My Ace Poly Manifesto

01/30/2014

I remember when I first stumbled onto the forums at the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN). I remember reading the stories of other asexuals who were in romantic relationships with sexuals. Many of the stories were tragic, detailing stories of asexuals trying to make mixed relationships work with standard monogamous models. For some that worked just fine, but for many, there existed a tension and a social pressure to perform, to make one’s partner happy, to fit the model that society quietly sets out for those who seek to date.

Sometimes the notion of polyamory would come up. Maybe as a suggestion from someone seeking to help, sometimes as a question from an asexual seeking advice. “What about polyamory? Does it work?”

Flash forward a handful of years later, I’m bringing my partner and her girlfriend to an AVEN barbeque. I’m not the only one who has. Conversations about dating spring up, the question is more common. The panel on relationship structures devotes a section to polyamory as a relationship model.

A little bit later now. Dan Savage is saying that asexuals shouldn’t date, that they do violence to their partners by denying them their core sexual needs. But at the AVEN conference, there are more happy romantic asexuals than ever before. No longer a whisper, polyamory has become the main relationship model for romantic asexuals. Every panel and discussion on relationship models includes a token part on monogamy because it’s assumed that everyone already knows about polyamory at this point. David Jay has a slide at the beginning of the conference showing his flowchart-like poly web of partners. The romantic partners of asexuals are happy and supporting their loved ones. They have been denied nothing.

I stated in the title that this is my asexual polyamorous manifesto. The emphasis is intentional, because it’s based on my musings and my thoughts in seeing how polyamory and the asexual community have danced together like salt on caramel and I would not presume to have the authority to speak for anyone else.

And I felt the need to create this, largely because there isn’t one yet. There simply isn’t a decent ace poly manifesto, which seems ludicrous seeing as how the asexual community has so quickly adopted polyamorous relationship models as their dominant dating models.

And that simple fact, that there are more polyamorous relationships by percentage in the asexual community than in general society begs a critical question.

What is it that polyamory gives asexuals that monogamy on average does not?

But before I answer that question, I must begin with some defining of terms.

Giving Words to Experiences

There is a trend sometimes in queer circles (which includes asexuals) for shying away from labels and terms because of their potential to wound or be used to exclude. But inclusive and accurate terms also have a power to define our experiences and relate just who we are in a world that seeks to ignore us.

Asexual: The definition on the front of the Asexuality Visibility Education Network website is “an asexual person is a person who does not experience sexual attraction.” Which is a perfectly serviceable definition for our experiences. But it’s not the whole story, for our gentle community also includes demisexuals (those who only experience sexual attraction with trusted partners after a long period of time and familiarity) and grey-asexuals (an umbrella term for those who experience very low levels of sexual attraction or intermittent levels of sexual attraction).

While diverse, all the people in the asexual spectrum face similar issues in general society, largely because, though our society claims it is a prudish and sexphobic one, expectations of sex and sexual performance are still paramount. Romantic relationships are still expected to have a sexual component, regardless if that is communicated ahead of time or not. Knowledge of sexual mechanics and a usual expectation of sharing in heterosexual attraction is assumed by a certain age. And unfortunately for too many, assholes feel entitled to “acquire” sex by force or coercion by those they feel have denied them their “right”.

Some of this will come up again, but for the specific benefits of polyamory, we must cover another important aspect, known as romantic orientation.

Romantic orientation: Romantic orientation is much like sexual orientation. It is the people one is romantically attracted to. In common parlance, these are the people you fall in love with or want to seek a relationship with, though you may not find them sexually attractive. Anyone who has met someone they’ve wanted desperately to fuck, but know they’d make a terrible relationship or met someone they’ve really liked and wanted to start something with, but there was no spark, has seen the way that romantic orientation and sexual orientation can differ.

In the asexual community, there are two major categories that dominate the majority of conversations about romantic orientation. They are romantic (those who do desire romantic relationships with other people, with orientations of heteroromantic (those who are romantically attracted to a different gender), homoromantic (those who are romantically attracted to the same gender), biromantic (those who are romantically attracted to men and women), panromantic (those who are romantically attracted to people all along the gender spectrum), and so on) and aromantic (those who do not desire romantic relationships).

While our conversation going forward will largely focus on romantic asexuals, it is worth noting that aromantic asexuals do not lack anything for not feeling that romantic attraction, anymore than romantic asexuals lack anything for not feeling lust or sexual attraction or a heterosexual person for lacking sexual attraction to those of the same gender. It is simply a way of being in this great wonderful spectrum of biodiversity that makes up our beautiful species.

