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!
7 thoughts on “Sex With Friends: An Asexual Perspective”
At one point I had a friendship that involved sex. I don’t know if you would call it successful though. It lasted a few months, but I had issues with it not being the right thing for me. The sex I felt almost comfortable with, but this seemed to require a very close friendship, and it was the latter part I felt uncomfortable with. It demanded too much of my attention, and was too close to being romantic, without reaching it. At the same time there were some communication issues, and in fact we never successfully negotiated terms. Now we are just regular friends.
We kept it quiet, by unspoken agreement. I would have felt uncomfortable disclosing it to friends. How could I expect anyone to understand, if even I didn’t get it? I did disclose to my BF later, basically describing it as FWB.
That’s exactly what my issue was, when I was in a somewhat similar situation. At the time, most of the friends/acquaintances I talked to regularly were either mutual friends of his who were virgins and either somewhat incredulous that he would have girls over or didn’t understand sex at all, or people who had never met him and probably wouldn’t understand the situation, especially since I didn’t have words beyond the woefully inadequate “FWB” to describe it. In retrospect, I think the one girl I did end up seriously talking to about it at the time understood it better than I did, in some ways. Only towards the very end did I get in closer contact with someone who both knew who I was talking about, and could understand the situation, even though it took a while to explain.
Amongst my friends, such arrangements are simply known as being “friends who fuck” it avoids the argument about what constitutes “benefits”, but doesn’t put sex at the core of the relationship like “fuck buddies” can imply. As a term, I like it.
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Hm. I kind of like it too, but I probably wouldn’t use it myself in a situation like that, because I don’t think I’d usually have the kind of sex that people describe as “fucking.”
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So, I know I am commenting on this a million years after its posting, but I find very little discussion among that asexual community about these types of relationships, so I would like to throw in my two cents.
I did find that this kind of arrangement helped me a lot in understanding my identity. It was difficult in the beginning, because my friend and I just kind-of fell into it without a lot of pre-planning, and I hadn’t actually told him that I was pretty sure I was ace. He was very sensitive to the fact that I had a lot of conflicted feelings and repeatedly told me we could stop at any time, but I think he was just assuming that I felt uncomfortable with the idea of fooling around with a friend with no intention of having a romantic relationship, especially since I was fairly inexperienced. I went through a lot of inner turmoil, ended it a few times, then would restart it again, and half the time felt completely crazy for being an asexual in this kind of relationship. I would over-analyze everything, worry about everything (running the full gamut of paranoia from “is he using me?” to “is he falling in love with me?”), and question my identity constantly. It got to a pretty good place, though. He always respected my boundaries (whatever they were on any given day, since those were fairly inconsistent), always asked for consent for everything (and generally started with “what do you want to do?” but I often didn’t have a good answer–the whole point was that I was trying to figure out what I did and didn’t want/like), and I was able to learn a lot about myself.
We didn’t tell many people, and those we did we simply told we were having sex occasionally (or, as was the case in the beginning, making out occasionally)–we didn’t have a title for it. I still just referred to the friend in question as my “friend.” I dislike the FWB and fuck-buddy terminology for similar reasons to those stated above (and because I dislike the word “fuck”). I also didn’t feel the need for a special term–sex was just one of many activities I did with this friend, and all of the others did not put is in to some outside-of-friendship category, so why would sex? I just don’t think sex–or any activity–is that special on its own. My relationships are defined by the feelings of the people involved, not any specific behavior. I find giving that kind of power to sexual behavior is especially problematic given my ace-ness. I do not think a romantic relationship should be defined by the presence or absence of sex, so why would friendship be any different?
One time my friend did refer to me as his FWB when searching for a way to describe us, in a joking tone. I asked if he seriously thought of us as FWBs (non-judgmentally, I was just curious), and he responded “No, not really. I just think of us as us.” That made me feel good. :)
In terms of whether I worried people would question my asexuality: I wasn’t out to many people, and the only friend who knew both about the situation and that I was ace did not approve. He was convinced I was being self-destructive, or pressured into it, that I wasn’t getting anything out of the sex and was just forcing it to try and fit into the sexual world, rather than accepting my orientation for what it was. He eventually came around and apologized for not being more supportive, but at first that was really hard for me. The only friend who knew the “whole story” was convinced that this relationship was unhealthy. It exacerbated my own doubts and added to my fear that I had gone crazy.
So, yeah, there were some definite challenges, but over all it was a positive experience. :)
I have made, so far, a successful friendship involving sex with one of my very closest friends. Of course, I’ve only recently started labeling myself as asexual-asexual, but we’ve been navigating our relationship around labeless hurdles for the better part of eighteen months. The terms we tend to use are a combination of clinical psychology terms (dissociation, aversion) and a lexicon we’ve carved out on our own (a particular incident where I finally worked out how to explain that I don’t mind penetrative sex even if it doesn’t please me sexually by describing it as an “internal massage” springs to mind – I didn’t have the distinction between sexual and sensual at that point).
We’ve never really settled on a term for “us”. My own classification of it tends to swing around in circles – I generally describe him as my very, very good friend, but sometimes he’s my lover, other times my partner, a significant other or a boyfriend. I occasionally use the term “sex friend”, what I feel is a more tasteful and accurate form of “fuck buddy”, but also far more inclusive and placing a value on the friend ship. I have art friends and drama friends and school friends and best friends and nerd friends – these aren’t exclusionary labels, they are just descriptions of one of the many categories that my friends fall into – so why can’t I have a sex friend without basing our relationship entirely off of that one thing?
We keep everything pretty quiet, not for any of the reasons mentioned in the article, purely because it’s easier. Neither of us want the particular nature of our friendship known by people we don’t both trust. Additionally, I was having sex with him when I was still in a romantic relationship with my ex, with full consent and transparency (even if it didn’t turn out all too well). Most people wouldn’t understand the legitimacy of the situation. However, I do think that people would also struggle to understand the intimacy between us without it being romantic. If I do decide to tell someone, I generally say “oh, I’m having sex with him. Have been for a year and a half,” and then leave it at that.
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