Ultimately sex is just another part of life, so most of the relationships advice concerning asexuals boils down to general relationship skills like communication. That said, it's good to keep the following in mind for relationships of any kind.
- People often have implicit assumptions about what a relationship means without even realising it. Make an effort to really listen and express to your partner about what each of you is looking for in the relationship.
- Don't let other people tell you that their vision of a relationship is the only valid one. All that should matter is how you and your partner(s) feel.
- Ally-ship (feeling people are 'on your side') is important for all relationships, but especially so when one person is a member of a marginalised group, as is is often the case in asexual–allosexual relationships.
- One partner being a member of a non-dominant group (asexuals) can create a power imbalance, and put them in a more vulnerable position. Never pressure, belittle, or invalidate someone because of their sexuality.
- One of the most powerful things an allosexual can do to help asexuals is to educate themselves. This website, AVEN, or The Invisible Orientation should be ample resource in this department.
Naturally things can become a little more complicated when it comes to intimate relationships, but even with seemingly incompatible orientations there's often a good chance your relationship can work out. There are many options for compromise if you keep your minds open. For cross-orientation relationships you might find some of the following tips helpful.
- Identify and articulate your boundaries – the need to feel safe is one of the most foundational in a healthy relationship. Establish what each person wants and what each person is willing to do. Consider making or filling out a list like Yes, No, Maybe So.
- If you are coming out to an already established partner in a sexual relationship, consider and articulate whether your coming out is accompanied by changing expectations for that relationship. For example, whether the acceptable kind, frequency or even presence of sex will change.
- Some couples find it useful to make a sex schedule / budget.
- Consider pursuing an open relationship.
- Do not rely on the possibility of future sex / no sex.
- Clear up what is considered romantic and what is considered sexual in your relationship. E.g. some asexuals see kissing as completely non-sexual, which can be confusing for allosexuals.
- Being made to feel guilty because of your orientation (asexual or otherwise) should be a red flag.
Obviously, an allosexual should avoid pressuring their partner into sex but equally, bottling up feelings is not healthy. If sex is important to you, you can state your needs without being demanding or confrontational about it. Disclosing how you feel is really helpful because it reduces feelings of guilt and stress, increases intimacy, encourages the other person to disclose in turn, and can even help you to understand yourself.
The following external resources may be of assistance.
We also have the following FAQs.
- How can I relate to / interact with allosexuals?
- Should I tell my partner that I'm asexual?
- My partner is asexual. Should we break up?
The next two sections outline some tips for improving communication in relationships. While these tips are not explicitly about sex or asexuality, the same principles should apply.
Despite what it might seem, communicating in a healthy and effective way does not come automatically to most people. Most of us can have more fulfilling and connected relationships by making an effort to become mindful of what good communication is about – and that's true of all relationships: romantic partners, family, friends, even with ourselves.
Communication can be significantly improved with a simple conceptual shift – it is better to focus on process over content. Content refers to what a communication is about (e.g. what to have for lunch), whereas process refers to how a communication plays out (e.g. as a screaming match). A good illustration of the importance of a good process goes like this: think of a conversation you had last week, or a year ago. The chances are you don't even remember the content (or only remember it vaguely), but you probably have a strong sense of how it made you feel. Of course, the content of our communication matters, but the process matters far more. The upshot of this is that a healthy process looks the same no matter what the content is.
A healthy process starts from remembering what communication is for: to understand or to be understood. Communication only exists in the first place because we are all in some sense fundamentally separated from each other. We don't have telepathy. Each person has their own life experiences, personality, access to information, and way of seeing things. Whether we are aware of it or not, everything we experience is filtered through our unique understanding of ourselves, the world, and the people in it.
This leads naturally to the two fundamental components of good communication: a) listening to others; and b) expressing yourself. Tips for improving in each of these areas are presented in the next two sections. Even if you feel it's your partner who is failing to communicate and not you, studying these tips can help you understand where they are failing and talk to them about improvement in a constructive way.
Benefits of disclosure
Before exploring the best way to go about expressing yourself, we'll first cover why you might want to do so in the first place. Simply put, disclosure is a key component of intimacy in relationships, and has profound positive effects on both parties and the health of the relationship as a whole. Examples include the following.
- Disclosure reduces feelings of guilt and the burden of keeping things hidden.
- Disclosure increases intimacy.
- Disclosure invites your partner to disclose in turn.