Which brings us to the last important terms:

Monogamy or Monoamory: This is the dominant relationship model we inherit from society. We could all recite it by heart. Two people get in a relationship. They meet all their needs within the relationship: sexual, romantic, and intimate and if a compatible match, form a long-term and exclusive relationship. For many people growing up, this was sold as the only way a relationship could be. If a need couldn’t be met or if one person wanted more, you split up or dealt with the fallout in terms of cheating (one person having sexual interactions that are unknown to the partner and not approved of) or resentment.

While clearly, I and many other asexual people have found polyamory as a model that works well for us, it’s worth noting here that there is nothing inherently wrong with monogamy… for those it works for.

Much like with romantic or sexual orientation, some have theorized that some relationship structures are more suited to different people. For some, a monogamous relationship is not only the popular method of having a relationship, but is something they couldn’t do without. It’s a structure that fits them best.

And some of those people include asexuals, who despite the protestations of people like Dan Savage, are perfectly capable of forming long-term, stable, and certainly not abusive loving monogamous relationships with other people.

But as a model, it hardly fits everyone cleanly. And much of the problems in dating for a lot of people, asexual and sexual and everything in between, is when everyone is expected to fit into the monogamous relationship model as if it was the best fit for everyone.

Which brings us to the final word of our definitions.

Polyamory: Polyamory simply means many loves. And much like every other term, that covers a broad spectrum of relationship models. For one couple, that might mean a model where both are falling in love with multiple people who are themselves in love with multiple people, with each forming multiple relationships to encompass that love. Others may have a model much like a tribe, where multiple people love each other and live together, building shared lives. For still others, it may involve a single core, two people together who get other sexual, romantic, or kink (as in BDSM desires) needs or desires met outside of the core (and yes, that can even mean structures where the two are sexually exclusive to each other and have multiple non-sexual relationships to meet other romantic needs).

Some may have a relationship where it looks like a monogamous couple, but the one gets their sexual needs met outside the relationship.

But whatever the model, the real core remains the same, non-exclusivity.

Whatever the model, what makes it differ from monogamy is that those within it have an avenue that is non-exclusive. That avenue may be other romantic attractions that are acted on in additional relationships. That avenue might be other sexual attractions that are acted on in sexual encounters. That avenue might be both or mixtures.

The real point, and the real point for all relationships is a model that best meets the needs of those within it. That doesn’t put the structure of the relationship above those human beings within it and their needs and desires.

And that’s an important, critical point, because it’s something that gets lost in the expectation that everyone have a monogamous relationship that looks the same as everyone else’s, with the same “path” and the same “end goal”.

Which raises the big question: What needs is polyamory fulfilling for asexuals that monogamy isn’t?

The Global Appeal of Polyamory

Some of the appeal is the same appeal polyamory has for everybody.

Like noted before with monogamy, some people just naturally fit with a polyamorous model. They fall in love or lust with multiple people or find forced commitment destructive to their interaction with people.

And what polyamory can bring is a great deal of flexibility that a forced model of monogamy cannot. An ability to form a method of having a relationship that allows people multiple avenues to have needs met, whether sexual, romantic, or other.

And it’s important to note that, because I think polyamory often gets a reputation for simply being about sex and while there would be nothing wrong with it if it was (I mean, for the 99% of the population of the planet who are sexual, sex is often fun, exciting, and meets what feels like, to them, a basic human need), it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Cause at its most basic, polyamory is about communication. Its about talking with your partner(s) about everything, figuring out models that work best for everyone’s needs, making sure issues like jealousy are dealt with out in the open. It’s about talking with sexual partners about STD risks and preferred methods of sex. It’s about talking with romantic partners about ideal relationship models and what everyone is seeking from the arrangements.

Most polyamorous relationships involve a huge amount of conversation and focus because frankly they often need to to be successful. Unlike with monogamy, there is no “expected frame” or “one way” to do things. There isn’t a pattern one can fall into and become trapped by. Everything is out in the open, so everything must be figured out together and the effort of expanding things out can involve a lot of work and requires a lot of talking to successfully maintain and ensure that people aren’t being shut out or forced into roles they resent.

And while that may seem like a lot of work, that amount of communication also allows a lot of freedom that monogamy just doesn’t have.

If someone has a sexual attraction to someone, they can talk it out with their partner(s) and even pursue it and experience it without channeling that attraction into resentment or frustration. If someone develops a crush or falls in love with another person, they don’t have to leave their existing relationship or face a moral conundrum, they can simply date both and communicate freely.

My partner and I began being polyamorous a little less than a year into our relationship. It began with a story that would easily end most relationships and nearly ended ours at the time. My partner who is panssexual fell in love with another person, a female best friend of hers. At the time I thought I was a boy (I have since discovered otherwise) and I sort of drifted along with it. Eventually, the feeling was intense enough that that my partner decided that our monogamous relationship needed a break so she could pursue this intense romantic and sexual attraction.

