I've been in a relationship with Erica now for over two years, 6 of those months long-distance.
I matched with her on Tinder a few weeks after a rough breakup. I had been feeling very cynical and apathetic about dating again at that time. I'd match with someone, send the same lame pickup line to mixed results, have an awkwardly forced intro conversation and then move on.
Erica was different though. When I saw her profile, it was a pin-drop moment and I was immediately smitten. She looked amazing in her photos and her caption was based on a show I was really into at the time as well. I contemplated using the very forward and intimidating super-like, but decided against it.
To my surprise, we actually matched, and the conversation immediately hit off. Every day, all day, we'd talk about everything while getting to know each other. She would send me songs she had written and showed me animation she had done, and my mind was blown by how she could be so talented at everything.
It took me a month to muster up the courage to actually ask her out for a first date. I had as the kids would call, "negative rizz".
The date was not so sweet, however. It was, quite frankly, the worst I've been on.
Unlike in our calls beforehand, she was now cold and distant throughout the entire date. Almost as though she was deliberately trying to alienate me somehow.
I spent the two-hour-long train ride home absolutely bewildered at what just happened. How could someone that I had been talking to for a whole month prior to that be so different?
We lost contact for a while afterwards, occasionally responding to each other's Instagram stories every now and then.
It was only during the pandemic that we reconnected through a photography club at University. She explained that she was anxious about the date and the idea of commitment at that time. The date was long behind us at that point though, and we were able to spend months building a connection without the pressure of "a tinder match" behind it.
Erica's asexual identity was something that took me a while to understand. I hadn't noticed her asexuality being a barrier against intimacy or affection in our relationship, even when we were long-distance.
At the start of our relationship, Erica started working as a tattoo artist and has since fostered an incredible LGBTQA+ following. She finds tattooing a great opportunity to discuss relationships, sex and culture with her clients.
In these discussions with her clients and with her community online, she confirmed that there were still countless stigmas against asexuality. Arguments that it's along the lines of celibacy, unresolved trauma, a mental condition, or other arguments used to discredit them and their identity.
Many asexual individuals have experienced poor luck in relationships due to partners not being able to understand their sexuality, or worse, not respecting it.
For Erica and I, much like any other relationship, communication about boundaries, consent, our affection for each other and sex all exist within our relationship.
The key difference, however, is that my girlfriend isn't sexually attracted to me. On some level, I know that could potentially make me insecure, as how can I know if I'm attractive if my own girlfriend isn't sexually attracted to me? It sounds like a Rodney Dangerfield joke setup.
In an attempt to get to understand Erica better, we sat down and had a long talk about what asexuality means to her and how we can communicate better in our relationship within the context of asexuality.
It's important to note, this is an account of Erica's experience with identifying as asexual, and everyone else may experience or identify asexuality differently.
What is attraction to you?
"It's weird, to be honest. I only realised at maybe 15-16 years old that my version of "hot" wasn't everyone else's version of hot. I only really experience aesthetic attraction, like how a shoe looks really nice but I don't get the urge to fuck the shoe.
I understand theoretically what a hot person looks like, and I can put people into those boxes, while not feeling sexually attracted to them.
I'm intimidated by a hot person like how you may be intimidated by someone who's better than you in your career. I definitely feel romantic attraction though, but sexual attraction isn't packaged up with it. I've never really fantasised about anyone either, and I 100% forget that other people do."
What is asexuality to you?
"I guess it's how I perceive the world. It's so ingrained in me and my personality and the way that I love. I am a panromantic asexual but the definitions and specificities can get very long and change as I realise more about myself, so sometimes I just say I'm queer instead. I don't think I view sex as a taboo subject as much as sexual people do, so I'm very comfortable talking about it in casual, broad-daylight conversation. I see it as entertainment, with the same weight as baking a cake or singing, it's like a hobby I enjoy but not a carnal need.
I choose my sexual partners based purely on convenience and an imagined checklist. When I was on Tinder my maximum distance was set to 0.5km and I based dates on whether or not I found them interesting, regardless of how they looked."
How do you view sex in a relationship?
"I see sex as a means to an end. The means being sex and the end being whatever I want at that time.
I use it more as a tool to meet an end. These ends may be either selfish or selfless. Sometimes I want to make my partner feel good or show him that I like him, but other times I like the attention. It definitely falls under more of the "entertainment" category rather than in the "romance" category though.
