Why having sex you don’t want is different than not having sex you do want

This may be pretty basic stuff for some people, but until recently I didn’t have the words to explain it, even after spending a while lurking around the ace blogosphere, so I thought it was worth writing out my conclusions here.

I’ve always believed that, in an ace-allo relationship, the ace shouldn’t have to have sex with their partner if they don’t want to. But whenever I thought about that idea, I struggled to articulate why what the ace wants should trump what the allo partner wants (assuming that the allo would prefer to be having sex).

I finally realized the difference, though, through the way Aqua phrased something in a recent(ish) post. Going without something extra that you want, like sex, is completely different from having your boundaries violated, even if you accept/agree to that violation. If someone doesn’t want to have sex, having it would be a violation of their boundaries. They could say they’re moving the boundary, or making an exception, but if it isn’t fully their choice—if they’re only doing it because of their partner—then it is still a violation. (What this means when it comes to consent and sexual assault is a whole different conversation, one that’s been happening in the ace blogosphere lately and that Aqua’s post is a part of.)

Aqua also mentioned the idea of one person’s desire for sex versus the other’s bodily autonomy, which is another good way to think about it. In this hypothetical relationship, each person knows what they want to do with their body—the ace to stay as they are, not having sex, and the allo to engage in sex. Some people might say the allo not having sex is a sacrifice, that the allo is giving something up. But that’s not true. Both people are currently in a state of not having sex. If the allo continues to not have sex, they’re just continuing as they are; they’re not sacrificing anything.

On the other hand, if the ace were to have sex, they would be doing something differently, changing their behavior from what they had been doing. Not having sex isn’t new or unusual for the allo; they’re used to going hours and days without it (or weeks or months or longer, especially if they’re dating an ace who hasn’t had sex with them). But if the ace in this situation were to have sex, that would be a huge step. If they’ve never had sex at all (or just never with their current partner), asking them to do so means asking them to do something new and possibly scary, something that they probably anticipate not liking. Even if they’ve had sex before, with their current partner or someone else, doing it again when they don’t want to would mean giving up control of their body.

Everyone has a right to not have sex—to not do things with their bodies that they don’t want to do. No one has a right to have sex—to do something with their body that involves another person’s body. Sex requires making yourself vulnerable to another person. Doing it when you don’t want to is completely different than going without it.


15 thoughts on “Why having sex you don’t want is different than not having sex you do want

  1. Aqua March 4, 2015 / 10:26 pm

    I like the way you conceptualize this! While I was fully aware that an asexual compromising on sex by having it, and an allosexual compromising by not having it weren’t equivalent, I had thought of not having sex be a sacrifice for an allosexual person if they wanted it.The way I saw it was that if they weren’t having sex before, they were forfeiting the future possibility of it.

    It makes more sense to portray not having sex as the default state for both asexuals and allosexuals (not just asexuals), because an allosexual going without sex isn’t the kind of change that an asexual having sex may be, and it’s such a change because of the vulnerability sex brings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • cinderace March 10, 2015 / 2:50 pm

      Yeah, there’s such a prioritizing of sex and people’s “need” for it that one person’s desire to have sex in the future is valued over someone else’s wish to simply continue as they are. The first person giving up something that hasn’t happened yet is seen as a sacrifice, which really doesn’t make sense; you can sacrifice something you already have, but not something you would simply like to have in the future. But giving up your bodily autonomy and your boundaries? That is a sacrifice, and one no one should ever have to make.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Coyote March 5, 2015 / 7:58 am

    “I’ve always believed that, in an ace-allo relationship, the ace shouldn’t have to have sex with their partner if they don’t want to. But whenever I thought about that idea, I struggled to articulate why what the ace wants should trump what the allo partner wants (assuming that the allo would prefer to be having sex).”

    Additionally, in the context of sex, the idea that a yes “trumps” a no is a literal acceptance of rape.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. luvtheheaven March 5, 2015 / 3:12 pm

    Thank you for writing out all of this!!