I want to note here that my partner was not seeking to be cruel and in fact, in many ways, the issue highlighted here is a problem with the monogamous frame that dictates that the strongest feelings on a sexual and romantic level often take precedence.

Anyways, the story unfortunately took a turn for the tragic. Her female best friend, though she flirted constantly and had clear visible interest, was unfortunately deep in the closet and rejected the confession of feelings citing worry over negative reaction by her very religious parents.

My partner returned sheepish, approaching as friend. At the time, I thought little of the whole affair, other than I felt it was time to talk about being poly. I don’t know where I first got the thought. Somewhere online, possibly in the queer blogs I read, possibly even on the AVEN website. I don’t know, but I do know that I felt the recent events revealed that the monogamous structure just wasn’t fitting us.

We gave it a shot. And now 8 and a half years now, total, we are still polyamorous and still together.

While my story is unique and in the eyes of some, I would be considered unwise, it was what fit best for us and best alleviated the false dichotomies presented us. That I was owed exclusivity by my partner (when I had little interest in that type of ownership and have little jealousy of her external attractions) or that my partner had to sacrifice her attractions until they reached breaking points in our relationship (which was a situation I didn’t feel comfortable putting her in).

And what poly gave me in that moment was something that it gives a lot of couples, and that is a great deal of flexibility and customization to our relationship, able to patch up weak points or diverse interactions without it threatening the whole strong, committed, loving framework it was built around.

But the question still remains: Why do asexuals MORE often seek out polyamorous relationships?

And to understand that special extra bit that asexuals get, we must first explain one more thing about relationships.

Mixed Relationships and Polyamory

Man, are mixed relationships vilified in our society. Whether they be mixed racial relationships, mixed cultural relationships, or mixed orientation relationships, there is often an initial negative reaction by most people.

While things have improved in terms of public acceptance of mixed race and mixed culture couples, the same can’t be said for mixed orientation couples.

A gay man in a loving relationship with a straight woman. An asexual genderqueer person in love with a panssexual man. A monogamous person in love with someone more polyamorous.

In all cases, the societal view is one of sacrifice. One partner is going to go without a need or otherwise be taken advantage of.

Dan Savage, noted internet sex advice columnist, has often earned a large amount of deserved flak for his insistence that those of an orientation should only date those who share that orientation. That straight people should only date straight people. That gay people should only date gay people. And most infuriatingly, that bi people should only date bi people and asexual people should only date other asexuals. And more infuriatingly, that to do otherwise is to do an act of violence against one’s partner.

And as loathsome as that opinion is, it is unfortunately not an uncommon one. And a large reason for the why lies in this social perception of a relationship as a monogamous one and that monogamous relationship being one in which all needs (sexual, romantic, etc…) are met within the relationship itself. So if one person has sexual needs and the other doesn’t, then where will that person meet those needs? And what is being asked of a person to go “without”?

Which says more of the expectation than the relationships themselves. After all, we are what we are, humans in a diverse society and we have the ability to fall in love and lust with a variety of people, even one’s that seem outside one layer of our orientations. A lesbian woman and a gay man can find themselves genuinely in love with themselves. A heteroromantic individual can find themselves feeling intense sexual attraction for someone of the same gender.

And yes, most specifically to the asexual community, asexual people can fall in love with sexual people. In fact, that tends to be rather common. After all, the world is 99% made of those who are sexual and just by law of averages, those of us who are romantic asexuals are going to find ourselves forming intense intimate connections with those who have sexual desires and attractions to people.

Under the dominant models of a relationship as monogamous, all of these pairings are viewed as “doomed” or “unhealthy” or “prone to damage”. And perhaps in a way, they can be and often are.

But that’s only in a dominant form of forced monogamy.

In polyamory, mixed orientation couples can thrive.

A gay man and a straight woman can have alternate avenues to explore each others’ sexual needs without pressures being put on partners to perform or do without.

And it doesn’t just extend to those specific cases. Overall, couples with differences in libido or who like different types of sex than their partners or just happen to fall in love with multiple people, can explore those aspects without conflict and abrasion that can happen by trying to follow a model that stresses “every need met or break up”.

If you desperately want to get tied up and spanked and your partner is deeply ambivalent about rope, you can go out and get that need met. If you are bisexual and happen to want a model where you can explore sexual interactions with men and women, you can do that, even sharing those experiences with a partner. If you simply fall in love with multiple people, you can explore that with other people.

Whatever the circumstance, under polyamory, issues that would have been heart-rending and soul-confusing under monogamy can be as simple as simply giving one’s partner a good luck kiss before their big date.

