What The New York Times Got Wrong in their Sexless Marriage Article

The New York Times Magazine asks, "Can a Sexless Marriage Be a Happy One?" in their recent Modern Love Issue, but they made a GLARING omission...

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Courtney: Hello everyone and welcome back. My name is Courtney, I am here with my spouse, Royce, and together we are The Ace Couple. That’s right, we are an asexual married couple, and today we are asking a question the New York Times asked in their recent Modern Love Issue: can a sexless marriage be a happy one? Yes, end of episode. See you all next week. No, but seriously, this article is mildly infuriating from my perspective, and so we’re going to talk about it today.

Courtney: The subtitle of Can a Sexless Marriage Be a Happy One? is: “Experts and couples are challenging the conventional wisdom that sex is essential to relationships.” So I’m thinking, who are these experts? Who are these couples? What is the big challenge to the status quo? Surely, surely they’re going to talk to at least one asexual person, right? Right?! Surely they’re going to mention asexuality and that there are asexual marriages, much like our own, right? Well, I am sorry to say, the word asexual does not even come up in the article once. Not even a single mention of asexuality. And there’s only one time the word platonic is used, and it is in a single sentence, where platonic life partners is in quotes. The rest of the article is dedicated to seemingly straight allosexual marriages where the sex life has just organically dwindled. So let’s talk about that, I guess?

Courtney: This is just– I can’t believe how glaring of an oversight this is. And it’s not a short article either. They had a good number of words, and they talked about several different people and couples. And to not so much as even acknowledge that there are asexual people, some of whom can and do get married. So this article is by Amanda Montei, and I really struggle to understand what the– what the motivation was to write this article. Because, we’ll read some passages here, and we’ll go over the– the tone and give some quotes, of course, but the vibe to me gave a very–

Courtney: These are married couples who have a dead bedroom now and at least one, if not both of them, is a little uncomfortable or upset about that, but they’re still staying together anyway because everything else is still good in their relationship. And that just– You know what? They’re very valid for that. [laughs] But come on, I really– Like, even outside of our very asexual perspective, our very asexual bubble, what would you expect that the average person would expect going into an article called Can a Sexless Marriage Be a Happy One?

Royce: I’m not really sure, and some of it, seeing a title like that, is well, do we expect the writer to be using that title– be writing an article that is supportive of that title or against it? Are they going to be proving it correct or incorrect during their article?

Courtney: I’d expect at least one or the other, because if your article title is a question, I’d expect a very definitive answer to the question.

Royce: I guess another way could be if you’ve collected a bunch of data that supports one way or another. If, if you like, I don’t know, tie it to breakups or divorces in this case. But the ‘can’, like, ‘is it possible?’ makes me think that, I don’t know, maybe they went down the route of couples therapy and other things where people have had this problem in their relationships and have tried to find a way to maintain their relationship, or something like that. I’ve also just been looking around a little bit on the New York Times website, because it looks like this comes from their Modern Love section [Courtney agrees] and you were ask– you were mentioning that there seems to be a big asexuality shaped blind spot in their view on relationships. And I mean, that isn’t surprising from a, you know, large mainstream publication. But up at the top of the page right now there’s another article in the same, like, Modern Love Issue section, that’s like: lessons from a polycule, dating after 50.

Courtney: Yeah, but this article is listed in those tabs as navigating sexless marriages.

Royce: Oh, I didn’t catch that! It is different, yeah.

Courtney: So it’s almost phrased now as if sexless marriages cannot be an inherently happy thing or an inherently organic thing or something that people desire and aspire to have. It’s like, how do you navigate life [wheezes] if you have a marriage without sex all of a sudden?! That framing, right off the bat, comes at it from– it’s very othering. And the thing that gets me, all the people they talk about in here, like I said, seem to be heterosexual, allosexual. They at least all seem to be male and female spouses who all began with a sexual relationship that just tapered off at some point. And for all the people online who will say, “Oh, asexuals aren’t queer, because they don’t face discrimination,” or, “Asexuality isn’t real, you just want to feel special.”

Courtney: These straight couples are talking about how they feel societal pressure to have more sex. Which is a fascinating conversation, and again, that’s valid. That’s valid for them. But if you’re discussing the societal pressure to have a certain kind of sexual relationship, or to have a certain amount of sex, wouldn’t you think that you should at least include someone who is going to be in the most marginalized identity facing that pressure? I would think so. But let’s get into this article because I think some of the framing and how little time and attention is actually given to genuinely platonic marriages is very telling of a broader issue. A broader issue and a blinding and a glaring blind spot in this Modern Love Issue.

Courtney: So we start out hearing about Will and Rose, who met online 10 years ago. Hey, us too! They were long distance for a while and now they are seven years into their marriage, which I did not even catch that the first time I read this through.

Royce: The seven year itch?

Courtney: But now that I’m on microphone I’m thinking about the seven year itch. Do they know about the seven year itch? The seven year itch is not once mentioned in this article either! And we get just some, you know, rather mundane details about their life, and we find out that at night they cuddle in bed and watch television. “It’s my favorite part of the day,” Rose says. And then at this point we are told Rose and Will are middle names; all subjects asked to be referred to by their first names, middle names or a nickname, out of concerns for their privacy. And that’s fine, I understand not everyone wants to be fully public. But the framing of this article where, right off the bat we were told, “Here are experts and couples who are challenging the status quo, they’re challenging the conventional wisdom.” I would expect that we would have activists, scholars who study and talk about compulsory sexuality, people like this. But I don’t know, maybe I’m too salty. Maybe I’m too salty because I’m also thinking from my own personal experience when– I’ve mentioned before that I was once interviewed by someone who wanted to talk to asexuals, and then I got put in an article about virgins on Tinder, which was very odd.

