Another Bad Take Allo Op-Ed: A sexless marriage is not OK

Sexless marriages are often stigmatized as failures, but is the absence of sex truly a sign of a loveless relationship? Today we critique an article by Kate Lister, which fails to genuinely include asexual perspectives, and explore how understanding asexual experiences can benefit all individuals, regardless of their orientation.

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Transcript

Courtney: Hello everyone. My name is Courtney, I’m here with my spouse, Royce, and together we are The Ace Couple. And today we’ve got another bad article for you. Yes, once again someone is talking about sexless marriages. So we’re gonna get into it, read a few excerpts, and then provide our own commentary, ruminate upon it. “A sexless marriage is not OK.” So that’s a great start. Written by Kate Lister.

Courtney: We’re gonna get into the nuances here that I think the writer is very ignorant to, and I really feel like she tried to be inclusive. But this is not what genuine inclusivity looks like. This is knowing you’re missing out on an important and relevant experience and trying to pay lip service to it so that you don’t get in trouble for not mentioning it. It is really what this kind of feels like. But we’ll– we’ll get into that.

Courtney: So the article starts and I– [sighs] It links to multiple papers at various times, and at least today, I don’t care that much to actually get into the studies, so I’m not going to examine or critique them too carefully. And some of them are just straight up behind one of the academic paywalls, so some of them I couldn’t even read easily anyway. But this article starts just citing some papers, one saying [reading] “15.6% of married couples haven’t had sex in the last year.” And someone else citing 29% of relationships being sexless, and then other experts who estimate 50% of all relationships are sexless. So we’re just throwing a lot of number spaghetti at the wall and I guess seeing what sticks. And the entire point of that is kind of a segue for the writer to basically be like, really, what’s wrong with you? Because she literally writes: [reading] “I mean, really? That many of you couple-y types have not had sex in the last year, when your partner is right there? My God! I’m having more sex than that and the closest thing I currently have to a long-term relationship is a pot plant. What on earth is going on?” So that seems judgy.

Royce: Yeah, this seems like a pretty simple case where someone has an idea of the life that they want to live, or what they need, or what they’re comfortable with, and it’s just astonished that people are different.

Courtney: Yeah! Well, I’m so glad that you mentioned that, because there are a few lines here where she’ll say “for me.” Like, for example, she’ll say: [reading] “When it comes to the health of a relationship, for me, sex is the canary in the coal mine. When that dies, you’re in trouble.” And, “to my mind, a romantic relationship with no hanky-panky at all is a cause for concern.” So, all right, that’s just like your opinion, man, which this– this is an opinion article, I will give it that. However, here’s where I’m like this isn’t as inclusive as you think it’s being. She goes on to say: [reading] “I am not talking about those of us on the asexuality spectrum, or anyone dealing with health issues, menopause, newborn babies, or even those currently in a dry spell.”

Royce: What is the definition of a dry spell? How many of these marriages–? Well, is a dry spell like just you’re single for a long time?

Courtney: Yeah, it’s kind of vague. I mean, I’ve for some reason seen a lot of things cited as like if you have sex once a month or less, then that’s considered a sexless marriage. So like, it’s not no sex. But is it like anything less than a year? Like can you have a three month dry spell, but once it hits a year you’re in a sexless marriage? I don’t know, I don’t know where we draw that line, because it’s all made up and absurd.

Courtney: Because here’s the weird thing. Like, I don’t like an entire opinion piece, or an entire article, or a study, or anything that’s framing sexless marriage bad, and then just one tiny little sentence of like, “I’m not talking about aces, though.” Because tha–t that is not genuine inclusion, that is not actually internalizing or articulating anything valid or genuine about an asexual experience.

Courtney: It’s kind of just like, “Okay, I checked off the box. I mentioned that asexuals exist.” And I don’t even want to give credit to that because some articles will just not even mention it. We very recently did cover an article about sexless marriages that didn’t mention asexuals at all. But when I say I want asexuality to be mentioned in these conversations, I don’t literally just mean a throwaway mention, I don’t mean tick the box, I mean actually explore that and what that means. Because we talk about in this community, the concept of refusing compulsory sexuality, and that is something that I think is important for even allosexual people to learn. And I think a lot of allos can learn from asexual people and our experiences and our views on sex and society. Because so much of it is just sort of mandated and scripted and you have an idea in your head of what it’s supposed to be, and as asexual people, we’re counted among those who are disproportionately affected and harmed by those social norms. But that doesn’t mean that others aren’t as well.

Courtney: There could just be an allosexual person with, you know, a relatively low sex drive, who still feels pressure to have a certain amount of sex, you know. So that’s why it’s not enough to just mention, “Well, I’m not talking about asexuals, I’m talking about everyone else.” You need to explore what it actually means to be an asexual person in our society that is so often sex obsessed and does often have these very specific social scripts. And even if we try to give every benefit of the doubt, so the author of this piece is saying, like, you know, I’m not talking about aces, but – quote – “But if you and your beloved were once enjoying regular bouts of hot and heavy lovemaking which has dwindled to no more than a reluctant peck on the cheek, that is something deserving of a conversation. Put simply, if you no longer desire your partner, or even feel resentful about having sex with them, that’s a big ol’ red flag that something has gone awry.”