And the best part about the structure of polyamory is that there is no required structure. If one is of the mindset that their partner is enough, but want to make sure they can explore their desires, one can do that without it being about “sacrifice” or “being taken advantage of”. If what fits your relationship is one person with a more monogamous focus and another with a more polyamorous model, then that can exist harmoniously without one person being robbed of intimacy or connection. In some ways, it can actually strengthen connection as you know that your partner is not suffering “on your behalf” out of a misguided obligation and you know that when they come home and spend time with you, it is with full love and understanding and communication of your needs as well.

When we started to be polyamorous, most of my partner’s dating habits were about exploring her attraction to women (yeah, looking back, it’s kind of funny to consider as a trans* woman). It felt strongly intimate, helping her uncover and feel more comfortable in her queer identity and who she was and what she wanted.

At the time, we had a model where I was pretty much monogamous and she was the one exploring other attractions. Which wasn’t to say I wasn’t allowed to explore, if I wanted to, but I was the type to very rarely fall in love with someone and as an asexual, I wasn’t all that interested in just going out and being sexual with a complete stranger out of a misguided sense of equality.

Having that split, therefore, was something that worked naturally for us and fit our relationship best. With the freedom to explore, we grew closer and were able to talk more freely about who we were by sexual orientation and in talking about her crushes or attractions, we were able to bond stronger than we ever had.

Being something of a massive tease, my favorite activity was to ramp her up before big dates, getting her a little turned on to help with nerves before sending her out the door to try meeting up with a new date. Her forays at the time weren’t often successful, but the freedom to explore and learn about what we both wanted was invaluable and still seems halcyon to consider.

Other Benefits from Polyamory

There are some who claim that polyamory necessitates a lowering of intimacy and connection. That there is only so much one can devote to a partner when one has multiple partners they are giving their energy to.

Which sort of ignores how people work. After all, outside really co-dependent relationships where every moment must be spent together, there are already moments where couples need time apart to explore other needs or simply recharge their batteries.

A couple where one partner is more extroverted while the other is more introverted may have a structure where the introverted partner has space to quietly do their own thing while their partner goes out with friends or other romantic partners.

Similarly, structures where there is a conflict in busyness. Where one partner needs romantic intimacy of a certain level, but their partner is swamped with work and other tasks and simply cannot provide that. Under a monogamous frame, this leads inevitably to conflict, where under polyamory, those needs can be met with a second partner, making those special moments less fraught with argument and more warm and connecting.

I remember myself the time I got a full-ride scholarship for a Master’s level program… in Denmark. Halfway around the world from where my partner and I had built our life. It was an opportunity I couldn’t let pass by, that I had no desire to let pass me by.

For many people, that sort of sustained absence is the moment a relationship ends. Two years apart with time zone differences that ensured that we only overlapped very early in the morning or very late at night, while I was going to be extremely busy working on grad school work and possibly even disappearing for months at a time during the thesis year.

Sustaining such a relationship might have been impossible under a model of enforced monogamy. But luckily we didn’t have to test that theory. My partner found multiple new partners during that time apart, closer in distance and willing to aid in the loneliness of the long nights. Once a week, at the least, we talked in early morning or late night, sharing our fond feelings for each other, how we missed each other, and how we looked forward to being together. I sometimes met her partners through the Skype. I sometimes only heard them described and talked about in our weekly dates.

With a lack of frustration, the loneliness was present but bearable, and our physical reunions were more sweet than bitter for not having the taste of denial and confusion poisoning them. I didn’t have to compete against fresher attractions that were closer at hand and she didn’t have to do without in order to prove her fealty to me. And thus, we were able to ride it through and reunite, stronger than ever.

Another important aspect of polyamory is something called compersion. Compersion is a feeling of joy one feels in seeing one’s partner experience joy from a source that is not you. And it’s not just a joy that is exclusive to polyamorous people.

Monogamous people feel it all the time in the form of the soft smile you feel when a partner comes back from spending a long day with friends and is smiling and laughing. It can also be the glow inside when seeing your partner geek out about a hobby or interest that they have and you don’t share.

In poly, it can occur in all those places and also in seeing one’s partner having fun and enjoying themselves with another romantic or sexual partner.

Because seeing one’s partner happy and giggling and having fun can be, well, FUN and that’s an important thing to note in a society where the only depictions of seeing one’s partner with another person are depictions of dread and sadness.

Having an open and openly communicated polyamorous relationship where your partner is having multiple romantic or sexual partners can also be thrilling for yourself, simply because seeing one’s partner in joy, no matter the source, can often feel good. As such, that can be an additional pleasure that polyamory can bring and help bring two or more people even more together than they would otherwise be.

Some of my strongest bonding moments with my partner has been seeing her coming off a date or introducing a new boyfriend or girlfriend to me. Seeing the glow on her face as she is in the throes of NRE (new relationship energy or the way new relationships can make one feel on top of the world and giddy), is something that makes me involuntarily smile as well. Not out of sacrifice but out of sharing.

