I'm 25 and a woman in an open relationship with a man that I love and have been dating for nearly three years. I finally started recognizing my own feelings of asexuality a month or so ago, and have been trying to reconcile myself with that fact since then. Sometimes, I do feel very "thorsty" and want to have sex, and sometimes I do find other people sexually attractive, but these moments are very rare, and usually having sex sets me back on the asexual path for another few weeks/months. (Of note: I mostly feel horny during times in my life where I'm very romantically attracted to someone or during times of higher adrenaline.) I enjoy dressing attractively and I enjoy feeling like other people find me attractive, but I never really want to have sex with someone other than my partner—and most of the time, I don't want to have sex with him. I enjoy dating and making out, and I enjoy receiving oral sex from women (and my partner), and some of my strongest orgasms have come from the mouth and hands of women, but I don't enjoy masturbation and I don't enjoy reciprocating and the sight of genitals kind of turns me off. It makes me feel like I'm being selfish because I don't want to have to feel obligated to "return the favor" with female partners, but I also don't want to seem ungrateful.

Do you have any advice about reconciling these feeling of wanting to be attractive to others, wanting to receive sex sometimes, but not really ever wanting to reciprocate, and identifying as asexual?

The Sexy Asexual

First things first: asexuality is a real thing and asexuality is a spectrum:

There is a spectrum of sexuality, with sexual and asexual as the endpoints and a gray area in-between. Many people identify in this gray area under the identity of "gray-asexual," or "gray-a." Examples of gray-asexuality include an individual who does not normally experience sexual attraction but does experience it sometimes.... Furthermore, an asexual person can want or choose to engage in sex for several reasons.

Moving on...

We live in a magical time when everyone gets to be whatever they say they are and no one is allowed to cast doubt or side eye or ask a follow up question—not even when the "whatever" seems absurd on its face.

So, TSA, you’re asexual, something you realized about a month ago, and that’s how you identify and I respect your identity because people with anime avatars on Twitter will drag my gatekeeping ass if I don't. So, yeah. So. Yeah. I probably shouldn't say what I actually thought as I read your letter because anime avatars but why not fuck it here goes wocka wocka:

Maybe you're asexual, TSA, or maaaaaaybe you’re a bi do-me bottom with a low libido who's disgusted by other people’s genitals because you've internalized the sex negativity that sloshes around out there and that sex negativity is every bit as real a thing as asexuality. (Kinda like heterosexuality is a real thing but so is homophobia and it's why some homos identify as heterosexual.) But identifying as lowlibidodomebottomlousylaywithsomeserioushangupssexual doesn't feel as hip or of the moment as identifying as asexual does. ("Lowlibidodomebottomlousylaywithsomeserioushangupssexual" is more of a mouthful too, I realize.) And identifying as asexual has the added benefit of getting you off the hook—or hooks, plural: the return-the-favor hook and the might-wanna-unpack-that-genitals-are-gross-shit-with-a-therapist hook.

Okay, okay: "lousy lay" might be too harsh. Do-me bottoms have a place in our world—as do people who get off on no recip oral and people with low libidos and, of course, asexual and greysexual people. It takes all kinds. And so long as you're upfront about your sexual interests and sexual limits and your partners are free to opt in or opt out depending on how they feel about being with someone who won't lift a finger (or stick out a tongue) to get them off—so long as you're clearly communicating with your partners and not allowing them to make reasonable-but-inaccurate-in-your-case assumptions (like "the people I get off will get me off in turn")—nothing about you needs reconciling.

P.S. I shared your letter with Dr. Lori Brotto, co-author of a groundbreaking study on asexuality published last year in the Archives of Sexual Behavior—a study that showed asexuality to be a "distinct and valid" sexual orientation—and she wrote back...

Someone would have to work very hard to convince me that this person is asexual. Life was simpler when we could define Asexuality as a lack of sexual attraction to anyone—full stop. Her report that she starting recognizing feelings of Asexuality a month ago (at age 25) also doesn’t fit with any of the stories I hear about "I’ve always felt this way." Now I would get criticized vehemently by people [who argue that so] long as you self-identify as asexual, that is good enough. You don’t need to meet any specific criteria. I disagree with this. If the boundaries around Asexuality are broadening to the point where the category/label itself is meaningless, then why stick to labels at all? Why not just describe your feelings and behaviours sans labels?

Zooming out for a second...

Why do we put labels on ourselves in the first place? To communicate. To let people know who were are. Labels are particularly important when a biological default setting (heterosexuality?) or a semi-reasonable inference (opposite-sex partner = straight?) leads people to make assumptions about us that aren't accurate. So we use labels like "gay" and "bi" to clarify, TSA, to end confusion, to communicate. That's why labels are helpful and it's why people use them.

A label that creates confusion isn't a very helpful label, as labels go. ("You said your asexual but now you're telling me you're 'thorsty' and you want me to get you off with my mouth sometimes? Wait, what?") So it might be better if you didn't use "asexual" as a label, TSA, as it will only create confusion. You could go with "greysexual" instead, which isn't as widely understood but does come closer to communicating your truth, or—hell—you could go with lowlibidodomebottomwithsomeserioushangupssexual. (I took "lousylay" out because for all I know you're the hottest do-me bottom that ever refused to "return the favor.")

UPDATE: Another POV...

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