I planned to write my post for the Carnival of Aces quite a while ago, but something came up this month that made me reconsider what I had planned to write about. I’ve decided to go with the original idea, but make it more generalized than I had originally planned. My blog is receiving a lot more attention lately (by several orders of magnitude!) than it normally does, so I’m being more cautious about what I talk about here.
Today, I want to talk about having sex with friends, and how while it may not seem intuitive, it might be a choice that some asexual people do want to make, and they can come out of it just fine. But the language we use to describe relationships like that tends to exclude asexuals, so it can be an even more difficult minefield to navigate than engaging in sexual activity while in a romantic relationship.
Back when this blog post by Snowdrop Explodes* about the phrases “friends with benefits” vs. “fuck buddies” was written, I stuck a link to it in a draft and decided to come back to it later, but then forgot about it until now. In it, Snowdrop says that he prefers the term “fuck buddies” because it is more honest than the euphemistically named “benefits” that also imply that friendships don’t normally come with benefits. In his words:
So how come the only “benefits” that are worth mentioning, or making special mention of, are sexual favours? Why is the rest of it considered not to be benefits of friendship, such that the only friends who come with benefits are the ones who’ll let you fuck them? Do you think that it is too literal-minded of me to suggest that “friends with benefits” means that all other friends are “friends without benefits”?
I don’t think it’s too literal-minded at all. At the very least, it shows that everything else in a friendship is being taken for granted. I think it’s very much worth considering the implications of the language we use to describe relationships like this on a literal level, because it says something about how we value certain things and devalue others. If on a cultural level we truly valued friendships as highly as sexual relationships, the phrase “friends with benefits” wouldn’t sit right with most people, and it would fall out of use.
I disagree with Snowdrop’s use of the term “fuck buddies” as basically a synonym for FWB, since I think (and he does note that this is how he sees others using the terms) they do indeed refer to different kinds of relationships, or at least, the same relationship viewed with very different emphases. If you say you have a “fuck buddy,” then you are saying that the primary activity that you do with that person is fuck them, just like if you say you have a “drinking buddy” or a “knitting buddy,” you’re saying you primarily drink or knit with that person, respectively. The activity is the focus, not the friendship itself. If anyone describes a friend as a “_____ buddy” to me, I will assume that they do hardly anything else but [fill in the blank] together. With the phrase “friend with benefits,” however, you indicate that the friendship comes first, and the “benefits” are an added bonus, although the fact that this particular thing is the only thing that gets to be called a “benefit” still devalues friendship.
The other term that I think really needs mentioning is “casual sex,” which wikipedia informs me has no set, commonly agreed-upon meaning. The way I tend to view it is as a wide umbrella term for different kinds of sex outside the context of a romantic relationship, including both one-time encounters with strangers and, on the other side of the spectrum, habitual encounters with friends. So both fuck buddies and FWBs are engaging in a type of casual sex, and while the relationships may be similar, the two phrases have a different emotional tenor.
To demonstrate… if I were in a relationship that I considered basically a FWB-type arrangement (for lack of a better term), I would be hurt if I found out I was being described as a “fuck buddy” to others by my FWB. Because to me, that means they consider the rest of our friendship to be shallow, nearly meaningless. It strongly implies to me that should the sex ever stop, so would our friendship.
I personally can’t imagine a situation in which I would be okay with having a relationship that focuses solely on sex. I always want to be friends first and foremost, and that includes in romantic relationships. I’m not the type of person who would be comfortable having sex with strangers, since there are so many considerations that I need my sexual partners to keep in mind about me in order to have a truly positive sexual encounter.
But with a friend? Maybe that’s possible.
There are lots of reasons why an asexual person might want to have sex. Among them are plenty of reasons that don’t necessarily involve romance, the most obvious of which is probably experimentation. If you’re curious to see what sex is actually like, and you don’t have anyone you’re interested in pursuing romantically in your life, a friend can give you the safety, stability, and support you need to try it. Some friends are bad choices to try this with, especially when they’re putting any kind of pressure on you to do it. I’d caution other asexuals who want to do this to be very careful with their choice of whom to do this with, because it can go very, very wrong, but if your friend is willing to give it a good deal of care, it can work out well.
But I wish there were some other way of describing a friend you sometimes have sex with, because all three of the terms I’ve talked about so far are not particularly asexual-friendly. “Fuck buddy” is usually reserved for the shallowest of friendships, and connotes high sexual desire on the parts of both people in that sort of relationship. While “friend with benefits” is a lot more neutral, it still devalues friendship to a point that a lot of asexuals, including myself, become very uncomfortable with it, and many people will still think that what you really mean is that you’re just “fuck buddies,” but you don’t want to come out and say it. If it’s the only term you’ve got, though, you’ll either have to go with it or give a tl;dr explanation to people who probably don’t care enough to listen.
What used to annoy me was that when I was still on OKCupid, occasionally I would get messaged by some guy, and I would explain that I was asexual. Of course, none of them knew what that meant. In trying to explain, I would say that it’s different from celibacy, and that it doesn’t necessarily mean that asexual people can’t enjoy or want sex. For some reason, they often jumped to the conclusion that somehow this meant that I was into casual sex, despite the fact that I’d just explained I don’t find anyone sexually attractive. I think a lot of it was just wishful thinking on their parts, because it really doesn’t make sense to jump to that conclusion, especially given that I specifically said that I was NOT interested on my profile page. Since I don’t experience sexual attraction (or spontaneous sexual desire), there has to be a LOT of some other kind of attraction or emotional attachment to make up for it enough for me to be interested in having sex with someone. For other asexuals that might be different, but even so, I think it’s better to assume that whoever you’re talking to is NOT interested unless they directly say otherwise.
These kinds of assumptions make negotiating a sexual relationship with a friend very tricky. There needs to be a lot of mutual understanding and trust between you for it to work, I think. They have to be willing to listen to you explain the type of relationship you want, and how it’s different from the standard FWB/fuck buddy paradigm.
I wonder if any asexual people reading this have made a successful go of a friendship where there’s sometimes sex involved? If so, I’d like to hear about it. What terms did you use to negotiate with your friend, and how did you describe the relationship to other people, if you did? Did you keep it quiet because others wouldn’t understand, or would have doubted your asexuality?
* By the way, I’m aware of the recent controversy about Snowdrop Explodes on WM, and have no particular opinion about it. Since he had some insightful things to say about this topic, and since this topic is not related to abuse, I’m going to go ahead and link to them. Please don’t derail this thread with that kind of discussion.
This post has been brought to you by the March 2012 Carnival of Aces. If you haven’t yet, you may want to consider submitting—I will be posting the round-up post in only 3 days!