Another thing that polyamory can provide is the thrush of NRE (new relationship energy). Have you ever seen a romantic comedy or any depiction of love in a romantic movie? If so, you probably have seen NRE depicted as the beginning and end of love.

NRE is the rush at the beginning of a relationship when everything is new and your partner can do no wrong. Where you are giddy and enjoying being in love or being in lust and everything being fresh before things settle more into routine and comfortable familiarity.

Everything is intense and you feel like one’s partner is perfect and you could be with them forever and that you should make some grand gesture to celebrate this intense wonderful feeling.

In short, NRE is the drug-like high of dating and it feels awesome. But in the classical monogamous frame, NRE is something that only happens once, at the beginning of a relationship. And oftentimes, media depictions of love state that once you find someone who rekindles all that NRE passion, one is supposed to run from their current partner into this new fling so that one can feel the rejuvenating feeling of new love.

Because in a monogamous relationship, that’s the only way to experience that feeling.

In a poly relationship there are no such limitations. If one wanted to have at least one relationship always in a NRE phase at all times, one can. One can feel that refreshment and invigoration by simply going out and dating, while still enjoying the stability and comfort of a more long-term and settled relationship.

In fact, that long-term relationship is often healthier for it because that reinvigoration and freshness can often spill back into that longer relationship and make it feel fresher and newer. New knowledge from handling the structure of a new person can help make an established structure stronger and can help bring new focus to the things that have gone unsaid or been taken for granted.

And that can be the difference between a long-term relationship that slowly fizzles out and one that can consistently sustain itself and actually grow stronger over time.

But again, this doesn’t answer the question of What specifically do asexuals get out of polyamory that makes it so universal?

What asexuals get out of polyamory

As noted, a lot of what asexuals get out of polyamory is the same thing everyone can get out polyamory. It allows a greater freedom of relationship design. It promotes healthy communication and a better handling of issues that might threaten monogamous relationships. Just like the general population, some asexuals are just naturally more inclined to polyamory and find it a superior model for their needs.

And for mixed orientation relationships between asexuals and sexuals, where one is asexual and the other is sexual, it can greatly reduce sources of conflict and situations where one partner is either expected to perform sexually out of obligation more than desire or where a partner needs to do without sex because to do otherwise would be to put their partner in a dreadful spot.

And that leads me to what I think might not be the reason (as there’s probably not just one reason), but is most certainly a reason that so many asexual people are finding polyamory to be the relationship model for them.

Polyamory removes the pressure to perform sexually for one’s partner.

Cause, see, by the traditional model of monogamy, it is generally expected that a partner, a “good” partner is one that meets all one’s needs. It’s someone you get along with as friends. It’s someone who is a good fit in romantic interactions and intimacy.

And it’s someone sexually compatible. Who’s into the same stuff in bed and who is into you as you are into them.

And because we are a messed up society that doesn’t like to talk about our sexual interactions, relationships are just sort of expected to have a sexual component, one that is jumped into without much discussion.

And honestly, that’s a crappy model for a lot of people. Not everyone views sex as the same thing or wants to have it at the same time as their partner wants it. The model ignores that someone might have specific wants that are not generally expected or have different erogenous zones or turn-ons than what is seen in dominant depictions of sex.

And worse, it ignores issues of consent and triggers. It ignores the fact that people may be survivors of sexual assault or rape or domestic abuse or simply may be unready for particular forms of sex. And while people do their best to do right by their partners for the most part, it leaves even the best intentioned people following the “social guidelines” for relationships in a position where they often have to trip over the landmines to notice them.

But for asexuals, it goes beyond that. Because a big social expectation, one that is reinforced in countless media depictions of love and relationships, is that in a relationship, you have sex.

And not only do you have sex, but that sexual attraction and chemistry should be taken as a given or else there is something “wrong” with the relationship. The less sexual partner is presumed to have something wrong with them or forcing their loved ones to “sacrifice” because of their “hangups”.

In the old days, I used to weep to read other asexuals write of their romantic relationships. So many people felt the intense pressure from society that they “owed” their romantic partner sex, that that is what someone had to do if they loved their partner.

And polyamory cuts through the heart of that social bullshit.

Cause even if you have the most loving and respectful partner of your boundaries and your orientation, the pressure is constantly there in a monogamous relationship. Even if your partner is sitting there telling you that this is all they need or they are fine with the fact that whatever intimacy you feel comfortable with will lack the potency of mutual chemistry, there’s a little voice of society telling you that you are robbing them of a crucial aspect of being human. That you are providing them an incomplete romantic experience. One in which you can only fully meet their romantic and intimate needs, but never their sexual ones, not really.

