Hello there, I’m back and today, as you could have guessed from the title, we’ll be talking about asexual relationships. Of course, first you have to understand what asexuality, or being “ace,” is. Like many sexualities and identities, it manifests as a spectrum. This does not mean that some people are “more” ace or “less” ace than others. Simply that, to them, asexuality is different.
Additionally, sexual orientation is different from romantic orientation. This means that some people may identify through something called “split attraction” in that their sexual orientation is distinct from their romantic one. For example, I personally identify as a sex-repulsed asexual (and all of that will be explained later) but in casual conversation I call myself bi or bisexual because, romantically, I experience romantic feelings for all people.
For ease, this post will refer to demisexuals and graysexuals (gray-aces) as ace/asexual. Their identities are largely considered a type of asexuality and are included under the ace umbrella. Furthermore, while people in poly relationships exist, this post will use the singular “partner” throughout.
Yes, this can all be a bit confusing if you aren’t familiar with all the terms (or if you don’t know the slang), but it’s very easy to pick up and we’ll break things down a little more before getting to the writing tips.
This chart (taken from the Huffington Post) is a good breakdown of how romantic feelings differ from sexual feelings. Similarly, you can think about a time where you thought someone was attractive but perhaps didn’t consider them “relationship material.” That is a simplified example of how people can have sexual feelings without romantic, but it works the other way as well.
So what does this mean about writing asexual relationships? Does this mean that absolutely no ace person ever is going to want sex or sexual experiences? Does this mean that ace people never experience sexual attraction? No. In fact, because asexuality is a spectrum, it really depends on the character.
A very helpful distinction between aces to have is how they feel about sex (obviously). To simplify things, aces tend to categorize in three groups: sex-repulsed, sex-neutral, and sex-positive.
Of course, now you’re wondering what makes asexual characters different than any other character. The truth is, ace people are just like every other person. They have hopes, dreams, fears, and everything in-between. As said above, asexuality is a spectrum and it’s impossible to cover the entire gambit of possibilities in a blog post. But here are three categories that you may want to consider when writing an asexual character.
Pretty obvious, right? Asexual people are, naturally, going to have different views on relationships and what’s important to them. This includes romantic, but also can blend into their friendships as well. For example, a sex-repulsed asexual may not be comfortable spending time with people who talk a great deal about sex, sexual attraction, or sexual topics (like kink). On the other hand, some may be fine as long as the conversation is not about them.
“Asexual people are, naturally, going to have different views on relationships and what’s important to them. This includes romantic, but also can blend into their friendships as well.”
Can an asexual person spend time with people who primarily gather in a place like a strip club? Of course. But they might not want to.
And in relationships, asexual people all have different preferences and levels of comfort. This might seem contrary to what being ace means, but remember that ace people experience different levels of sexual attraction. Their personal preference towards sex can be very different. Sex-repulsed aces are different than sex-positive aces!
A sex-repulsed ace is highly unlikely to engage in sexual activity with a partner. A sex-neutral ace may have sex, but it can depend on the circumstance. They may not actively seek out sexual encounters (i.e., a one night stand) but in a long term or trusting relationship, they may feel comfortable having sex with a partner.
Sex-positive aces can be a bit tricky due to the fact that this term fluctuates based on who uses it. Largely, however, sex-positive aces are more receptive to sex but still experience sexual attraction on a less frequent basis than allosexuals (those who experience sexual attraction, or the opposite of asexuals).
“Allosexual refers to those who experience sexual attraction. Thus, allosexual or “allo” is the opposite of asexual. It is similar to how cisgender or “cis” is used to describe people who are not transgender.”
What is important to remember is that asexual people all treat relationships differently, but there are common experiences for many asexual folks. This includes but is not limited to:
- Fears about finding an accepting partner.
- Feeling isolated/alienated from a culture/society that places heavy emphasis on sex/sexual attraction.
- Not understanding sexual comments or certain kinds of flirting/innuendo.
Which leads us to point number two…
Depending on the culture and/or society that your character comes from, they may experience a great deal of pressure to have sex, to date, to raise a nuclear family – and this might not be something that your character wants.
Is there an expectation to have biological children? Does coming out as asexual mean being treated as sick or mentally unwell? Does the character’s family, friends, and other important people know what asexuality is? These are just some questions worth considering.
The sad reality is that not every family is accepting and not all friends are accepting. Sometimes rejection can come from lack of knowledge or understanding of asexuality while in other cases it stems from belief in another, “superior” cause (i.e., the idea that all women must have biological children, the belief that wanting sex is human nature, etc.).
“It is worth considering how your character feels about pop culture and the society they live in.”
Outside of direct pressure, it is worth considering how your character feels about pop culture and the society they live in. Is their life full of songs about sex or films and television that glorify sex as an important part of life? Teenagers may have additional pressure if their peers believe that sex is a life milestone.
What may help is to consider how much sex and sexual attraction comes into play in a television show you like or in your favorite band’s latest album. When was the last time a friend talked about getting laid or made a sexual innuendo?
Some common but not universal experiences include:
- Family denial about asexuality (i.e., being told “you aren’t old enough to know” or “well you just haven’t found the right person yet” or other phrases).
- Peer pressure regarding sex or sexual attraction (particularly about other peers or celebrities).
- Again, a sense of alienation or isolation (i.e., everyone else understanding a joke).
Okay, this is a little bit of a no-brainer, right? After all, of course someone’s other identities relate to how they experience asexuality. Latinx folks are going to have a different lens than someone who is white, trans people will differ from cis people, and so on and so forth.
Honestly, if you aren’t thinking about how a person’s identities work with them to form their character, you’re missing out on a lot of characterization. But that’s an article for another day, I suppose.
I could go on and on about intersectionality and asexuality. Latina women are hypersexualized so what does it mean when they don’t want sex? Asian men are desexualized so is making your Asian male character ace racist? Is a trans person ace because of dysphoria or did they just discover their asexuality because of it?
“Your goal should always be deep, interesting characters who exist outside of their check boxes, but that doesn’t stop their personalities and experiences from being shaped by who they are.”
There’s no easy answer and it depends on how well you, the author, write the characters. Your goal should always be deep, interesting characters who exist outside of their check boxes, but that doesn’t stop their personalities and experiences from being shaped by who they are.
As a trans person with dubious claims to passing, I will never be fully comfortable in a public bathroom because I never know how I’m going to be read. As an ace person, relationships with anyone allosexual can be difficult because of that pressure. (Like I said above, that doesn’t mean ace people can never date allo people, but just be aware of the difference in dynamics).
Some things to really think about are:
- How does racism or sexism play into your character’s asexual identity? Do they feel more or less pressure to act sexually?
- How does age play into their character? Younger folks may not have much pressure from families, particularly if the family is glad that their child is less likely to get pregnant or make someone else pregnant, while someone who is expected to get married and have (biological) kids soon will have different expectations.
- Is being ace the most prominent part of their identity or do they prioritize another identity more? I.e., cultural or religious identity.
Being asexual can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. It’s a complicated identity that, unfortunately, is less well-known but that is changing. With the advent of social media and the massive presence the internet has in our lives, more people than ever can learn about asexuality and can realize that they identify as such.
It is important that representation keep up. Already in film there have been prominent LGBTQ+ characters (such as in Love, Simon) and films like Black Panther and the recently released Crazy Rich Asians have helped thrust people of color onto the big screen in ways like never before.
But it’s not enough to stop there. We are fortunate to live in an age where putting out a book or a podcast or even an online web series is actually possible for more people than ever. And not including a variety of folks to take life in those stories? Well, that’s just bad writing.