Courtney: Yeah, I would agree that that is a problem. However, just like so many of the posts we’ve read on Dead Bedrooms, or our own observations from either past relationships or our friends relationships or general society, like, are we sure this is about the sex? Like you’re saying it’s wrong to not have sex, but then it almost seems like a bait and switch to say if you don’t desire your partner, if you’re resentful…

Royce: Yeah, sex itself is being billed as the warning sign or the red flag, or the canary in the coal mine, but it’s being explained as a symptom of a different problem.

Courtney: Yes.

Royce: Which is the actual red flag.

Courtney: Yes, and the thing is, like, no longer feeling desire I don’t think 100% of the time for everyone is going to equate to feeling resentful. But that’s something that– You know, we kind of talked about this again recently with Yilin, where a lack of something is often perceived as inherently bad and negative, when sometimes it is just neutral. It is just that way. And it’s really just– I– Especially when we talk about sexless marriages, because I think every single time we have so much as suggested that sometimes in either these mixed orientation relationships or in these Dead Bedrooms situations, every single time that we’ve suggested that sometimes the resentful feelings about a lack of sex are not necessarily about the act of sex itself, every time we suggest that, there’s always one or two allosexual listeners of ours who will be writing into us being like, “Um, actually I feel like you don’t understand the allosexual experience.”

Courtney: And for allos, “It actually is very important for us to have sex with our partners.” And it’s like yeah, that’s not what we said, we didn’t say it’s not important for you. But there are so many aces out there that may try to compromise, sometimes disproportionately so, sometimes they’re even aces that are more on the sex repulse side of things and don’t necessarily enjoy sex at all, but will try to do so for their allosexual partner, only for their allosexual partner to still not be happy with that. When a lot of those conversations may go like, “I need to have sex, I need sex in a relationship. If we’re going to be in a relationship, I need this.” And if in this fictional scenario, which – trust me – it happens all the time, the ace might be like, “Well, okay, I do really care for you and I do want to stay in this relationship. So I guess let’s compromise, let’s have this amount of sex, let’s have sex on this day or this many times.” And then that still is not satisfactory for the allosexual person.

Courtney: And from our own observations, from our own experiences, from conversations we’ve had, sometimes it is a lack of self awareness on the part of the allosexual person. They think they want the physical act of sex, but sometimes the physical act of sex is just an expression for something else that is desired there. And sometimes it’s the desire to be desired, in which case that might not ever be fulfilled by an asexual person if they aren’t feeling that desire and attraction. So with those sort of concepts in mind, I want to really interrogate some of the language that’s being used here, because I don’t want to let someone off the hook just for saying, “Asexuals exist. But I’m not talking about them, I’m talking about everyone else.”

Courtney: Because then in this writer’s experience, she says, [reading] “I have been in several long-term relationships where all sexual desire eventually evaporated. I couldn’t even tell you why it happened, but we went from Eyes Wide Shut shenanigans to basically friend-zoning one another.” Oh, the friend zone... So many aces have been so badly burned from the concept, the societal concept of the friend zone being seen as an inherently negative thing. I feel like there’s a lot of communal trauma pertaining to the friend zone. So, and just the very notion of saying like a lack of sex means friend zone. I would– I would argue that’s not even the case for two allosexual people who just have a Dead Bedroom or a dry spell, if you will.

Royce: Yeah, that’s a pretty consistent and annoying remark that people make, like, if you’re not having sex, are you just roommates, or are you just friends?

Courtney: And we’ve gotten that plenty!

Royce: But the thing is, friend plus sex is called a friend with benefits.

Courtney: Yes.

Royce: Which is a casual relationship that doesn’t have, you know, the expectation of longevity. It doesn’t have the firm agreements or boundaries and it isn’t expected to have romantic or emotional connections. It’s a fling. [Courtney agrees] And so, if that is an accurate depiction of your relationship, I don’t think that your relationship is what you actually think it is. I think what’s more likely is that the person speaking does not have the self-awareness to deconstruct romance from physical touch.

Courtney: Yes. And the romance and physical touch– Like, that– That gets doubled down on later in this article too, which is so– It’s frustrating reading this because when we’re talking about, like, okay, maybe canary in the coal mine as a warning sign that something else is wrong, that might be an apt metaphor for a certain type of relationship. But it’s like you examined all the facts and came to the wrong conclusion based on them. Because it’s saying sexless marriage is not okay, it is bad, and will later assert that you need to have sex and you need to have more sex. But before getting there, the author even admits some of the things that we theorize in these situations that there’s something else. The matter. She even says: [reading] “Is it the simple fact that it’s very hard to be sexually attracted to a man who refuses to buy the extra-strong bin liners I like from the supermarket?”

