It took me a while to figure out what my deal with sex really was— Did I love it? Did I hate it? I knew I definitely wasn’t indifferent towards it. Growing up in a family that wasn’t super conservative or hyper-progressive – but somewhere in the middle – sex wasn’t the monosyllabic word you never utter and end up learning about only on your suhaag raat. My mother brought up sex every so often, but simply as an educational exercise – never as an activity I was actually meant to partake in.
Sex became the forbidden fruit I couldn’t have – not until I was far away from my parents’ watchful eyes at least – but could only seek pleasure in thinking of. In my head, I imagined a hypersexual alter ego of myself, who would appear the day I moved out and could finally live as their true self. I did move out, I did begin to live the way I wanted to, except that this imaginary persona never revealed herself. She didn’t really exist.
It’s not like I didn’t meet any people or have any sexual experiences, but I quickly realised how unimportant those were to me. I didn’t care much about sexual intimacy in my relationships, and yet, sex could make or break them. As someone who was still coming to terms with her asexuality, I’d get anxious every time I’d meet someone new, which often happens to people who identify or end up identifying as asexual. What if they didn’t understand? What if they made fun of me if I didn’t want to get physical? What if they tried to force me into it? I knew that if this ever happened, I would still retain all the power. But when your attempts to assert your asexuality are met with harmful remarks like, “Oh, I can’t imagine that. I love sex!” or “But you have sex, are you sure you’re asexual?”, you begin to second guess your own truth.
And so, how my potential partners approached sex, or even conversations around it, became tell-tale signs for whether we would even progress beyond the “talking phase”. Anyone who made suggestive innuendos and pressed on, even when I clearly wasn’t into it, was out. To most people, sexting with a Tinder match might be the most natural thing to do. But I’m so aware of my asexuality that I don’t want to give someone false hopes of what might or might not happen if we were to ever meet. Once, when someone I met on Tinder sent me a picture of a meal they’d cooked, I replied with an innocent “Looks good! I’ll take some” to which they said, “Maybe you can take it all”. I slid out of their DMs as fast as I possibly could.
But luckily for me, my experiences have been mostly pleasant. I’ve never been with another asexual person, but I’ve been with people who have wanted to be with me regardless of how often we have sex, if at all. And that’s saying a lot, considering I’m sensitive to even a single touch that doesn’t take my feelings into consideration. They have seen me as a person whose worth is not limited to her sexual desires, or the lack of them, which is how I want it to be. Since I don’t feel sexually attracted to people, I tend to perceive them in terms of whether or not I can forge deep, meaningful connections with them that don’t waver with my volatile sex drive.
My last partner was far more sexually experienced than me. He taught me almost everything I know about sex, but all on my terms. He was incredibly patient with me, always prioritising talking about how we both felt over “just doing stuff”. When we did want to have sex, it was good. But if not, we always cuddled, and held each other, and made each other feel safe, which was even better. Weirdly enough, he was also the most sexually charged person I’ve ever known. He loved talking about sex, and loved having sex even more. I often worried that I wasn’t enough for him, and that he would eventually want someone who loved sex as much as him. But it didn’t happen. Of course, it’s not always easy to manage a relationship when the people involved have vastly different attitudes towards sex.
And yet, in that relationship, I found a space to come to terms with my own asexuality. I’d often wrestle with feeling completely desexualised at just 22, and wondered if it was just a symptom of my subsequent struggles with my mental health. But when sex didn’t feel like an ominous sword hanging over my head, I realised that I didn’t really owe anyone any explanation about being ace, including myself. It also helped me do away with the perception that sex must feature in every relationship in one way or the other, something that I internalised living in a society that fails to acknowledge asexuality, and even actively discriminates against asexual people.
This exercise in self-exploration and self-acceptance has also opened gateways for me to experiment with my own asexuality further. I’ve come to realise that I only ever develop “squishes” on people (which, by the way, MS Word suggested I change to “crush”), but never really act on them. I don’t even think I know how to, or what it is that I would want from them. But as I take baby steps towards being my true ace self, maybe soon I will.