I'm Married But Never Wanted To Have Sex. A Single Word From My Therapist Changed Everything.

"It was like she had unlocked the door to a word I didn’t even realize I knew but that I had been waiting to hear my entire life."
"When you don’t have the words to describe something, it’s impossible to imagine it," the author writes.
"When you don’t have the words to describe something, it’s impossible to imagine it," the author writes.
Westend61 via Getty Images

I was 34 and married to a man when it first hit me: I should have bloomed by now.

In high school, I had always been way too into waiting for marriage to have sex, even though I wasn’t particularly religious or conservative. I just thought, Well, a rule’s a rule! You heard what our nervous P.E. teacher said, folks! Keep it in your pants!

As I got older, fewer and fewer of my friends seemed as excited about abstinence as I was. It bewildered me — what was so great about sex? I spent so little time thinking about it that it really didn’t occur to me until I was well into my marriage that maybe there was something much bigger going on.

Several heart-wrenching therapy sessions later, I admitted to my therapist, “I’ve never really felt the desire to have sex with men.”

“What about women?” My therapist asked. Her question almost confused me. I suddenly realized that even though I had always identified as bisexual, I wasn’t actually picturing having sex with women I had crushes on either.

Then she asked the question I wish I had known to ask myself years earlier: “Do you think you could be asexual?”

It was like she had unlocked the door to a word I didn’t even realize I knew but that I had been waiting to hear my entire life.

In the most basic terms, an asexual person experiences little to no sexual attraction — they are not sexually attracted to men or women or any other gender. Sexual attraction is different from romantic attraction, and your sexual orientation can be different from your romantic orientation. For instance, I’m romantically attracted to all genders (biromantic) but sexually attracted to none of them (asexual or “ace”).

I always thought I was bisexual because I wanted to date men and women, but wanting to date them and wanting to have sex with them are two completely different things. And I never felt especially driven to do the latter. Flirting and kissing? Yes, please. Taking it to the bedroom? How about we see what’s on Netflix instead.

You’ll notice I didn’t say being asexual means being celibate or requires not having sex. Often people think the two go hand in hand, but that’s where they get us wrong. Asexuality exists along a spectrum. Some aces are not interested in sex with anyone, including themselves. Some might not be sexually attracted to others but may still have sex with a partner because of the connection it creates or nurtures. Some, who identify as demisexuals, are only interested in sex with someone once they’ve formed a strong emotional bond with them. But the thing that all aces have in common is that sexual attraction does not exist or does not exist in the way that it does for allosexual people (those who do experience sexual attraction to others).

When you don’t have the words to describe something, it’s impossible to imagine it. When I was struggling with my sexuality as a teenager, I at least knew that bisexuality existed. But I never knew it was possible to not be sexually attracted to anyone, so I just willed myself to try harder. I was at war with myself — I wanted to feel the desire I saw characters in movies and on TV experience, the way I thought I was supposed to, but my body just didn’t.

Dating was a minefield of fending off the sloppy bedroom invitation of a frat boy who I thought was “very interested” in hearing about acting camp, and getting halfway through “Big Fish” before finding a friend’s hands down my pants. When you don’t understand the signs of sexual attraction because they don’t exist for you, every interaction can feel dangerous. I found myself wondering, Will this end in a hug? Or will I find myself petrified in his bed, afraid to say no?

Once, when I was in college, I was thrilled to finally get my crush back to my dorm room after a party. “My roommate’s gone,” I said flirtatiously as I closed the heavy door behind us. “Do you... want to sit down?” I asked, gesturing toward the only seating option: my lofted bed, 6 feet above us.

“Sure,” he said with a shrug. I smiled at him, then quickly tried to climb into the bunk bed as seductively as possible. He climbed up next to me, and we started kissing.

Dreams do come true, I thought, buzzing with excitement over this kiss, which I’d anticipated for months. But before long, his hands reached for the bottom of my shirt. I froze, the familiar panic rising inside. Oh no.

“I... don’t want to,” I said so softly I wondered if I had only thought it.

He stopped and said, “OK!” Relieved that he didn’t seem upset, I smiled at him, then leaned in to kiss him again, but he pulled back. “Wait,” he said. “I’m confused. I thought you said you wanted to stop?” Now I was confused. What did he think this was about? I invited him back here so we could kiss and maybe cuddle for a little bit ― that’s it. Did there have to be more?

Once again, I had misunderstood the unspoken signals, and I sat watching him put on his shoes to leave as he tried to hide his disappointment.

Years later, my husband and I met. We had a whirlwind romance. He was confident and funny and, importantly, very cool about me wanting to wait to have sex. Of course, just like in my serious relationships before him, there was always the looming tension and the quiet unease permeating the bedroom for me. I didn’t get why people wanted it, and I found myself often on edge at night, the expectation hanging over me as I begged myself to just be “normal” and feel the urge like everyone else apparently did.

