Sex is everywhere. Books. TV. Movies. Magazines. We’re surrounded by it even before we really become aware of what it is. It seems like our lives are meant to revolve around this act: anticipating it, pursuing it, engaging in it. After all, sex is tied up with our idea of the much sought-after Fairy Tale True Love. How many hours are spent contemplating “that someone” and what you would do to them if left alone in a room together? Why wouldn’t I want those things? Doesn’t everyone?
I had a wonderful, if uneventful, childhood. My parents were conservative, but not overbearingly so. My mom would frown but say nothing to the perpetual chaos of scattered toys. She allowed us to be children. When afternoons at the playground transitioned to weekends at the mall, she broached the topic of sex. My mom sat me down and gave me a book explaining the mechanics of things. She counseled me to wait until marriage, and I had no problem with that. I was only twelve or so. Boys were alien creatures as far as I was concerned.
By the time I entered high school, men and relationships had become a favorite topic of discussion among my friends. I didn’t have much to contribute there. I occasionally crushed on someone who I found especially handsome or intriguing, but for the most part I remained uninterested. By senior year, I still had never dated anyone, but since I was happy by myself, this didn’t particularly disturb me.
In college, I had a great deal more exposure to the opposite sex. In bars, at frat parties, at Pictionary night and church socials, they made moves, which I deflected with ninja-like skill. When I brushed off the inferior males, I told myself that I was just picky. I was waiting for THE one. He would be wonderful. Something would click. I would feel that “burning passion” or “electric spark.” I would be drawn to him “like the tide to the moon,” like every overdrawn metaphor you’ve ever heard. I would want to give myself to him.
Except he never showed up. No one even tempted me. Other girls detailed their random hookups and make-out sessions. I never understood their interest. I told myself I was just a bit prudish.
After I graduated, I took a hard look at myself. By 23 I had still never gone on a single date. I was still waiting for my first kiss. I began to get anxious. I was supposed to have accomplished these things much earlier. My friends were getting married and having babies already. I was so behind I felt almost freakish. What was wrong with me?
Then he showed up.
He was everything I could have ever asked for. I felt so comfortable with him that I lowered my defenses and set nervousness aside. We shared similar experiences, and a similar love of mysteries, exploring, and baked goods. We both wanted a family and a house with a tower. Our favorite method of flirting was texting each other the most challenging riddles we could dig up. He lived two hours away from me, so we could only get together occasionally, but after every single one of our dates, I would head home grinning like an idiot. I couldn’t get him off my mind. This was serious.
While he was entirely respectful, and I never felt pressured, after a few dates I realized that we had come to the part of our relationship where we were supposed to be kissing (at least). I considered this in a detached, academic way. I had no objections. I liked him very much. A romantic relationship was supposed to progress from handholding to kissing and, ultimately, to sex.
Our next date, it happened. I could tell the mood had shifted. There was something insistent about the way he searched out my hand, the looks he cast my way. My stomach churned, more with discomfort than anticipation. That’s only natural, I told myself. This is my first everything. I tried to believe it. When we said our good-byes, I knew this was it. He leaned in. I steeled myself and moved towards him.
It was not what I expected.
I felt nothing. Not a thing. Where was the passion, this spark I had heard so much about? He obviously did not share my lack of enthusiasm. His arms wrapped around me. He nuzzled my neck. I cast a glance over his shoulder at the clock, wondering how long I had to wait before I could politely excuse myself. I was miserable.
I tried not to cry the whole bus ride home. I really cared for this guy. Even though our relationship was new, I could see myself growing old with someone like him. He had made me so happy… until that night. Why, if I cared so much for him, had I not felt the slightest urge to kiss him? Why had I felt nothing when it happened? Instead of cementing our relationship, I felt like he’d driven a stake into it. I doubted myself. I doubted everything.
Back at my apartment, I took recourse to the Internet. I wanted to know what was wrong with me. What I found was asexuality.org. I had never really heard of an asexual before. It had never even occurred to me to question my sexuality. I mean, I knew I had options. I was acquainted with all the different letters in LGBT, and while I had never been boy-crazy, I certainly had never felt anything for girls.
I didn’t know it was possible for a person not to be sexually attracted to anyone at all. In our sex-permeated culture, where a high libido seems the norm, and where love often equals sex, I struggled to fathom that many people do not ever feel the inclination. Not that they deprive themselves, as someone who chooses celibacy. Like myself, they are wired to never feel the urge. And it’s normal.
A weight lifted. Suddenly my whole life made a lot more sense. All the excuses I had presented for my lack of interest (a conservative upbringing, high standards, nervousness, being prudish) kept me from examining the underlying cause. I tried to think of a single time I had felt the slightest inclination to do something sexual with anyone and came up with nothing.
Perhaps most importantly, for the first time I realized that there is a clear distinction between love and sex. While the latter may never appeal to me, the first is still absolutely a possibility.
He texted me the next day. Without hormones clouding his judgment, he’d started to question our good-bye. He said that in retrospect something felt off and asked me if he had “done wrong by me.” He said he had a hard time reading me, and he understood if I wanted to just be friends. I replied that I was definitely interested in a romantic relationship, but that I couldn’t promise I would ever want to express that physically in the way that he would like. I couldn’t quite bring myself to use the A-word then, (It was still a fairly new concept after all.) but I did ask him if the lack of a physical relationship was a deal-breaker.
He said it was not.
I’m not sure he’ll always feel that way. As I understand it, most people have some need for sex. He desires me in a way that I can never reciprocate, and one day, in spite of our best attempts to compromise, that realization may be too much for him. (Was I selfish in that decisive moment by asking him to be more than a friend?) For now, fueled with hope and a willingness to communicate, we’re trying to make it work.