Tell Me About It: I’d like a relationship with a male or female, but I’d prefer it without sex
PROBLEM: I am concerned about my sexuality. It might sound arrogant, but I was probably one of the most popular lads in the village that I grew up in and had several girlfriends in my teenage years.
I had one relationship that started in the Leaving Cert year and lasted the whole way through university. We split up about three years ago, as we both started to concentrate on our careers, and I haven’t had a full relationship since.
I really want to be with someone now. I loved the bond and companionship that I had with my last girlfriend. But I did not feel sexually attracted to her, and although we had a lot of sex, and I was able to perform, I didn’t really enjoy it.
I began to think that I could be gay, and about a year ago I built up the courage to arrange a few hook-ups with men. I found these to be very unsatisfactory. So now I know that I am not gay but I am probably not straight either. In fact I would probably be happy to have a relationship with either a male or a female, as long as sex was not the central feature, or preferably not a factor at all.
I am not a prude, and I don’t have any history of childhood trauma. I have often heard male friends talk about sexual fantasies; I have even feigned interest, although I can honestly say that I have never got excited thinking about sex.
I am a gregarious, outgoing person, but where and how am I going to meet someone who does not want to have sex, and how do I explain to them that I would like a normal, albeit celibate relationship?
ADVICE: What is clear from your letter is that you have a strong desire for romantic and emotional connection and that you have had a good experience of close bonding and attachment in your previous relationship.
Sexuality and desire can be viewed as a spectrum with some people experiencing no sexual attraction, others a little sexual attraction and others a lot of sexual attraction. We are complicated creatures and, for some, sexual attraction happens only when there is a strong bond of trust and safety established. However, it seems that you had this bond and still found no joy in sex so this last possibility is probably not for you.
It is worth distinguishing between celibacy and what you are feeling. Celibacy is about a decision to abstain from sex, possibly for religious, cultural or personal reasons. What you describe is a lack of desire for sex and a lack of enjoyment in it. You seem very self-aware and have checked out if orientation was the issue and probably the best description of what you are experiencing is Asexuality.
Being Asexual can mean different things to different people and, for many, it means not experiencing any sexual attraction at all or experiencing sexual attraction in only very limited circumstances. Asexual people may have many other forms of desire from strong emotional attraction, romantic attraction and sensual or physical attraction (wanting to touch, hold or cuddle someone). You can explore this topic further by contacting the groups listed at the end of the article or doing some research of your own.
However, it is always worth doing some investigation into where your own sexual or romantic interest comes from and to find out what is important to you in terms of desire and attraction. It would be good for you to share these discoveries with someone so you can hear yourself talk about them, thus giving you a chance to discover what your idea of sexuality is rooted in.
There are as many types of relationships as there are people
You can start by constructing a “sexual messages lifeline” where you track all the messages you have received about sex (many unspoken) from your birth to now. You can ask yourself what the messages were from home and school about sex and desire; what was the response (from family) to sex on TV; what were the messages from your peer group; and what are your current messages to yourself.
These messages often operate underneath the surface and they can have a significant effect on our lives. You might include fantasy in your considerations as this is something you feel is blocked or non-existent for you.
Another simple exercise is to draw a circle and input all the things that need to be there for you to experience romantic desire – for example, you might need to include “no demand for sex” as this might block expression of your romantic desire. You will then know what you need (at this time) to fulfil your desire and can see how much of it is already in your life plus what you have to work on.
There are as many types of relationships as there are people so you should be reassured that your desire for a close attachment is within your reach. However, it does require some vulnerability on your behalf as intimacy requires honesty and openness – the starting point for you is to find someone with whom you feel a romantic attraction (preferably someone you admire) and take it from there.
There will be a lot you can learn from others’ experiences so check in with those who have paved the way for those with no or limited sexual attraction in their lives.