I got a question via my Tumblr page about writing asexual characters and loves stories.
Warning! Frank discussions of sex and sexuality below!
EDIT: Apparently I have to make this more clear. No, I am not asexual. No, I don’t know anyone who has self-identified (at least to me) as asexual. No, I don’t hate or fetishize asexuals. No, I don’t worship Dan Savage; I admire his work and as we all know, all work is inherently problematic. I just included his definition of “GGG” because I feel that it is a good concept to promote.
Yes, I tried my best based on what research and knowledge I have about being asexual. Yes, I am happy to hear from readers about corrections or additions to the information. Yes, I am willing to learn more about the topic, and to help educate my readers as well. Yes, I invite you to write a response to this Nonnie if you feel that you can answer the question, as well. If you fee that you have an excellent, accurate, and more comprehensive information source for Nonnie, then by all means, please, link it. All of us writers would appreciate it.
Big question! Before we get into the answer, a quick primer for readers who might not be familliar with some of the terms I’ll be using on gender, sexual, and romantic orientation:
Gender = the performance of sexual identity, either male or female, which includes conforming to societal norms, expectations, and modes of self-expression for said gender. (i.e. Boys play sports and Girls play House)
Gender Queer = the performance of a sexual identity that is neither all-male or all-female. Usually a mix of gender norms, expectations, and modes of self-expression.
Non-Gendered = the performance of no gender identity at all, or in specific.
Biological sex= presents the genitals of a Male, Female, or a biological combination of either. “The plumbing”.
Genitals=/=Gender: For example, a biological-male human may not identify gender-male. Just because one’s bits fall into one box, doesn’t mean their mind does too.
Sexual= enjoys the physical act of sex, either with participant(s), or solo stimulation. Desires to have sex and derives satisfaction from sex.
Heterosexual= enjoys/prefers sex with participants of the opposite gender and/or biological sex
Homosexual= enjoys/prefers sex with participants of the same gender and/or biological sex
Bisexual= enjoys/prefers sex with participants of either gender and/or biological sex
Pansexual= enjoys sex with participants of any or all genders and/or biological sexes, etc.
Demisexual = enjoys/prefers sex with participants only after they’ve established a romantic/emotional/intellectual connection with the other participant(s). Uninterested in, or unable to achieve physical satisfaction from strangers or casual acquaintances. (Literally can’t do one-night stands)
Asexual= EDIT (from a submitter): “It is a lack of sexual attraction. It’s about attraction, not behaviour.” Which, I think translates as: Does not experience sexual attraction. Emotionally and intellectually does not enjoy, derives no satisfaction from, or has no interest in the physical act of sex.
This does not mean that sex disgusts or frightens an asexual, just that they have no desire (mentally, emotionally, physically, or a combination of all three) to engage in sex. This also does not mean that they won’t participate in sex at all; some asexuals may choose to engage in some sexual acts with a sexually active partner, because they enjoy the emotional/physical/mental closeness, and/or because they want to be Generous, Giving, and Game. That all depends on your character.(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Savage_Love#GGG)
Grey Ace=Enjoys, desires, and derives satisfaction from some specific aspects of sexual/romantic activity, but not to the extent of a sexual person.
Romantic= the non-physical/sexual part of a relationship. Emotional connection, admiration, affection. Love.
Heteroromantic= falls in love, and desires and derives emotional/mental satisfaction from being in love with someone of the opposite gender.
Homoromantic= falls in love, and desires and derives emotional/mental satisfaction from being in love with someone of the same gender.
Biromantic= falls in love, and desires and derives emotional/mental satisfaction from being in love with someone of the either gender.
Panromantic= falls in love, and desires and derives emotional/mental satisfaction from being in love with someone of any and all genders/mixes of genders/ non-genders.
Aromantic= does not, cannot, or chooses not to fall in love/ express romantic feelings or romantic affection for another person. It’s possible to still want a relationship or connection with another human being while being aromantic. There can be extremely close friendships, marriages, co-parenting, etc.
Notes: Being asexual and/or aromantic does not mean that a person definitively has no desire to be a parent, or to be without very close friends or family.
I don’t know, and I can’t speak for every asexual person, but I assume that someone who is asexual and/or aromantic has the same desires to be close to the person emotionally and physically, to touch, etc. Affection is a universal desire in human animals, and people who do not respond/enjoy sexual stimulus probably still want emotional connection to other people, to be wanted and desired (even if it’s as a friend or family member), to be touched and praised, to be loved and cherished. Obviously the level of the desired contact, and the type of contact (mental, physical, and emotional) will vary by person, and each will have their own levels of comfort, and it will never be a clear cut mix of what, with whom, and how much.