Royce: So going back to how sex is not the red flag, sex is a symptom of another problem.

Courtney: Because she keeps going on and she says, “I don’t know, but what I do know is that once sex started to go, the whole thing fell apart shortly after.”

Royce: But yeah, just in that anecdote, sex starting to go was significantly into the downfall of that relationship.

Courtney: Yeah. And the thing is, why is the thesis: “you can’t be in a relationship without sex, it doesn’t work, a sexless marriage is bad”? Instead of being in a relationship with someone who will listen to you when you talk. Like, “Hey, these are the bin liners I want you to pick up when you go to the store.” And then someone just doesn’t do that, like once, that’s forgivable. Like things happen, something can slip the mind. But like, if this is a situation where your partner is genuinely never remembering the things you say, then that does become eventually a point of disrespect and a lack of active listening, I guess. And so why isn’t this about communication or proper distribution of chores? Why is it like, “Nope, the sex is the problem.”? That’s, that’s what we’re going with.

Courtney: Because– because she goes on to say: [reading] “It became a vicious cycle. The more the relationship deteriorated, the more I did not want that person anywhere near me, which only made things worse.” You think? [resumes reading] “Looking back, I think it was resentment on my part. There were so many problems brewing that I was too angry to have sex. I had no desire at all, just a grudging irritation for the person I was sharing a bed with. That’s not sexy for anyone. I don’t know if the relationship could have been improved by us having more sex, but there is no doubting the lack of sex was symptomatic of much deeper issues.” I’m gonna go out on a limb and say no, having more sex would not have helped you in the situation you’re describing.

Royce: No, because, given how she’s framing things, that would have been like making a schedule or making an agreement to do it a few times, you know, a month or whatever, whatever that is. And–

Courtney: Which is still often, like, marital advice that is thrown around all the time.

Royce: Yeah, but I think even in this article she says like forcing it isn’t going to help things.

Courtney: No. And the thing is, I’ve thought about this a lot because we’re friends with enough polyamorous people and some are even like educators on polyamory experiences. And one thing that people in those communities will say when they’re educating online is like deciding to open up your relationship is not going to fix relationship problems. And a lot of the times it’s like open up your relationship and explore polyamory if this is something that you want to do and you think will add benefit into your lives, not because there is something bad and broken about your relationship and you’re hoping this will fix it.

Courtney: Because it’s not a bandaid and it’s not going to fix your current relationship. And I think that’s sound advice.

Courtney: But the thing is, I feel like I’d get in trouble if I just as emphatically and passionately said sex is not a bandaid for what’s broken in your relationship. Because when we’re talking about polyamory, that’s already outside of the norm, right? So the people you’re talking to, the people you’re educating about this, are already existing outside of societal expectations, but the societal standard right now is: sex good, more sex better, have more sex. Time and time again we see this and, like I said, the marital advice is often have more sex, schedule time for sex, don’t let the sex die down. A dead bedroom. This article saying a sexless marriage is not okay. That’s what the title is.

Courtney: So if we take a situation like this, where you’re resentful of your partner for something that isn’t even sex related and you are so angry at them, you are so frustrated that you don’t want to have sex just because you have a grudge, you feel angry just looking at them, you don’t want to share a bed with them anymore… Having sex with that person isn’t gonna fix that. Sex is not a magical bandaid that’s gonna fix your relationship problems. But there are entire– there’s an entire industry of like sex therapists and sex relationships. And not all of them use or teach sex as being like a bandaid, there are some who I do think do positive things for the right couple. But so many articles, so many talking points, so much conventional wisdom about how to make a marriage work long term is like don’t let the flame die down, keep that spark, spice things up in the bedroom if it’s getting boring. Because whatever you do, don’t stop having sex.

Royce: And I think they can get away with doing that because, one, it provides short term gratification to the people in the relationship. It’s something that they already believe they want more of. It’s something that they believe that they want or need or enjoy, even though the reality may be more complicated than that. And it’s also effective at kicking the can down the road.

Courtney: Yeah.

Royce: If you think about a lot of people who get kind of stuck in on-again off-again relationships where they’re breaking up and getting back together, or how having like, post arguments make up sex is a whole thing. And then you, the people involved, like, don’t actually resolve the problem that sparked the argument, and so it just comes up later.

Courtney: Yeah, like that isn’t even make up sex. That’s like– That’s like angry sex, like we’re yelling at each other and now we’re tearing each other’s clothes off. Which is, I guess, a thing I see on TV and sometimes I hear that’s a thing real life people actually do. That’s one of those situations where I look at allos who engage in those behaviors and go, huh, you are– you are very different from me.

Courtney: But the thing is too– So I agree with, like, polyamory is not going to fix your relationship. But I also think it should be– We should fight to make it more common to say, like, having more sex is not going to help your relationship. Like having more sex is not going to be a bandaid for other problems. It’s not. And because– Another one I thought of which is kind of– kind of depends on, like, religiosity and or political party, but sometimes you’ll hear like having a baby won’t fix your marriage. But then there are some people who do genuinely think exactly the opposite, that yeah, you do just need to have a baby. So… Depends on who you listen to, but yeah, having a baby is not going to fix your relationship.

