Sexual ethics as applying to asexual-nonasexual relationships: Intersections of asexuality and rape culture
This post is adapted from my response to an asexual anon from Asexual Advice who inquired, “Is it a fair compromise to feel the need to perform for my [non-asexual] partner?”
THIS POST AND ITS OUTGOING LINKS MAY CONTAIN SEXUAL ABUSE, SEXUAL ASSAULT AND ENTITLEMENT TRIGGERS.
So, the one time I have had sex was with my ex-girlfriend. I realized at that point (or the day after) that I was just really not missing anything. I was asexual. I guess I should have figured it out when I was still a virgin at 24 with no interest in changing that. Anyway, onto the main point of this post. After that night, I felt guilty. I did things intentionally in order to avoid getting into a situation with her in which sex might be expected. After the relationship was over and after thinking for a few years, I am wondering if instead of someone I am in a relationship with just having to deal with no sex, if it wouldn’t be fairer to the both of us if I compromised and went ahead and had sex with them from time to time, just to be fair to them. I wouldn’t really enjoy it, in fact I would feel awkward, but isn’t compromise an important part of a relationship?
There is a common practice among people in the asexual community known as “compromising.” Compromising is said to occur when an asexual person who is indifferent to or otherwise unenthusiastic about sex who is in a relationship with a non-asexual person allows the non-asexual person to have sex with them. It might be a better, though unusual, phrasing to say that an asexual person is compromising when ze allows a non-asexual parter to do sex to hir. After all, if the asexual partner were enthusiastic about the sexual activity, it’s not called compromising: it’s just called sex.
Something that has always confused me is not that a non-asexual person would ask for sexual activity with an asexual partner but that the non-asexual partner could enjoy sexual activity with someone who didn’t give enthusiastic consent to the activity. It has similarly confused me that a non-asexual person could be okay with engaging in sexual activity with someone who obviously wasn’t enthusiastic about the activity or would otherwise prefer that the activity not take place.
I subscribe to a model of consent that necessitates that consent for sexual activity be enthusiastic because I take the position that sex is not a thing that can ever be deserved or owed. When a person believes either that ze deserves sex from a partner or that a partner owes hir sex, the sexual activity ceases to always be mutually enthusiastic. By mutually enthusiastic, I do not necessarily mean mutually enjoyable, but I do mean that all involved must want the activity to take place.
So, to be brief, I do not think it is ever a fair compromise to expect sex from anyone, asexual or not. It is never fair to expect a partner to sexually perform. The word “compromise” makes me uncomfortable because it reduces sex to something that can be owed, like a currency. I do think it is possible for an asexual person and a non-asexual person to have a happy and mutually fulfilling relationship, but if and only if neither partner sees hirself as entitled to the other partner’s body. I take this position on any relationship.
If the partners of relationships comprised of non-asexual people and asexual people began subscribing to an enthusiastic consent model and began having regular conversations about boundaries, the concept of compromising, of any partner feeling like it’s necessary to allow a nonasexual partner to do sex to an unenthusiastic asexual partner, would disappear. No one would believe that a person could have a moral responsibility to say yes to a sexual advance. All sexual or semisexual activity that would then take place between the partners would be enthusiastic. And none of it would be sexual assault.
N.B. added April 28, 2013: The phrase “enthusiastic consent” should here be understood as “willing consent.” When writing this post, I misunderstood the term “enthusiastic consent” and was not aware of the ways in which enthusastic consent standards deny sexual agency to asexuals and persons with disabilities.