- Articulating your experiences to someone else can even even help you to understand yourself.
Provided you feel safe doing so, disclosing your experience is almost always a good thing.
Rules for effective expression
Useful rules of thumb when it comes to communicating effectively include the following.
Don't assume people know or understand things you haven't said directly. For example, you might be tempted to say "I would love a clean kitchen" when you really mean "Could you please clean the dishes?" Or you might be tempted to sigh loudly to get someone to start a conversation, and so on. These aren't good ways to communicate: only you know what you're thinking, so never assume that something will change by any means other than direct, honest communication.
Below are a few tips for being direct when you communicate.
- Do not ask a question when you need to make a statement. For example, instead of asking "Do we need to go to that party?" to express that you want to relax, simply state the latter.
- State your wants and feelings out loud – do not only imply them. For example, don't say "I think it's nice to cuddle sometimes" if you really mean "Can we cuddle now?"
- Ask yourself "Why am I saying X?" – and then just say the answer to that instead.
- Ensure that the stated purpose of your communication is the same as your actual purpose.
As well as being direct, here are some tips for making your communication clear and understandable.
- Ask yourself if you tone and body language align with the content of what you're saying. For example, saying "that's great" in a very dismissive tone is likely to confuse the listener.
- Distinguish between your observations and thoughts.
- Focus on one thing at a time.
A regular conversation should never be about winning or an intent to make the other person feel bad. If you are feeling angry or something is making you want to say something hurtful, consider instead expressing your frustration itself – for example, saying "I'm frustrated" – the next section might help you go about expressing yourself in a constructive way.
When talking about sensitive topics, it's best to cover all aspects of your experience. It can be easy miss out key parts of your experience because we often forget that other people see things differently or have access to different information – and that's especially true when talking to someone you know well.
One model that you may find helpful in this regard is that of the 'complete message'. A complete message is defined as that which contains each of the four categories of communication: observations, thoughts, feelings, and needs.
Observations are direct reports of what your senses tell you, without analysis of any kind. Examples of observations include:
- "I used to live with my sister."
- "The meetings tended to start late."
- "I sometimes forget he's even there."
- "I feel hungry."
Thoughts are any deductions, inferences, conclusions, etc. that you draw from observations. They are your attempts to understand the world based on the information you receive, including your value judgements, beliefs, opinions and theories. Examples of thoughts are:
- "Communication is essential for a healthy relationship."
- "I think he doesn't like me."
- "It's wrong to treat somebody like that."
- "Someone must have eaten the cake."
Expressing feelings can be scary, but at the same time it's a large part of what builds intimacy and connection in relationships of all kinds – consistently leaving out your feelings means consistently hiding a part of what makes you up as a person. Examples of 'feeling' expressions include:
- "Sometimes I don't know why, but I just get this wave of anxiety."
- "It makes me happy to see you."
- "I hate to see them suffer."
- "It's disappointing to say the least."
Be wary, since it's easy to mask observations or thoughts as feelings. Statements like "I feel like you don't care" are not about your feelings, despite having the word 'feel' in them.
Needs are expressions of your desires that result from your observations, thoughts, and feelings. In a healthy relationship it is crucial to express your needs. No one is in your head except you: never expect that someone understands a need of yours that you haven't clearly and directly expressed to them. Examples of 'need' expressions include:
- "Please call me if you're going to be home after 7."
- "I want to hug just for a little while."
- "I need some time to myself in the evenings."
- "Could you buy a cake on your way home?"
Including all four categories
As mentioned above, messages that include all four of the categories of communication are called 'complete messages'. Using complete messages can have a significant impact on your conversation partner's ability to empathise with you: they prevent defensiveness by explaining the origins of your emotions, they expose the emotional and factual context to your judgements, and they create an empathetic through-line to your needs and desires.
For example, a person using complete messages might say: "When I come home you are often on your phone (observation), so it seems like you aren't interested in talking to me (thought). I really don't like the feeling that gives me (feeling). Could you put your phone down for a bit when I get home? (need)". Note that the speaker here is making is a very specific request – when expressing yourself you are equally justified in expressing a vague need or one that you don't have a direct solution for, but having a specific change in mind is helpful if you're looking at resolving a conflict between yourself and your partner.
Of course, it's not necessary to always communicate in complete messages, but the framework of complete messages can be useful when it comes to especially important topics – for example during the conflict resolution techniques mentioned below. If you feel you are failing to express yourself, perhaps consider if you are missing out one of the components of a complete message.