    It’s basic but SO important, and not actually that obvious. When I was trying to figure out how to deal with my boyfriend wanting to have sex and me not wanting to, the concept you present here was not obvious to me at all. I felt guilty for “depriving” him of his chance to lose his virginity. I felt like he was losing something. I also was very confused about whether I didn’t want sex, period, ever, or if I simply “wasn’t ready yet” and would eventually be able to have and enjoy sex.

    The problem is compulsory sexuality.

    It makes us (the vast majority of people, ace and allo alike, sex-repulsed or not) internalize the notion that the default is, for any type of monogomous romantic relationship, “having sex at least at some point, eventually, and on a regular basis too” which means that even people who completely understand that the simple “yes being a default” would, way too often, be rape, they don’t realize that “not having sex” is also still the default in the context of a romantic relationship. That if someone tells you they never want the amount of sex in the relationship to change away from “none”, that is saying they simply don’t want to change the default. You’re not actually losing anything that you had before, and having expectations of sex was incorrect.

    Nothing should be expected of your partner without communication and agreement first – you shouldn’t get married expecting to have kids, for instance, simply because you’re getting married and you’ve assumed kids were implied. No, you are supposed to talk these things through.

    The same goes for starting to date someone – don’t assume sex will be part of it.

    You still can be disappointed that your partner doesn’t want the same things you do, but it’s unacceptable to guilt your partner into doing things they don’t want to.

    It’s reasonable and fair to break up with your partner, in a kind and understanding way, if you decide that you only want to pursue the type of romantic relationship that will include sex. But if a sex-repulsed ace only wants to pursue relationships that won’t include sex, that’s equally valid.

    What’s not equal is what’s in your title – the experience of going without sex, even when you really really would love to have sex and wish you could be having it, is totally different to the experience of deciding to have sex even if you’re actually sex-repulsed and you’re just agreeing to it for the sake of “compromise” or because compulsory sexuality or society pressured you into it, even if it is completely consensual.


    • luvtheheaven March 5, 2015 / 3:15 pm

      And of course “Guilting them into it” is getting into areas of consent.

      And it’s also fair and reasonable to never even start dating someone monogamously if you decide sex needs to be a part of that relationship eventually. It doesn’t have to even get as far as a break-up in some cases. It could just be deciding not to go on a fourth date or whatever, even if you weren’t “officially” boyfriend/girlfriend or boyfriends or girlfriends or whatever, “partners” yet. :P


    • cinderace March 10, 2015 / 3:09 pm

      I’m surprised it took me this long to be able to articulate this idea, but I’m glad I finally did!

      The idea of virginity is part of compulsory sexuality and fosters a view of sex as the default—being a virgin is seen as undesirable, virginity is something you should want to lose, and there’s supposedly a fundamental difference between being a virgin and not. Really, it’s not that big a deal, and if being a virgin was seen as more acceptable, more “normal”, not something that carries a social stigma or is a problem to be solved ASAP, that would help.

      “if someone tells you they never want the amount of sex in the relationship to change away from ‘none’, that is saying they simply don’t want to change the default. You’re not actually losing anything that you had before, and having expectations of sex was incorrect.”

      I really like that way of articulating it. You can’t lose something you never had! It’s so important that people not enter relationships assuming anything about the other person’s sexuality. “Not having sex” should always be the default, but yeah, under compulsory sexuality if one partner says “No, I never want to have sex,” people would think the other partner was being wronged…

      Liked by 1 person

      • luvtheheaven March 10, 2015 / 5:55 pm

        Everyone is disappointed when they expect something good to happen which never does. I was disappointed after expecting for years that I’d want sex when the time was right, and then realizing that no, I’m asexual, and that expectation all along that I had for my own future was incorrect.

        I do think it is understandable that in this society full of compulsory sexuality and harmful ideas about virginity, etc, that one would expect to be able to have sex once they finally got to be in a monogamous romantic relationship (and this first romantic relationship they’re in is when both partners are age 22 and 23). It’s therefore understandable that they would be disappointed when it turned out that their expectations were incorrect, and just like the existence of asexuality to some degree disappointed even myself, someone like my boyfriend being surprised by the existence of asexuality and disappointed that I happened to be ace is also… “fair”, in my mind.

