Different asexual people want different types of relationships (or none at all). There is no one ‘right’ way to have a relationship.
Some asexual people do not desire romantic relationships. This is particularly true for aromantic asexuals. For those that don’t desire traditional romantic relationships, often close friendships provide the intimacy that they need. On the other hand, some asexual people do experience romantic attraction and may wish to have a romantic relationship at some point.
The types of relationships that asexual people have varies a lot from person to person, depending on other aspects of their sexuality, their needs, and what they are comfortable with. The most important element in any relationship is still effective communication and being comfortable discussing what you and your partner(s) want.
For allosexual people who are considering a relationship with an asexual person, the best way to know what they might want is to ask them.
Some types of relationships
Aromantic people sometimes have very close friendships that can look like a relationship from the outside. These are strong friendships that might involve living together, sharing significant parts of their life, and potentially marriage or raising children together. These relationships are often referred to as queerplatonic. Although some of these queerplatonic relationships may look like romantic relationships from the outside, they are not based on romantic attraction.
Some people might ask – how is this any different from a close friendship? Why would people need a word for that? In some other (non-western) cultures and in the not so distant past (for western culture), friendship was much more celebrated than what it is today. Only recently has romantic love been expected to fulfill all of someone’s needs for intimacy.
Today, friendships are often relegated to insignificant ‘other relationships’, behind romantic relationships and family relationships. This can make it hard to have one’s need for emotional intimacy met primarily through friendships, especially for aromantic spectrum people.
As a result, many aromantic people find that their friends might be emotionally available only until their next romantic relationship. Other aromantic people find that their friendships get mistaken for romantic relationships. This has led to the need to name a particular type of relationship in order to distinguish it from a typical friendship or romantic relationship.
The main difference between queerplatonic relationships and friendships is that queerplatonic partners tend to be each other’s primary partners and support people. Some aromantic spectrum people may have more than one queerplatonic partner, and what they will want to do in a queerplatonic relationship will vary from person to person. For example, some queerplatonic people may live together, but choose to have separate beds and bedrooms.
No primary relationships
There are also asexual and/or aromantic people who choose not to have a primary relationship(s) in their life. Some are happy with their own company, while others have a large network of friends, family and acquaintances that fulfill their need for emotional intimacy and companionship.
Some asexual and aromantic people may feel that the family that they already have is the most important thing in their life. For example, an aromantic asexual person may help one of their siblings raise children. Others may be highly engaged in the community and feel no lack of connection to people without a primary relationship of some kind.
Romantic asexual relationships
Romantic asexual people may wish to have romantic relationships, which may or may not involve sex. Some romantic asexual people are fortunate enough to find another romantic asexual with whom they can have a relationship, and these relationships can be fairly straightforward.
However, given how small the asexual community currently is, finding another romantic asexual person to have a relationship with may be difficult. Currently in New Zealand, there are only a small number of face-to-face meetup groups in the country, and a few places where asexual people can meet each other online. It is likely that most of the asexual people in New Zealand don’t know that they are asexual or have never heard the word ‘asexual’.
However, given that at least 1% of the population is asexual, there should be around 48,000 asexual people in New Zealand. The actual rate may be much higher when grey-asexual and demisexual people are taken into consideration. Despite this, asexuality is only just starting to gain visibility and recognition, so at this point the community is still very small. Some asexual people end up meeting asexual people from other countries and forming long distance relationships.
Asexual romantic relationships may tend to focus more on creating romantic and emotional intimacy than what is seen in ‘typical’ relationships that involve sex. One problem that these relationships can face from the outside world is that they may not be seen as equally important to relationships which are sexual . Many people in western society view sex as the pinnacle of a good relationship, even if they do not view sex as the main point of a relationship. Some people simply refuse to believe that two people could be in a relationship and not be having sex. Other people may view these relationships as ‘nothing more’ than close friendships.
The romantic orientation of the people in the relationship may also change how the relationship is viewed. A romantic relationship between a woman and a man may be viewed as inherently sexual, while a relationship between two women or two men may be treated as a friendship rather than a romantic relationship. This refusal to accept an asexual person’s relationship as valid is a form of erasure that can be harmful to asexual people. For people who are convinced that asexual people can’t have ‘real’ relationships, it might be a good idea to consider what makes allosexual people want to be in relationships. Usually sexual attraction by itself won’t sustain a relationship for long. The romantic attachment that allosexual people tend to feel for their partners is the same attachment that romantic asexual people feel.
Polyamory is another way to have relationships that may suit some asexual people. Polyamory is where a person will have multiple partners, and usually their partners will have other partners. Polyamory can be visualized as existing on a spectrum with strict monogamy on one end, and relationships with multiple people on the other. In some cases, a person may have a primary relationship and then a few secondary partners. Other people may not have an order to their relationships and have several partners of equal importance. This arrangement can sometimes work well for asexual people who prefer more than one partner and don’t mind their partners being with other people. In some cases, these situations may take the pressure off an asexual person to have sex, as their partner(s) can find sexual satisfaction elsewhere.
Because of the small size of the asexual community and many other circumstances, many asexual people find themselves in relationships with allosexual people. There is nothing inherently problematic about an asexual and allosexual person dating, although these relationships tend to require a lot of communication to clarify what both people want, and where boundaries are for each person. Some asexual people are sex-repulsed, meaning that they are actively repelled by the idea of anything sexual. A sexually repulsed asexual person may not wish to have sexual contact of any sort in a romantic relationship. Some asexual people identify as sex positive and don’t mind having sex, even if they don’t experience sexual attraction. Some of these people enjoy sex for the other benefits it provides, such as emotional intimacy, or the physical sensation (for those with a libido).