Courtney: If there is a fundamental problem, if there’s a major communication breakdown, I think any big sweeping change that doesn’t address the underlying problem is not going to help.

Courtney: And I thought it was interesting, Royce, when you said people can get away with using this kind of advice because it’s already something people think they want or something they think they want more of. You use the word ‘think’ and I think that’s so interesting, because I’ve also noticed that. I think there are a lot of allosexual people who still, influenced by society, think they want more sex than they actually do. Because even in a situation like this, like, all right, you’re resentful of your partner, you’re angry at them, therefore you don’t want to have sex, and now you’re saying, like, you’re complaining that you’re in a sexless relationship. Like, are you? It actually kind of sounds like you just don’t want to have sex with this person and that is okay, actually. And I think that gets into really muddy, like, conversations about consent.

Courtney: Because like, yeah, you can– you can technically, on paper, consent to – insert whatever sexual act or type of sex you have – but I think a lot of people ace or otherwise sometimes pressure themselves into having more sex than they actually want because society says you should. And that’s not your direct partner necessarily coercing you, but there is sort of a societal coercion, and that’s what we’re talking about when we talk about compulsory sexuality.

Courtney: I don’t think enough people have heard it’s okay to not want to have sex, it’s okay to have less sex. Because there’s just so much of this: a sexless marriage is doomed, a sexless marriage is bad, we’re going to complain if we have a sexless marriage. So you think, “Okay, sex is inherent to marriage. If I’m going to do a marriage, I have to have the societally prescribed amount of sex,” whatever the hell that is.

Courtney: Which we don’t know what that is. And since there isn’t a scientific definition, there isn’t a legal definition of this is the amount of sex you need to have, people just get all these social cues from articles like this and just always assume like well, it’s more.

Courtney: That actually does kind of go back to the sexless marriage article we covered where they didn’t mention asexuality even once. Because a lot of people even in that article were saying, “Well, I guess I’d like to have sex this much, but I’m not having sex that much, and I guess I don’t really know where I got that number or why I got that number.” Because it’s also just kind of taboo to not have enough sex. So people who think they aren’t having enough sex, even if they are having some, aren’t going to talk about it very much, not very openly.

Royce: I think there’s some overlap with people getting into what they consider to be their serious relationships, like their adult phase, “I’m intending this to be forever” kind of relationships, where they have had this idealized view of what a relationship is supposed to be. And we’ve talked about this before about the kind of people who will have a timeline.

Courtney: Yeah.

Royce: Like, “I’m going to get married here and this is how my wedding is going to be, and this amount of time afterwards I’m going to have child number one, and then…” You know, all of that. And then reality doesn’t match the schedule or the plan. I think a lot of people go into their relationships with a similar expectation of what their sex life is supposed to be before they actually get to know their partner and, more than likely, get to know themselves. And again, the reality doesn’t always match the plan or the expectation.

Courtney: Well, and getting to know yourself within the context of that relationship is incredibly important. So, yeah, I agree completely. And then this is what’s really frustrating about this article, because again, she keeps doing these things where, like on its own, this sentence is okay and it’s correct, but then I feel like you’re throwing something out and then doubling down on your opinion which is lacking nuance. Because she goes on to say, [reading] “Having been through it, a sexless relationship is a very hard no for me.” Even though the only example she gave was, “I was resentful of my partner for other reasons and then we stopped having sex. And I don’t know, maybe if we had sex it would have helped more, but I just didn’t want to.” And she’ll say, [reading] “It’s not even about regularly stuffing body parts into each other, it’s about the intimacy of physical touch.” It’s about relaxed playfulness, and even kissing, even cuddling, sexual closeness. [reading] “But if all that goes, what are you left with?”

Courtney: And so that’s another really interesting thing. Because when I say sometimes there are situations when an allosexual person doesn’t have the self awareness to know that the physical act of sex is not necessarily what they need or want in this situation, but that’s the proxy they’re going with, she’s sort of saying that it’s not even literally about the sex, it’s about all the emotions and everything else that goes around with it. It’s like all right, that’s– that’s good. But then she goes on to say, [reading] “For most of us, sex is a key defining feature of a romantic relationship. It’s the difference between a lover and a friend and, culturally, we set a lot of stock by it.”

Courtney: And she even then mentions, [reading] “Heterosexual marriages are legally voidable if they have not been consummated with sex, but even casual dating is defined by whether or not you’ve actually done the deed.” So I don’t like all these throwaway lines just pointing out the way society is without actually critically analyzing it.

