DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m an asexual woman in her early twenties. As much as I sometimes detest it, I really feel no sexual attraction at all, and I don’t think I ever will. Before I became familiar with the idea of asexuality, I assumed I was heterosexual with a low sex drive… but even back then I hadn’t had much luck in the dating area. I either thought myself too young for a relationship or focused most of my attention on education and hobbies. (I also struggled – and still do – with many self-esteem issues, but back to that later.) Up to this point, I’ve only been in one relationship, in high school – which was long-distance and lasted whole two months. Nothing physical happened, really, except for cuddling and kisses on the cheek.
I suppose it also might be relevant that I struggle with depression, anxiety and a bit of social phobia. Self-esteem issues, originating from not very pleasant experiences from childhood, are also a big factor in my romantic life (or rather: the lack thereof).
The problem is that, well, I do want a relationship. I’m interested in men and want a long-term partner – maybe even marriage at some point. The problem is that, mental health aside, I don’t feel comfortable pursuing a relationship or even encouraging possible affection, because I feel a bit like a fraud. Explaining asexuality to people tends to be awkward, virtually nobody is familiar with the term, and the thought of, for instance, creating a profile on Tinder immediately causes the internal response of “Even if someone does like me, how am I going to explain the ‘no sex’ thing? And what man is going to pursue a relationship with me, knowing that it means no sex at all for as long as we’re together?”. I feel as if I’d be deceiving the guys involved – thinking they’re going to enter a normal relationship and instead being forced to get acquainted with a totally new concept of human sexuality, which means that they’re not gonna get laid.
Now, I do realise that some asexual people opt for a compromise and agree for their partners to fulfill their sexual urges with other people, but I don’t really feel comfortable with that idea. I’d really like to be exclusive with whomever I pursue a relationship with… but that seems like an unattainable thing to dream of.
Working on my mental health is, of course, a priority, but I would really appreciate some advice with how to handle dating while being asexual. Are my worries unfounded? Should I just be more confident with my value as a person and a possible romantic partner?
Thank you so much in advance,
DEAR ACE GIRL: This is going to be a thorny one and there aren’t any easy or clear-cut answers AG so let me start with this truth: you are absolutely deserving of and worthy of finding love and a relationship that makes you happy.
The tricky aspects come about when you want to define “relationship that makes you happy” and then going about finding one. As much as I promote maintaining an abundance mentality (more on this later), it’s possible to have things in your emotional or romantic make-up that’re going to restrict the size of your dating pool. If you (general you, not you, AG) are exclusively homosexual, then you by definition have restricted yourself to a much smaller pool of potential partners, just by dint of demographics; there are simply fewer gay, bi or pansexual people out there. That’s going to make things tougher.
In your case, being ace is going to cut down the number of potential partners; most people’s definitions of relationships include a sexual component, in one form or another. Now it’s entirely possible to have a companionate marriage – where your sex is de-prioritized or completely unimportant but the other aspects of your connection with your partner take priority instead. However, if you want a sexually exclusive relationship without sex… well, you’re going to have a much harder time finding someone who’s going to be on the same page as you. This isn’t to say it’s impossible, but the number of partners you might be compatible with will be very small indeed.
Now let me be clear: being asexual doesn’t mean that you’re not worth dating or defective. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have a lot to offer a potential partner or that there won’t be people who’d be lucky to be in a relationship with you. It just means that you’re not going to be compatible with a lot people… and to be honest, that’s for the best. Trying to make a relationship work with someone you’re fundamentally incompatible with is a recipe for heartbreak and sorrow, especially if you both really want to make things work.
So what about that abundance mentality I was mentioning before, when it’s pretty demonstrable that you’ve got a smaller pool of potential candidates than others? Well, abundance is about more than just playing the numbers, it’s about attitude. Maintaining an abundance mentality helps you develop and maintain your emotional resilience in the face of hard times and difficulties. It helps you not be destroyed by bad luck or dates that didn’t work out and encourages you to take risks that you might otherwise avoid if you believe that each rejection just means you’re one step closer to being forever alone. It means that you don’t get trapped in soul-crushingly toxic relationships simply because you think that’s this or nothing. So even when you can prove that your dating pool is more limited with charts and graphs, it’s still worth developing and maintaining that abundance mentality. Which actually brings us to the practical side of this ramble:
If you want a relationship, then you can and should look for one… just with a willingness to be creative and adapt to your circumstances. And a lot of that adaptiveness means deciding what compromises you are and aren’t willing to make in the name of finding a relationship.
