All the disclaimers from last time apply, the article is found in its entirety here, and I don’t own any copyrights, etc, and am quoting from it for the purpose of analysis.
Also, a considerable amount has changed since last week. One of the main reasons I took this article and decided to look at it more closely was because I wanted something approaching a dialogue between the asexual community and Joy Davidson, and I thought a fair analysis of her words was the only way. Since then, she’s come forward and said that she is prepared to have that dialogue, which I completely wasn’t expecting. There are still a number of reasons to examine the article more closely, even though I think it’s best to measure Joy’s opinion by her current words, not what was reported 4 or 5 years ago.
Hopefully it’ll kickstart that discussion, and I think many of the views are those likely to be similar for many therapists. It’ll also produce some interesting ideas about or linked to asexuality that aren’t the ones asexuals necessarily think of. It may show how asexuality is represented in the media. If it fails to do any of those things, or have any current relevance whatsoever, it’ll at least be a history lesson, and those are always useful.
Having said that, I think this’ll be a disappointing part of the series. I’ve had a glance through the article, and decided to do letters 2 and 3 together, because they’re quite short and focused more around relationships with a low libido than around asexuality, and I don’t feel I can add much to Joy’s relationship guidance.
Cecelia in San Antonio, Texas, Writes:
We've been married for 13 years and haven't had sex in over 11 years. Looking back at the first year of our marriage, I realized I had been the one to initiate anything physical. It was my second marriage, and I have one child; it was his first marriage and we met, got engaged, married and went on a weeklong honeymoon all in less than three months. Before we married he claimed to have too much respect for me to resort to sex before marriage. We have wonderful vacations in remote and romantic settings; we love to cuddle. We sleep late on the weekends and take afternoon naps together, but on his part there is absolutely not a hint of desire or passion much less sex, I've seen the uninterested look on his face and his less than willingness to touch me anywhere! I sometimes wake up in a panic, knowing I will never in the boundaries ... of this marriage have the pleasure of sex again. I married at 39. I am now 52 and extremely frustrated!
Putting aside questions of whether these are genuine or created to address an issue, this letter rings so true to a lot of things said on the Sexual Partners and Allies forum on AVEN. The romance and the cuddling (which I think are often signs of overcompensation in an unknowing asexual), the complete lack of desire which the asexual partner thinks is perfectly normal, the buying into conservative ideas of sex to normalise your lack of desire for it, the plea for understanding from the partner, which, unfortunately, not knowing her husband, is very hard for a stranger to give.
(side note: If a guy says he respects you too much to have sex with you before marriage, being a closeted gay or asexual is actually one of the better scenarios. The other is that he has a load of weird ideas about the purity of women and sex being evil that you, as his future sexual partner, should definitely address before you get to the altar)
Anyway, none of this means he’s asexual. Asexuality could very well be causing all of it, but there are a number of alternatives. You could argue that, in a pragmatic sense, that doesn’t matter. The problem is that he won’t have sex with her, and she can’t foresee a relationship without sex. I suppose it depends whether your advice is “Ditch him,” or “Talk it through. Try to work something out. Then, if he doesn’t pull his weight, or you decide you’re too different, ditch him.” If the latter, you’re going to need to at least touch on what it is he doesn’t like about sex.
Unfortunately, you can't "work out" a sexual problem with an unwilling partner. What you can do, however, is tell your husband that you love him dearly but don't want to live a sexless existence forever. You need make no apologies for desiring a new level of intimacy in your relationship. Let him know you understand and respect the fact that he has blocks and resistances to sex with you , but that you'd like to explore them with him in counseling. If he is willing to consider couples therapy, don't wait another day. If he is not, I urge you to get counseling for yourself. You deserve some help in considering all your options and making clear and responsible decisions about your future.
This is a good place to mention that I highly recommend that anyone who chooses to see a sex therapist select one who is certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists. AASECT's standards for education, training, and supervision are rigorous, and knowing that someone is AASECT certified is the only way to be certain that they have the qualifications you need in a sex therapist. Many general therapists call themselves sex therapists because they talk to clients about sexual matters, but the only gold standard for training and certification among sexuality professionals is AASECT. A therapist in your area can be found on its Web site at www.aasect.org.
Joy’s definitely in her element here, and all that is good advice. What they need is structured communication, to see what common ground they have, to explore the partner’s issues around sex, and to negotiate, and the best place to get that is with a qualified therapist.
One of the key issues that comes up again and again in the story of sexual/asexual relationships, those that failed and those that succeeded, are ideas of blame and naturalness. Undoubtedly, at least one partner will feel that they or the other person is to blame, that they or the other person should be ashamed of their unnatural interest, or lack of it. It seems to be one of the hardest things to get past.
In that case, and with so many asexuals out there looking for relationships with sexuals, I think making sexual people feel comfortable in their sexuality is just as fundamental to the wellbeing of asexuals as making asexual people comfortable in theirs. So I think the asexual community should be completely behind Joy when she starts by saying that the writer should be proud and confident in her identity and needs. It’s only when both partners accept that of themselves and the other person that they can start to negotiate.*
However, for the sake of balance, it would be nice to also have a little bit that says “While you’re not to blame, and you need to be respected, he deserves the same treatment.” The ‘make no apologies’ line on its own reads a little too close to a disregard for his consent and lack of desire for my liking.