Real listening comes first of all from having the proper intent. In general, your reason for listening to someone should be one of the following.
- To understand them better.
- As an enjoyable interactivity / to enjoy their presence.
- To learn something.
- To provide them with help or solace.
We all deserve to be compassionately witnessed by the people in our lives. Compassionate witnessing means seeing another person's world, with your eyes, your mind, and your heart. If someone is asking for your empathy, the proper response is to give it, just as you have a right to ask it of others. You should not be listening so you can trip someone up, or change their mind, or because you want them to compliment you, or do something for you, and so on.
It's also good to adopt 'the attitude of a listener' by doing the following.
- Maintaining eye contact.
- Actively removing or moving away from distractions.
- Being committed to understanding, even if you are angry or upset.
Active listening is a technique for helping you to be properly present and empathetic while listening, while also demonstrating that to your conversation partner and inviting them to continue sharing their experience with you. The three basic components to active listening are as follows.
- Paraphrasing what's been said.
- Asking clarifying questions.
- Giving feedback.
The first two components work together to ensure that you've understood properly and help you to focus on the moment – you might be surprised just how often we misunderstand others or don't pay attention without even realising it.
Giving feedback is perhaps a little more tricky, because you need to be careful not to invalidate what the other person has said. Remember, it's fine (and normal) if you feel or think differently – the important thing to keep in mind to be supportive in spite of any differences. We are all different, and none of us chooses how we feel, which means your partner's experience is valid no matter what it is. You should briefly express that to them, as well as offering a bit of what your experience is in response to learning how they feel.
Blocks to listening
Below are some common traps that people fall into which prevent them from listening effectively. Being mindful of these traps can help you to spot and correct them in your own communication – you might want to consider keeping a short journal for a few days and ticking off any instances of these you notice yourself or your conversation partner engaging in.
- Mind reading – do not assume you know what someone is thinking or feeling unless they tell you in words.
- Comparing – take each piece of information on its own merits. It's not about who's suffered more or worked harder, or anything like that.
- Rehearsing – do not distract yourself by trying to come up with the next thing to say. Be present with what the other person is saying and give your natural, authentic response to it.
- Being right – do not seek to 'win' the conversation.
- Judging – do not attempt to place blame, or work out who's in the right, or who's a good person.
- Dreaming – try not to have your mind wander. If you're distracted by something, consider moving the conversation somewhere else or telling your partner.
- Identifying – do not relate everything back to yourself or your own experiences. Identifying too much is a sign of caring more about your own experience than the other person's.
- Advising – do not seek to advise the other person before properly acknowledging the content of what they're saying. Unless they have asked for advice, the first thing a person wants then expressing themselves is for you to understand them – advice can come afterwards and you can even ask if they want advice.
- Derailing – do not change the subject when someone is trying to share something with you.
Couples and conflict resolution
Relationships are most successful when we recognise that they take work to maintain and strengthen, and when approached in the right way, conflict can help this process rather than hurt it. Contrary to what is might seem, it's possible for both parties to win in a conflict, making it a natural and healthy means by which relationships grow and mature. Positive conflict comes about from the key attitudes below.
- Conflict is not a bad thing. It the inevitable consequence of the fact that we're are all unique individuals; and sometimes you need to sit down and put some work into a relationship.
- The longer a conflict is put off, the more opportunity it has to fester, and the more different conflicts will pile up on top of each other.
- The skills of regular communication – expressing and listening – are also the skills that allow for successful conflict resolution.
- Recognise that each person's needs are equally valid, no matter what they are. Resolving conflict should not be about one person submitting to the will of another. Do not blame.
- The goal in a conflict should be to find a solution that leaves both parties better off. In fact, this process is why deliberately avoiding conflict is a bad strategy in the long term – doing so removes opportunities to improve understanding and accommodate each other.
Further to the advice about listening and expressing in the previous sections, the overarching theme here is that conflict should be approached as a team effort. Conflict, and indeed a relationship itself, doesn't exist in an individual, but emerges in the space between people. So too does any solution.
Luckily, provided both parties are willing to compromise and work on a relationship there is no conflict that cannot be overcome. That is of course excepting the case where there is a fundamental incompatibility – but then the conflict never had a solution anyway, and it's better to find that out as soon as possible.
