I’ve come to the realization recently that I got ho tendencies. I mean this in all but the classic sense, having been literally (if nonpenatratively) in bed over the course of the past month with more individuals than I have enough fingers to count. If, as the asexual community has been wont to posit from time to time, one can get just as intimate without sex as with it, then hot damn do I get around.
One of the quirks of being asexual, I’ve found, is that classifying and prioritizing relationships becomes a mite tricky. Though not all sexual people choose to employ it as such, sexual activity can serve as a neat marker of importance, something that, for better or worse, is saved like fine china for the really special occasions. The same cannot be said of, say, intellectually intense emotively reflective discussion, which is more my bread and butter. I’ll have an interesting discussion at the slightest suggestion, and will get intellectually intimate with anything that has a pulse.
Is that so wrong?
For all the wacky rules we’ve managed to cook up about sex, there seem to be relatively few about actual down-to-earth intimacy. If someone I’m interested in, say, has a boyfriend, the rules about nonsexual messing around are vague at worst and nonexistent at best. Not interested in my gender? Not a problem. Juggling two relationships at the same time? Always room for more. Even I’m disturbed by what I can get away with.
Not that it started out this way. Even I was a naïve and inexperienced little asexual once, which is not a fate I would wish on anyone. From the moment that we begin to learn about sexuality it is made abundantly clear that it is NOT an optional endeavor. As far as our eventual happiness is concerned, finding a good sexual relationship is up there with having a job and owning things. And just as it is our sworn patriotic duty to get good grades and know what sorts of things to buy, we must start on our toilsome journey to eventual committed sexual bliss.
This is not what you want to hear when sex seems about as natural and fun as doing your taxes. The message is a pretty bleak one: without sex our relationships won’t matter. No matter how good a friend we are or how close we become to someone, they will eventually privilege their (sexually) significant other over us. Passion, romance, and falling in love are all things that require sexual activity, which means that for us asexuals they flat-out won’t work. All that we can ever be is friends, with a big fat “just” slapped on for good measure. We can either try to force ourselves to start liking sex, or give up on the possibility of our emotional lives ever getting interesting.
Needless to say my emotionally randy self was less than pleased with this prognosis. I didn’t know precisely what nonsexual intimacy was or how it worked, but I wasn’t about to sit around virginally waiting for it to walk up and invite me to coffee. It wasn’t long before my close friendships started to look and act like dating, and it wasn’t much longer until they broke away from that and started to act like something else entirely.
Relationships, I realized, can be fun, in much the same way that I imagine sex is fun for sexual folk. New types of pleasure started popping up all over, and it seemed like there would never be time to explore them all. They ran the gamut- from the intellectual to the physical, from the deeply empowering to the utterly frivolous. Anyone who thinks that the word “pleasure” has a sexual connotation needs to get out more.
I liked pleasure, and so long as I had a willing partner I could do it however I wanted, whenever I wanted, wherever I wanted. My life, contrary to what I’d been told in middle school, had most certainly gotten emotionally interesting. What to DO with it all was another question entirely. With all that pleasure flying around, more and more relationships were pushing that “just friends” barrier, and raising a whole host of questions in the process.
I was all too familiar with the quant little distinction between “friendship” and “dating” that all the sexual kids had so much fun with, but had never been entirely certain how it applied to me. With so many types of connection gumming up the picture there was no way I could draw that clear a line- was deep trust more important than hanging out and having fun every day? Should I give the person I cuddle with some special status over the one who finishes my sentences?
As it turns out, the language of the sexual world was poorly equipped to deal with a loaded asexual social calendar, so I had to start making my own. What does it mean to be “more than friends” without the nookie? For me it all came down to the three T’s:
• Time- Check your dictionary, the word “date” is mostly about time. Time makes relationships, and the relationships that matter are the ones that I make time for. For me, becoming involved with someone means that we play a significant role in each others’ day to day lives.
• Touch- Sex aside, there’s a lot of fun that two people can have with their bodies. Cuddling, dance, basketball, sparring; the majority of my closer relationships involve some sort of physical affection, and many also involve working up a sweat.
• Talk- If I really want a relationship to get out of hand, I acknowledge that it exists. I’ll tell someone how I feel about them, I’ll talk about what I want from my relationship with them and I let them do the same.
When I see someone I’m interested in, these are the three things that are on my mind. They’re what I gossip about to my friends, how I think about my relationships progressing- my own asexual answer to the base system.
The astute of you will note that in this setup “monogamy” is a somewhat shady concept. It’s kind of hard to be sexually committed to one person when you don’t have sex. Town bicycle that I am, I tend to favor communities over individual connections, never letting one relationship overshadow all of the other things I’ve got going on. I wind up thinking not in terms of boyfriends or girlfriends but in terms of networks, entire communities with which I am in some way intimate. Why hang on by a single rope when I can settle down in a spider’s web of connections enforced by a few particularly strong threads? I have every intention of raising children, why not build them a village?
Conventional wisdom is that none of this will work. The people I’m involved with could all wind up dropping me for someone they can sleep with (in the usual, penetrative sense), my solid social networks will disappear into neat bundles of monogamy, reachable only in polite passing company. But conventional wisdom has been proven wrong before. As my relationships begin to move from talking about emotions to talking about commitment, as my friends begin to get married and don’t fall off the radar, the likelihood that I’ll wind up alone seems slimmer and slimmer. Surprisingly enough, the sexual people I am involved with feel just fine (and even a little liberated) taking their intimacy à la carte. Though they’ll certainly experience sexual frustration from time to time, there’s no particular reason for them to direct it at me. It turns out that when everything else works, sex just isn’t as important.
Love’s a funny thing. In a world where sex is overcrowded with expectations, guidelines, layered meanings and predefined scripts, an intimately active asexual such as myself is faced with a vast expanse of open, unexplored territory. If you want, we can head back to my place for coffee and talk about it. www.asexuality.org