If I'm not in a relationship I do fuck around quite a bit, but it's not because I want sex but rather I want attention and the feeling of being validated."
How do you express your love for me?
"Like how most other couples show love I guess! I cook for you a lot and make you lunchboxes that you forget to bring to work. I also try to listen and empathise and understand when you bring up any issues. I send you cursed TikToks that I find funny and try to get excited and play the games you introduce to me."
What makes you attracted to me?
"It was definitely a slow burn and something I didn't see coming. I gush about you at work so much and it's weird having to write it out. I think all the way at the start I thought you were so funny and witty and had a very nice voice. I also thought you were really smart and were so quick-witted. But also at the same time the kindest and gentlest soul ever.
I thought it was so interesting how you were a natural therapist and had such a thick shield that no one really thought to get through too. I liked how conscientious you were with others feelings, something I struggle with, how good you were at giving advice and how patient you are. I also really liked your music, and the playlists you made, even before you made them for me, and liked how theoretical you got with it, and with everything else you get into. It's really cool how much research you do, and how you edit and re-edit everything because it's definitely not something I’m good at. You're also pretty cute too and you're super nice to hug."
What have previous romantic relationships been like?
"This is actually my first serious romantic relationship! In the past, I’ve been scared of commitment or wanted to commit to people who didn't. I’ve always been attracted to people who seemed interesting, charming and charismatic with different experiences to mine. Unfortunately, these people also happened to be flighty and non-committal and came with baggage I didn't really understand and wasn't really capable of supporting. I still keep in touch with some of them though! Even though we didn't work out romantically I still respect them and think they’re cool people."
Have you seen asexuality be recognised more or be met with less scepticism in recent years?
"Definitely. I think within the past couple of years because of positive representation in media a lot more people understand what asexuality is. I definitely get fewer questions about asexuality in general, but I still get some occasionally. Mostly scepticism about my specific brand of asexuality."
Are you part of a community with other asexual people?
"I don't think it's so much of a community but more of I end up having a lot of asexual friends just cause we at the same sense and brand of humour. Some of my closest friends identify on the asexual Spectrum and I noticed that we have the sort of nonchalant sexual humour that I personally enjoy. is definitely also nice to have a bunch of people that understand and share my experience and understanding of worldview and I don't have to keep explaining why I am like this. and why I talk like this. I think asexual people are funnier than normal people."
How do you think I respect your asexuality?
"You do! I know you may not fully understand it, but you try to ask good questions about it. You respect my boundaries too and ask for consent a lot. You're the only one in a long line of people that have even tried to understand which means a lot."
What are common barriers you face being asexual?
"Having to explain it to partners and people. I feel invalid constantly, people are so confused that I'm asexual but have sex. But sex and attraction are different. I'm constantly met with scepticism. I'm pretty sure it's my truth, but people will often try and convince me that it's invalid and that I can't be asexual.
I didn't expect that I was ace, I thought everyone thought like this, however when in school, whenever people would talk about their crushes over K-pop stars I didn't understand it."
Do you feel like you have to make compromises in our relationship?
"Sometimes. I used to fake orgasms a lot in previous relationships because I didn't feel comfortable having to explain that I'm just not in the mood to continue.
Sex is honestly just a switch for me. I'm not attracted to the person in the first place, so I'm just going through the motions or putting on a show. I play the part until I'm done with it."
What are the biggest misconceptions about asexuality that you’ve noticed?
"That I shouldn't like sex. Or that I shouldn't want romance. 'You're just not attracted to that guy". I feel like I keep getting pressured by people into swaying my perception of how I am attracted to others into lining up with their perception of how I should be attracted to other people.
I feel frustration more than anything. It's a bit of a non-issue at the end of the day. People will think I'm lying when I tell them or think I'm stupid, but I know my truth and my sexuality is only for me."
If you'd like to know more about asexuality and learn how you can be a better ally for the Asexual community, as part of Johnnie Walker's "Keep Walking" philosophy, which celebrates and promotes progress, Vice has released a series called The Vice Guide To Being Better, with its first episode centred around asexuality
In the first episode of The VICE Guide To Being Better, VICE spoke to writer, actor, filmmaker and LGBTQIA+ activist Caroline Cull about asexuality, in the hopes of gaining a better understanding of the spectrum and why the current mainstream representation of asexuality needs to do more.
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