Courtney: Because you already mentioned that asexuals exist and here you are seemingly defending the fact that marriages are voidable if they haven’t been consummated. You’re like, “Come on, it’s that important! It’s legally voidable!” No… Stop. If you’re defending that fact as a reason why sex is so important to a marriage, then you are basically saying that asexual people should not have access to marriage unless they have sex, and that’s– [scoffs] it’s not okay. That is absolutely not okay. And it’s weird to mention heterosexual marriages are legally voidable. I really want to know why she thinks homosexual marriages aren’t exactly the same way. Because we’ve discussed before how Obergefell v. Hodges passed because of the fact that the legal case was made that a homosexual marriage can function the same way as a heterosexual marriage, including living together, being sexually and romantically exclusive, having the ability and desire to raise a child together.

Royce: This article was published in the UK, by the way. I don’t know how much of a difference that makes.

Courtney: I don’t know. That’s really interesting. If there are any UK listeners that know what the consummation laws are there and if they are actually different between a heterosexual and a homosexual couple, I’d be curious to learn that. I’ll probably look it up later, but I don’t have time to do that just this minute because otherwise I will fall down into a deep, dark rabbit hole and that’s not good to do while on microphone.

Courtney: And also, there actually is a legal concern with the marriage consummation laws. That’s something we’ve also talked about before and no doubt we’ll talk about again.

Courtney: But I don’t even agree with the second half of that, where casual dating is defined by whether or not you’re having sex. I have dated so many people I’ve never had sex with and yet we both said we were dating. Even when 10 out of 10 times the other party wished we were having sex, we were still– We were still dating.

Courtney: But she goes on, [reading] “When all is said and done, if you’re not having sex with each other, if you’re not even kissing or holding hands, how is that relationship different to the ones you have with friends or even family? Like it or not, being physically intimate with each other is how we define romantic relationships.” I don’t like it, and in fact, I actively reject it. And I think everyone should actively reject it. Because even if you’re someone who does, in the context of your own relationships, see things that way, surely you should be able to understand all the different types of people that this could be invalidating.

Courtney: So sex is how we define romantic relationships. What about allosexual aromantic people? Sex does not inherently equal romance to a lot of people. And not even just aromantic people. But like you said earlier, you mentioned friends with benefits is a thing, that is a societal concept. And saying that you need to do x, y and z, or else you’re just friends or it’s just like family, like that’s not okay.

Courtney: I know some people do get close enough friendships where someone might be like, “Oh, he’s like my brother,” even if you aren’t related by blood. But like, it is so dangerous and, I think, dehumanizing even to a certain extent to discount the wide spectrum of human emotions as part of this. Why is it not enough to say I have romantic feelings for this person? This is basically saying if you aren’t having sex with them, it’s not romantic. So okay, you mentioned asexuals exist, but now you are throwing out the door every single romantically oriented ace that’s out there. And here’s why this mindset, it seems so disjointed to me, because it’s like you’re almost there, you’re finding the pieces, but you’re not coming to the right conclusion. Instead, you’re just reiterating the already socially acceptable talking point, while throwing out your own experiences and observations that actually contradict that point.

Courtney: Because she’ll say, like, “ Oh, there’s a lot of reasons why [reading] passion goes off the boil in a relationship, from health, children and work worries. But I think a big one is that we just don’t think to work at it.” How have you come to that conclusion when the only experience of yours that you’ve given us was you were resentful of your partner for other reasons? And even if you believe this, even if you do believe that just working at having more sex, and thinking and being intentional about having more sex will help, why are you the one to be giving us this advice when you have now admitted that you haven’t successfully done that? And if you have, why aren’t you telling us that experience? Why aren’t you giving us your firsthand experience that actually backs up your point? And, for that matter, I don’t– I just don’t understand why someone would make an opinion piece that is the most common, socially acceptable opinion. Like, give us something a little different, give us an opinion piece by an asexual talking about asexual– or talking about sexless marriage.

Courtney: And so she also goes on to do all the things that we hear all the time, like here are all of the hormones and all of the chemicals in your brain that happen in new relationships. And here’s the limerent stage, and when you can’t– the honeymoon phase, when you can’t keep your hands off each other. And she sets all that up just to say, like, “In order to keep the flames alight – after that stage of lust – you need to work at it, and that’s easy to forget when it all came so naturally in the beginning. You need to make time for sex and romance, even if you aren’t really feeling it.”

Courtney: But then it says: “This does not mean having sex against your will.” Doesn’t it, though? Like a little bit? Just a little bit. Not in the like, non-consensual way, necessarily, but just like my earlier point, like society is pressuring you to have sex when you don’t want to have sex. And if you succumb to that societal pressure, you’re still having sex if you don’t want to. And that might not be such a horrible negative, traumatizing thing for some people, but– I don’t know. Can you help me make sense of that? Like you need to make time even if you aren’t feeling it. You need to have sex even if you aren’t feeling like it. That is against your will, even if it’s just soft and passively against your will.

Royce: I don’t think this article has a very consistent, well articulated thesis. I think the author gets down a particular train of thought and then backs away from it almost during a partial, like, thought tangent. So they don’t line up and there are contradictions. Or just big holes that like, aren’t addressed, things that aren’t considered.