And even if you can cut through that little voice, you’ll be suffering a veritable gauntlet of public assholes who will repeat the same loudly and clearly. A lot of the reason that Dan Savage is a name that is hated in the asexual community is because he insists that sexual performance is something critical to a relationship and that by denying that, asexuals are denying relationships themselves. That an asexual should be ready and game for a mutual chemistry sexual relationship or they should do without powerful romantic relationships with people they love.

And that’s bullshit, yes. Clearly that is just the accumulated junk that society throws at asexuals because it is unaware of how they are affected by this “model relationship” it sells.

But by being polyamorous, one can silence that little voice and those public critics. Or at the very least eliminate their power to wound and ruin one’s relationship.

Because, by being open in one’s relationship, allowing one’s partner to explore other people and meet needs outside one’s relationship, one can be reminded everyday that one doesn’t need to “meet every need” in order to have strong, real connections that matter.

And that is something that seems odd, but can’t be overlooked, because it’s so important for real intimacy.

One can’t access the trust and connection critical for intimacy when one is worried about performing a “role” successfully or worried their partner needs a very specific set of behaviors to be happy.

And having that whole business just swept off the table? Becoming an “option” instead of a “demand” socially speaking is an incredibly liberating feeling that is so critical I can’t even describe it.

Knowing that my partner could explore her sexuality, all of her sexuality and that I didn’t even need to be involved if I didn’t want to be, that despite the protestations of those such as Dan Savage that I was “holding her back”, means knowing that I am enough.

I’ve been reading a webcomic lately titled Shades of A, and there’s an asexual character in it, very similar to those old stories on AVEN, who constantly feels like a freak and that he needs to be sexual in order to make his partners happy even though that is not at all what his partners want.

And unfortunately that’s a moment that a lot of romantic asexuals have struggled with because of all those who have said that that’s what a relationship is. That’s just how they work.

And polyamory, fiddly, tinkering polyamory rips apart that engine of pain and self-critique and reveals it as the bullshit it is.

One can have a relationship where they get cuddles and intimacy from a partner, but the partner goes elsewhere for sex. Or one where there is a form of sex, but it is not viewed as less than for lacking mutual chemistry or intense passion. Or one where one has multiple partners to connect with with love and intimacy and have different dynamics with that meets different needs.

One can make a relationship serve them, can respond to their needs and their limitations, instead of one that proscribes a “correct way of being” and that freedom with regards to sex removes a lot of the judgement and fear that relationships (especially mixed relationships between sexuals and asexuals) can carry for asexuals.

Knowing that my partner can go off and get her rocks off at any time may seem odd from an outside perspective, but it was something that made it possible to feel comfortable exploring myself and being honest to how I express intimacy.

And the funny thing is, that knowledge and that freedom actually allowed me to find aspects of sex that were interesting to me (though I would stress here that these experiences are unique to me and are by no means universal to all asexuals. If you are hoping polyamory will make an asexual person suddenly sexual, then you are an asshole and you should fuck right away from us).

Cause, see, sex without social pressure, for me, can be like the ultimate puzzle game. I mean, here’s this body and I have absolutely no personal experience with how any of this feels, but by having the right complicated hand, mouth, and spoken actions, I can make that body feel amazing and have such a powerful physical action as orgasm and that is something that is just intellectually and emotionally amazing!

I mean, it’s like Professor Layton on Speed and makes my nerd circuits go woo.

And that’s not true for every asexual. Hell, I’ll go further and say it won’t be true for most asexuals. But I know for me and for those demisexuals, grey-asexuals, and romantic asexuals who do engage in some sexual activity, having an environment of zero pressure, where there is no consequence for fucking up or suddenly deciding that I don’t want to do it anymore, is the only way I can access that curious scientific joy of discovery in that way.

And knowing that that there is that safety net means that while assholes like Dan Savage would scream that I’m doing it all wrong, treating sex like a DS game, only being comfortable with giving rather than receiving, lacking chemistry and only gaining joy through the intellectual and emotional aspects of making my partner happy, it can’t drag me down.

My relationship model is made to work for me.

To meet my needs and respond to the aspects of myself that are immutable and which may very well be arbitrary. It means that if I just drift off from doing things that are sexual with my partner, there is no pressure for me to “pick up the slack” from society. It means that if I want a relationship that is all cuddles and kisses and nothing else, I can have that and I can have that with all levels of fulfillment.

I’m in every interpretation of the word, free.

And that liberation from those chains of expectation, that what a relationship is is one in which sexual and romantic needs are one and the same, is probably the only way I could ever have had such long-term relationships or felt such joy and fulfillment in them as I do instead of sinking into self-doubt and despair like the main character in the Shades of A webcomic.

In fact, in my story, I am now in a relationship with two women, having fallen in love with another woman who is now my girlfriend, while my partner is still with me and is still dating two other people herself (her boyfriend and girlfriend). I’m not always sexual with either and when they enter dry spells, I have happily gone about my business, just enjoying the cuddling and general intimacy.

