“I don’t know if I want to be married to James any more. This marriage is torture and I can’t see any solution.” Adeline slumped over in her chair and sighed. James just rolled his eyes and sighed a different sigh than hers.
She sighed out of hopelessness. I thought his sigh had tints of anger in it. I asked him to explain how he saw it.
“She’s making something out of nothing. Every time we fight it’s always about sex. And I don’t understand it. I give her all the sex she wants. And it’s never enough. And I hate that we have to keep talking about it all the time. Can’t we talk about something else in marriage besides sex?”
James and Adeline had met in a short-term Bible training school. They knew instantly they were perfect for each other. They both loved God, loved to travel, and wanted to get married and have a family. They had so many things in common. They shared so many of the same basic goals in life. Soon, each of them felt they had found their soul-mate
James planned to get a job in computer-aided design and already had his degree. Addy still had to finish her professional year in preparation for teaching high school. When James proposed marriage, she accepted and they began to plan the wedding. They were both ordered and structured people. They knew what they wanted and when they wanted it.
And they knew they wanted each other.
James immediately got a job in California in his professional field. His income was very good for his age and it meant that after marriage Addy could to go back to school and finish up her credentialing.
Their honeymoon in Belize was enjoyable. They had studied up on sex manuals for their two weeks of the trip and made love several times. Because they were both virgins, they talked a lot about what they liked and didn’t like. Addy noticed during the final week of the trip that James was reluctant to initiate sex. He didn’t even seem to enjoy it as much as the first few nights.
They got into a routine of having sex once or twice a week, which was about half of what Addy wanted. James said he couldn’t remember how often they had sex.
As it often does, sex led eventually to Addy getting pregnant. By the time they came to me for counseling, they had been married for close to 20 years and their kids were both teens.
To understand why they were in counseling now, I need to give some more background on both of them. They were brought up as conservative Christians. Both of their families believed that sex was only for marriage and only between a man and a woman. Addy and James agreed with this and, as a result, dated other people very little. Both of them masturbated on occasion and knew what an orgasm was. Neither had experienced sexual assault, and neither had any trauma.
In today’s culture, they were somewhat unique in that neither of them had really had much sexual experience–good or bad–to overcome.
Let me summarize: both believed sex was for marriage, both enjoyed sexual climax, both waited until their wedding night to have sex. Neither of them had any trauma or sexual dysfunction to overcome in their sex life.
And the sex they did have on their honeymoon was enjoyable. James and Adeline were the poster-kids for how the church wanted all of this done.
So what was the problem?
What neither of them knew was they were not as straightforward regarding sex as they thought. Addy was polyamorous. That means she was sexually attracted to many different men. The longer her married life continued, the more she fantasized about sex with other men. She regularly contacted men online and had cybersex with them. She masturbated several times a day and was sexually aggressive toward James.
On the other hand, James had a low, almost non-existent libido. He liked sexual orgasms and if the mood struck him, he could even get aroused. But he never thought about sex unless he was actually having sex.
(Note: Some people have typical allosexual orientation. But because of illness, injury, certain medications, trauma, or psychological issues, their libido disappears. That is different than the person who naturally has a low or non-existent libido).
Sexuality has three elements as defined by psychology:
- Sexual attraction to other people
- Sexual drive. This is the desire to have sex and to experience orgasm
- Sexual response. When a person has sex, they respond positively to it and enjoy it.
A Classic Asexual (AKA an “Ace”) is a person who has no sexual attraction to other people. They also have no sex drive and no sexual response. There are other Asexuals who do have a sex drive, though it is not focused on any one person. There are still other Asexuals who have sexual response if they engage in sexuality.
But there also many people who have very low libidos. They still have sexual desire occasionally, but not regularly.
Classic Asexuals make up 1% of the population. But like with the other sexual orientations, there are many varieties of Asexuals.
