I Fell in Love with an Asexual covers sensitive and often-misunderstood topics that are challenging to talk about.
The first edition generated many questions and concerns. This was mainly due to an emotionally provocative subtitle, which was designed to attract readers but created confusion about the book’s tone and content.
While the second edition is intended to address many of those concerns, I’ve left this page up in case similar questions arise.
Alongside tackling some common myths about asexuality, the book does explain asexuality’s official definition–that it is just about attraction, that it doesn’t automatically equate to a lack of interest in sex.
The book also accounts for reality: A large majority of people who identify as asexual also report being either repulsed by or indifferent to sex. Only a small percentage report that they enjoy sex. Only a small percentage report a willingness to have sex regularly.
My/Evan’s partners aligned with what asexuality usually means, and they aligned with the realities of sexual partners who are likely to be seeking a book like this.
The following information is from the AVEN Census (https://asexualcensus.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/2014censuspreliminaryreport.pdf) and the AAW Survey (https://asexualcensus.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/aaw-2011-survey-results.pdf), reported and collected by the asexual community.
In the 2014 survey, the following percentages of subgroups under the asexual umbrella identified as either repulsed by or indifferent to sex (as opposed to favorable):
- 97.3% of asexuals
- 72.6% of gray asexuals (those who experience sexual attraction only rarely or at a negligible level)
- 70.2% of demisexuals (those who experience sexual attraction only after a close emotional bond has formed)
In other words, among those who identify simply as asexual, only 3 out of 100 have a favorable view of sex. Even among those who experience more fluidity with their attraction, less than a third have a favorable view of sex.
In the 2011 survey, the following percentages reported that they enjoy having sex:
- 1% of asexuals
- 4% of gray asexuals
- 11% of demisexuals
These data suggest that in the vast majority of cases–but not all cases–asexuality includes a lack of interest in sex.
The book needs to account for the above reality, especially given the primary audience for whom it is intended: sexually motivated people with partners who don’t desire sexual connection with them. Acknowledging this reality, while still acknowledging and clarifying the official definition, is a balancing act.
The book is not geared toward individuals or couples already satisfied with their sexual relationship–although I believe that many of the sexual tips in the book could still be informative.
Alongside helping people in mixed-orientation relationships, I also hope the book helps to reduce the number of sexually incompatible relationships that occur in the first place. For this reason alone, being honest about what asexuality most often means in the real world–not just using the technical definition–is important.
While the data sets referenced above have their limitations (e.g., over-representation of women, younger people, and people online), they have sample sizes in the thousands.
There’s a partial explanation for this near the beginning of the book, as I gave a lot of consideration to this.
First, unless a non-asexual person has already done a lot of homework, they probably won’t have any idea that they are considered “allosexual” in relation to asexuals. A book claiming to be geared toward allosexuals would speak to very few people.
Second, the words asexual and sexual have long had well-established definitions among the majority of the population, with asexual meaning the opposite of sexual. Alongside this, there’s the fact noted above, that a very high percentage of people who identify as asexual are indeed indifferent or averse to partnered sex. This, in the ways most pertinent to the reader (someone whose relationship isn’t sexually fulfilling), makes a large majority of people who identify as asexual the opposite of sexual.
For these reasons, in the book, I use sexual to refer to people who experience sexual attraction, and who are more likely to be interested in partnered sex. I use asexual to refer to people who do not experience attraction, and who are also much more likely to be indifferent or averse to partnered sex.
Additionally, I attempt to educate the reader by explaining terms like allosexual in the book, and by explaining that some asexual people do enjoy partnered sex. I also explain that asexuality has no bearing on other types of sexually-related behavior and response that may or may not involve a partner, such as masturbation, ability to orgasm, and so on.
Many times, I’ve seen asexual people voice an understandable concern: In a world where most people place a high importance upon sex (both attraction and sexual behavior), life is not easy for asexual people who want romantic relationships or similar partnerships.
Given this, I appreciate that the subtitle could trigger some of these fears. At the same time, the words were selected to resonate with the emotional experiences of the book’s primary intended audience: sexual partners who desire regular sexual connection with their partner, and who are frustrated that this isn’t occurring.