Asexual/aromantic people are not cold fish or androids. They are still human beings, in all our three dimensional, emotionally messy, complicated glory. Someone can be both asexual and homoromantic, or a demisexual grey ace, or any glorious rainbow-saturated mix of all of the above.
So, the quick and dirty answer to your question is – write the romance and the character no differently than you would write it for a character of any other sexual/romantic orientation.
Write it exactly like a regular romance (hetero, homo, bi, or pan) except any and all sexytimes and any physical displays of affection would require Explicit Relationship Negotiation between both parties. This could be a great character-building moment of dialogue and action, and the lack/misunderstanding of explicit negotiation could offer further moments for plot and character growth. Just… be aware of the Rape As Backstory and Forgiving Sexual Assault tropes. Remember, a non-heteronormative pairing doesn’t excuse sloppy storytelling and poor wordcrafting.
Unless they already know that your asexual character is such, the non-A partner would probably expect that there will eventually be physical contact and sexytimes, as with any other relationship. As their partner becomes more comfortable with them, and levels of consent are achieved, the romance will involve more sexual acts.
(S)he will probably expect to be allowed to hold hands, then progress to linking arms, to hands in back pockets and on the small of backs, leaning against one another on the sofa, outright cuddles on the sofa, being an octopus on the sofa, then kissing, then full-on-snogging, then bases 1 through 3, mutual masturbation, to oral sex, and accumulating in penetrative sex and happy happy orgasms for all!
(EDIT: Of course ALL relationships require consent and boundary negotiation at EVERY level of intimacy.
Nonnie was asking specifically about asexual relationships, so I highlighted the ways asexual relationships may need conversations about boundaries and permissions specifically. But of course all relationships of all kinds, featuring all orientations and genders should be filled with such conversations.
And yes, one can never generalize that for ALL people of a certain orientation absolutely follow a definition or categorization or stereotype. It’s a good place to start when developing a character, but of course the character has to be as wonderfully complicated and full of contradictions, preferences, quirks, traumas, scars, desires, and joys as real people.)
However, at some point in this process, your asexual character will become uncomfortable, the contact will become undesired, and they will not grant their consent to their partner. It’s possible they might “go all the way”, in order to be GGG – but there would probably be a lack of physical sexual enjoyment. This may exhibit as a still-flaccid penis, lack of vaginal lubrication, nipples not peaking, etc.
That’s not to say it was terrible or a sacrifice. It’s possible the asexual character found the encounter emotionally satisfactory even if they didn’t achieve any sexual satisfaction or a climax of any sort.
And how would the non-A partner feel about that? Hurt? Undesirable? Grateful that their A-partner is willing to push their comfort zones to give them sexual satisfaction? Content with the emotional/romantic satisfaction and willing to have a more sparse/non-existent sex life?
How do they negotiate this reality of their relationship? Is the sexual partner allowed to seek sexual, but not emotional fulfilment, elsewhere outside the relationship? Does the A-partner agree to give blowjobs or hand/footjobs? Will the sexual partner frot against the A-partner when (s)he gives him/her a massage? Is it a lot of cuddling and masturbation?
My best suggestion would be this: figure out your asexual character’s romantic inclination, and sexual inclination. Then decide on their romantic and sexual limits. Decide where the line is drawn for them, and why. Figure out whom they form romantic/emotional connections to, and why, and how they show it. Figure out where they say “no, stop” and where they do not give consent. Figure out how they react to another person’s romantic/sexual attention, and what they are willing to experiment with or be GGG about.
With that done, now you have a full understanding of how your asexual character can and will react in romantic/sexual situations with your sexual character, whether (s)he is the pursuer or the pursued. And once you’ve fleshed out your sexual partner, you’ll also know how (s)he will react when they are asked to change what they’re doing/stop/go not further/understand that their partner is Ace.
From there, I’d say go about establishing the relationship the same way you would any other well written romance.
Best of luck!
(And if anyone would like to offer a correction/addition/addendum to anything above, please do so! I’m no expert, I can only explain things as I best understand them.)
EDIT: Further Resources
Asexuality on Reddit
The Asexual Visibility and Education Network
For more posts on the business and craft of writing, search my Words for Writers tag.