Guest Post: Traveling Together, You May Find What You Seek Close to Home

The following is a guest post for the Carnival of Aces by Olivier, who has been a very insightful and eloquent poster at AVEN for the past five years. I personally have found his and his wife’s story quite inspiring, as I find my own attitude/tendencies to be somewhat similar to his wife’s, and had I not discovered asexuality so early in life, I suspect my own story would might have ended up sounding a lot like theirs. Here is how he describes himself:

I’m a heterosexual in a 22-year relationship with an asexual. Like many longer term sexual/asexual relationships, my wife and I had not heard of asexuality until relatively recently (2007), and for many years struggled with the failures of other theories, such as sex-aversion or libido-mismatch, to adequately describe the dynamics of our relationship. I’m incredibly indebted to AVEN for helping us put a name to something that we’d known about – lived – for decades, but had always misunderstood by looking at it through weird normative lenses instead of just seeing it for what it is.

The post is pretty much as he sent it in, but I chose the title.

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So. Sexual exploration. I’d been banging around, looking for an analogy (‘cos I like analogies!) when the one I wanted sort of slapped me in the face: exploration! Or in a less 19th-century-pith-helmet way, finding somewhere nice to go on holidays together.

First, a bit of personal background. I’ve always got the impression in asexual spaces that sexual exploration is seen as something natural for sexuals to do lots of, and very much an optional thing for asexuals. I don’t necessarily disagree, but that’s not really been my personal experience. I have pretty vanilla tastes, and so in some senses I’m pretty easy to please sexually – not much exploration required. Just pack me off to the nearest beach, or city full of theatres and museums, or rainforest with waterfalls, and I’m happy. My wife on the other hand, knows that these sorts of things are generally regarded as good holiday experiences, but they do nothing much for her. Some people might decide that they’re basically a homebody and leave it at that. But not my wife, her natural reaction is to go exploring.

And so it was for us at the start. We’d do sexual stuff that I found really quite fabulous, and that my wife was putting a lot of effort into. As people who’d never heard of asexuality, and who saw both ourselves and each other as heterosexual, this seemed to me to be a perfectly normal way to approach sex and relationships. But then it would stop. And when it started again it would be something different, approached with gusto. Until it stopped. In hindsight it’s easy to see this for what it was – an asexual who thought she was sexual trying to find the thing that would do it for her. At the time however, it just seemed like the girl I was crazy about was just way more sexually adventurous than I was. Now, that’s not a bad thing, at all, but it is really, really, really, the wrong expectation to take into a long-term sexual/asexual relationship. Drama and confusion, of course, ensued.

While I was wondering what was wrong with that nice beach town with cool places to hang out, my wife would be planning a few weeks in Afghanistan to see if an element of danger made travel more fun, or a month in a place where nobody spoke a word of English, just for a challenge. And some of these places I enjoyed, and others not so much, but being with her certainly broadened my horizons. Problem was, and is, that even places that ticked all the boxes for her in theory, she didn’t much enjoy in practice. For all that drive to explore, there turned out not to be anywhere she particularly enjoyed going. And while she liked some of them well enough once she was there, she still thought that none of them were worth what you had to do to get there – airports and expense and lots of boring standing in queues.

So what’s a guy to do? My first tactic was to deal with all that boring stuff for her. Spend weeks planning. Get all the details sorted. Have things she liked – good books, tasty food – on hand for every step of the way to make all the transit fun. But when you’ve planned the perfect holiday in your head, there’s only one possible outcome: disappointment. And so with our sex life, until we finally admitted what we knew all along – all that exploration and adventure is basically not going to work for us.

So what to do?

Firstly, take a deep breath and get some perspective. For all the fact that sex is not what either of us hoped or planned, we’re ridiculously well matched and happy in every other department. In travel terms, we may not to get to travel much, but we’ve made sure our home is a great place to be, too.

Secondly, our compromise is to do stuff sexually that’s quick and not very adventurous, but is still something. Ironically, this is what works best for my adventurous wife, and leaves less adventurous me wanting more. Not at all what we would have predicted, but it works well enough for us. So it’s like taking a short drive to a beach we both like instead of spending a week in a resort, which would be torture if one of us didn’t want to be there.

And, you know, that’s not the worst, or most uncomfortable way to live. Sometimes I still get the travel bug, and sometimes even a drive to the beach is too much for my wife, but on the whole, it works, and it works well – simply because it’s shaped by the sort of people we both are. Sometimes all that exploring just makes you want to stay close to home.

Q&A IV: Advice for DrkChief

DrkChief on Formspring asks:

I hope im not out of bounds but im in a relationship and we both think that im asexual and I am at a loss as of what to do and just wonder if you know anything that could help?