Courtney: I was not fond of the framing of that at all. But when the person interviewed me, they were like: “A lot of people would not feel comfortable using their real name when– when you’re talking about this subject, being– being an asexual.” And I was like, “No, I’m proud to be an asexual. I’m happy for you to use my real name.” So I was the only person in that article that used my real name. Everyone else was given fake names for that. And the framing was very much: these people are too embarrassed to be publicly virgins. Even though I– yeah, it was weird. It was weird. So maybe this is genuinely a privacy thing. Maybe these people aren’t like, “Well, I’m so embarrassed to talk about this publicly.” But you never know.

Royce: Embarrassment aside, it could just be a matter of personal privacy. I feel like a lot of people wouldn’t just talk about the mechanics of their relationships to anyone all that easily.

Courtney: And while that’s true, I’m kind of just stuck on the framing of, like, these people are challenging societal wisdom. It’s like they didn’t really actually seem to get people who are out in the world genuinely trying to challenge things. You kind of just got people who are living their lives. And that may– Like, we can criticize the New York Times for that. It might not even be the author’s problem that it was titled in such a way that doesn’t seem to actually fit what I’m reading, because sometimes authors don’t get to pick the title of their articles. I do just want to point that out.

Courtney: But we hear more about Rose and Will. And we hear [reading] Rose feels that the familiar calm of their relationship also shuts her down sexually. They go months without sex, but they don’t lack intimacy. They have a policy of never refusing a hug, something they instituted to resolve the minor disagreements that inevitably crop up in any relationship. They have also talked candidly about how, for her, the safe predictability of their marriage dulls her sex drive. She knows that can be confusing, even frustrating, for Will, but she doesn’t like the idea of forcing herself to have sex. Rose’s mother, now divorced, felt obligated to have sex with Rose’s father once a week. That’s not the kind of relationship Rose wants.”

Courtney: And that’s what I’m saying with the: “These couples are challenging conventional wisdom about the necessity of sex.” It’s like her sex drive, she’s saying, has been dulled and her husband is confused and frustrated by it.

Royce: Well, that sounds like the conventional dead bedroom setting.

Courtney: Mm-hmm. It goes on to say that, in order to get into a sexual mood, Rose has a set of rituals, like doing her hair and makeup, shaving her legs, having a glass of wine… Which sounds suspiciously similar to the article when we talked about Kourtney Kardashian and that autosexual debacle that became “Kourtney Kardashian came out as an autosexual,” when she probably didn’t even write that article.

Royce: Oh yeah, where it was just kind of like self-care and, like, feeling attractive was what was doing it for them.

Courtney: Yeah, which I mean– That was– That was really interesting. A lot of our audience did not want to listen to that episode, which is fascinating. And I get it, I’m not particularly interested in the Kardashians either, but I promise, if you missed that episode, it is more about autosexuality as an orientation, versus autosexuality as a talking point, versus how people will latch on to any sort of celebrity news and play a huge game of telephone to where information gets distorted over and over again. And how people are just generally cruel to actually autosexual people, but I digress.

Courtney: But then they point out the difference between the two. Will doesn’t need to do anything to feel ready for sex, and Rose sees this as another way in which they’re different. [reading] “Over the years, they have accepted that this is what their sex life looks like, and will look like, if they want to be together, which they do.”

Courtney: And then it goes on to talk about how, during the pandemic, they did savor their extra time together, but they went more than a year without having sex. [reading] “Sometimes they shower together and hold each other naked without any expectation of sex.” But then we have, [reading] “Though Will remains hopeful that these moments will lead to something else, he doesn’t push it.” I mean that’s good of him. He would not be a good guy if he’s pushing someone to have sex who really doesn’t want to, no matter the circumstances. But again, this seems like kind of the classic dead bedroom situation. It doesn’t seem like this couple is challenging societal norms.

Royce: They’re only sort of navigating it. I mean, they’ve– they’ve had some conversations and they’ve set some you know expectations or boundaries, but it still seems like it’s not where they want it to be exactly. It seems like they are perhaps content, but not happy.

Courtney: I believe that they’re happy, and they– they say that they’re happy, and they say they want to be together, and I believe that.

Royce: I meant with this aspect.

Courtney: Yeah.

Royce: Not the relationship as a whole, but with this aspect of the relationship.

Courtney: Right. Like everything else about our relationship is good. Our sex life? Not so much.

Royce: Fine. Not good, but fine.

Courtney: And then we have what I do think is a very good point here where it talks about the cultural attitudes around the role of sex in marriage. From the article: [reading] “During the 1990s, a new wave of sex positivity coincided with the ascendancy of different forms of therapy, including couples counseling. Experts coached couples on how to strengthen their marriages, often relying on the belief that healthy relationships included consistent sex with partners. By the 2010s, appointment sex had become one popular method for maintaining intimacy and, somewhat implicitly, safeguarding against separation.” Now that I all agree with, and a lot of that I think is bogus.

