Tim, a 22-year-old in California, is a year away from graduating college, and he has no intention of having sex before he does. His view of sex is “neutral to negative,” and he sees masturbation as “just an easy way get a mild high.” Tim identifies as asexual, and so far, he says, his sexuality has been widely accepted. It doesn’t affect his everyday life.
But he knows that’s all about to change.
He knows he will inevitably want to settle down at some point after graduation. And while the challenge of finding a lifelong partner is frightening to anyone, Tim has no idea where to even start.
“The idea scares me,” Tim tells MEL. “I’ve heard [about] many issues with allosexual partners” — a term referring to sexualities that aren’t asexual. “I tend not to want to get involved romantically with people because I know accepting the fact they would get little to no sex is not good for allosexual people, and I don’t want to break someone’s heart.”
Tim adds that the anxiety that hangs over him is only exacerbated by society’s expectation of how allosexual men should act in the dating world. “The media portrays men to be sex-hungry dumbasses,” he says. “Even the most ‘leftist’ of people can still give into this idea, and it upsets me a lot. … It makes me feel like asexual men are unnatural, or that even heterosexual men who are not [hypersexual] are not ‘real’ men.”
Megan Carroll, a Ph.D. sociology candidate at USC researching asexuality, tells MEL that the Asexual Visibility and Education Network currently defines asexuality as “a lack of sexual attraction,” but it’s much more nuanced than that — especially for men.
“It’s a bit messy because the identity movement is so new,” she explains. “Lack of sexual attraction does mean lack of interest in sex, so it’s a sexual orientation that refers to who one wants to have sex with, which is nobody.”
Because asexual people can still have libidos, Carroll says, “most (but not all) of them still masturbate,” and that “asexuality is a spectrum — there are ‘gray-ace’ people who experience sexual attraction rarely, or ‘demisexual’ people who experience sexual attraction only if a strong emotional bond has been formed. Again, there is a lot of variability within the asexual community.”
According to Carroll, the wide spectrum and the lack of a “perfect litmus test to confirm whether someone is asexual” lead to a lot of assumptions. Many people think guys like Tim just have a low libido or haven’t sexually matured. But these assumptions are misguided, Carroll explains.
“An allo person with a lower libido would be different because they might still look at a person and think, They’re hot, I want to have sex with them, but I’m not in the mood,” she says, adding that if an asexual person has a libido, they’ll describe it as “directionless.” In fact, she adds, “many asexual people express annoyance over their body for having a sex drive.”
In other words, where an asexual’s libido feels “directionless,” allo people have made concrete associations with what sparks their libido. “They’ve felt their libido activate at some point and recognized its orientation,” she says.
“People tend to take on the asexual label because they find it helpful to describe their experience and/or connect with other people who’ve had similar experiences,” Carroll explains.
To learn more about what life is like as an asexual man, I talked to Tim and a few others about love, sex and relationships. What’s it like navigated a sexually charged world as a young man when your feelings toward all three are tepid at best?
I’ve had a girlfriend of near half a year now. She is starting to realize that she may be a sex addict. So that is an interesting dynamic we have going on. This is my first girlfriend who I am openly asexual with, and there is a lot of compromise involved. Thankfully, though, this is the only problem we have. Everything else is going pretty swell in our relationship. I’m not a fan of sex, but I will do things to a certain extent to stay in a relationship.
When it comes to communicating my sexual boundaries, I’ll just be blunt and [not] apologize. I’ve told my girlfriend what I was willing to do, what I might do later on and what I would never do. If she did things that I wasn’t about, I’d tell her straight-on. It is best to be direct with these kinds of things.
Porn and masturbation I used to do every day for years. I realized early on that I was a little grossed out by porn, yet no one else was, so I thought I was doing something wrong, I was sure of it. One of the big things I did was just go through a bunch of fetishes to see if I have any of them. Surprise! I didn’t. Once I understood my asexuality and figured out that masturbation wasn’t enjoyable, I stopped. Now I only do it to ‘clean the pipes’ about once a month.
I’d never had sex, even before I knew I was ace [asexual]. Never had a relationship that lasted long enough to get there, and I didn’t seek it out. I thought that was all just because I didn’t feel like it at the time. It wasn’t until I met a friend of mine who is also asexual that I learned what asexuality is. After that, it was all just connecting the dots to figure out that I fit the mold.
I get pleasure in my life from Dungeons and Dragons mostly. Magic the Gathering and games with my friends. Classic nerd stuff. I’m a big fan of stories. [I’m] a filmmaker. Telling and creating stories is some of the most fun that I can have. Storytelling is in my blood. I love it.