To start with, you should do some deep thinking about just why you want an exclusive commitment. If sex is unimportant – or even repulsive – to you, then why would exclusivity be important? Is it because you worry that – even with an open relationship – your partner might want to leave you for someone who isn’t ace? Is it because you don’t know if you’re able to do the emotional balancing that open relationships frequently require? Is it because you’ve grown up with an expectation of exclusivity and you’ve gotten used to the idea versus what you actually want or care about? There’re no right or wrong answers here; you just want to make sure you understand yourself so that you can adjust your dating strategy accordingly. In terms of cold-blooded practicality, being open to a non-exclusive relationship will increase the potential number of candidates; however, in personal terms, this does you no good if non-exclusivity means you’d be carving out slivers of your heart every week.
You’ll have decide whether changing your standards is a compromise that’s worth making or if it’s a change too far.
The other thing I would suggest is that you adjust where and how you’re trying to find people. It may be in your best interest to find someone who is asexual, like yourself – it certainly simplifies the sexuality component of the relationship. I would also suggest that most online dating sites – particularly ones like Tinder – are not a good fit for you; most of the people there are looking for relationships where sex is going to figure in prominently. OKCupid isn’t going to do you much good if 99.999% of the people messaging you are looking for sex, after all. And while you can filter out the obvious bad candidates and search for people whose profiles de-prioritize sex, it’s still going to be looking for a needle in a haystack where the hay looks an awful lot like needles. Now there are ace dating sites or sites where people are looking for relationships where sex isn’t a priority, but you may have better luck simply building your social circle and finding your community. Cultivating a social network gives people a chance to get to know you and see all the wonderful things you have to offer instead of making a decision right off the bat like online dating does. This lets a potential relationship grow organically before they have to decide whether they think a relationship with you is going to be worth the price of entry.
I’m not going to lie to you, AG: you’re going to have a harder time finding the sort of relationship you’re describing right now than most people will. It may well take you longer to find someone than you’d like. You may decide it’s easier to be single and find other things that fulfill you. It’s going to be up to you to decide whether or not you think the trials are worth it. But whether you do or you don’t: take care of yourself, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Find your Team You, who can provide you with support and encouragement when you need it. You should be your own first priority.
Good luck. And write back to let us know how things are going.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’ve just started dating a guy with some major sexist hang ups. He’s from another country so some of it’s cultural, but one of the big ones is that he kind of shames me for having slept with him so early (even though he did actually attempt to get me into bed even earlier). I’m not the sort of person who goes in for casual sex normally, so me sleeping with him so soon was unusual for me, but I don’t judge so-called sluts either, if you want to bang people you just met, have at, whether you’re male or female, you’re not hurting anybody. Because of my history he knows I’m not “a slut” but he’s completely blind to the double standard he has with regards to men vs. women in the matter of casual sex. He’s slept with about ten times as many people as I have, and some VERY recently before I showed up. Plus, he slept with me within the same timeframe, so how is that fair? He says that promiscuous people are more likely to cheat, which as well as being a generalization with no basis in fact, is twisted logic that if we were to follow to its conclusion, means he is more likely to cheat on me than me on him. How do I introduce him to the concept of equality in this area without completely bashing him over the head with a feminist tirade? You seem to be good at communicating these ideas. Language is an issue too as you might have guessed.
DEAR “PROMISCUOUS” GIRL: Gonna be honest, PG: I’m kind of wondering whether it’s worth sleeping with someone who’s carting around all of these sexual double-standards. To mis-quote John Waters: if you go home with someone and you find out that they’re carting around a lot of sex-negative, madonna-whore ideas about women and female sexuality, don’t f
k them. I’m also not terribly big on the “…but if you don’t teach me, how will I learn” argument that comes up a lot around matters like these, or the idea that women can or should be the emotional Sherpa to guide dudes out of their awful attitudes while putting up with their BS.
But hey, you know this guy and I don’t. Maybe he’s got qualities that otherwise make up for the fact that he’s kind of a chauvinist pig. Maybe I’m being unfair and there’s a legitimate chance to help this dude see the light. So how do you go about trying to change this guy’s mind without making him feel like going to get the Clockwork Orange treatment from Andrea Dworkin? Well, you challenge his beliefs… carefully.