Tips for healthy conflict
Conflict often includes heightened emotions, which can make it easy to slip into bad habits. Below are some of the key traps to avoid.
- Set a specific time to have the discussion when you know you'll both be free. Make sure the other person is safe and willing to have the conversation. Conflict will not be resolved if the parties are not in the right mindset.
- Do not place blame. Instead describe the problem in neural terms as something that exists in the space between you.
- Stick to one issue at a time. If necessary, write down any additional topics and come back to them later.
- Do not make impossible or vague demands, but propose specific change. For example, instead of "Be more welcoming when I get home" consider something like "Please put your phone down for a bit when I get home".
- Do not make threats or issue ultimatums, instead adopt a descriptive tone about the likely consequences of actions.
- Avoid unhappy or inconclusive endings. If no other agreement can be made, agree on a time to revisit the topic. Sometimes people need space to process what's been said.
If you find that your partner is falling into these traps, you are entitled to ask them to work on not doing so. Remember: conflict resolution requires active participation from both parties. If they are unwilling to make an effort that tells you something important about your relationship.
Finding a-spectrum partners
Since the a-spectrum community is largely invisible in popular culture, advice on how to find each other is common request. The good news is that the available evidence points to 1% of people being asexual . While that might not sound like a lot, in comparable studies [2,3] this is the same as the number of homosexual and bisexual people combined. Such studies are known to underestimate the rates of homosexuality and bisexuality, so it is possible that 1% is also an underestimate of the rate of asexuality.
So plenty of a-spectrum people are out there, it's just that invisibility and a lack of awareness makes it hard to us to connect. This is the main reason that historically, people on the a-spectrum have congregated over the internet. In that vein, you may find the following 'technological solutions' helpful.
Apps and sites
- The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) – not a dating site but it does have forums for finding meetups.
- acesandaros.org – a group-finding site run by Asexual Outreach
- ACEapp – an a-spectrum dating / friend-finding app.
- AsexualCupid – an a-spectrum dating site.
- Asexualitic – an a-spectrum dating / friend-finding site.
- Acebook – an a-sprectrm social media platform.
- Cuddle comfort – a site for finding a cuddle buddy.
Communities and groups
You may find luck joining an a-spectrum group and seeing where things go from there. (Please be respectful of the fact that many of these are not specially for dating.)
- Ace Date Space (discord server)
- The Asexuality and Aromantic Spectrum Discord Server
- Ace Café (discord server)
- The Discord server for kinky aces
- Asexual Facebook group
- meetup.com – a general meetup site
In recent years some mainstream platforms have included options for a-spectrum people. These haven't been found to be particularly comprehensive or useful but they are shown below as an acknowledgement that they are moving in the right direction.
- OkCupid – allows you to label yourself asexual and use asexuality as a search criterion. OkCupid matches people based on their answers to multiple-choice questions. Although all questions can be skipped, quite a few may lack an appropriate option for asexuals. It also may make allonormative assumptions (e.g. deciding you're heterosexual if you say you're looking for opposite-gendered partners only), and the option to label yourself asexual is somewhat hidden.
- Tinder – has no option for romantic orientation. Choosing 'asexual' has apparently no effect on matching.
In this section you can find some examples of letters you might write to the people in your life on the topic of your asexuality. They are addressed to different kinds of relationships and with certain hypothetical situations in mind, but if you want to use them it's best to mix-and-match the parts that are relevant and some of your own material.
The mindset for all of the letters is as it should be for anything this important: know what you want, know what you need, and to feel like you have the right to ask for it. Do not be afraid to express yourself. These letters are about asking someone to empathise with you and understand your inner world, with the motivation that they understand you so you can feel closer to them. If they say "no" that's important information you should know about that relationship.
I'm writing to you because I need to share something that's very important in my life. For a long time I've struggled with understanding why I don't fit in with my peers. I can't relate to a lot of what my friends say when it comes to love and relationships, and that made me think I was somehow broken, or missing out, but I've now realised it's because I'm asexual. Knowing that I'm not alone and that I'm fine the way I am has felt like a huge weight has lifted off my shoulders.
Asexuality is a sexual orientation, just like being straight or gay. It means that I am not, have never been, and don't expect I ever will be sexually attracted to anyone. I know it's possible my feelings will change in the future, but for now, this is who I am, and I'm ok with that.