He clarifies:

Hi again, okay well we are monogamous, and as of now she’s responded positively but would I guess rather it not be this way if it didn’t have to be and with sexual activities we have been dating for just over a year and it’s been the first relationship where either of us has done anything sexual with a person in a relationship and so Neither of us knew what to expect I guess but as we started trying to do more (I’m at college and she just finished her senior year so finding alone time was hard) it was like she wanted the sexual attentions more then I did and at first I didn’t know but she thought I just didn’t find her attractive and so then I started doing stuff just to try and make up for that and there were times where I think I genuinely wanted to do it but I’m the type of person who has always done what other people wanted or even didn’t want me to do to make them happy and I think I might just enjoy being able to experience some of these thing because of what I’ve been told that it’s supposed to be the the best thing ever (I have two older brothers who have been preaching this to me). One of the big things is I’ve never started any of the sexual things we have done it’s always been her and I have been anxious/scared to be alone with her in case she wants to do something and I’m not up to it or I’ll be able to please her but her not me and she takes it as being her fault. Sorry for rambling but just another piece of information is that about two years ago I was trying to find out if I was gay or bi or really anything and this was before I knew her but that was because I originally felt that the lack of sexual attraction I felt was equally low for both female and male I wanted to know If I was that, and about a year after I has started thinking about this I had my gay brother (drunk) holding down and telling me basically that I should not be gay (this was around when I told her for the first time that I had thought I was bi or gay and at that time (a bad choice) I had gotten myself to believe that I had figured out that I was straight) and this just made me think about it more and more. And sorry it is so long I’m just glad for any advice at all.

To summarize briefly, the basic situation as I understand it is this: you’re in the process of figuring yourself out, while in a monogamous relationship, and you and your girlfriend have both started to think that you’re asexual. Now, you don’t know what to do.

Well, first of all, I have to ask: you’re at a loss as of what to do about what, exactly? Presumably, this has to do with the sexual parts of your relationship. But what about it? I want you to really ask yourself what your goals are here, and be specific about it. Some people, upon realizing they are asexual, start to think that maybe they don’t want to be in a relationship at all, or only want to be in a relationship with either another asexual, or someone who is comfortable forgoing sex. From what I can glean, you seem to be looking for a way to maintain your current relationship while staying true to yourself. But what exactly does that mean? Does it mean not having sex at all? Having sex at a certain frequency, or in a certain way? It’s certainly possible for sexual/asexual couplings to work out well, though it depends on a number of factors. I’ll talk a little bit more about that in a moment.

But first of all, since you are just recently coming to identify as asexual, I want to talk about that. When I first realized I was asexual, having gone through a similar phase as you where I thought I was bisexual (and later pansexual), it was a comforting realization. It was like, “Oh, wow, this is a real thing. I’m not the only one.” I never really thought anything was wrong with me, so it wasn’t really anything like feeling that “I’m not broken after all!” like some asexuals describe. Other people describe their realization that they’re asexual as being to some degree upsetting, either because it’s a huge change in their world view or because they feel like nobody would ever want to date an asexual, and so on. So how do you feel about it?

This can’t just be about placating your girlfriend. Whatever solution you decide on, make sure it is what you genuinely want. It worries me that you say, “there were times where I think I genuinely wanted to do it but…” If you’re having sex you don’t want, that is not okay. It’s not your duty to have sex with your girlfriend. It should be a choice that you make, not because you feel you have to or because you’re pressured into it, but because you want to make it. There are plenty of reasons why you might want to do it that don’t have to do with sexual attraction. But here’s the thing: if you’re only trying to maintain the relationship, if you’re only trying to somehow “make up” for your lack of sexual attraction to your partner by having sex, you’re not going to fool her. It’s hard to feign interest, much less to feign interest for an extended period of time. If you don’t actually want to have sex at all, that will become obvious over time, and it will leave both of you unsatisfied. It could erode the relationship to the point that it would be much worse than where just not having sex would leave you. Even if she decides to break up with you because you don’t want to have sex, isn’t it better that to just have that out in the open and consider it now, rather than drawing it out doing something you don’t want to do, leaving you both unsatisfied and resentful?

Essentially, this is a compatibility issue. Nobody is ever perfectly compatible, and if they think they are, they’re deluding themselves. What the two of you need to determine is how great the incompatibility is, and whether you are compatible enough in other areas to make up for it. Where are your limits, with regard to sexual activities? Keep in mind that intercourse is not the only option when it comes to sex; some women, for example, are very happy to just have their nipples played with, and can orgasm easily that way. If you’re uncomfortable with having intercourse but you’re okay with doing that, and she likes it, that can be a way for you both to enjoy sexual activities together. You should have an open, honest discussion about what each of you wants, doesn’t want, and so on. You mentioned that you’ve never initiated anything sexual, and while I myself am not sure exactly how to go about initiating sex so I can’t help you on that one, what you can do is initiate a conversation about it, to show her that you care about this, that you care about her and want to find a solution that both of you can work with. In a way, you’ve already shown that; by writing to me, you’re already looking for a solution.

If she understands that you’re asexual, she should also understand that your lack of attraction to her is nothing personal. It’s not a rejection, and it’s not her fault if you don’t enjoy sex in the way that she does. It’s just your personal preference. Explain to her that you feel scared that she is taking it personally, and that she does think it’s her fault. Talk about whatever your anxieties are about sex, and how that’s making you feel scared to be alone with her. Explain to her the reasons why you’re scared of rejecting her, and listen to her point of view. Once you have had a good discussion (or more likely, multiple discussions) about this, you’ll be able to better assess the situation to find a possible solution.

Whatever you do, remember that sex is not your duty to provide, and it is not okay for her to pressure or otherwise coerce you into doing it. Only do it if you genuinely want to, because doing it when you don’t want to isn’t worth the pain and resentment it would breed.

I wish you the best, and hope my advice helps. If you want, feel free to comment here to update us on the situation. Anyone else who wants to provide advice, feel free to comment to this post. However, keep in mind that any comments saying that sexual/asexual relationships never work out or things similar to that will be deleted.

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If you have a question of your own to ask, you can ask me here or get in touch with me by email at grasexuality [at] gmail.com.