My hope is that a sexual person who has read this book (not just the cover), and who is dating an asexual person, would be able to sit down and have an honest and intelligent conversation about wants, needs and future/ongoing hopes and expectations surrounding sexual intimacy. My hope is that anyone who comes across this book, regardless of orientation, further realizes the importance of having such discussions relatively early, rather than making too many assumptions.
The text of the book encourages the reader to engage in open dialogue with their partner, and to accept their partner if they decide (or have already decided) that they are asexual. It also discusses that asexual people are a diverse group, with a range of wants and needs around sex. It encourages the reader to take full responsibility for their own wants and needs, and for development of their own sexuality. It emphasizes that blaming one’s partner, or trying to “fix” them, doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t suggest that anyone is broken.
Also, consider other titles that are far more provocative:
Consider White Trash, an academic work that’s very sympathetic toward white Americans from poor backgrounds who have the most reason to be offended by its title, like me. It would likely attract relatively few people if it had a more neutrally-worded title.
There’s another popular self-help book entitled No More Mr. Nice Guy. But the book doesn’t advise the reader to be mean, or to avoid being nice. It talks about passive aggressive behavior that actually is mean, but that the reader may not recognize until they’ve read the book.
Should a book use words that run no risk of offending anyone, but attract fewer readers? Or should it run the risk of offending some people who don’t look beyond the cover and title, while attracting (and thus helping) more potential readers? Not a cut and dry thing.
Also, if a current or potential partner came across the book and made a decision about your relationship based upon its title, I’d personally question whether that’s someone who could have provided you with a mutually satisfying relationship anyway.
That is one of many possible connotations. If I’m understanding correctly, the fear you’re voicing is that I am framing asexual partners as abusers. That is not the case.
In this case, the words recover and sanity are intended to reflect how lack of sex impacts many sexual people. We can feel rejected, develop stories about our self-worth, literally become irrational, and so on. We develop psychological and emotional patterns that we literally do need to recover from. As I point out in the book, the “recovery” process includes looking at one’s self, exercising forgiveness, resisting the urge to blame either partner, and so on.
As noted above, the book emphasizes that blaming either partner is not helpful. No one is portrayed as a villain.
In the book, I advocate for the safety and well-being of both partners, and acknowledge that a sexual partner can engage in abusive behavior. I mention the fact that asexual partners are sometimes the victims of abuse, e.g., through corrective rape. I also emphasize that a sexual reader should immediately seek professional help or choose to leave the relationship if they are seriously considering forcing themselves upon an asexual partner.
Several minority group activists have told me that good allies are willing to take on some of the emotional burden of educating others. That’s part of what this book is about.
Also, the primary audience for this book is the sexual partner, and it is focused upon the sexual partner’s experience.
That being said, the book incorporates input from individuals of several orientations. This includes my asexual former partner, to ensure I was being fair in my depictions.
A number of great books about asexuality by asexual authors already exist, and I reference some of them in the book. While I have endeavored to provide a detailed and reasonably informed overview of asexuality in the book, I do not view it as a replacement for prior books.
At the same time, just as I have learned a lot from the writings of asexual authors, I suspect an asexual person could also learn a lot from this book–particularly if they’re interested in relationships with non-asexual partners. A few asexual people have already confirmed that they’ve found it informative.
I understand the concern that someone who doesn’t identify as asexual will never fully grasp some of the issues affecting asexual people. That’s probably true. At the same time, I’ve encountered people who identify as asexual and still have misconceptions about the asexual community. Nobody’s perfect.
I cringe whenever I hear of such unfortunate cases. This is just the sort of relationship I’d like to see less of.
The book clearly tells the reader to seek professional help if they’re even thinking about forcing their partner to have sex. It also encourages them to take responsibility for trying to find a mutually satisfactory arrangement with their partner, or making a decision to leave if that is not possible. Blaming their partner for keeping them in a relationship where they’re not happy does not help anyone.
While I never physically abused my partner or forced her to have sex, I realized in looking back that I did some things that were emotionally manipulative. As I mention in the book, I’m not proud of those things. I don’t want other couples to have to go through that either. That’s why in the book, I openly admit some of the ways in which I was ignorant and/or not nice.
The title is intended to reflect the strong emotions of a potential reader who places a high value on sexual intimacy, who is not experiencing that in their relationship. At times, I felt that I was not entirely sane; and I’ve read similar accounts from others.