Courtney: Yeah, because I mean, then she follows that up with: [reading] “It does not mean having sex against your will. Rather, it means talking about sex, communicating your needs, and not letting the canary die because you would rather watch Bridgerton.”

Royce: But isn’t the issue not talking about your sexual needs, it’s talking about your preferred trash bag? [Courtney sputters] Wasn’t that the problem?

Courtney: That was the problem that she presented to us! We didn’t pull that example out–

Royce: I mean.

Courtney: That was hers.

Royce: I agree that communication is the issue. I just don’t think communication about sex is the issue in the anecdotes that we’ve been provided. Sometimes that can be an issue, but the underlying reasoning behind a lot of what has been said in this article has been a lack of communication around other aspects in the relationship.

Courtney: Yeah. And the thing is like, when you put side by side talking about sex and communicating your needs, that sounds – based on the tone of this, and the overall thesis is – communicating your needs about having sex and how much sex you need and how much sex you want. And yet that sentence ends with don’t not have sex just because you’d rather watch TV. Like, no! If you’d rather watch TV, watch– watch Bridgerton! [laughs] Like, what is wrong with watching Bridgerton? You know? I’ve never seen Bridgerton. Maybe it’s trash, maybe there is something wrong with watching Bridgerton because it’s objectively a terrible TV show. I don’t know, maybe it’s great, maybe I’m missing out on a great TV show. But like, it doesn’t actually sound like if you would genuinely rather watch Bridgerton, that now is the time to communicate your needs about sex, right? Like why are you forcing it? It sounds like you’re forcing something that’s not natural, or you’re forcing something in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Royce: The answer to that is probably because they believe that that’s the way that it’s supposed to be.

Courtney: Because that’s what everyone tells you it’s supposed to be, yes. Because yeah. Then it says, [reading] “When it comes to sex, there really is no “normal”, there is only what is normal for you.” It’s like, well, if what’s normal for you is you’d rather watch Bridgerton than have sex, then you just discounted that. You just said don’t let the canary die, have more sex. So you can’t, you can’t have it both ways.

Courtney: And then says: “A sexless relationship does not mean a loveless relationship,” which is also contradicted by the aforementioned, “Sex is how we define romantic relationships.” And then says, [reading] “but if you are unhappy with the amount of sex you are having with your partner, then there is an issue that needs to be addressed.” Because sex is – quote – “a barometer for the entire relationship, and it is absolutely worth fighting for.” It still just very much feels like there’s a problem somewhere else which is causing you to not want to have sex, but instead of addressing that issue, let’s just have more sex and see if that helps. It’s not gonna help!

Royce: Well, that ending line was very aspirational, like the way that it was written. I mentioned that the tone of this article feels all over the place to me, like there are some points and times where it seems to be building towards, like, a thesis statement and then there will be contradictions from that or some backpedaling here or there to try to articulate a thought. But yeah, it seems like they’re saying sex is absolutely worth fighting for because they see it as something larger than it actually is, something that is expected, that’s necessary, that is again aspirational.

Courtney: Well, it’s so strange because what she has done, throughout this entire article here, is given us reasons and stories and anecdotes and personal experiences for why this conventional wisdom is lacking and wrong. And yet she doubles down on the conventional wisdom. So, it’s like, ooh, you got so close!

Royce: Yeah. The–

Courtney: You got so close!

Royce: It’s amazing what can be sorted out with open and honest communication. A couples therapist can help. It was mentioned that there are times when other frustrations in the relationship were causing a lack of attraction. Even the– I know I mentioned that scheduling or trying to, you know, force the number of times you have sex is just generally not a good idea, but scheduling just open time to spend with each other is good. Like sometimes you just get so busy that you put off, you know, allocating a certain amount of time that doesn’t involve all of life’s stressors.

Courtney: Right.

Royce: So it can be good to say, like you know, every other Friday night is going to be, you know, call it whatever you want, a date night or something, and we’re just going to clear our schedules and turn our phones off and do whatever seems interesting.

Courtney: Which could be… binging Bridgerton!

Royce: It could be a number of things, but it’s important to give the space for things to happen naturally, not to try to force what you think is supposed to happen.

Courtney: Yes, exactly. And I want to try to find a good parallel for– to just try to drive home why I so loathe the “a sexless marriage is not okay. I’m not talking about asexuals, I’m talking about everyone else.” Because that is very often the vibe I get when we do have allosexual people writing into us. When we talk about sexless marriages or dead bedrooms or the lack of self awareness about what you really want if it’s not the physical act of sex. Because a lot of those messages that we get are very strange. Because there are people who are listening to our podcast and they’re often people who are even like, “I really like learning about the asexual experience from you,” which we really appreciate.

Courtney: But when they write in, in these situations in particular, it still feels very, very othering. Because what they’re doing here– Like, we are speaking against these societal norms, so we are challenging these norms. That is not easy to do. That is something we have openly gotten hate for doing. Everyone who challenges societal norms is going to get that hate at some point.