        Still, I think it’s important that people like you are fighting to change that status quo, so that sex will maybe, one day, possibly be less of an expectation, and at least some people will go into romantic relationships knowing that whether or not they will be having sex at all (let alone what kinds, how often, etc) is something that will need to be found out after discussion. And the discussion is not going to be working out a compromise, no. First and foremost, this potential question needs to actually be asked: “Would you be happiest if we never had sex at all” and the honest answer “yes, I’d rather not have sex, ever” be allowed and accepted, even if that means no longer continuing to date. I strongly believe that. People need to feel free to actually say “I’d be happy staying in a monogamous relationship with you where we never have sex, would that work for you?”.

        In the current culture, that is not usually the case, unfortunately. People like me have barely felt able to admit that to themselves, let alone comfortable voicing it to a partner. And my partner was super understanding and cared about only doing what I wanted… he didn’t want to have sex unless I did! I was super lucky. Sometimes it is truly dangerous to admit that to your partner, which is really unfortunate. Sexual assaults and other abusive situations are all too real, far too often. People can feel entitled to sex, especially in the context of a romantic relationship. Their expectations are more than just expectations that will lead to disappointment when things are different than they anticipated. In some cases they are just not able to accept that the world is different than they thought, or that their partner might not want sex. So they simply don’t accept it.

        It will be easier for everyone, especially people like me who are sex-averse, once we start educating kids and young adults thoroughly on the fact that there are people in the world who are sex-indifferent, sex-averse, and sex-repulsed. So people know to expect that a potential partner might be. And also that they know that this is valid and a “never having sex” boundary needs to be respected, no exceptions.


        • cinderace March 12, 2015 / 10:51 am

          Yeah, disappointment is definitely understandable, and I wouldn’t fault someone for that. If they’ve grown up with the message that everyone wants sex, it makes sense that they’ll expect it from their romantic partner–but being open to the idea that no, some people don’t want sex, and that’s okay, is so important, and as you said of course more people will be able to have that mindset if media and educators actually talk about more diverse feelings toward sex, rather than just “everybody wants it!”

          Liked by 1 person

    • cinderace March 10, 2015 / 3:28 pm

      Oh, and thanks for sharing this post on Tumblr! I would love to see more interaction between the WordPress/Tumblr ace communities but have felt wary of diving into the world of Tumblr myself, so I appreciate other people’s efforts to bridge the gap. :)

      Liked by 1 person

      • luvtheheaven March 10, 2015 / 8:50 pm

        I’m glad you aren’t upset I shared your blog post here! I thought it was important enough to share. ;)

        Liked by 1 person

  4. dw March 2, 2016 / 2:38 am

    You are conflating two things. “The right to have sex” and “The right to have sex with another person who also wants it outside of the principal relationship”. I forego sex with someone the relationship in order to satisfy the emotional needs of my partner then I have foregone bodily autonomy. No ifs, buts or maybes.


    • dw March 2, 2016 / 2:42 am

      …and no, foregoing sex for an allo person is not a natural or normal state of affairs. It causes emotional anguish worse than any physical pain you can hope to imagine.


  5. MP October 1, 2016 / 5:05 pm

    It sounds really positive as you put it and I would like to believe it. Unfortunately, I never really believed some allo-boy would go into a relationship with a girl who wants to live without sex. I dreamed about it each time I fell in love but still all I can imagine is that I could possibly go out with him for several months until he realizes “who” I was. And then he would leave. It was always torturing me and it still is. But I just can’t be that optimistic that there is some allo-boy who would want to live without sex. Actually mere thought that I am in love with someone who likes sex is equally horrible for me as the imagination of that situation – a boy that I would love and go out with would realize who I am and leave me. To live in this world is terribly difficult for those who are different from the majority.


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