I know as well as anyone that it can be difficult to understand others, so I don't expect you to 'get it' right away. That's ok. I know you may be concerned about me, but what I need right now is acceptance. I have struggled a lot with my identity in silence, and it has taken a lot of courage to come out to you about this right now. It would make me feel anxious, upset, and ignored if you used this to make medical or life choices for me, and it would make me feel unsafe in my own home. I am my own person. I am the only expert there is on my feelings.
Thank you for listening to what no doubt is a lot to take in. I'm happy to talk about this and answer any questions you have.
I love you and all the ways you have supported me in my life; I hope I can add my orientation to that list.
It isn't easy for me to say this. I've been through a confusing and difficult time, and I think it's important for our relationship that I let you know about what's been going on. After thinking long and hard, I've come to understand that I'm asexual – my orientation is that I'm not, nor have I ever been, attracted to anyone. Asexuality is a normal sexual orientation just like being gay, or bisexual, and even though you may not have heard of it, around 1% of people are asexual.
I know this will probably be a surprising or even painful revelation to you – and that makes me scared, because even though I don't feel sexual attraction, I still love you in every way I know how. I love it when I hear your voice, when we cuddle, when we're there for each other. Those things have always been what I've cherished about our relationship. I still want us to be together, if you're willing.
Up until recently I had never realised that 'sexual attraction' was a real thing. I used to think sex was something people just 'put up' with because it seemed like a requirement for intimate relationships. I never really understood what people meant when they said someone was 'hot'. Until I had heard about asexuality, I had just assumed I was straight because I didn't know any better. Since then so many things have started to make sense, and it's so freeing to feel like I'm not always out-of-place any more.
At the same time, there's a lot of fear behind this too. I'm afraid that you'll read this and think I don't love you anymore, or that I never did. I'm afraid you won't believe me, that you'll think I'm mistaken or lying. I afraid that you'll suggest ways to 'fix me'. I'm afraid you'll think I 'tricked' you into a relationship. Despite all this, I feel it's only right that I'm honest with you. All I ask is that you believe what I say: I've been collecting my thoughts for a long time and I am the only person who knows my own experience.
Of course this has implications for our relationship moving forward. I'm open to talking about us and trying to think a way forward that can leave both of us better off, but I understand if my orientation ends up being a deal-breaker for you. You are free to leave if you want, but I want you to know that I sincerely hope you don't.
We need to talk. I know you might not be interested, or think it's important, but it would really make a difference to me and my community if you spared a moment to listen to what I have to say.
I – along with at least 1% of the population – am an asexual. That means I'm not sexually attracted to anyone. Just like how a straight person isn't attracted to their own gender, and a gay person isn't attracted to the opposite gender, I'm not attracted to either.
I know that might sound strange or even impossible to you, so I have to ask this outright: please believe me. Asexuality isn't an illness. It isn't someone being mistaken about what they really feel. It isn't naive or innocent. It's not a response to trauma. It isn't a political statement. It's just different – just a sexual orientation you might not have heard of before.
I first heard about asexuality when I was 24, and at that moment I knew it was me. Who knows: if I'd heard of it at 14 my life might have been completely different. 24 years is too long to wait to hear that I'm ok the way I am. Really that's the main thing I wanted to ask for: acceptance. I struggled for years thinking I was broken or not understanding how I fit into a world that doesn't acknowledge that my perspective was even an option. It can be scary, and painful to be isolated from others, and having a marginal orientation is just one more barrier to deal with.
There are small things you can do which would help me feel better about myself –
- Please listen to and trust asexuals when they tell you about their experience. Each person is the only expert there is on what's going in their own head.
- Please don't make my orientation the butt of a joke.
- Don't assume I'm not interested in romantic relationships or human intimacy.
- Don't act as if a platonic relationship can't be as important or fulfilling as a romantic one.
I'm sorry to be making so many demands, but thank you so much for listening. It really means the world to me.
- : Wellings, K. (1994). Sexual Behaviour in Britain: The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles. Penguin Books.
- : Bogaert, Anthony F. (2004). Asexuality: prevalence and associated factors in a national probability sample. Journal of Sex Research. 41 (3): 279–87.
- : Bogaert, Anthony F. (2006). Toward a conceptual understanding of asexuality. Review of General Psychology. 10 (3): 241–250. doi:10.1037/1089-26220.127.116.11
- : For a large number of citations for this, see What is asexuality?.