I’m free to enjoy what I want out of a relationship, because I know my partners are free to explore all of themselves and still be with me. That I don’t have to meet every need all the time.

And that freedom is something not I, nor many other asexuals would trade for the world.

Addendum to the Manifesto

While clearly this manifesto is pro-poly (after all, poly has been very useful for me and many other asexuals for a variety of reasons), it is worth noting that polyamory is not a magic elixir that fixes all ills.

Polyamory isn’t for everyone.

As noted earlier, some people are more naturally monogamous or feel more comfortable in monogamous style relationships. If you are the type of person who needs one’s romantic partner to be romantically and sexually exclusive to you, then polyamory isn’t going to serve you well at all and is just going to force another form of sacrifice. Similarly, if you are a person who gets repeatedly intensely jealous at the thought of sharing your partner with other people in a romantic or sexual manner, even when they are out of your sight or find yourself sabotaging your partner’s other relationships, then polyamory is probably not a natural fit for you and that needs to be communicated with your partner.

I’m a firm believer that the relationship model that works best is the one that works for the people inside it and if what you need in a relationship is something that looks more like the dominant version of monogamy, then you should hold out for that kind of relationship and meet those needs for yourself instead of trying to force yourself for your partner.

And on that note…

Polyamory will not fix a bad relationship

Polyamory can remove a lot of social pressure to perform sexually. But if your romantic partner is actually pressuring you to have sex, saying that you owe them out of “love” or “duty”, then that is abuse and polyamory will not fix that.

A partner who does not respect your boundaries or seeks to minimize them or use social pressure to get their way will not magically become a better, more respectful, less rapey partner if you switch to a polyamorous model.

It will not save those types of relationships, nor will it save relationships with domestic violence or emotional or sexual abuse or neglectful partners who do not want to communicate.

It will also not save relationships with partners who cheat on you without talking about it. The act of cheating is about a heck of a lot more than just getting needs met and a partner who is cheating on you regularly will probably still cheat or fail to disclose crucial information as much in a polyamorous relationship as in a monogamous one.

If you find yourself in such relationships, especially one in which your partner is explicitly stating you owe them sex, you should get out of them as soon as you safely can, enlisting aid as needed in the cases of domestic abuse.

And I know it can feel like abandoning these relationships feels like it’ll mean never finding love again, but please believe me when I say there are a huge number of genuinely respectful partners out there who will not seek to violate your boundaries or ignore your orientation. And you will find one of them, a LOT sooner than you think you will.

Poly relationships will not fix a lack of communication.

The thing about polyamory (to the point where the internal joke in polyamory circles is that polyamory is defined by this) is it is about communication.

Polyamory needs strong healthy communication to thrive and be responsive to the needs of those within the relationship. That means that both parties need to be willing to do the work to regularly communicate their needs with each other and at least be willing to highlight problem areas.

It does not require one to be an extrovert or to feel to need to share every aspect of every day with every partner, but if you don’t feel comfortable at least communicating the basics with your partner on a pretty consistent basis, then polyamory is probably not right for you.

Similarly, if your partner is closed off and uncommunicative with poly, then that system is probably not going to work well for them and will likely cause problems down the line. If open communication seems like too hard or too scary a concept and a part of monogamous relationships that’s too intense, then poly will not fix that and it might be better to take a break from relationships altogether until you can feel more comfortable sharing that sort of thing. It may even be worth introspecting if you want relationships at all as not everybody does.

There’s not just ONE right way to do poly.

Additionally, polyamory’s strength is how it can be customized to meet the needs of the people using it. There is no “one right way to do poly” and what works for one person in terms of rules and regimented forms of communication will not work for another.

As such, if you let someone tell you that there is one way to do poly or just try and copy someone else’s relationship model without thinking about or talking about what you and your partner(s) need out of a relationship, then you’re probably going to find polyamory to be as poor of a fit as a force monogamous relationship.

It can be scary to pick and choose what you need or make edits on the fly as new issues come up, but it’ll help immensely in making sure that your relationship is healthier and has more of a chance to survive and thrive.

But for those that polyamory fits, it fits well, or at least much better than monogamy.

And I think for many asexuals, the model removes a lot of the issues and conflicts that the dominant monogamous model inflicts. For many of us, polyamory gives us freedom to make our own relationship models and allow us to form our own conclusions in how we want to participate in a relationship.

These days, I regularly have my girlfriend over to my partner and I’s house. Nearly once a week, we share our queen bed, cuddling in a little row. Sometimes my partner brings her girlfriend as well. All together in a little tribe.

Sometimes I can hear my partner and her girlfriend having sex. It is wholly different than how I do it. It’s passionate and intense and her noises fill our little apartment up.

