, he’s not cheating on me, she said.

Great! That’s great, isn’t it? I said.

Yeah, it’s good, she said. What isn’t good though, is that he isn’t attracted to me.

He said that? I asked, surprised.

Yes, she said, and apparently he’s not attracted to anyone else either.

Honestly, it does sound like he’s tired, I said. I don’t think he was lying.

He’s not tired, she said. Or, maybe he is. But apparently, he’s also asexual. She gave a rueful laugh. Can you believe that?

He’s asexual? I asked? So he…

…feels no sexual attraction to anyone, she finished for me. Apparently, he’s been working on this with his therapist. For a year. They’ve been working through how he can tell me.

Sidebar: one of the things I always appreciated about her boyfriend was his willingness to engage in therapy.

I’m not really sure what to say, I said to her. I think I’m still processing.

Me too, she said.

This piece isn’t about asexuality, so I’m not going to dive deeply into what this means. Like other sexual orientations, asexuality is complex and the experiences of those who consider themselves to be asexual may vary from others who also consider themselves to be such. According to Medical News Today:

Not everyone agrees on the definition of asexuality. It is a spectrum. An asexual person feels little or no sexual attraction, but they may engage in sexual activity.

The Trevor Project explains that “asexual” is an umbrella term for the spectrum — and that asexual people have the same emotional needs as the rest of us. Some asexual people don’t want any sexual contact, and others feel “neutral” when it comes to sex.

My friend’s boyfriend was in the former camp. Eventually, he told her that he loved her and her personality — loved their friendship and loved being paired with her — but didn’t feel the need or desire to engage with her sexually. He said that the sex they’d had in the beginning of their relationship was because he had not yet come to terms with his own sexuality, and that he had been engaging with her because he “thought that was just a required part of it.”

So, what are you going to do? we asked her the next time we were all out together. She’d had a bit of time to process his admission at this point.

Honestly, she said, I have no idea. I love him, I love being with him, he’s so special to me. Also, sex is really important to me. I love it, and I want to have an intimate and sexual relationship with the man I’m in love with.

We nodded.

I’m just not sure how important sex is to me in a relationship, she said. That’s what I’m taking the time to figure out. Obviously, I’ll never try to have sex with him again. I don’t want him to be dealing with that kind of pressure. But, I wonder if there is a way I can have both him and sex. Like, maybe we can have an open relationship. There are so many types of relationships today that can fulfill the needs of everyone.

She pitched the open relationship idea to him, and he turned it down. I know it’s selfish, he told her, but I’m just afraid you’d fall in love with someone else if you were sleeping with them. 

They broke up. Ultimately, she decided that she wasn’t willing to give up having sex, and she didn’t want to come to resent him for not wanting to have it with her. 

They’re both lovely people and are still great friends. She’s dating someone new, and he is seeing someone new as well — and he was fully open with this person about his orientation at the start. 

So, I leave you with this question: how important is sex, specifically in a partnership?

We know scientifically that human beings as a whole are programmed to desire sex — and we also know that sex has many mental and physical health benefits; sexual frequency of once a week or more is often considered to be a sign of overall relationship health.

 In a time when we’re seeing a variety of different types of relationships thrive — how necessary is it to have both your physical and emotional needs met by the same person?

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We're all just out here, doing our best. Pondering: Mental Health | Feminism | Relationships & Dating | Social Climate

Chicago, IL

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