*This is where the asexual community comes in useful. For asexual individuals, it does so much good to be able to say “There are people like me. There’s a name for what I am,” and it helps build confidence and the ability to really think about and have the words for what you want (and don’t).
Frederick in Pennsylvania Writes:
I am 56 years old. I have been married for 11 years. My wife and I have not had sex or any affectionate relations for many years. We have a 17-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter. We rationalize and claim that we do not want to divorce for the children's sake. Recently, we realized that we are not diplaying an accurate representation of the type of loving relationship we would want our children to experience in their lives. Any suggestions ?
This person lives in a completely different world from me, and I’m seriously rather stumped as to his problem. I know from my parents that, if you’re willing to do absolutely anything for the sake of the children, a clean, friendly divorce is possible, and that’s going to teach your kids loads more stuff, about maturity and not just accepting what life gives you than being stuck in a bad relationship would. Also, 17 and 11 year olds are nowhere near so fragile that some major, mature life decision by their parents is going to mess up their ability to love (their parents being constantly aggressive or passive aggressive might, though).
So I have absolutely no idea where this letter is coming from (it’s the result of a time, place and value system that are largely alien to me), and can’t really comment on the big asexual issues. Sorry to disappoint.
Instead, I’m going to briefly mention the problems caused by most of the external representations of asexuality being in the form of problem pages (it’s either that or life-affirming curiosity of the week, which is probably only slightly better).
Asexuals, and asexual/sexual couples, need positive role-models as well as negative ones, they need to see asexuals who are confident in their sexuality doing their own thing, and examples of the great things that can happen when an asexual and a sexual get it right. There’s something about these articles that suggests relationships between asexuals and sexuals are one big seething mass of pain and heartbreak on all sides, mostly due to the quite obvious sampling bias, only people with problems write in, but it all builds up after a while and the situation looks rather hopeless.
True, they’re difficult relationships to pull off, but I’d like to see more acknowledgement (among asexuals, too) of their good sides. These relationships rely on communication and non-sexual activities (which are like the transferable skills of the social world, in that you can use them to deepen any relationship, not just a romantic one), the sexual ones have a pick-and-mix approach to sex that can work better than doing it in the ‘right’ way, they bring together two people with different viewpoints and force them to co-operate, they force issues of non-sexual adultery a long time before the tricky issue will be figured out for most people, and I expect a stable asexual/sexual relationship may well adapt better into middle age, a time when a formerly well-matched pair often get differing sex drives, amid some confusion.
Yes, these are often minor things, but they’re there, and I’m sure there’s a lot more that haven’t occurred to me, and the point is that these relationships shouldn’t be seen as just a problem, something to overcome. In an ideal world, they should also be celebrated for what they are.
I applaud you for realizing that staying together for the sake of the children may not be doing them a real service. The absence of touching, kissing, and general physical affection -- not to mention the void in romantic energy between you -- offers your children no reliable template for intimacy. If you do plan to stay together, you need to get serious about rekindling the romantic and affectionate side of your relationship. If doing it for yourselves seems awkward and embarrassing after all these years, think of it as a hurdle you need to leap for the children. This may be where "for the sake of the kids" actually means something!
There are many books that can help you find direction, including David Schnarch's "Passionate Marriage." You will probably need some counseling as well, since change of this nature can be difficult even with help, and head-spinning without it.
If you're unable to re-ignite intimacy within your marriage, counseling can help you separate in a way that supports your ongoing relationship as co-parents and generates the least amount of disruption or insecurity for your children.
It’s reasonable that Joy doesn’t mention asexuality here. The original letter doesn’t mention it, and it’d be wrong to presume. But the answer also seems to deny the possibility that this woman really doesn’t want sex, has no intimacy left to ignite.
Joy’s answer assumes that a marriage without ‘intimacy’ should be separated in a way that’s as harmless as possible. I don’t know if I agree with this. It depends on the definition of intimacy. It could mean ‘any form of human connection’, in which case I completely agree. It could mean ‘hugging, kissing, dating, the more corny aspects of romance and sex’, in which case the decision is far less clear. It is true that there are relationships which don’t have those elements and can still thrive for what they are. I personally believe that relationships without any of these elements can still be strong enough to base a marriage on, and I’d like to see that represented more. However, these relationships are difficult to manufacture, and starting from a basis of a relationship that never questioned all this before, with two partners who are having to question all their basic conceptions about how everything goes, and with the risk that, if you get it wrong, things could get nasty and not good for the children, I can completely see where a new asexual and their partner would decide to respectfully cut the ties and build up from scratch.
One final after-thought: An awful lot of asexual culture directly relates to the gay culture of decades before. Back when homosexuality first became a common word, there were lots of people who realised, in a marriage, that this new label applied to them, causing heartbreak all round. The spread of asexuality could result in a powerful new set of tools for people deciding and communicating just how much sexual interest/attraction they have, and, in a generation’s time, the asexual (or similar) who discovers themselves too late could also become greatly reduced.