According to a 2004 study out of the U.K., around 1 percent of people identify as asexual, which means they don’t generally experience sexual attraction. (Many experts suggest the number is likely higher today.)
Asexuals (or “aces”) still date, though ― and they sometimes even date non-aces.
Like any sexual orientation, asexuality exists on spectrum, and individual experiences vary from person to person. While some people identify as both asexual (not feeling sexual attraction) and aromantic (not feeling romantic attraction), the two don’t necessarily go hand in hand.
Many aces do experience attraction, but for the most part, that attraction isn’t sexually driven. It can be romantically driven, aesthetically driven, or sensual in nature ― there’s really no one-size-fits-all definition of attraction for an ace.
Given how misunderstood asexuality is, dating isn’t always the easiest for aces. To get a better understanding of what it’s like, we spoke with three people who identify as asexual about first dates, sex and what their ideal relationship looks like.
How would you describe your sexual orientation? Also, are you aromantic as well?
Casye Erins, a 28-year-old writer, actress and podcaster who lives in Kansas City, Missouri: I would describe myself as asexual, mostly sex-indifferent. I am not aromantic. I’m biromantic, meaning gender is not a factor and I do experience romantic attraction to other people.
Kim Kaletsky, a 24-year-old communications manager at Astraea Lesbian Foundation For Justice in New York City: I’m non-binary and I consider myself asexual and demi-panromantic (though for me, I’m also fine with other non-monosexual/romantic labels like “bi” and “queer”). I use “asexual” as a label because I don’t really experience sexual attraction, although for me I actually do kind of like sex sometimes, I just don’t experience it as a need — it’s something I would probably be totally fine going the rest of my life without.
The panromantic part just signifies that when I do experience romantic attraction, it’s to people of a wide variety of gender identities and gender presentations. I also use “demi-romantic” because I experience romantic attraction to a very, very limited number of people, and usually one of the precursors is me getting really close to someone first.
Michael Paramo, a 25-year-old from Southern California who founded and edits the online magazine The Asexual: I am asexual and aromantic. I also feel comfortable identifying as gay, although I use a definition of gay that is not rigidly defined by binary ideas of sex or gender.
How would you describe your experience with online dating?
Casye: Dating online, in my opinion, is the worst! I had a short-lived profile on OkCupid, but at least at the time I was using it, there wasn’t a drop-down box for asexual as your orientation. I marked myself as bisexual and then put the fact that I was ace into my bio. But it didn’t do much good; the only messages I ever got were from couples looking for a third, which was not what I wanted. I stopped using it pretty quickly. I did end up meeting my first significant partner online, but it was through Tumblr, not dating apps. Overall, though, I think dating IRL is easier because everything is automatically more candid. The internet makes it too easy to create a more cultivated version of yourself.
Michael: I have connected with people online and through apps who are non-ace and express their interest in dating me, but even when this does happen, I still feel pressured that I’ll never be “enough for them” or that I’ll fail to “meet their expectations” if a relationship were to ever materialize. As a result, I usually end up self-sabotaging any opportunity for the relationship to continue due to my own lack of confidence and trust in others, which itself likely stems from unprocessed trauma early in my life related to body image and gender difference.
Kim: I find it easier dating on apps, more because I’m super shy and awkward in person than for any other reason. For the most part, my online dating experiences have been great. I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many awesome people, whether it was for a brief exchange of messages, a coffee date or two, or a multi-year friendship — I met some of my closest friends on OkCupid. I haven’t met “the love of my life” on a dating app, but I don’t think the outcome has to look like ending up in a long-term romantic relationship for a dating app experience to feel good.
I also think my experience has been so positive largely because I only use OkCupid and its “I don’t want to see or be seen by straight people” feature, so I avoid most of the misogynistic behavior straight cis men exhibit on the app. That feels important to name.
How do people usually respond when you tell them you identify as asexual on a date?
Kim: It’s definitely been a dealbreaker in the past, and that’s OK. I like to have that conversation with people early on so we can just part ways in the beginning when it’s easier to part ways, if that’s what seems to work best.
People mostly just respond with a lot of questions and confusion, which is understandable, because from my experience, there isn’t a lot of clarity about the nuanced ways that people experience asexuality out there.
Michael: They are usually at least somewhat doubtful. Some people have been affirming, but they still often simultaneously remind me that I should remain open to the possibilities of a non-asexual future. Although I understand where they’re coming from, reminding someone of the temporal nature of their sexual identity appears to be an ace-specific suggestion. We rarely hear of people who are heterosexual getting told they should “keep their options open.”
Casye: When I first started identifying as asexual, nearly a decade ago, saying it out loud got me a lot of blank looks. Now people are more familiar with it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re cool with it. You hear a lot of suggestions to see a doctor or a therapist when you’re asexual, unfortunately. I have had people tell me that I was condemning myself to be single forever, but I don’t know if I would consider that a “dealbreaker” situation.
What’s been the best reaction to the news from a date?
Michael: We were never “on a date,” but the possibility of such materializing on the horizon was very likely. When I brought up my asexuality, they were totally open and accepting of its presence in the relationship, even though they were non-ace. Their openness and willingness to communicate and navigate a relationship with my asexuality in mind made me feel comfortable and safe when speaking with them.
