Romance Without Sex

Andrew Sullivan —  Aug 23 2011 @ 5:00pm

by Chris Bodenner

Tracy Clark-Flory explores the complex world of asexuals:

Many asexual people masturbate — in fact, one study found that asexual people masturbate as often as everyone else. [Advocate David] Jay says some asexuals fantasize while pleasuring themselves, while others simply view it as a strictly physical thing (or as a researcher referred to it in the documentary [(A)sexual], "cleaning the pipes"). Ironically enough, Jay says he finds that his talking about asexuality often makes people with low sex drives feel more sexual. "There's something about really getting into talking about the experience of not being sexual that makes people see themselves as sexual in a way they never have before." Like I said, the lack of a sexual appetite can highlight the nuances of desire.

It can also make you reconsider how we define our connections with other people. If it isn't sex that makes a romantic relationship different from a friendship, then what does?

"The language that we use to talk about intimacy in our culture is deeply, deeply sexualized," Jay tells me. "For a lot of sexual people, especially straight people, there's this image of what intimacy should look like and how you're supposed to connect with other people. A lot of that is based around the idea that you're supposed to form a really intimate connection with one person that lasts for your entire life and involves sex."

I wonder then: What do asexuals consider cheating? Kissing, cuddling? Ironically, it's easy to imagine infidelity as more rampant among asexuals, since the bar for physicality is so much lower and easily crossed in moments of weakness. Or maybe, because the danger of sexual trysts aren't in the picture, asexuals are more likely to be non-monogamous, as Jay suggests in that last sentence. Any asexual Dish readers out there? Tracy's two cents:

[Jay] might overstate his case, but even as a "sexual," I can see truth here: We do use sex as a shortcut to intimacy, and often very ineffectively.

Some footage from the (A)sexual documentary here.