Online forums are full of stories about relationships where both people were at the very least sad and frustrated, and at worst abusive toward their partner and/or themselves. Not what I would personally call sane.
Sexual and asexual people often disagree over whether a person needs sex to be happy. Given that, I understand that sanity could seem like too strong a word to some people. Some might find the word threatening precisely because it is powerful and laden with emotion. It lends validity to the strong experiences that sexual people have around sex. However, such acknowledgment does not and should not invalidate the emotions and experiences of asexual people.
I agree that one must be careful about the use of sanity and insanity in a clinical mental health setting. As for use in more colloquial context, a quick internet search pulled up a few blogs/conversations where people have expressed the opinion that these words should be avoided. It wasn’t enough to persuade me that the subtitle will adversely impact many people with mental illnesses, or that it is somehow perpetuating negative stereotypes of people with mental illnesses. However, I do think it is important to consider these things, and I could change my mind somewhere in the future.
Regarding the accusations of ableism, there’s also an irony here, related to the content of the book. Someone I care about, who has been diagnosed with several neurological conditions, was almost sent to federal prison. Thanks to much help from their family and supportive friends over several years, they narrowly avoided that fate. I sat in the courtroom with them, and it was quite scary. However, they must still carry a sex offender label for the rest of their life.
The reason for much of this: policymakers did not account for certain forms of neurodiversity when creating sexuality-related policy. In other words, the policies were ableist.
In the book, I discuss how we are all victims of society’s lack of meaningful conversation around sexuality. Silence perpetuates misunderstanding, misinformed laws and social policies, and so on. This harms not only asexual people and asexual-sexual couples, but many other groups, including people with disabilities.
There’s nothing in the book about trying to “cure” anyone who is actually asexual. I’m against so-called “reparative” therapy, which I believe has harmed many LGBTQIA people.
In the book, I even go a bit further by expressing this opinion: Even if the reader suspects that their partner has adopted a label of asexuality to avoid working through past trauma, the reader cannot control that. They must respect their partner’s decision, and cannot make them explore anything if they don’t wish to. This may mean ending the relationship if both people cannot satisfactorily meet each other’s needs in a consensual and loving way.
Fair question–although much of what I’ve learned relevant to this book has been outside formal education, via a fair amount of research and life experiences.
My degrees include a graduate degree in counseling and an undergrad degree in psych. Some of the more relevant courses and experiences include a graduate counseling course on sexual abuse/trauma survivors, grad counseling course in multicultural issues (including much coverage of sexuality), grad public policy course in multicultural issues, grad counseling course in Gestalt therapy, undergrad courses in stereotyping/prejudice and social psych, course on Bowen family systems theory, workshop in solution-focused therapy applied to sexuality/couples issues, workshop on sexual attitude reassessment through AASECT, coordinating an activism/public education event on same-sex couples’ rights where I was the relatively privileged outsider, and participating in (and sometimes coordinating) a number of experiential workshops/experiences on topics like consensual touch and intimacy. Most importantly, I was in a long-term relationship with an asexual person. But none of these things eliminate any of my natural human tendencies to stereotype, overlook privilege, and so on.
I saw something very different in the photo: a woman awake and frustrated because her male partner doesn’t want sex like she does. I wanted a “gender flip” from the people in the book, given the stereotype that women are more likely to be uninterested in sex–and by stereotypical association, automatically more likely to be asexual–than men.
There’s a smaller photo on the rear of the hard copy with the sexes reversed–the woman is sleeping, and the frustrated man is awake and staring at the camera. That got moved that to the back because I didn’t want just sexual men buying the book. Women are often the ones who want sex while their partner doesn’t.
Even with this, the cover still falls short in terms of leaving out other races, same-sex couples, senior couples, and so on.
Your comment helps me to appreciate how many perspectives can be brought to something like this–just the cover of the book alone, even before getting into the content. And they all carry powerful and important representations of our personal experiences.
Making certain changes in the book’s cover could end up simply changing the demographics of the people it makes uncomfortable.
That makes sense, especially given that a good chunk of the sex we’re surrounded by has some ugly characteristics, even to many of us who are pretty sexually motivated. It’s often violent, oppressive, and impersonal, perpetuates unrealistic expectations of bodies and performance, and so on.