One of the mistakes that a lot of people make when it comes to arguing with others is that it’s very hard to brow-beat someone into changing their minds; in fact, fighting with them is a great way to invoke the Backfire Effect, which means that they’ll just double-down on what they already believe, evidence be damned. On the other hand, one of the best ways to change somebody’s mind is to let them think it was their idea – to hide the fact that you’re Jedi mind-tricking them by leading them to a place where they start to question their beliefs themselves. It’s part of why the Socratic method is so effective; it feels more meaningful when it’s your own thought.
Challenging him head-on – telling him he’s wrong and a bad person (even though he is) is a great way to make him get defensive and quit listening. It challenges his culture and world-view and that’s a hard thing to shake. Asking him leading questions, on the other hand, is a great way to start making him recognize the absurdity of what he’s saying – instead of your putting him on the defensive, you’re making him think about things he’s likely never examined critically in his life.
So the next time the matter comes up, talk about it… but from a questioning position, rather than a lecturing one. You want to emphasize that you respect his intelligence and see him as a partner instead of being ignorant. So taking up the point of “more promiscuous people are more likely to cheat,” then you point out to him the same logical fallacy you pointed out to me: doesn’t that mean he’s more likely to cheat on you? If he brings up the idea of women being sluts, then ask what makes the difference between a man with many partners and a woman with just as many. He’s slept with hordes of women, which puts him at far more risk for sexually transmitted diseases than you who’ve had far fewer partners. Why doesn’t this make him dirty?
(For the record, I hate the idea that having an STI makes you “dirty” or “unclean” which is all kindsa crap. But using his language can sometimes get through in ways that using terms he’s not familiar with so…)
Make him explain the rationalization for it, then point out how it makes no sense. Ask what the magic number is for women – how many partners can she have before she’s a slut? Why is it that one time that makes a difference between a woman and a whore? What’s the evidence for why it’s ok for men to act this way but not women? Don’t accept “that’s just how it is” as an answer; ask why it’s that way. Make him explain it, in detail. Question each part – what evidence is there, why is it “just so”, who says this?
It’s also worth putting a face onto his ideas. Does he realize how insulting he’s being when he’s slut-shaming you for giving in “too quickly” when he’s the one who was pushing for sex. Point out that he was trying to have sex with you much earlier than you agreed to. Doesn’t that make him the asshole for wanting something from you then insulting you for providing it? Why should he want you if you’re “too easy”and – more importantly – why should you want him if he thinks that you’re not as “pure” as other girls? For that matter, isn’t it kind of insulting all around for him to assume that it’s just how guys are to want sex more than women? Are men just animals who can’t control themselves? Are men simply children who need to be reigned in by people more responsible than they are? If so, why should you want to date a child who’s ruled by his penis and needs someone to say “no” to him?
Another thing that’s worth considering is the “enlightened self-interest” angle – showing why his attitude makes things harder for him and why being more enlightened sexually helps create a world where sex is actually more available. I know a lot of people dislike this idea – it can feel like you’re telling dudes to collect feminist cookies in hopes of getting more sex – but studies have shown that demonstrating the material effects of an attitude or belief is one of the better ways to change someone’s mind. You’re not challenging their belief, you’re showing them a better way.
The other thing to do is that you want an alternative explanation to his just-so stories; leaving that informational hole without something else to take its place just means that he’ll fall back onto his original beliefs. It also helps to have a response for the usual tired old arguments. If he brings up the old “a key that opens a lot of locks is a special key, a lock that opens to any key is a bad lock”, then point out that a pencil that goes into many sharpeners gets smaller and more useless. If he goes into evo-psych about humans and primates and alpha males, you can point out that the only primates who have sex outside of estrus are bonobos, who don’t have male-dominated harems. You may want to look into getting copies of books like What Do Women Want and Sex At Dawn that help provide science-backed alternatives to the usual slut-shaming narrative and books like My Secret Garden that may help open his eyes to what women’s sexuality is really like.
It can also be useful to have a guy friend talk to him about it; not only do (sexist) men tend to listen to other men over women, but people in general tend to be more receptive to new information if it comes from someone who’s of the same “tribe”.
But again: that’s all assuming it’s worth making the effort instead of kicking the dude to the curb. Because quite frankly, someone insulting you for “giving it up too quickly” is a pretty good sign that they’re not worth sleeping with in the first place. Your call.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)