When you add up all the different kinds of Asexuals and Low Libido types, they may make up 10-15% of the population. There are MANY flavors of Aces , but there is one thing they have in common: None of them are sexually attracted to other people.
If you want to know more about Aces, I recommend the book “The Invisible Orientation”. In that helpful book, Julie Sondra Decker explains all the variations and helps the reader understand the nuances.
But what I want to focus on is James and his particular flavor of Asexual.
James is a type of Asexual called Demisexual. This means that he really doesn’t have sexual attraction for anyone. And that includes his girlfriend turned wife, Addy. James also didn’t know what sexual attraction was supposed to feel like, since he had never had any. And–here is the kicker–since he grew up in church youth groups, sexuality was a taboo subject. So it is easy for him to believe that his asexuality is a moral quality.
It isn’t. He just isn’t sexually attracted to other people. He was never sexual at all growing up. He knew sex was a thing, he knew other people liked it. He assumed that sex was like a switch, and some day his would be flipped on. But what made it really confusing is that James did love Addy. He still does.
On their honeymoon, James and Addy studied all about sex and tried some things. James found he had a sex drive and enjoyed orgasms. He just didn’t look at Addy and instantly think about sex. He never thought about sex until he was about to have sex. He didn’t plan for it or make room in his head to think about it. He didn’t care.
But he did enjoy sex with Addy as it was happening. So, in their marriage, whenever she wanted to have sex, he went along with it. He was able to oblige her and did whatever she wanted. It sounds perfect. But it was far from it.
James loves Addy and really wants to please her. Yet even with this deep bond, he still didn’t think about sex ever, and as a result did not initiate sex or have any imagination regarding it. Every time Addy wanted to talk about their sex life, James just went along with whatever she wanted.
After awhile, what she wanted was to divorce him. By the time they came to see me for therapy, Addy was regularly having sex with other people; both men and women. She was unashamed of this and didn’t hide it from James. James was annoyed that she couldn’t “control herself” but he loved her enough to let her have all the sex she wanted.
I see this more and more with couples who grew up in church. Outside of church circles, society has recognized there are different sexual orientations. Heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, polyamorous, and asexual varieties have been identified and legitimized, albeit very slowly and painfully.
But in the church, the only orientations that are “seen” are the heterosexual ones. All other orientations are sin or aberrant in some way. This includes asexuality. If one is asexual or low libido, the only legitimate reason for this is to devote one’s life to Christian service like Jesus and the Apostle Paul did. But these “asexuals” are seen as choosing this lifestyle. The idea that anyone would be born asexual is about as confusing as the other orientations to conservative Christians.
One of the writers at the website queergrace.com writes this about why Asexuals have a problem in churches:
The ideal of heterosexual marriage with children is held up and revered in most churches. This can be alienating for asexual people in the same way that it can be alienating for gay, trans, single or barren people.Anonymous
Therefore, because church Christians do not encourage sexual experimentation and exploration before marriage, many asexuals do not know they are asexual. Thus, they may get married to sexuals. And they may not be aware for some time there is a problem.
In most literature on asexuals and sexuals becoming partners, the dominant solution is that these couples need to negotiate sexuality and continue to do so all through their relationship. If they take each other for granted in this process they will usually cause resentment, anger, and compensatory behaviors. Many of these behaviors result in infidelity, porn use, and ultimately, separation.
This is a problem even for those outside of religion. But here is where religion now stands alone: Relationships between asexuals and sexuals are no longer that common outside of religion. Most committed relationships between asexuals and sexuals happen when people are involved in religions where sexuality is discouraged before marriage.
This was Addy and James’ situation.
Therefore, this is the problem Addy and James faced. Addy didn’t just want more sex. Addy wanted James to engage her in the process and be as interested in sex as she was. But she didn’t know he could never be as interested in sex as she was.
So, she bought toys he didn’t want to use or even think about. She invested time in reading books that he didn’t read even if he agreed to. He sat awkwardly in their discussions on their sex life, looking like he just wanted the discussions to be over. She could not get him to engage her in planning or executing their sex life.