Royce: Is that what they are challenging, though? That you shouldn’t need to meet sex minimums that have been arbitrarily decided by society around you, and you shouldn’t need to schedule sex for certain intervals because someone else says you need to.

Courtney: I guess, in the sense that Rose says she doesn’t want to feel obligated to have sex once a week like her mom felt like she had to. And then we have: But in more recent years, after the 2010s, [reading] “both relationship experts and couples themselves have been gradually dismantling some of these commonly held views, working to destigmatize the unconventional approaches that some take to stay together.”

Courtney: And then we start hearing about couples who have chosen to live separately, which is something we’ve mentioned a number of times is getting more common and does work for some people. There is a Facebook group called Apartners, or I guess it’s Apartners because it’s apart. But then they talked to Sharon Hyman, who runs this Facebook group called Apartners, and the thing is, Sharon says many of the members in her community find their sex lives improve when they don’t spend every minute together.

Courtney: So how is that not about sex? That’s almost implying that sex in a marriage is more important than living together in a marriage. Which, I would argue, you don’t need either. You don’t need both. You could have both or just one or the other. But very weird from an article called Can You Be Happy In A Sexless Marriage? To then have: you know, some people are moving away from each other because then they find they have sex more often if they don’t live together. And it proceeds from there to say: [reading] “One effect of the ever-changing sexual climate is that many couples today are simply less willing to tolerate what the psychotherapist Esther Perel calls “boredom” in the bedroom. Perel has made a career of articulating how domestic overexposure saps eroticism, which requires some intrigue, mystery and unfamiliarity. That’s not to suggest that long-term love and desire are impossible, but according to Perel, keeping sexual interest alive requires getting creative.”

Courtney: So again, it’s like they’re giving examples of how to have more sex, or getting creative with sex once you’re bored of your long-term partner. So yeah, I mean, the ‘Navigating sexless marriages’ seems to fit so much better than ‘Can a sexless marriage be a happy one?’

Royce: Right, because the article isn’t talking about that at all. They’re talking about how to reintroduce or revitalize sex in a relationship.

Courtney: And then it talks about this psychotherapist who has a podcast where she helps couples explore and articulate their fantasies and experiment with new approaches to fulfilling their desires together. So is this the expert that’s challenging the conventional wisdom that sex is important in a marriage? Doesn’t really sound like it to me. And then it goes on to say: [reading] “For Perel, as for many other relationship experts, that sometimes means re-examining investment in another foundational premise of marriage: monogamy.”

Courtney: And then they talk about Dan Savage, who has also argued that [reading] “monogamy isn’t entirely plausible, or pleasurable, for everyone, and is critical of Americans’ obsession with moralizing infidelity.” Uh, I think that’s a weird way to phrase that, because– [sighs]

Royce: Because polygamy isn’t infidelity?

Courtney: Yeah, like polyamorous people exist and are ethical about it. [laughs]

Royce: Breaking the established boundaries of your relationship is unethical.

Courtney: Yes.

Royce: Polyamorous relationships also have boundaries.

Courtney: Yes, or even just open marriages with, you know, agreed upon terms for whatever works for that couple. But it goes on to say, like, Oh, Dan Savage, for example, [reading] “encourages married people to be honest with each other about how hard it is to carry the responsibility of fulfilling their partner’s sexual and emotional needs for decades on end.”

Courtney: I guess this is a question I’ve never asked myself, but if you are married to someone, and you are currently not having sex with the person you’re married to, but both of you are having sex consensually with other people, is that still a sexless marriage? I guess I wouldn’t have considered it to be a sexless marriage, but if the two people who are actually married aren’t having sex, maybe.

Royce: You can’t really answer that question without defining your terms.

Courtney: Yeah.

Royce: Like, are you defining a sexless marriage as one where the people who are married have sex with each other, or are you talking about the sexual needs of everyone in the marriage being met?

Courtney: Mmm, that’s a good question.

Royce: And the answer depends entirely on your definition.

Courtney: Right. But here we are very deep into this article and so far we have heard from a couple where one person is confused and frustrated that the other person doesn’t want to have as much sex as the other, we have a psychotherapist with a podcast who helps people articulate their fantasies and get creative to keep the sexual interest alive, and that expert, as well as Dan Savage, talking about uh, maybe don’t be monogamous.

Courtney: And nary a mention of asexual people existing! It’s so infuriating! But then we have– We do have the next line that says: “While some are questioning the standard of monogamous sex in marriage by exploring polyamorous and open relationships, others are pushing back against the pressure to have sex at all.”

Courtney: So when I originally read this, I’m like, “Okay, good, now we’re going to talk about asexual people.” And, nope, not really. It goes to talk about how Americans on the whole are having less sex than they used to. We’ve seen this in so many scare articles and scare headlines over the years, right? But this cites the 2021 General Social Survey, which found that: [reading] “50 percent of all adults polled had sex once a month or less, with half of those people reporting they hadn’t had sex for a year.” Now, maybe, it goes without saying that 2021 is maybe not the most representative year.

Royce: That’s a good point.