Courtney: We have research, we have personal experiences, we have societal observations to back up why we think it’s important to challenge these societal norms. And it’s very, very weird and very, very othering, when an allosexual person will write in to us and be like, “Actually, this is very important. Actually, all of these conventional societal norms are completely accurate and true for like 99% of us and you shouldn’t be discounting our experiences.” Because then it’s like– I don’t know. I’m trying to pick my words very carefully here. Because I promise I am not even talking about just, like, one individual person. This is the same, like, sort of message we’ve gotten multiple times from many different people where we’re the ones challenging societal norms and yet the people who live their life in closer proximity to those societal norms are like, “By pushing against these norms, you’re invalidating me.” [chuckles] Like that’s– That’s just not how this works. And it’s kind of inadvertently like, “Know your place, weirdo…” Like, “You’re the weird one here. Your experience is valid as long as you understand that you’re the weird one, but the rest of us are normal and actually you need to respect that.”

Royce: You said you were choosing your words carefully. I’m kind of sitting over here like the meme of Gene Wilder from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, just thinking, “Okay, so how much have you actually thought about this before you commented? Have you actually tried to break down all of this like what is your level of self-awareness and introspection? Because you seem to be just repeating the stereotype.”

Courtney: [emphatically] Yeah… yeah. And it’s kind of the difference between– Because I do always think it’s really funny when people are like, “Yeah, I really like learning about the ace experience from you, but I need you to understand that actually, most people do need sex.” [breathy laugh] Like we’ve gotten almost verbatim that exact message from multiple people. That’s not even much of an exaggeration.

Courtney: And so that’s kind of the difference between like– I’ve been preparing for a probable forthcoming being vegan/vegetarian and asexual episode, which I’m afraid because we’re going to get in trouble for it. [laughs] Based on past experiences. But it is the difference between – and you can apply this even to other queer spaces that aren’t necessarily ace affirming – we’re gonna make this parallel here.

Courtney: So you’re having, like, a barbecue event. Tolerating someone is like you know this person is a vegetarian. Like you invite a vegetarian to your cookout and you know this about them, this is a well established fact. And they show up and you tolerate them. But they have nothing to eat. You did not get anything for them. They are sitting here with, like, a hot dog bun and ketchup and that is all they have to eat. They can’t even eat the mashed potatoes because you put bacon in them. They can’t even eat the baked beans, because the baked beans have pork in them. So they’re here with, like, I can literally only eat the hot dog bun, or maybe I can have– I guess they’re also making burgers, so I can have the tomato. I can make the world’s saddest salad, no one made a genuine salad but there’s lettuce and tomato for toppings on the burger so I can eat dry lettuce and tomato. Like that is just tolerating someone like you’re allowing them into your space, but this space is not for them.

Courtney: Now I’m not saying you have to make an entire, like, vegan feast for them, but like it can go a long way just to have enough thoughtfulness to say, you know, “I bought like one little box of Boca burgers for you.” I haven’t– I just realized I haven’t heard someone use Boca as like a shorthand for vegetarian patties anymore, but that was like the brand. And it still is a brand. But for so long saying Boca burger was like saying a Kleenex. Like you just use the brand but you just mean in general the item. But like, “I got like one little box that has like two or four vegetarian patties for you, and like do you want me to grill this up? I’ll grill this up for you so you can have something to eat.” That’s at least saying like, I’m– I’m trying to make an effort, like I actually– I’m not just tolerating you in this space, but I want you to also feel happy and comfortable in this space.

Courtney: Now, actually, let’s do a queer analogy here. “A sexless marriage is not okay. I’m not talking about asexuals,” that could be equated to like: the key to a happy life is a long term romantic relationship, I’m not talking about aromantics, but everyone else needs to have a romantic relationship. Like, okay, that’s still– You’re mentioning the marginalized party, but in a way that is so othering and you’re still ignoring them in your central thesis. You’re still ignoring them. Because, no, for them they don’t need a sex based marriage, they don’t need a long term romantic relationship. Even marriages between one man and one woman, unless you’re gay. Again, “I’m not talking about the homosexuals, but the strongest, healthiest, longest lasting marriages are between a man and a woman, and the key to a happy life is a strong marriage.” You know? Like– Does that illustrate the point? I guess the only reason why I’m trying to find one of these is for the type of person who writes in to us to be like, “I love learning about these experiences, but! But… have you considered the allos?”

Royce: The feeling I’ve gotten from some of the “um, actually” sort of responses are that they kind of miss the point. Like, they heard something being discussed that is different than how relationships are portrayed and just kind of tuned out a bit. Because we’ve never made a point to say, hey, allos don’t actually need sex. It’s been, okay, what does need actually mean and how does that manifest in relationships and in day to day life, and how does it wrap into the various, you know, multi dimensional spectrum of attraction? Because the social talking points are so overly simplistic that they cause problems.

Courtney: Yes. And I just– I really do feel like this is the difference between, like, listening to an experience that isn’t yours and going like, “Huh, that’s interesting. I haven’t considered that before.” And actually taking it a step deeper to really try to internalize what that means for the entire spectrum of human experiences, and why societal norms do marginalize people that feel those experiences or have those experiences.