And she just couldn’t abide the thought that they would live this way the rest of their lives together. It felt hopeless to them.
The big problem is that James didn’t know he was an Asexual. Until I brought it up in therapy, he had never heard the term. And he was sure it didn’t apply to him. He liked sex. He had sex whenever Addy wanted. How could he be an asexual?
So I asked him these three diagnostic questions:
1. Do you ever think about sex when you’re not having it? (He answered no).
2. Do you ever see a person that you are sexually attracted to other than your partner? (He answered no).
3. Do you ever want to read or discover more about sexuality? (He vehemently answered no).
I told him he was the classic demisexual: A person who is asexual until they form a deep intimate bond with another person. And after that bond is formed, they enjoy sex with that person, even though they are still not interested in sexuality or attracted to anyone.
And if you think about it, James is the ideal that every religious system wants for its adherents. He’s a man that only has sex with his wife, never thinks about sex with other women, waited until marriage to have sex, and has sex whenever his wife wants to. The perfect Christian sexual man.
Addy, on the other hand, would be considered highly sinful and perverted by Christian standards for having sex–or even wanting sex–with other people. The two of them have kept it a secret for years from even their closest friends.
James the Asexual is about to lose his wife emotionally if not completely. They both know it and are extremely sad about it.
I have worked with people in the Asexual community, and have found that though the majority do not enter into lifelong intimate relationships, some do. The ones who do are always people who enjoy sex when they have it and are not repulsed by it. Some of these are demisexual and some are Grey-Aces. (A Grey-Ace has some sexual attraction to others on occasion. But for the most part they do not feel attraction).
And the three guidelines that people in these Sexual-Asexual pairing are encouraged to follow are these:
Negotiate Your Sexuality: Decide together how often you will have sex, and what sexual behaviors it will entail.
Be Respectful of Each other: Don’t try and change your partner. Accept that they are different than you and that they do not mean to be nasty just because they’re different.
Allow the Sexual Partner expressions of sexuality that do not include the Asexual partner. For the most part, this means masturbation and fantasy. Couples must negotiate whether this will also involve pornography
Some couples, like James and Addy, have opted for a more Open Lifestyle, which allows one or both partners to openly take other sexual partners. All of this is to be practiced with the full knowledge and consent of their nesting partner.
Essentially, the Asexual partner must realize the Sexual partner will not get their emotional needs met in the relationship to the extent the Asexual partner does.
The Sexual-Asexual couple pairings must also find ways of being intimate that don’t include sex: This is critical and it is what made it more bearable for Addy. She was also pan-romantic and she found relief by James proposing many romantic getaways and events. He did all the planning for these, so she was helped to see he really cared about her.
Now for the real point in my article. I could and will write much more on how the Sexual/Asexual pairing can work. But for now, I want to ask this question. It is a question I do not have an adequate answer for. What is the church’s role in this problem?
I believe most Sexual/Asexual couples exist because of religious upbringing. Religious systems make asexuals out to be an ideal before marriage. This deludes the asexual into thinking they will just turn on a switch when they get married.
I don’t know what the answer is. But I think churches will have a hard time finding it. It would involve admitting that Asexuality is a legitimate orientation, something that few Christian leaders/teachers have been willing to admit.
It also would require that churches relax their teaching on abstinence before marriage. If young adults were allowed to explore their sexuality and to report how they feel about it, coupled with the understanding that asexuality is a real orientation, then Sexual/Asexual couplings will become more rare.
I had to be honest with Addy and James. They will have a rough time of it. Addy has a permanent girlfriend and regularly visits a few other men. James almost never has sex any more and is quite content as long as Addy expresses her love to him.
I have taught them the importance of negotiation and compromise. I also suggested they ask God’s help to work out middle ground where they can both be happy. I truly do hope they find it.
I wish someone had told them more about all of this before they got married.