Courtney: [laughs] But also a poll of people just answering questions about their sex life. I again don’t think that this is people pushing back against the pressure to have sex. Because how many of those people are unhappy with the fact that they aren’t having more sex? That wasn’t stated at all. I really, really– As an asexual person, as someone who is in an asexual marriage, and very openly and publicly in an asexual marriage, to which people will just come at us and call us insults to humanity and nature for being asexual and married, having conservatives say our marriage is not valid, it’s not a real marriage, I do take issue with just saying people who passively answer a survey saying they haven’t had very much sex lately are actually pushing back against that status quo. The asexual community has felt the pressures of compulsory sexuality in our society so heavily. And we do actually have political and societal needs that we are advocating for. So to default to a survey from 2021 instead of talking to some of those people…?

Courtney: But it goes on to say: [reading] “Researchers have speculated about the reasons for this 30-year sexual low, from isolation caused by technology to cultural conversations about consent.” Odd that they didn’t mention the pandemic that started in 2020? [chuckles] Although I do– I should make it clear that I do think that there are a lot of other reasons that people are, on average, having less sex, especially younger generations. I just don’t think it’s as bad or as negative of a thing as all of the reporting has made it out to be.

Courtney: But then they go on to talk about [reading] “younger women, for instance, shaped in part by the #MeToo movement, are engaging in intentional abstinence.” But who are these women engaging in intentional abstinence? It sounds like more straight girls. There’s a trend on TikTok about going ‘boysober’, which links to an article called She’s Not Celibate, She’s Boy Sober: The comedian Hope Woodard is spreading the word about her yearlong break from sex and dating. One fan calls it “this year’s hottest mental health craze.”

Courtney: And this Hope Woodard says that [reading] “taking a break from sex can be empowering for women who previously altered their desires to accommodate men.” And I think that’s fine. But I also think that’s more of– take some time for you. Take some time to understand what you want. And it kind of just seems like a rebranding of other relationship advice that lots of people have given over the years about, like, getting out of a bad relationship. Like take some time for you, learn to be happy on your own before you try to be happy with someone else. Like, this just seems like a rebranding of that with that phrasing, as this is a ‘mental health craze’, and “taking a break from sex can be empowering once you’ve altered your desires to accommodate someone else.”

Courtney: I also just kind of struggle with phrasing an intentional temporary break as being sexless. Because there are also people that do that because they swear if you do that the sex will be better when you come back. Like isn’t that the whole premise of like No Nut November, or whatever?

Royce: There’s a pretty wide variety of intentional abstinence crazes, fads, challenges, whatever you want to call them, for a variety of different reasons.

Courtney: Yeah, and my asexual brain can’t wrap around the allosexual desire to starve yourself of sexual contact for the hope that it will be even better when you do it again. But like, this is the closest thing to a refusal of sexuality. Because even the couple from before, one naturally has had her sexual desires dulled – dulled was the word that was used – the other one is just respecting her lack of desire, despite having desire of his own. And then we had, you know, non monogamy! Maybe don’t live together and your sex life will get better. And so the very first actual refusal is just an intentional temporary break. That’s it.

Courtney: There’s a mention then of [reading] “digital feminist 4B movement, which originated in South Korea but has spread globally through social media, advocates a rejection of childbearing, as well as heterosexual dating, marriage and sex.” I’m not going to look it up right now. I’ll probably make a note to look it up later. But I’m not terribly familiar with this 4B movement, so maybe I’m way off on that, but that one sentence that’s dedicated to that kind of gives me political lesbian vibes. And I don’t want to open that whole can of worms if that’s not actually what the vibe is here. But maybe it’s an evolution of that.

Royce: I was already reading on this while you were talking.

Courtney: Oh, have you gained additional insight?

Royce: Only slightly because I haven’t read a lot. But yeah, it is considered to be a part of, or is associated or inspired with, some other movements, including like South Korea’s #MeToo and something called Escape the Corset. It is an intentional pushback against both, you know, patriarchal structures and pro-natalist policies, and things like that.

Courtney: Oh, it tackles pro-natalism, huh?

Royce: Well, yeah, the four Bs are: no sex, no child– no sex, no child rearing, no dating, and no marriage.

Courtney: Okay, so sure that is a refusal. It seems like a politically motivated refusal rather than a natural state of being, but maybe not. If there are any ace and/or aro people that are heavily associated with this 4B movement, please reach out to us, because I would like to learn more. This is a new movement to me, so.

Courtney: But then we have, as I said at the top of this episode, the single sentence about platonic life partners. It starts in quotes, [reading] “– quote – “Platonic life partners,” meanwhile — friends who commit to owning a home and even raising children together — insist that sex and romance are not necessary to lifelong unions.” That’s it. That is the one sentence.

Courtney: That is the one sentence! And I want us all to put a pin in the word ‘insist’ there. Because I would like that single sentence about platonic life partners a little better if they said ‘prove’ instead of ‘insist’. Because when we’re starting with the question like, can a marriage be happy if it’s sexless? They’re like, well, these people insist that it is, but… There could be, like, a ‘but’ there. There’s a plausible deniability here when you use that word. These people insist. These people who you’ve put in quotation marks for some reason.

Royce: It kind of felt to me like they were just trying to, like, define a term or the name of something, but they did it in an odd way. Like, I think this would have read differently or wouldn’t have had the connotation that quotes like that have, if they had abbreviated afterward as like, “or PLPs” or something like that, you know?