It had always been challenging for my allosexual partners to not feel desired by me, and I didn’t understand why I couldn’t give them what they needed. Instead, I tried other ways to show my husband affection: I hid notes in his suitcase when he traveled and left notes on the table when I stayed out late. I drew pictures of inside jokes and wrote love letters because that was something I could wholeheartedly give, something that wasn’t wrapped up in complicated feelings. I loved my husband, and I wanted to be near him and go on dates and cook together. (OK, I mostly wanted him to cook for me, but still.) Why couldn’t that be enough?

At the same time, I knew being sexual was important to our relationship, so I wanted so badly to try. Since everyone else in the world seemed to be into sex, I figured it was me who just needed to get over my personal hang-ups. I became a bedroom detective, constantly trying to unearth the root of the problem. Maybe my unease comes from the bad relationship I had while studying abroad, so what I need is to not be pressured, I reasoned with myself. And then a week later I’d tell myself, No, it comes from my sheltered youth, and I need some amount of initiation, but I can’t feel tricked. But no matter how many perfectly outlined scenarios I came up with, nothing alleviated my anxiety about sex.

Finally, that afternoon in my therapist’s office gave me the answer I had been looking for. While the revelation was a huge relief for me, I was nervous to tell my husband. Would this be a dealbreaker? There was no roadmap available to me for how we would move forward with this new knowledge. I didn’t know much about asexuality, and I had no idea if an allosexual person would want to be with someone like me.

When I sat down and explained everything I had learned to him, it was actually a relief for both of us. I could finally be at peace with the fact that I experienced attraction differently than my husband (no more trying to force myself to be “normal”), and he knew now that it wasn’t that I didn’t desire him. In the end, recognizing that I was ace helped remove a lot of the unease for me, because I wasn’t fighting against my body anymore. I was so grateful to him for listening patiently and supporting me as we learned more about asexuality together. Was it always easy to figure out? Of course not. But now we navigate sexuality in our relationship in our own way, just like every couple does.

Coming out to others as asexual has proved complicated, especially because there’s so much ignorance and misunderstanding about asexuality in our culture. Recently, on a Netflix reality show, I heard a contestant say, “I’m a human ― I want to get physical.” The implication was that anyone who wouldn’t want to “get physical” is somehow inhuman. Late-night talk show hosts use the term “asexual” synonymously with “undesirable.” Commenters on ace articles and social media posts fling hurtful assumptions at us like, “What a waste!” “Why are you dressing like that if you don’t want to have sex?” “So you don’t feel sexual attraction... are you attracted to plants?” “Are you a sociopath?” “It’s because you haven’t met the right person” and “You just need to get laid!” “How tragic!”

Constantly having to face so much stigma and misinformation is challenging and can cause aces to doubt ourselves and what we feel. It can also keep us in the closet, either because we fear what will happen if we come out or simply because it’s exhausting to have to defend our identity and repeatedly educate others about our lives.

There are many reasons to be sad about asexuality, but none of them have anything to do with asexuals themselves and have everything to do with society. Consider the young ace woman who is forced into marriage despite being sex-repulsed, or an ace man who goes to the doctor for advice only to be told he’s dealing with a disorder and then subjected to conversion therapy. Consider the asexual person who is challenged by their family or bullied by their friends because not experiencing sexual attraction is believed to be abnormal or dangerous.

But asexuals aren’t sad because we don’t feel sexual attraction. We’re not missing anything. A lot of our distress would be alleviated if society accepted that we’re happy the way we are. What’s more, not feeling sexual attraction doesn’t mean we can’t go on dates (with other aces or allosexuals) or find partners or get married or have kids. For those who aren’t interested in more typical or traditional romantic relationships or family configurations, they might form queer platonic relationships or create family from friends. There are lots of different ways to find and experience love and companionship that don’t involve or require sexual attraction.

Finding and experimenting with new approaches to relationships and family ― and concentrating on those bonds outside of the realm of sex ― can be valuable for everyone, not just asexuals, and there’s a lot more allosexuals can learn from us. We spend a lot of time thinking through what we like and want and, maybe more important, what we don’t want out of sex and relationships. Thinking about what you actually want versus what you feel you should want can lead to better communication and the ability to advocate for yourself. In relationships like mine, where an asexual is paired with an allosexual, compromise and articulating our needs is essential. Beyond that, aces are great at creating solid bonds with friends ― maybe because we’re great at prioritizing other types of relationships that aren’t sexual.

On the day I discovered asexuality, I left my therapist’s office elated because I finally understood a crucial part of who I was. It was a life-changing moment, especially because it explained so much about how I show up in my marriage. Having a name for my identity — and an orientation that I can claim — has given my husband and me a new way to understand our relationship. Being able to be my truest self with him has made us stronger than ever.

I dream that someday asexuality will be widely accepted as a valid orientation instead of a slur, a punchline or, worse, a disorder in need of fixing. There are many of us out there in the world — and many who may not even know they’re ace because of how little information exists about our identity. I hope that will change as more and more of us discover and embrace who we are, continue to share our truths, dismantle the many myths about asexuality, and let the world know how much we love ourselves and our lives just the way we are.

Erin Wiesen (she/her) writes about parenting and sexuality, and is working on a memoir about coming out as asexual in her 30s. She is an advocate for asexual representation and lives on the East Coast with her family.

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