Ask Ariella: How and when to talk about asexuality?
I am a sex-indifferent asexual who has been dating and identifying as ace for 11 years now. I have never been comfortable starting sexual activities; I am okay with physical touches like hugs and cuddles. However, I have found that even if I tell people I am ace up front, they still try to pressure sex on me. How early into dating do I tell a person of my asexual? How do I have conversation with them about their desired/needed sexual activity frequencies? I feel like I do this as best I can and yet endless get people who think they can “fix” me or “convince me to enjoy it.”
— Frustrated and Lonely in USA
Dear Frustrated and Lonely,
First, your feelings are incredibly valid. You mentioned that you’re navigating this conversation the best you can and it seems like people aren’t taking your point of view seriously and don’t believe you. How frustrating, indeed!
Ultimately what you’re asking is when and how to have conversations around disclosure*, and there’s no right answer here. When it comes to when, share when you want the other person to have the information. That’s it. This mainly comes down to trial and error, feeling out for what’s best and safest for you. So here are some menu options from past clients:
*Disclosure is defined as making any unknown/secret information known. There are lots of things to disclose when dating, and also, disclosure wouldn’t really exist if there weren’t so many assumptions made in our dating life and society at large in the first place. Asexuality might not feel like something to disclose so much as share, which is totally valid! I’m using the term disclose for simplicity sake, but feel free to sub this for whatever language resonates most with you. Onward!
If they’re meeting folks from dating apps, some clients like to disclose immediately on their profile. They want the disclosure to be part of the vetting process and for potential matches to vote themselves in or out accordingly. They don’t have to worry about when to bring up the conversation. Others prefer to match with a person first and have a bit of a conversation before disclosing something about themselves. They want people to get to know them before getting to know this bit of information. Or others wait until they’ve gone on a few dates with someone. Anything is possible! It’s just based on what feels best to you.
You have more experience than I do being an ace person dating and disclosing, but here are a few ideas to play with as far as how to disclose. If these are familiar to you already, great! If not, choose from any of these, or any combination of these, or something else entirely.
- If you are disclosing on your dating app profile, share more specifics about what asexuality means for you or what type of relationship you’re looking for. Allow people to get a sense of what you do want, versus people assuming what you don’t want from a label that means different things to different people.
- If you are disclosing in person, have this conversation before someone “makes a move”. If you wait until after someone tries to kiss you, for example, that probably doesn’t set up the conversation for success. Too many desires and emotions might already be present for both of you. I’d experiment with sharing this information before sex is even remotely on the table. (Since we live in an allonormative world, sex is often assumed to be on the table pretty immediately.)
- After you share, if you have space for it, it could be nice to offer the other person to ask you questions and vise versa! In this part of the conversation you can also be really clear about what you’ve experienced in the past and how that doesn’t work for you. Ex- “In the past, after I shared this information, people have still tried to pressure me to have sex. That makes me uncomfortable and is a really hard boundary for me.” You can also ask, “What’s your relationship to sex like?” and alternative relationship orientations (ex- non monogamy) if that’s something you’re interested in.
- Be clear about what it is that you do like and enjoy! If intimacy and romance are on the table, share what is on the table!
- Talk up the great things about aceness! (And if you yourself don’t know what’s awesome about being ace, check out the resources in the next bullet point).
- Encourage this other person to check out ace resources and learn more on their own if they are interested in getting to know you better. (Angela Chen’s book “Ace”, and the IGs @asexualmemes.tiktok @cdaigleorians are some places to start!)
Finally, I’ll leave you with this. Last week, I heard on Dan Savage’s podcast something along the lines of, “You tell someone one thing and they tell you everything.” What he means by this is that when you share one piece of information about yourself, how someone responds to that gives you a lot of information about that person. So to you question asker, if you come across people who aren’t respecting you and your boundaries, they are not the people for you. Reinvest in your friendships, take a break from dating, or seek out additional support. You never need to settle for people who don’t respect who you are and where you are at.
Good luck! And thanks for being the first question asker!