Courtney: Yeah, and I mean they– I’m not mad about the phrase itself, platonic life partners, but again, like if I were writing this article and we were actually talking about sexless marriages and people who are actively pushing against compulsory sexuality, we’d be talking about queerplatonic partnerships, queerplatonic relationships, QPRs or QPPs. And I’d use the framing that they are proving that you do not need sex and romance to have a happy lifelong union. But– I still want to put a pin in the word ‘insist’, because ‘insist’ comes up again near the end of the article in a way that just feels strange to my ace eyeballs.

Courtney: But then we go on to talk about another sex educator and researcher:

Courtney: [reading] “Emily Nagoski is resistant to the idea that frequent sex should be a chief component of every committed relationship.” That’s good. I like that. This researcher [reading] “doesn’t endorse obligatory sex, nor does she encourage aiming for any sexual base line in terms of regularity or behavior.” And she believes that [reading] “low desire can sometimes be evidence of good judgment. It’s not dysfunctional not to want sex you don’t like.” Now, the thing is, you could have ended that sentence after sex. It’s not dysfunctional not to want sex, but this is about bad sex, right? That’s what she means when she says that.

Royce: The ‘sex you don’t like’ part? Yeah.

Courtney: [reading] “In her new book, “Come Together,” Nagoski urges couples who want to explore their sexualities and deepen their sexual bond to begin by figuring out what each person wants when they want sex. For many, sex represents freedom from the ordinary, but what it takes to get there will look different for every couple and is likely to change over time. After all, desires don’t always align, or they evolve in unexpected ways.”

Courtney: So she’s talking about bad sex. She’s saying if you’re bored in the bedroom, or if this isn’t the kind of sex you like, here is my book where we can talk about how you can navigate that! Presumably with the desire of having better and more sex. Please, I beg, find one expert that says it’s not dysfunctional to not want sex, period.

Courtney: Then we have another couple story, Michelle and John, who met in 2005, [reading] “and in the early years of their relationship, they couldn’t keep their hands off each other. Four years ago, however, after experiencing what she calls a – quote – “traumatic” childbirth, Michelle began to worry that intercourse would cause her pain.” That seems like a very realistic scenario that I’m sure has happened to a lot of people over time. But it goes on to say that after that, that couple [reading] “did not have sex for a year after they became parents. Now they can go months without it. Friends of theirs, too, seem to be experiencing new chapters in their own sex lives and opening up their marriages, which has sparked conversations between Michelle and John about the possibilities for reinvigorating their sex life. But they don’t always agree on what they want, or what they’re comfortable with.”

Courtney: And that basically boils down to Michelle not wanting sex outside of their marriage, doesn’t want an open relationship. But it does seem that the lack of sex was a big enough issue that they had that conversation. So still at least one, if not both, of them is not happy with the current state of things, so I’m still not seeing a couple talked about here who is heavily challenging societal norms. It does say, though, for them, [reading] “Love, for both, is about much more than fulfilling those momentary desires. After almost two decades together, they consider themselves best friends and – quote – “soul mates”.” And we get some more just details about their life, their early relationship, their current relationship, their living situation.

Courtney: And then we hear: [reading] “Now, most days, Michelle masturbates in the morning, while John takes their daughter to preschool. He masturbates at night in the bathroom, while watching porn on his phone. For John, it’s merely a physical release, but for Michelle, pleasuring herself serves a different purpose: She is trying to figure out what makes her feel good. Exploring her changed body alone eliminates the guilt she has when she can’t climax with her husband. She doesn’t want him to think it has anything to do with him. – quote – “I want to get there, but it’s not getting there,” she says.”

Royce: That feels like an odd dynamic to be in an article, because they have to have had that conversation with each other, right? Because they’re definitely going to read it when the article’s published.

Courtney: Right.

Royce: But if they’ve had the conversation, wouldn’t they have figured something out where they could, like, try figuring it out together? I don’t know. I’m confused by this dynamic.

Courtney: I mean, there– there are– I have heard, allegedly, that there is merit to exploring your own body. But the fact that it’s like, yeah, I feel guilty because I don’t want him to feel bad…? Like, I want to actually know who has the hang up there. Like, is he feeling, like, emasculated when she doesn’t orgasm? Or is she just trying to protect him and it’s– It might not actually be that big of an issue, but society has told her that he will feel emasculated if she doesn’t.

Royce: Yeah, I mean that’s– Those are common feelings for people to have. I’m just confused about how that persists after you have a real conversation about it.

Courtney: Yeah.

Royce: And the idea of a couple doing independent interviews for this magazine [Courtney laughs] and not talking about it, and then reading the article when it comes out.

Courtney: [laughs] Yeah, it’s fascinating to me. Because also the quote like, “I want to get there but it’s not getting there,” you are actively working toward having either more sex or more enjoyable sex, or both. I fail to see how you are challenging societal norms. And plus, like, the guilt for, like, not being able to climax with your husband. Like, I have heard from the allos that there are a lot of women who have trouble, for a variety of reason, climaxing with partners. That’s a thing I hear that’s pretty common actually. I’ve also heard that a lot of them have navigated that by having conversations with their partner. And also many of them will say, like, climaxing doesn’t have to be the goal, like the journey can be enjoyable. I’m really failing to put on my allo impression today, but like you get the point right. Like other– other people have heard allo say this. I feel that– I feel like that’s a pretty common conversation.

Courtney: The writer of this article then says: [reading] “Of the more than 30 married people I interviewed,” you interviewed more than 30 married people and you didn’t write about married asexual people…?

