When I first started dating Kevin, I didn’t tell him about my sexuality, but I soon realized that keeping it from him would make things much more difficult in the long run. I’m asexual, which means I have neutral feelings about sex at best, total repulsion highlighted by nausea at worst. Exactly how much I don’t want sex changes drastically with my mood. If I have a nice, relaxing day, that opens up some possibilities. If I experience a particularly stressful time at work though, I might as well have a stainless steel chastity belt on whose key was once hidden in some forgotten nook long ago. However, I am not a-romantic. I do enjoy relationships and nonsexual physical intimacy, like cuddling, but that’s usually where I draw a line in the sand.
Growing up, I knew I was different, but it wasn’t until a friend mentioned asexuality when I was eighteen years old that I had a word to describe myself, and a starting place to explore my own feelings. While I knew then that I wasn’t a freak of nature, I still felt pressured to have sex, like the rest of my peers. I started dating a guy just before I left for college and we had a sexual relationship, but it never felt right. Kevin and I started spending more time together and we found ourselves having sex while I was still dating my first boyfriend. I was nineteen, and it took me another two and a half years to finally start dating Kevin officially.
Society has always taught me that it’s one of my responsibilities as a woman to have sex with my boyfriend, and failing to adhere to that responsibility will leave me alone and miserable forever. As it turns out, either that is bullshit or I am actually the luckiest girl ever, because Kevin sticks around, even through agonizingly long dry spells. When the time for intimacy is as right as it’s going to get, he places importance on the fact that I’m very much on board before we proceed. He checks in regularly, sometimes mid-coitus, to make sure I’m still comfortable with the whole shebang. But sometimes in spite of Kevin’s efforts — or perhaps because of them — things can get complicated in the bedroom.
One night, early on in the relationship, when Kevin was still learning about the challenges people like me face, I felt pretty good about having sex with him — which for others might translate into “I couldn’t have been hornier.” I tried to heighten the mood, kissing his cheek slowly, touching him on the thighs and butt, and even straight-up asking him if he wanted to have sex while straddling him on the bed. But he spent so much time asking, “Do you want to do this? Are you sure? You don’t have to,” over and over again, that it killed my mood and left me rolling off of him in frustration. As much as I appreciated how much he cared, it would’ve been great if he’d taken the hint and enjoyed the ride — trust me.
“If I say it’s O.K., it probably is,” I explained. “I’m never going to think it’s the best thing ever, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t O.K.”
Kevin seemed to understand, saying, “O.K. I’ll try my best to believe you.”
Things went smoothly for a long time after that, but there were eventually hiccups. After an extended no-sex period, I was starting to feel guilty about how not in the mood I was. So I picked a night and tried to force myself to be comfortable with having sex. I talked to myself about how important it was that I compromise a bit because Kevin deserved it. I thought that if I just went for it, maybe with a little more titillating tact than the last time, we could just get it over with and then I wouldn’t have to feel ashamed anymore. I also reminded myself that as far as sex goes, doing it with Kevin is actually pretty good. He takes his time and makes sure I’m happy. He believes that since I’m having sex with him, it’s his responsibility to make it great for me. (Yes, ladies, those men are out there.) Still, none of those thoughts, not even the naughty ones, got me excited.
I went for it anyway.
Initially, Kevin seemed like he was relieved. Now was his chance to finally score after crawling around the bases for four months, and he took advantage without hesitation. But when it was over we both were out of sorts. Usually we cuddle for a very long time after we finish, feeling closer in a way that’s impossible to describe — certainly for an asexual person. However, this time neither of us assumed our proper spooning position. We each rolled onto opposing sides of the bed, adhering to a new line in the sand, and eventually I went back to homework while he played video games.
Neither of us felt good about it, and when the tension reached its peak, he asked me what was wrong.
I responded with my go-to, “Nothing,” but Kevin is obnoxiously skilled at knowing the difference between an “I don’t want to talk about it” nothing and an “It really is nothing” nothing. So he kept prodding.
“It wasn’t very good,” I said. “You don’t seem happy, either.”
“It’s O.K.,” he calmly replied. “Next time let’s try to be more honest with each other and just watch ‘Gossip Girl’ or something instead.”
I never would have guessed a guy would rather watch “Gossip Girl” than have sex. (Yes, ladies, those men are out there too.)
A few months after that, Kevin tried his hand at getting something started, but as soon as he began kissing me I felt my stomach knot up. He kept going. I didn’t stop him because I wanted to fight it. I wanted to be normal, and dammit, I wanted an orgasm. So I kept pretending to be fine, hoping that the nausea would go away sooner rather than later. Then the clothes started coming off.
I ran to the bathroom and vomited a few times; the resulting burn in my throat ended any efforts on my part to see the sex through.
When I returned to the bedroom, Kevin’s face showed total mortification, and he blamed himself. I tried to explain that I just really hadn’t been feeling it.
Of course, in the middle of the very next night, I was feeling it. I leaned over to kiss him and he bumped his head into mine as he searched for whatever was interrupting his dreams. One more kiss let him know that he was not only safe, but was in fact having a very good night. By my standards, I was in heat, and it took a long time to convince him I wasn’t going to upchuck on his chest. Who would have thought it’d be so hard to convince a guy in his mid-twenties to have sex? I guess we’re both still getting used to the fluctuations. Eventually, all clothing was safely removed, and we lived to tell the tale.
It’s funny to me how similar our problems are to the problems our friends have. I am always hearing about couples that have different sex drives and others who can’t get the timing right. With me and Kevin, we’re just a little farther apart than most in that same regard. But when we finally come together, it’s just that much more special.
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More asexual people share their stories with Narratively, in Sexless in the City:
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Charlotte Peys is a cultural scientist and illustrator living in Ghent
(Belgium). She illustrates to collect, to memorize, to ask questions, tell stories and to investigate.
If you are asexual and would like to explore available support services, visit AVEN’s official website here.