As told to Anna Davies
There's a moment I always dread whenever I'm with a group of women. It happens after we've met up a few times and everyone feels comfortable. Inevitably, the conversation turns to sex.
Luckily, now that we're all moms who've been married for a while, the conversation is about how little sex we're having. I laugh, agree, and excuse myself to head to the ladies' room or order another cup of coffee.
What I don't want to tell people—because it's really not anyone's business—is that both my husband and I are asexual. We have had sex, but it's not something we seek out. Our date nights are Netflix binges and separate beds; our romantic evenings never end with a good-night kiss. And we couldn't be happier. (Want to pick up some healthier habits? Sign up to get daily healthy living tips and more delivered straight to your inbox!)
Let me back up. I remember being 12 years old and panicking when all my friends talked about who they had crushes on. It was 1992, and New Kids on the Block was all the rage, so I bought the posters and said I was in love with Donnie. But I wasn't. I would look through teen magazines and not feel anything. The same was true for the actual boys in school. Other girls would talk about how so-and-so was "hot," and I'd nod, but I just didn't get it. For a while I remember wondering if I was a lesbian. My family was really open about everything, and my parents had a couple of gay and lesbian friends who would come over. It wasn't a big deal. But when I tried to think of a girl or woman I had a crush on, I came up blank as well.
I had a boyfriend in freshman year of high school because everyone in my social circle was getting into relationships. I liked him as a person but hated kissing him—I can still conjure up the feeling of disgust. And I knew it wasn't him. Objectively, he smelled nice. I liked him. But kissing him felt all sorts of wrong to me. After we broke up, I didn't have any sort of relationship in high school, which was fine because I was so busy with academics, sports, and extracurricular activities. I went to an all-women's college, and there, I again wondered if I might be attracted to women. I experimented a bit my freshman year but felt the same feeling I'd had with my high school boyfriend. It just didn't feel right.
Again, I was super-busy and had lots of friends, so it was really easy to ignore the fact that I wasn't attracted to anyone. I thought that my romantic life would fall into place after I graduated, once life slowed down a little.
But after graduation was when it became obvious that I was different from the majority of my friends. Suddenly, I was working with men, I was meeting a lot of men at parties, my friends were going on dates and comparing their experiences…and I just didn't want to. I threw myself into work, made jokes about becoming a cat lady, and generally enjoyed my life in my 20s. Sure, friends had boyfriends or girlfriends, but everyone was generally on the same plane.
It wasn't until I hit 30 that things changed dramatically. Everyone seemed to be getting married and having kids, and I was still a virgin. I'd been on a few incredibly awkward dates, but none had developed beyond that. I was good friends with a core group of people at work; we'd go to happy hours and do things on the weekends. But then I noticed I was spending most weekends by myself: Everyone else was with someone.
I had seen a few therapists, and a few seemed to think that my aversion to intimacy was based on something in my past. But I knew it wasn't. It was just who I was. It wasn't until I was in my mid-30s that I found a therapist who could move beyond the why and just see my situation at face value. She asked what I was missing by not being intimate. The answer? Companionship. I was really lonely when I saw my friends couple up because that meant I inevitably ended up spending more time by myself. (Feeling lonely is as unhealthy as smoking 15 cigarettes a day
So that therapist urged me to seek out companionship, rather than trying to find a romantic partner. Realizing that it was OK to not want a relationship was so incredibly freeing. So I began following my passions, including signing up for a 50-mile bike race and pursuing choral music.
It was in that music group that I met Glen.* We were friends at first, but what I loved was that he totally met me on my level. With other men, I always felt this pressure, like, OK, we're having fun talking now, but what will happen if he wants to kiss me? But I never felt that with Glen. At this point I knew I was asexual. I researched it online, and I brought it up with my therapist, who was hesitant with labels.
One time, Glen and I were alone in his apartment. We were watching movies, and I was like, I know this is the night that something should happen. If I was normal, it would. My heart was hammering, and I told him: "I think I'm asexual."
"I am, too," he responded.
We both laughed. I think we hugged. And after that, it was just understood that we were together.
Because we were in a relationship, we figured we should at least try having sex and thought that maybe if we did it, the feelings would follow. But it never felt right—not that we were expecting fireworks; we sort of approached it from a scientific point of view—so we gave it up pretty quickly. I was actually glad to no longer be a virgin, but to me, sex was something that I was perfectly fine skipping and didn't feel like I was missing out on. I guess the way to describe it is that some people love pizza. But does a person who never eats pizza have a less-great life? I don't think so. If they've tried it and decide for themselves they don't like it, what's the harm?
We did have sex when we decided to conceive our baby. We used ovulation prediction kits and had a "just get it done" mentality. It was actually a really strained point in our marriage. Up until then, it was easy to feel like our marriage was "real," but when we had to schedule sex, it was like, what are we doing? How can we survive over the long term? And can we be a model of "real" love to our child?
Luckily, it took only a few months of trying, and once I got pregnant, things settled back into our version of normal. In some ways, that was the most physical time of our marriage. We ended up falling asleep in the same bed more often than not (we have separate bedrooms), and we were pretty touchy-feely. I asked for a lot of backrubs.
And now? We have a 3-year-old, and we're figuring things out. We are definitely deeply in love. And as I notice some of our couple friends drift apart from each other, I'm so glad that we have a solid connection that doesn't depend on sex.
I wish I'd known asexuality was a thing when I was younger. I wish I'd known you can still find love and companionship on your own terms. I'm not sure what we'll tell our daughter about our relationship; I doubt she will ever ask or if it'll ever come up. But I know I won't be one of those moms who asks their child who they "like" every week.
Because I'm proof that just because you don't "like" anyone doesn't mean you can't fall in love.
*Names have been changed