Reading an article about asexuality by Natasha McKeever, I was struck by the paragraphs describing how asexual people can have successful sexual and romantic relationships. For example:
[Some asexuals] will engage in sex in particular contexts and for particular reasons, eg, to benefit a partner, to feel close to someone, to relax, to benefit their mental health, and so on. For example, [a sociologist] quotes one asexual, Paul, who told him in interview:
“Assuming I was in a committed relationship with a sexual person – not an asexual but someone who is sexual – I would be doing it largely to appease them and to give them what they want. But not in a begrudging way. Doing something for them, not just doing it because they want it and also because of the symbolic unity thing.”
McKeever acknowledges that romantic love is often defined as having an erotic element. But she asks whether romantic love is necessarily incomplete without sexuality…a question I had never considered.
Asexual romantic attraction
Asexual people report nonsexual aspects of romantic relationships, such as infatuation, wanting to spend their life with someone, affectionate, happy kisses, and so forth. In fact, a 2020 study found that 74% of asexuals report experiencing romantic attraction.
[You] still share their joy and pain, encourage them to do their best, sympathise with a bad day at work. Still play small jokes on each other, or make small sacrifices to see them smile. You still wake up early for work and watch your partner sleep for a bit, feeling peace and adoration in the quiet morning. Really, aside from the lack of sexual undertones and active genital mashing, I don’t think there’s a difference.
Clearly an asexual relationship can still offer embodied intimacy between partners. So, if it’s not sex that makes romantic love romantic, what is it?
Does sex have to be desired “for its own sake?” Or can we desire it for other ends without sexual desire? As plenty of casual sex attests, sexual attraction alone is not sufficient for intimate sex.
Yes, sex needs to be consensual, but McKeever argues that we shouldn’t define consent as “sexual desire.” Sex without attraction can still be desired.
We can find someone beautiful, beguiling, funny, charismatic and so on, without finding them sexually attractive as such, and yet those forms of attraction are more than sufficient to animate a sexual encounter, or romantic relationship, and ensure that the other person is foregrounded in one’s attention. It seems plausible that good sex involves attraction; we just deny it must involve sexual attraction. …
As someone who practices Synergy, McKeever’s final paragraph intrigued me:
Attending to asexuality helps us broaden our understanding of love and sex. First, … sexual activity is not necessary for expressing love and intimacy. Second, … we have overly narrow conceptions of attraction and enjoyment. There are many ways for sexual activity to be good, and not all of them rest on the experience of distinctly sexual attraction, or distinctly sexual pleasure. It is important to challenge these assumptions. … [N]arrow views of romantic love and sex [have led] to the unnecessary and painful questioning of otherwise good and enjoyable romantic relationships and sexual experiences. (Emphasis supplied.)
Research item: Asexual people drink less alcohol. Is it because they have more self-control? Less need to self-medicate post-orgasmic effects? See Understanding Alcohol and Tobacco Consumption in Asexual Samples: A Mixed-Methods Approach.