Royce: I guess it’s not specified, but was this 15 couples or–

Courtney: I don’t know.

Royce: A variety here and there? I don’t know.

Courtney: Just [resumes reading] “Of the more than 30 married people I interviewed, many, like Michelle, told me that becoming parents irrevocably changed their sex lives. Camille,” – as another example – “felt becoming a mother distanced her from her desire. – quote –“It feels like something I can’t quite touch, like in another room, or another part of me that I don’t know how to access,” she says. Other mothers started to see–” Ooh, other mothers. Beware the buttons. [resumes reading] “Other mothers started to see sex as one more chore, another line item on their list of responsibilities. Keti, a mother of a neurodivergent child who craved being held, found that sex with her husband had become “robotic” as she began to see it as “one more demand.”” I don’t know why the mention of the neurodivergent child was necessary there.

Royce: Yeah, how is it relevant compared to– Like, lots of parents feel overwhelmed and overworked by having young children. [Courtney agrees] And the feeling that she continues with, wanting desperately to go into a forest and just lie down and not hear anyone or anything, I think a lot of parents feel that in the first couple of years with children.

Courtney: [reading] “Lilien, who has two kids, says becoming a mother was a turning point for her. She had to leave her previous career and didn’t know who she was or what she wanted. – quote – “My identity was totally eviscerated,” she says.”

Courtney: Is this an article about can marriages be happy without sex, or is this an article about reasons why previously sexual marriages get less so? [reading] “Lilien’s husband, Philip, never pressured her to be intimate, for which she is grateful. – quote –“The most important thing for me was to maintain a place where the sex you have is very positive, very consensual, very understood and mutually enjoyed,” he says. Five years later, Philip knows she is still coming to terms with everything motherhood has brought into her life. Recently they started having more sex, about once every other month.”

Courtney: [reading] “Jean, a 38-year-old mother living in Virginia, told me that her husband’s interest in sex has dropped off gradually over the course of their 13-year marriage. She, on the other hand, experienced what she called “a secondary puberty” as her kids grew older and became less dependent on her. She felt “so sexually charged” that she visited her gynecologist to confirm she wasn’t having a hormonal issue. She’s now trying to figure out how to navigate her husband’s low desire. “I feel like I’m living in the upside-down a lot of the time,” she says. “My friends complain about their husbands grabbing their butt while they wash dishes, and I think, Wow, I would love to feel wanted like that.””

Royce: Well, at least every single one of these stories wasn’t men being frustrated by their wives’ low libido or something like that.

Courtney: Feminism… [reading] “Another mother, Emily, says that sex gradually became less important over the course of her 34-year marriage. When her kids were little, intimacy with her husband stalled briefly, but as their children grew older, they had a “revival of a good sex life.” Now she is 59 and has had several operations resulting from a battle with cancer, including a hysterectomy and mastectomy. As a result, her desire lessened, and sex began to feel like “vacuuming the house” — something she did to make her husband happy. [...] “We discussed my lack of desire, and he said that if I’m not turned on, then he’s not either.” He admitted that his sex drive had dipped, too. So they decided not to force it. She feels there’s some cultural pressure for older people to keep up their sex lives into their 80s. She’s read, with skepticism, articles claiming that maintaining sex later in life is healthy. “Is it?” she said. “I don’t know.””

Courtney: And Emily’s story concludes with: [reading] “We’ve been in a sexless relationship for years now. We get along great, but we’re more like best buds than lovers.” [sigh] That “we’re more like best buds than lovers,” most people are going to read that very negatively. And I would believe if Emily doesn’t think that that’s inherently negative. I could believe that they are still happy and fine. But that line is what people actually, like, level at married asexual people. Like, there are people who have told us that we’re just friends, or we’re just roommates. And it’s like, no, we’re– we’re a married couple. We’ve been married 10 years now! But they’ll use it as, like, an insult. Like a sexual and romantic marriage is the pinnacle of all relationships, and your relationship is lesser if you do not have these things. So I know how a lot of people are going to read that line, “We’re more like best buds than lovers.” They aren’t going to read that favorably.

Courtney: Here’s where we’re going to take the pin out of the word insist, because the first time we heard that word it was the one line, “Platonic life partners who insist you don’t need sex and romance.” Now, for some reason, this is all in bold: “Despite their insistence,” in bold. Bold text. [reading] “Despite their insistence that sex isn’t essential in their marriages, most of the couples I spoke with still keep track of how often they have sex. They also appear haunted by how far they deviate from perceived norms. John, for instance, hopes he and his wife can work back up to having sex two or three times a week, but admits he has no idea where that figure came from.”

Royce: So this goes back to the word ‘challenging’–

Courtney: Yeah.

Royce: –that you keep bringing up.

Courtney: What are you challenging here?

Royce: Because it sounds like, what the author is getting at is, a number of these couples have been told this is what your relationship is supposed to look like for it to be healthy and happy, and they’re hung up on that if it doesn’t match their reality. Regardless of whether or not they are actually happy. [Courtney agrees repeatedly] And they seem– They don’t even seem to completely be aware of that in order to challenge it in the first place.

