The Asexuality Spectrum and Relationship Negotiation

By Paige Robillard

Relationship decisions can be tricky to navigate. Communication is often lauded as the key to a successful relationship, but sometimes the things you have to talk about can be hard to bring up and discuss. The hurdles couples have to face can be universal, such as navigating long distance relationships or balancing very different career schedules, or they can be unique based on sexuality. Similarly, it is hard to negotiate boundaries and navigate romantic relationships as someone whose sexual orientation is part of a sexual minority. Minority sexuality is often not discussed in mainstream media or written about in advice columns. This means that people whose sexuality does fit into a traditional narrative can have a tougher time knowing how to navigate intimacy and relationship decisions because they do not have a clear template to work off of. People on the asexual spectrum (or ace spectrum) are one example of how those who identify as a sexual minority face unique difficulties when navigating dating and relationships, such as the negotiation of sexual intimacy with a non-asexual partner.

Asexuality is broadly defined as a lack of sexual attraction [1]. However, not everyone in the asexual community defines themselves as asexual, so the community can be referred to as the ace community [2]. The ace community includes sexualities such as:

  • Demisexual: those who experience sexual attraction only after an emotional bond is formed [3]
  • Gray-asexual: those who experience sexual attraction under specific circumstances [3]


Moreover, there is a distinction between sexual attraction and sexual arousal. Some asexual people may experience sexual arousal, or masturbate, but do not want to have partnered sex. For them, masturbation and sexual arousal is disconnected from sex and sexuality [4]. Some asexual people have very low sexual arousal, or can be “sex repulsed” [1].  Thus asexuality exists on a spectrum, and each individual’s experience of their asexuality is entirely subjective.

However, a lack of sexual attraction towards other people does not mean a lack of relationships. Entering romantic relationships without sexual activity can present a unique set of challenges for individuals in the ace community such as managing disbelief of their asexuality by their friends and family and having to navigate a highly sexualized dating world [2]. Furthermore, asexual people often face difficulties when coming out. With sex often seen as a hallmark of intimacy and a defining characteristic of romantic relationships, families, friends, and partners can undervalue their romantic relationships because of the lack of sex [5]. On top of these challenges, asexual people often face discrimination in the form of sexual normativity. Casual comments such as, ace spectrum people are ‘missing out’, or that they’ll change their mind once they have sex, are the more insidious forms of discrimination that asexual people face [2].

Many asexual people enter into relationships with individuals who have different sexual orientations. When asexual people are in romantic relationships with non-asexual people, negotiation concerning sexual activity is often needed. Researchers interviewed several individuals who identified on the ace spectrum with varied romantic orientations regarding their experiences with their asexuality, and how their experiences influenced the maintenance of intimacy in romantic relationships. One of the key themes that emerged was sex as a practice of intimacy. Around a third of the participants practiced some form of sexual intimacy. For some, societal pressure and the expectation to participate in sex to maintain their relationship was a factor. Other individuals endorsed that they engaged in sex because it made their partner happy, which in turn made them happy. The role of sex in the relationship varied depending on the nature of the relationship and the people in that relationship [5]. For example, one of the participants was in a relationship and participated in sex. This person had developed nonverbal communication signals that would tell signal to the non-asexual partner when the asexual partner did or did not want to have sex. Other people they interviewed did not participate in sex at all; it was just not a form of intimacy they engaged in, and that wasn’t something they tried to hide from potential partners either [5]. These findings demonstrate the multitude of ways that individuals who identify as asexual can maintain sexual intimacy in their relationship or not and how they communicate and negotiate with their partner.

Asexuality is often overlooked in discussions of sexuality in everyday life, media, or even the LGBTQ community. The lack of knowledge of what asexuality is can contribute to the difficulties faced by some asexual people when it comes to navigating relationships. We need to talk more about asexuality and give proper representation, so that asexual people are able to properly communicate and negotiate their needs concerning sexual intimacy with their non-asexual partners. Communication about consent and negotiating sexual boundaries are part of any relationship. It is important to remember that asexual people and their sexual orientations are valid, and that there is no one way to be an asexual person in a relationship with a non-asexual person. Everyone’s sexuality is personal and subjective, and this includes asexuality.



[1] AVEN. (2018). Overview.The Asexual Visibility & Education Network[official website]. Accessed April 23, 2018. Available at:

[2] Chasin, C. J. (2015). Making sense in and of the asexual community: Navigating relationships and identities in a context of resistance. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 25, 167-180. doi:10.1002/casp.2203

[3] AVEN. (2018). General FAQ. The Asexual Visibility & Education Network [official website]. Accessed April 23, 2018. Available at:

[4] Scherrer, K. S. (2008). Coming to an asexual identity: Negotiating identity, negotiating desire. Sexualities, 11, 621-641. doi: 10.1177/1363460708094269

[5] Dawson, M., McDonnell, L., & Scott, S. (2016). Negotiating the boundaries of intimacy: The personal lives of asexual people. The Sociological Review, 64, 349-365. doi: 10.1111/1467-954X.12362