I haven’t come out to my family but I have come out to my friends. They all are accepting and wonderful. Some understand it a little less than others, but they never judge and ask before they assume something. With my family, I don’t think I am scared; I just kinda keep forgetting to.
I have kind of a cuddle/kiss desire. When I see someone I like — which usually takes a while, since I kind of have to be friends with them first — I want to be near them and talk with them (pretty normal), and the extent of what I want to do with them is cuddle and maybe kiss (kind of gross, but I’m open to it). There is no want beyond that. While I can get erect to these thoughts, they are disconnected from the want of sex.
To put it simply, I don’t want to do anything with the erection. Like, well-dressed men and women (due to aesthetic attraction) can give me erections, but I would never want sex with them. And with just aesthetic attraction, I have no want of cuddling or kissing just from sight. I would need to get to know them.
I discovered I was bi-romantic when I had a crush this year on my fourth-year roommate. Effeminate men are a big turn on (in an ace way) for me. I wish he were bi or gay, but alas, nope.
Socially, it is more standard for men to ask women out, [so] I have no issues having to reject people or deal with people asking me out. I also purposefully pretend not to pick up on hints that someone is into me until they just eventually leave me alone. While this may come across as a little mean, I don’t like having to reject people and see their sad faces, and I prefer this alternative.
In terms of masturbation, I do it sometimes because it feels nice. However, I cannot watch porn. It completely grosses me out (surprise surprise). Oddly enough, gay porn doesn’t gross me out as much, but it still is not something I would want to watch. Instead I tend to just do it, or have some type of sexless fetish-y video. These are the only videos that can actually get me erect, though I can sometimes do the deed without them. Masturbation I see as something disconnected from sex. To put it simply, masturbation involves only me, and there are no smells, sweat [or] fluids from other people — moaning, etc. Masturbation is just an easy way get a mild high.
I have not had a sexual partner, so I have not done this before, but assuming I have a partner, I would have to be very upfront about my asexuality and what that means for them (little to no sex). I hope I would be persistent with it and not be pressured, but I cannot say.
The idea of sex to me is kind of neutral to negative. I don’t like people near me, and the idea of being that close to someone smelling their weird smells, feeling their saliva, other fluids, hearing moaning and such… just is a no for me. Since I have no sexual attraction to people, that desire for sex that would turn off those disgusts is not present.
At least, that is how I see it. I hope I am more neutral toward sex for the sake of a possible future partner, but I don’t really think I like the idea of having sex with anyone.
I find pleasure in video games and relaxing. I very much enjoy being by myself and playing video games, reading and just lying around in silence or with some music.
I rarely want to tell new friends about my asexuality. In terms of family, I have not [told them] and do not want to tell them. I’d doubt they’d understand.
My discovery came around age 16 when I saw the word asexual and found its definition. Before then, I wasn’t sure where to put myself. I didn’t really feel sexual toward females, and I felt sure that I wasn’t gay due to other childhood issues.
My friends are some of the best people I know. When they heard it, they didn’t care or even acknowledge it. They just accepted it. My sister believed it and still does. The rest of my [Islamic] family doesn’t know, not that it would matter if they did. There’s just no point in telling them. Stay away from practicing Muslims.
I don’t date people; never really tried. I felt no need to date people. The closest relationship I need with people is friendship; anything beyond that is too intimate for me as it requires touching and whatnot, and I’m fairly repulsed by people touching me.
Masturbation is done as a form of control by me. I don’t do it often, once maybe twice a week, to ensure that wet dreams don’t happen. Wet dreams are also fairly odd for me: They aren’t sexual at all. I’ve had dreams where I’m late to a lecture and I wake up having ejaculated.
I don’t really communicate sexual boundaries with anyone. [I’ve] had zero partners and little to no interest in any. Maybe I’ll try in the future when I’m in a more settled position in life.
There is so much to do in life to find pleasure over sex. I quite enjoy reading, writing, computer games, cycling, walking, talking to people. I really love getting to know people, probably my favorite hobby.
Honestly, I never use the [asexual] label. It pretty much never comes up. If you’re gay or something, people notice that. If you’re asexual, no one notices. Why would they? All you do is not date people (based on your type, obviously). And when they do ask if I have a partner, I just say no, and the conversation just sort of ends at that. I haven’t met anyone who really asks why.
Asexuality is a very small part of my life and personality. It never comes up. I’m known as the computer-game-playing history nerd by my friends. My asexuality hasn’t really affected my life at all. It’s there, sure, but it doesn’t do anything. Kind of like eyesight or the ability to walk fast. No one notices it because it’s not a defining trait in a human being.