Courtney: Mm-mm. But yeah, also when you start with a question, “Can a sexless marriage be happy?” And then you throw in a line like, “Despite their insistence that sex isn’t essential in their marriages, they know exactly how often they have sex and they feel haunted that it’s not enough.” It kind of feels like you’re trying to frame it as if maybe you can still remain married but you’re not going to be, like, flourishing and happy in your best self, living your best life without sex. That’s unheard of, right?

Courtney: It’s also the– You know, we’ve been talking off microphone for some time now about doing an episode about, like, what does the DSM talk about asexuality, and what is the history of pathologizing asexuality? And so maybe– maybe that’ll be coming sooner than later. But in the last couple iterations of the DSM, there’s definitely, like, a mental disorder that sounds like you’re describing asexuality but then a line was added to say, like, “Well, if– if the patient identifies as asexual, then they don’t have this.” But it’s basically a lack of sexual desire and you feel distressed about it.

Courtney: And my issue with that is that the distress is very likely to not be coming from your inherent lack of desire. It’s probably coming from outside societal pressures. If all of these 30 straight couples, who are still having occasional sex, a lot of them it sounds like just not very much of it feel bad. Like, society feels like they should be having more sex and they’re arbitrarily saying like, yeah, we probably should try to work up to having sex more often. We should have sex two or three times a week. I don’t know where I got that number, but clearly society put that number in your head at some point! These people are not even asexual and they are feeling like they’re doing sex wrong. They’re doing sex bad. They’re not doing enough sex. So how are actually asexuals supposed to feel about that?

Courtney: So that’s something– Like, I really want to keep that in mind when we do explore the nuances of these diagnoses in the future. Because it actually– If we were to take that at face value, and say like, oh you– you lack sexual desire and you’re distressed about it, and you don’t identify as asexual, we could– we could diagnose some of these people theoretically with one of the two current iterations. Because they made a male version and a female version of it that are treated lightly differently. I wonder if someone were to just come to one of these people– Because how often do aces just get people up in our face being like, [aggressively] “You have a hormone disorder! Something’s wrong with you! Do you have a tumor in your brain?” Like, you need to see a doctor.

Courtney: If someone just came up to a couple like this, who are married with kids, and said, like, your lack of desire is a mental disorder and you meet all the criteria in the DSM for this, do you feel like they’d be offended? Or I wonder if any of them would actually be like, oh wow, yeah, I should explore that, I should get checked out for that. I genuinely don’t know! But I’d be really curious to find out. I’d be really curious. For what it’s worth, I think those diagnoses are bogus.

Royce: Particularly the fact that they’re gendered.

Courtney: Yes, very that. Which we’ll get into a lot more in the future, don’t you worry. But just to bring it back to the societal expectations of it all, it even says back to Rose. [reading] “Rose admits to feeling the weight of societal expectations. Recently she decided that since she and Will were rarely having sex, she would have her birth-control implant removed from her arm. During the procedure, the nurse intimated there was something wrong with Rose’s marriage. Rose felt shamed and angry. The idea that she should be living in a constant state of arousal with her husband after a decade together is, to her, ridiculous, but also part of a facade she thinks many married couples maintain.” Um, how dare that nurse?

Courtney: I wish I could say I’m surprised, but I’ve dealt with my fair share of rude and bigoted medical professionals. I have talked to countless other aces who have dealt with bad medical professionals. And this is the kind of thing that I’ve said before, like the things that affect asexuals the hardest doesn’t just affect aces. Like these things do affect other people.

Courtney: And again, that is very valid for them. I love telling straight people that they’re valid. [laughs] I got kind of sick of just aces having the talking point of you’re valid, you’re valid. It kind of became a buzzword where people were throwing it around but not really always putting their money where their mouth is and going for, like, real tangible inclusion and social and material support.

Courtney: But it is– It’s such a glaring oversight to not have the people most heavily affected by these societal expectations represented in an article like this. I just really can’t believe it. And it does make you wonder, like– It also seems like a ton of these people are parents too. And I’ve seen so many studies that show that couples do tend to have less sex after they have kids. That is a well established fact that I’ve seen in lots of different studies, just like on average. So it doesn’t even seem like, of these married couples, that there was even a diversity amongst allosexual versions of married couples.

Courtney: [reading] “Rose is exploring whether her A.D.H.D. may play a role in her need to seek new stimuli — not because she sees it as a problem but because she is interested in understanding her desire more fully. – quote –“Apparently the partner fatigue I experience is not so uncommon because our ‘special’ brains are always seeking out what’s new,” she says.” That’s an interesting one because, yeah, I understand the stimuli from an ADHD perspective. But is that actually more prominent in allosexual neurodivergent people? Because I feel like there are plenty of neurotypical allosexual people that also have this same kind of, I don’t know burnout is the right word, maybe burnout from having the same partner for x number of years. Like that’s the kind of thing we’ve critiqued when we talk about things like the seven year itch and the eighth year, the dreaded eighth year of marriage.

Courtney: [reading] “Will sometimes turns to Buddhist writings on restraint to explore his sexuality.” And they don’t explain that line further in a way that makes any sort of sense to me. “Writings on restraint to explore the sexuality.2 Are you exploring the sexuality or are you trying to control the sexuality? Restraint implies a type of– I don’t know, restraint?! But he says [reading] ““I’ve learned, even just about the act of sex itself, the ending is not always the best part,” Will says. “There’s pleasure throughout the spectrum.”” Isn’t that what we were saying with that other couple?