And I smile, proud and happy to hear my partner in such joy. I have been robbed of nothing. This orgasm takes nothing from me and I know that this evening, we’ll be spooning in our little row, with smiles on all our little faces.

And I sleep soundly and content, fulfilled with a relationship that works for us.

And I wouldn’t trade that feeling for the world.

This is my ace poly manifesto.

And for those who this system works, I hear yours as well, in the soft smile as a partner cuddles with you, in the soft glow of seeing them come home from a hot date, and in the strong commitments free of fear and societal intrusion.

And I no longer weep to read the stories of my fellow asexuals who are in romantic relationships.

Because we all know a way to be free.

3 Responses to “My Ace Poly Manifesto”

  1. […] deliver, because at the end of the day, I want to be known as a woman of my word. In point of fact, I’ve just posted something on my personal blog. A little asexual polyamorous manifesto, simply because a friend of mine wanted help finding […]

  2. Sciatrix said

    Oh, wow. Your ace community experience sounds very interesting to me, because it sounds very much unlike mine. For example, the ace community I know is a huge fan of constructing new identity labels–so much so that a while back I wrote a post discussing community tendencies to come up with new words to describe sub-facets of identity in ace spaces. I don’t recall any discussion about people finding that tendency problematic or hurtful in any way or any offense at it.

    As someone who is also an ace in a polyamorous relationship, I also have never ever gotten the sense that aces default to polyamory in relationships. Rather, my experience has been that poly is often advanced as a possible solution to dating sexual people and not being able to find other aces to date, but one that is usually quickly rejected as impractical for specific situations for various reasons. I can think of only a few other sets of people besides myself in my ace community doing poly, and those are all relationships comprised mostly or entirely of aces, not mixed asexual/sexual relationships. So I was pretty startled to hear that aces default to poly relationship structures as a way of bypassing the issues that come with dating sexual people.

    It’s also interesting to see some of the lines of discussion that I would have expected from a post discussing the intersection of asexuality and polyamory missing. For example, in the last four years there has been a lot of discussion of romantic orientation as something that is not cut-and-dry or obvious to many people, and of romantic attraction as being pretty confusing and complicated. Relationships that blur the lines between “friendship” and “romantic” are also a popular topic of discussion. So it’s really interesting to me to see a piece where all of these ideas that are very central to the way I think of ace community discussions about relationships, including non-normative relationships, being absent. It’s really interesting to see how people’s communities shape the way they think about these concepts!

    It also strikes me that the way I do poly doesn’t seem to apply here–I am in a closed triad of three people, all of whom are ace. We’re currently long distance and working on moving in together, but our timeline is on the order of months and years until we’re all three in the same place. So poly is not my solution to being in a long-term LDR, and it’s definitely not my solution to wanting to try new things with new partners, since all three of us came together more or less at the same time. It’s not my solution to being in a mixed-orientation relationship, either. NRE also doesn’t happen to everyone–I don’t experience it to speak of, which is partly why I don’t identify as unambiguously romantic–and I am generally politely baffled about compersion. It’s nice when my partners are enjoying each other’s company, I enjoy that they are happy, but it’s not a feeling I’d need poly to experience. I am basically in this relationship because I love both my partners rather than as a solution to another issue.

    If I was to suddenly be looking for a new relationship tomorrow, though, I could take or leave poly–but I’d definitely be looking only for another ace. The thing is, ace-ace relationships can be hard to come by, but they also are missing the point of fundamental incompatibility that makes poly such an attractive option. You can deal with that incompatibility, of course, and many people in happy relationships do. I’m not at all arguing the point that Dan Savage is a jackhole on this one, because he is. I am saying that it’s a significant obstacle to forming new relationships, and it’s one that I personally am not willing to deal with. Obviously opinions on this will be really variable–all of the options for dating while ace kind of suck. It’s really a matter of whether you think that the option of investing a lot of time and energy finding another ace partner is better or worse than making poly work with a sexual partner or learning to “compromise” about sex.

    It’s completely true that poly is a way that would allow a straight woman and a gay man to be in a happy relationship, but I don’t see many of the straight women and gay dudes I know choosing to go for relationships with that fundamental mismatch–regardless of whether they are interested in poly! I only really see aces seriously contemplating dating people they know they are mismatched on, and I think that is because it is frequently so difficult to find other local asexual people to meet. Poly is a great way to slap a band-aid on the problem of asexual/sexual relationships, but I don’t think it solves the problem of that mismatch being there. I think as more asexual people find ways to be open and find each other offline, asexual/sexual relationships will drop in frequency. I hope this is happening as asexuality gets more visible and more people begin to look for offline communities to join.

  3. […] Singularly Bizarre has written an ace poly manifesto. […]

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