Other asexual people describe themselves as sex indifferent and may be ok having sex occasionally, or having certain kinds of sex, to make an allosexual partner happy. What an asexual person does or does not want to do will vary a lot from person to person, so communication is important, especially in the initial stages of a mixed-sexuality relationship. In some cases it may be that these relationships are just not compatible, and may come to an end. Other couples find ways to compromise and set healthy boundaries, and are happy in these relationships.
One thing that is important for partners of asexual people to remember is that their partner is not ‘broken’ and does not require ‘fixing’. Asexual people can also sometimes find that their partner expects them to make all the compromises, because the partner feels like the asexual person is the one with ‘the problem’ or the one who is ‘not normal’. This can create an unhealthy relationship dynamic that punishes the asexual person for being asexual.
For these relationships to work, it is important to remember that everyone is entitled to their own sexuality, and that no-one’s sexuality is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Both parties need to consider what they want, and listen carefully to what the other person wants, without prioritizing one person’s needs over the other’s. It should also be made clear from the start that sexual coercion is not ok. In order for sexual contact to take place, everyone involved should feel comfortable with the encounter. It doesn’t matter how much certain allosexual people feel that they ‘need’ sex, it is not ok to force or harass an asexual person into giving it to them. If the relationship is sexually incompatible, then bringing the relationship to an end should be considered.
One other common problem encountered in asexual-allosexual pairings is when an allosexual partner does not believe that asexuality exits. This sometimes means that allosexual partners will try to pressure asexual people into having sex, believing that this will solve ‘the problem’. Certain allosexual people also appear to find asexuality a ‘challenge’ to overcome. Some people don’t believe that asexuality exists at all and will assume the asexual person is lying. These people will often say things like “all men want sex, it’s biologically hardwired”, or “all women are asexual, really, and just need to get over it”. These situations can be difficult for asexual people to navigate, and will hopefully improve with more asexuality education and visibility.
Grey-asexuals and relationships
Grey asexual and demisexual people may find themselves in a somewhat different situation when trying to navigate relationships. For demisexual people, they may experience sexual attraction after forming a close emotional bond with someone, but this does not guarantee sexual attraction. Finding a partner who is ok with the fact that sexual attraction may or may not occur somewhere down the line can be challenging for demisexual people. With the current ‘tinder culture’, which relies heavily on immediate sexual attraction, many people expect sexual encounters on the first date, or at least somewhere in the first several dates.
For grey asexual people, the challenge may be more in finding a partner who is ok with their sexual attraction levels being low or infrequent. While some allosexual people are happy dating grey asexual and demisexual people, these relationships often have the same issues discussed above for asexual people. As always, effective communication and mutual respect is important.
Asexuality in a relationship
Disclosing asexaulity to a potential partner
Another question that frequently comes up in questions about asexual people dating is: when to tell a new partner or potential partner about one’s asexuality. Ideally, the sooner the better. However, this can be a problem for asexual people who need to keep their asexuality a secret from family or the wider community.
For example, someone whose family has religious beliefs that don’t allow a person to be asexual or live an asexual lifestyle, might not want to disclose their asexuality to people that they don’t know very well. In these situations, some level of trust may be required before letting a potential date or partner know about one’s sexuality. It may also be possible to be friends with a new romantic interest for a while, until a level of trust has been established where these things can be discussed.
When already in a relationship
For those in relationships already, coming out as asexual can sometimes be more of a challenge. Because the term asexual is relatively new, many people are already in relationships, sometimes for decades, before they discover a term that describes their sexuality and realize that other people like them exist. Most of these people find themselves in relationships with allosexual people, although occasionally two asexual people will end up together without realizing that they are both asexual. For allosexual partners, some may feel relieved to know that their partners lack of sexual interest in them was not due to some flaw in themselves. Some may be happy to understand their partner better.
However, this is not always the case. Some partners may become angry or resentful at having found themselves ‘stuck’ with an asexual partner. In such cases, ending the relationship is not always easy or possible, as couples in this situation often have children and/or many other shared responsibilities. In some cases, it might be best for the asexual person to not tell their partner about their asexuality, especially if safety is a concern. Even where physical safety is not a concern, their may be strong repercussions for coming out as asexual. In these cases, disclosing one’s asexuality to a partner is something that is up to the individual asexual person. No one has the right to force this sort of information out of someone. It is unfortunate for both partners in these relationships that they did not know about one partners’ asexuality at the beginning.
This situation will likely be difficult for everyone involved, and hopefully better education and awareness around asexuality in the future will help solve these sorts of problems.
Now you’ve seen how asexuality and aromanticism can interact with relationships, why not see how it can intersect with other parts of the human experience? Read on to learn about asexuality and age.
Learn more about asexual people and relationship elsewhere.
- The Asexual Visibility & Education Network is the world’s oldest and most visible asexuality education website. AVEN has an extensive FAQ page about this topic.
- There has been an explosion in interest in the mainstream media about asexuals’ experiences of sex and relationships in recent years. These are of highly variable quality, and many seek to identify the “right” way of having a relationship with an asexual partner. As we’ve said above, there’s no one “right” way to have a relationship, as everyone’s experiences differ, but it can still be valuable to learn about others’ experiences, so a google search for asexuality and relationships may still be useful.
- Similarly, there’s a lot of pages out there about how to come as LGBTQIA+ to partners. A lot of this advice may not be relevant to ace-specific experiences, and again, may not be right for you. But, equally, it’s also sometimes valuable to read what others have to say as part of deciding what’s right for you! A google search here can be really useful as well.
The Asexuality New Zealand Trust has no control over, accepts no responsibility for, and does not necessarily endorse the content of external websites.