Dating as asexual is hard because it is incredibly difficult for allosexual people to understand a sexual identity that does not center sex.
I marathon-watched season five of “Bojack Horseman” in a single day because of who I am as a person. It’s been a couple months since the season dropped on Netflix, but it’s still on my mind, especially Todd’s story. Despite the show’s issues with white actors voicing characters of color (and the, ya know, normalized beastiality), it’s still one of my favorite things Netflix has ever brought to life—a guilty pleasure, more or less.
One of the reasons I keep watching it is Todd Chavez. Not because he’s an incredibly well fleshed out character, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Todd is a habitual couch-surfer and self-saboteur, an accidental genius who stumbles his way into various powerful, decision-making roles, a regular Captain Obvious who somehow simultaneously takes an inordinate amount of twists and turns to monologue his way to simple point of truth that everyone else in the room already arrived at eons ago. The most interesting thing about Todd, for me, is his place as one of the few asexual characters visible in the media, and his asexuality is explicitly stated. It’s not something left ambiguous for fans to speculate about, the way many have done with Dexter Morgan, Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance of Sherlock Holmes, Sheldon Cooper, The Doctor, and Jessica Rabbit. In fact, Todd’s most compelling storylines revolve around him reckoning with his asexuality, coming out, and navigating the dating world as someone on the spectrum.
In the most recent season, Todd is dating a fellow asexual, Yolanda. When she takes him home to meet her family in episode three, “Planned Obsolescence”, it’s revealed that Yolanda’s father is a best-selling erotic novelist, her mother is world-renowned adult film star, and her twin sister is a sex advice columnist. Her family is obsessed with sex. So much so that her father exclaims things like “As I jizz and breathe!” and tries desperately to gift Yolanda and Todd an obscenely large barrel of personal lubricant, a family heirloom, her great grandmother’s recipe, with hopes that they will use it to have sex in the family home that night.
Eventually, this absurdity culminates with the entire family covered in lube and Yolanda screaming, “I’m asexual!” in the midst of a slippery fight with her twin sister who is determined to seduce Todd. But Yolanda’s coming out doesn’t happen where we can see it. Immediately after this is a time jump, indicated by a title card that reads: “One thorough but respectful dialogue later.” If only coming out as asexual were this easy and headache-free. I assure you, it is not. In the end, they break up. The only thing they have in common is their shared asexuality, Todd notes, with a sadness in his voice. He knows they shouldn’t resign to dating each other simply because they are the only asexual people they know. That is not how human connection, emotional investment, and relationship-building work. Todd assures her that there is a guy for her who is smart and accomplished and impressive. “Who also doesn’t want to have sex?” she interrupts.
“Yeah, probably,” he responds.
“…But what if there isn’t?”
This is a fair question from Yolanda, and one that I can absolutely feel the weight of. Meeting other asexual people is not nearly as simple as meeting allosexual people. We’re only about 1% of the population, as far as we know. The thing is that asexuality is still such an obscure topic to most people, to the point where some people don’t even know that it even exists, there are a significant number of people who are on the asexuality spectrum but are simply unaware because of this glaring gap in discourse about sexuality and orientation. So, yes, it can be exceedingly difficult for us to meet other asexuals, and it is even more difficult for us to meet allosexual people who are interested in dating us and also willing to respectfully accept that we do not experience normative sexual attractions and/or normative sexual desires. Cultivating the kind of comfortability, intimacy, and trust with someone that I need to truly be able to enjoy sex is exhausting, especially if I have to explain my sexuality to them a dozen times in the process, and the mere thought of going through this is often anxiety-inducing.
Dating as asexual is hard for a lot of reasons, largely because so many people don’t understand what it is to begin with, and because of that misunderstanding, many people see it as a challenge. This, among other acephobic sentiments, unfortunately leads to asexual discrimination and sexual violence, such as corrective rape. Dating as asexual is hard because we are supposed to be a part of the LGBTQIA+ acronym, but we often aren’t even considered as part of the queer community. Gatekeepers continually try to push us out, and if they say we don’t belong here, then where? Dating as asexual is hard because living in a sexually repressed society that is also constantly throwing sex in our faces (much like Yolanda’s family) causes most people to view asexuality as an unnatural impossibility, even a rude position to take, unable to comprehend the fact that it is not a choice, anymore than anyone else’s sexuality is. Dating as asexual is hard because it is incredibly difficult for allosexual people to understand a sexual identity that does not center sex.
Dating, for us, involves nuances that the vast majority of allosexual people simply do not have to think about on the level that people on the asexuality spectrum do. Some asexual people still engage in sex acts, for valid reasons that are our own, but many of us have no desire for sex at all. For people who fall on this end of the asexuality spectrum, trying to navigate the dating world often leaves us in unsafe spaces, in which we are coerced or pressured into sex, pressured into presenting as and performing a sexuality that is not natural for us. We get accused of being “a fucking tease” for simply being ourselves and have our boundaries disrespected by people who we thought we could trust. It is true that many people experience this pressure on some level, especially non-men, but experiencing this while asexual adds another layer. In the same way that my Blackness and my fatness create additional layers to my sexualization.
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I theorize and think deeply about sex and the things surrounding it. I have routinely engaged with these ideas in my work, and I think that being asexual might position me to be able to view many parts of sex in a more objective way than those who have a deep, abiding, consistent desire for it. As such, I try to write publicly about the things that are often only whispered about in private. I just want us to be honest about sex. About how we use sex and how we are socialized to understand the implications of when someone consents to sex with us. These implications are often gendered, of course, which is why sex is often thought of as a conquest for men and masc individuals. But in a more universal sense, we tend to view sex as a reward, as a gift, as proof of affection, as a route to validation of our worth and desirability. Being asexual in a society that values sex as much as ours complicates our ability to have fulfilling relationships and positive dating experiences with those who don’t understand our asexuality, especially those who have been indoctrinated into the idea that relationships are only valid when they include sex.
My sexuality is confusing to people, and, if I’m being honest, it confuses me too sometimes. This leaves me in a state of perpetual frustration and anxiety if I even think about the possibility of trying to date or form relationships with people that society overwhelmingly thinks of as inherently including sex.
Dating as asexual is hard for a lot of reasons, but I don’t think it has to be. De-centering sex in our concept of relationships and dating would make life a lot easier for us, all of us really. When I think of dating, what I really want, what a lot of asexual people want, are queerplatonic friendships and relationships that do not center or rely on sex, but most people don’t understand what those are or don’t believe that they can even exist. But they can and they do. They exist, but they exist in the shadows, and boxing out asexuality from queer and relationship discourse keeps us there.
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