Courtney: But then it rounds out with Rose and Will going on vacation, going on a trip to Hawaii. [reading] “Will remembers turning toward his wife and staring at her, watching her relaxing, her body loose. In that moment, he wasn’t thinking about sex or how beautiful Rose looked under the sun. He was thinking about how similar they actually are. More than anything, they want to enjoy themselves in their own way, to savor the small moments when they can let the rest of the world fade away.”

Courtney: So I mean, at least they kind of left on a high note. Like, look at these people who are having a good time in Hawaii even though they’re not having sex. I don’t– Is this article all over the place? I feel like it’s all over the place. What– What is the main takeaway from this? I genuinely don’t know what the– what the author’s intent was here.

Courtney: We had a single sentence about platonic life partners, but we dedicated so much time to male-female married couples with children who, one or both of them, are upset about how little sex they’re having. And we talked about how non-monogamy can help people who are upset with their sex lives. We talked about how moving away from each other can help your sex life. We talked about a book by sex educator about figuring out what you want when you have sex. Never, I feel like not once, did we have a couple where both of them are like, “We are not having sex and we are really happy about it, both of us.” This– I– It’s so weird. It’s so weird to me! Please, writers, if you’re talking about sexless marriages, you must speak to asexual married people. You– you have to. You have to.

Courtney: [reading] “Experts and couples are challenging the conventional wisdom that sex is essential to relationships.” I don’t think any of the experts did that. They challenged that marriage needs to be monogamous. Which– I agree with them, but I’d love to have that conversation in a totally different framing. Just please, do better. I beg.

Courtney: In the era where, not too long ago, over 80 conservative organizations used platonic marriage as the slippery slope argument for: “If we solidify the right to gay marriage, what’s next? Platonic marriage?” Because they don’t think platonic marriage is a thing. They think marriage needs to be procreative, they think it needs to be conjugal, rather than consent-based. But for a lot of these couples in this article, they have already met the prerequisites to the type of marriage that conservatives are, I guess, fighting to protect the traditional marriage, as they would put it.

Courtney: It was romantic, it was sexual, it was between a man and a woman, and they had children. So technically, the prerequisites are filled. They may be facing these societal pressures, but couples like this are not the ones that have the potential to be challenged by bigoted legislation.

Courtney: So I’m not even going to say that it’s just an oversight anymore. I think it’s downright negligent to not include asexual marriage when writing about this topic. So do better. Do better, I beg.

Courtney: Some of those same conservatives who are challenging us politically are also trying to ban our books all across the nation. Many of these books, as we have talked about on this podcast before, are written by asexual authors. They do talk about asexual stories and that is why today our featured marketplace vendor of the week is none other than Rainy Day Paperback. That’s right, this is one of our asexual-owned bookstores. Rainy Day Paperback has used and rare books. They also handle flag sales, Pride flags for Bethel, Connecticut Pride. And it is an actual physical bookshop. So if you are in Connecticut you can go there. You best believe, if I am ever in the area, I will be paying a visit, but that is a long way from Kansas and I haven’t been doing too much traveling since the pandemic started.

Courtney: But you can order online and we did. I’ll let you know what we got and what is currently available on the website. We got a lovely little haul from Rainy Day, including: ‘We Awaken’ by Calista Lynn, ‘Psychic Underground: The Facility’ by Sarah Elkins, ‘Ace & Proud: An Asexual Anthology’ edited by A.K. Andrews, and ‘You Are Asexual’ by A.C. Evermore, which, I kid you not, is an asexual choose-your-own-adventure book. I’m really excited. I genuinely don’t think I have read a physical choose-your-own-adventure book since the 90s, maybe early 2000s.

Royce: Yeah, I feel like for me it was Goosebumps books from a school Scholastic’s fair or something.

Courtney: Ah, the Scholastic fairs. But of course, Rainy Day Paperback does not only sell ace books, but you can certainly get them if that is what you are in the market for. I think it’s always great if you have a book in mind that you are trying to buy, buying secondhand is wonderful, buying from local bookshops is wonderful. It certainly does a lot more good than always jumping to Amazon. It may be fast and efficient, there may be free shipping, but really shopping small and shopping local is very, very important. And still in stock, you can get your own copy of ‘Ace & Proud: An Asexual Anthology’. You can also get a number of books that we have talked about on this very podcast. So if any of these have been on your list for a while, this is a great bookshop to get them.

Courtney: From Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe – we did an entire episode on the most challenged book multiple years in a row. Read banned books. We’ve discussed Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann. That’s in stock. And if you want to read some, actually good, in-depth, legitimate, challenging of societal pressures around compulsory sexuality, we have none other than Refusing Compulsory Sexuality: A Black Asexual Lens on Our Sex-Obsessed Culture by Sherronda J Brown. We’ve recommended it a number of times. It’s a fabulous read. And you can even order your own small Asexual Pride flag here. So if you don’t have your own flag yet, you can order it from an ace-owned bookshop. Very cute, I love it very much.

Courtney: So, as always, our featured marketplace vendor of the week, Rainy Day Paperback. Their information will be in the show notes, so you can check out their online shop. And do visit them in person if you are in Connecticut. And let’s all resolve to read more things that do not completely ignore and erase the existence of asexuality. So, on that note, that’s it for today. Thank you for hearing out our entire rant, and we will talk to you all next time. Goodbye.