Courtney: And maybe I’m wrong, but I kind of feel like some of those messages that we get maybe also really aren’t internalizing like asexuality, or even aromanticism, as like a queer identity. Because I think they’re just hearing something that’s a challenge to what they want, which we’re not saying that allos can no longer allo once we tear down compulsory sexuality. [laughs]

Courtney: But if, like an openly gay person had a podcast, and was like – let’s say a lesbian, for example – society has told her the only way to be happy is to marry a man and she says, “No, society is actually very wrong about that. I don’t want to marry a man, I’m attracted to women. Maybe I might even want to marry a woman one day. We need to stop this societal narrative that everyone wants and needs the same thing and the key to a happy, safe society is everyone has to adhere to this, because it’s just not true for me and it’s not true for a lot of other people. And maybe it even harms straight women who just don’t want to get married. They’re still straight, but they don’t want to get married, so that still harms them.”

Courtney: Like I struggle to think that exactly those same people would then reach out to her, send her an email, and be like, “But I actually do want to marry a man and I feel like maybe you haven’t considered my experience of wanting to marry a man.” [breathy laugh]

Courtney: Like that would be silly, right? That would be silly. I’m sure she knows that a good number of people out there are straight and do actually want to get straight married, and that’s great for them. But we’re talking about society here, not individual people and what they want. You know, actually, let’s– let’s go back to the vegetarian metaphor here. An article called: Everyone needs to eat more meat, I’m not talking about vegetarians.

Courtney: While ignoring the fact that there are a lot of really legitimate reasons for even people who don’t intend to totally cut out meat to reduce meat consumption, like there are lots of reasons why someone might, or society should in general. And the reason why it feels so weird for someone to be like everyone should eat more meat except for vegetarians is because there are so many people who will just have outright disdain for the other party. Like everyone should eat more meat. Take that vegetarians! Like that– That’s a thing people actually say and do.

Courtney: And likewise with ace people. Like, you might be saying a sexless marriage is not okay, well, I’m not talking about asexuals. There are people just as loud as you, if not louder, who are saying, “A sexless marriage is not okay, that’s why your marriage isn’t valid, asexuals! You shouldn’t even be allowed to marry, asexuals! I have a profound hatred of asexuals.” You can’t just mention we exist and then not fight for our rights and social acceptance. Either you’re with us or you’re contributing to the culture that harms us.

Courtney: Yeah, I like that one. Let’s stick with that one. I also threw a lot of metaphors at the wall to see what stuck, but that’s the one we’re going with for today.

Courtney: So if you are an aspec who was just as infuriated by that article as I was, and you feel like, as a nice little palate cleanser, you’d like to get yourself some really adorable Pride merchandise. Then I would love to direct your attention to today’s Marketplace Vendor of the Week. And I love the work in this shop so much, but I’ve kind of been sweating leading up to this because I tried so hard to understand the proper pronunciation of your name. So I’m sorry. In the theme of throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks, I’m going to say it in a few different ways and hope one of them is correct. So our shop that we are featuring today is Art by LaJaunie. [repeated three times with different pronunciation] [sighs] I am so sorry. I went to the website of this shop owner where there does seem to be a pronunciation guide, but the pronunciation guide is: L-A dash J-A-U-N-E dash E. And I’m like, I need a language of origin for this pronunciation. Is this more Spanish? Is it more French? Is it some other third thing? I can still think of multiple ways to pronounce it, even breaking it down that way.

Courtney: So I’m so sorry, but I do really love your work and I would love more people to go check this shop out.

Courtney: So we bought maybe one of my favorite stickers that I have. It’s so cute. It’s a jack-o’-lantern with, like, a little black cat popping out of it wearing a witch hat, but around the brim of the hat are a bunch of different Pride flags. So you can pick your own. And we got the Ace Pride flag, of course, but there’s all sorts of things. There’s the lesbian flag, standard rainbow Pride flag, bi, trans. We do have aromantic, we have agender. So there’s a huge variety here. Non-binary, genderqueer. So you can, like, pick your favorite. But they are so cute. I love cats, I love jack-o’-lanterns. Really fun around Halloween time.

Courtney: But there are also just a lot of really great aromantic specific stickers, like a lot of different ones with the arrow motif, with the Aromantic Pride flag colors, things that say, like: proudly aro, not interested; proudly aro, happily single, not interested. And “I’m not broken,” with a heart, the Pride colors and an arrow. And then for all the spacey aces out there, there are a lot of Saturn stickers with various Pride colors. So there’s just all kinds of stuff here. Really, really cute Pride merch. Definitely check it out. And, as always, the link to find our marketplace vendor of the week is gonna be down in the show notes. So, as always, thank you all so much for being here. Next time we’re gonna have an actual, very good, happy, positive article. I promise it’s gonna be great, we’re gonna love it. We will all bask in the ace joy. So we will see you all then. Goodbye.