The book doesn’t directly delve into the dynamic of a sex-oriented culture potentially increasing aversion. However, the book makes some indirect and potentially related connections:
1) It includes a number of points intended to give the allosexual partner (the primary intended audience of the book) more empathy for an asexual partner who is not interested in sex. Below I’ve pasted such an excerpt that touches upon the sex-centric world we live in, and how that might affect one’s partner.
2) It discusses the fact that we’re surrounded by superficial sex every day, but we don’t have much honest and deep discourse about sexuality and human relating. And this affects people of all orientations. I also touch upon this in the excerpt below, and go into much more depth in Ch 23: The Bigger Picture: Catalyzing Cultural Shift.
3) It encourages the reader to consider a broader definition of “sex” and physical connection that extends beyond much of what we see every day. There’s quite a bit on this in Parts 3 and 4 of the book.
Excerpt from book referenced in #1 above:
…For just a moment, though, imagine the fear of identifying as asexual in a world where the vast majority of people base their most intimate partnerships largely upon sexual attraction. Imagine wanting many of the same things that most people want from intimate relationships, except sex. Imagine fearing that you might be “out of the running” with a potential partner if you come out to them. Imagine fearing never being able to find a partner who is compatible, because you have no idea how many others similar to you even exist. Imagine fearing the judgment of everyone around you, worrying that they will think you are broken in some way. (endnote)
Perhaps your partner assumed that they would become more attracted to you as time went on. They, like you, heard society’s constant messages about how sex is one of the most amazing bonding—and even spiritual—experiences. They longed to experience that, too. They also came to love many other things about you. For these reasons, they were willing to take the risk of committing to someone to whom they didn’t feel physically attracted.
On the other hand, perhaps your partner knew something was different about them, but had never heard of asexuality or didn’t think it was a real thing. Our culture is still not supportive of open and in-depth discussion about sexuality in general, especially among youth. So we end up having to figure out a lot of things on our own, and it may take us until later in life to do so. We are all victims of this silence. Sex is discussed on the surface, and its imagery surrounds us every day, but more in-depth discussion is still limited.
Endnote: For some of these sentiments expressed firsthand by an asexual person, see Tobias, “No Sex, Please—I’m Asexual.”
I’m hoping that the change in the book’s original subtitle addresses misconceptions about the book’s overall tone and purpose.
As the book explains, I loved my asexual partner very much, and she loved me very much. I still deeply value her friendship. But despite our relationship having many other positive aspects, our differences were hard for both of us to deal with.
In couples where one person realizes they are a gender or sexual minority later in the relationship, the non-minority partner is often pressured to remain completely closeted about the experience. Even though the realization is also a major–and often unexpected and stressful–transition in their life, they may face accusations of outing, deadnaming, and so on by talking about it. At a time when they may feel unable to talk to many people other than their therapist, resources like books can be helpful supports. That, in turn, helps both partners.
As for profit, I’ll be lucky if I ever recover minimum wage for the large amount of hours spent on the book. If profit were the primary motivator, I would have chosen a very different topic and audience.
As mentioned earlier, this book also shares some of the emotional labor of educating people about issues affecting asexual-sexual couples, so that asexual writers aren’t the only ones burdened with creating relevant resources. That wouldn’t make sense anyway, when sexual partners are half of the equation.
Because volunteering doesn’t pay bills, I won’t complain if I eventually do see modest profit from the book. As friends in the helping professions often point out, emotional labor (counseling, writing self-help books, etc.) is highly undervalued in our economic system.
Also consider that this book is seeking to spread awareness, at the same time that some professionals make more money when they lack awareness around topics like asexuality–often at the expense of frustrated couples. We had to deal with a well-credentialed and otherwise knowledgeable sex therapist who didn’t know about asexuality. She kept trying to figure out whether my partner had unresolved issues.
While some of the therapist’s questions were worth exploring initially, those explorations probably stretched out longer than they would have had the therapist possessed knowledge of asexuality.
Divorce attorneys also profit from the lack of awareness about sexuality in general, due to a higher rate of couples who are mismatched in the first place. These professionals don’t do this intentionally, but the costs add up.
I hope that this book saves many couples time and money, while also enabling therapists and others to serve them more efficiently.