Kim: One person I sort of dated but sort of didn’t looked me up online after our first date, saw an essay I’d published about coming into my asexual identity, and found out that way. And she was actually really awesome about it — she did all the research herself into what asexuality means and took time to clarify with me how I individually experienced asexuality. It was awesome not to have to do all the work of educating her, and it was awesome to discuss my asexuality like it was a totally OK thing, rather than a big deal.
How far have you gotten with someone physically? And what has your relationship history been?
Kim: I’ve had sex, although it was quite a few years ago in what feels like another life before I’d even come out as queer, let alone asexual.
I find answering questions about “how far I’ve gotten” weird, though. I guess because I find it weird to think of sexual or even sensual acts as a hierarchy, as if there’s a linear path of action steps that have to universally be followed, like the “first base, second base” etc. model that people use. It presents penetrative sex as the be-all-end-all of experiences of physical intimacy. Which may be true for some relationships, but maybe for another relationship, “getting far with someone physically” means cuddling or ballroom dancing or something, and that’s OK.
Engaging with asexual communities has taught me to let go of that hierarchy of physical acts a little and to recognize that each individual relationship is unique, even in terms of the path acts of physical intimacy follow.
Relationship-history-wise, I’ve been in a couple of semi-serious romantic relationships and many, many other shorter, way less serious dating-like relationships. Only one of those so far has included sex.
Michael: I actually have never been physical beyond holding someone’s hand and, even then, it was not initiated by me. I have yet to ever desire to be physical with another person in the sexual or romantic context. My relationship history has been sparse. I have only actually gone on dates a handful of times, although I have connected with people online interested in dating several times. I have also been rethinking how the act of sexual intercourse is often interpreted as inherently “deeper” or “more significant” than other physical acts.
Casye: I have really only had two significant long-term relationships in my life. My current relationship is with a girl who is also my best friend from high school. She’s known me a really long time and knew going into this relationship that I’m asexual. We occasionally have sex, but she’s very good about knowing my boundaries and not being pushy when I don’t want to be intimate.
“Some ace people may be open to sex in a relationship without the presence of sexual attraction, while others may be repulsed by the idea.”
What’s your best advice for someone who’s never dated an asexual person? And looking forward, what approach should they take when navigating sex?
Casye: Really, I don’t know that dating an asexual person is hugely different from dating anyone else. In any relationship, you should be constantly checking in and communicating with your partner to make sure anything you’re doing is something you both want to do. The only difference is, an ace person may have different boundaries. But most people don’t have a romantic relationship exclusively for sex, so it’s weird that it becomes the main framework for how people decide they’re going to treat ace people in relationships.
Michael: Always be open to communicating what you are seeking out. If you have intentions, do your best to let them be known. At the same time, create an atmosphere where everyone feels safe and free to communicate their needs to you as well. The totality of experiences of people on the ace spectrum is vast, so also be aware that some ace people may be open to sex in a relationship without the presence of sexual attraction, while others may be repulsed by the idea.
Kim: Ask the asexual person how they experience sex and sexuality. Not what asexuality is — do that research yourself, there are plenty of resources online — but how they individually experience it. Be willing to have frank conversations about what’s on and off the table and what both your needs and boundaries and their needs and boundaries are. Communicate and check in with each other often. And if you aren’t meeting their needs or they’re not meeting your needs, name that and work together to figure out the best solution.
What do you want most in your personal life, in terms of relationships?
Michael: I’m comfortable with accepting my lack of desire for a sexual or romantic relationship at this point in my life, but I also recognize that my asexuality and aromanticism can be malleable. It might take on a new or adjusted form as I become more confident in who I am and who I want to be in life.
Casye: Just like anyone else, I want to be loved and respected by my friends and partners. Right now, I am very happy in the relationship I have and my partner’s respect for me and my orientation.
Kim: I just want honest and strong relationships that make myself and others feel good and supported and seen. I don’t have much preference whether those relationships are platonic, romantic, queer-platonic, with pets, etc.
“There are seven and a half billion people on this planet; not all of them are going to treat you badly for being ace.”
What advice would you give to other asexual people who are apprehensive about dating?
Kim: It’s hard to be honest with yourself and other people, but it really is the only way to develop relationships that feel good. That’s true for pretty much everyone, but I think it takes on a particular kind of importance for ace and aro folks, since we’re often straying from the path of what relationships are “supposed” to look like.
Michael: Recognize that you will likely encounter obstacles in dating because of your asexuality and/or aromanticism. But not every non-ace or non-aro person is going to be automatically opposed to your asexuality. And asexual and aromantic people who are interested in forming relationships with other asexual and aromantic people are not as uncommon as you may think.
Casye: I would want to tell other ace people that they aren’t going to be alone forever. If they want a relationship and are honest about their needs and desires, they’ll be able to find someone who fits with them. There are seven and a half billion people on this planet; not all of them are going to treat you badly for being ace. But also, try to find a support group, whether it be IRL friends, or a chatroom on AVEN ― having other ace people and ace allies you can talk to does make it easier when you feel really different and alone.
Responses have been edited for style and clarity.