Is sex the sole basis for a relationship? That's a problem if, according to one study, an estimated 1 percent of the population is asexual, even if they don't (yet) define themselves as such. VICE India spoke to Shambhavi* and Jamie, two 24-year-olds whose relationship isn't and can't be about sex.
Writer, Youth Ki Awaaz
I’ve identified as lesbian from the age of 16. I had been reading a lot about asexuals on Tumblr. One time I was discussing something with my friend and she said “Hey man you are probably an asexual.” It wasn’t in any dismissive or rude way. I was attracted to women but not sexually. I went away from that conversation feeling very confused, but also relieved. And that’s when I looked up some more stuff. I talked to few more people. And it was like when you go to a shoe store and find a shoe that fits.
Two years into being open about my sexuality, my best friend’s sister once asked, “So, asexuals only have sex with other asexuals then?” I found it pretty adorable actually. If gay people have sex with gay people, then ace people should be having sex with ace people. But people kinda forget that that’s not what we do. I don’t experience sexual attraction.
This is my first relationship. I do sometimes have sex with my partner. You know Cosmopolitans—they serve them everywhere. I don’t know why people keep raving about it, it is not that great. You try it out but you would never stand in a queue for it, or spend all your money for it for an Instagram photo. Sex is like that for me.
I am not like sex negative. It is just not on the top of my list. I often joke that if James Bond was asexual, the villains’ plan would always fail.
When we started dating, I sometimes would feel guilty. I thought I should do it for [Jamie]. Initially, I did things just to make her happy, but she eventually told me, “Cut the crap, you don’t need to do it.” In our hypersexual culture, we attach body to sex. It works for some people while it doesn’t work for others. We both like cuddling dogs and have long conversations with each other. She is also my best friend.
Masturbation was my only way to understand sexuality in a very clinical, closed, private space. It was my first entry into sex as an activity. It was also coming from a place of doubt. You start wondering if there is something physically wrong with you. In order to test that out, I started masturbating. If you have an itch, you gotta scratch it. I do it for a couple of reasons—I do it if I am bored, or if I have read something like "orgasms are good for your health."
I am from a small town in Uttarakhand. Nobody was openly queer around me. Everybody was straight.
“I realised I was involved in homosexual behaviour ever since I was in class six. I don’t know why I found women attractive— sexually, romantically and aesthetically. Because my family is Orthodox Christian, I believed homosexuality was a sin. Thankfully I had internet so I went online and read about it. Fuck this shit—the Bible makes no sense. It is crap.
I met Shambhavi at work. We were attending a workshop on LGBTQ, sexuality and well-being and weirdly we were the only two queer people there. We just started talking and it happened. The fact that she was open and also the fact that she is from Delhi, it made more sense. Coming from a small town and not having gay friends did hamper my growth but after I met her now all my friends are gay.
I knew there was ‘A’ in LGBTQIA++ and for the longest time I thought it stood for Ally. Till I met Shambhavi in 2016, I didn’t know that A meant asexual. I think a lot of people don’t actually come out as asexual and there is not a lot of asexual representation.
Not having sex, for her pleasure, is not really a compromise for me. Honestly, I realised that my previous relationships began because I wanted to have sex with them. With Shambhavi, it was never about sex. The first time we met, she was open about the fact that she was an asexual.
The only thing that she has changed in me is that I eat lots of vegan stuff now. Everything else is same.
Sex for me is like watching a movie, if both of you are really not into that movie, why would you make the other person watch it.
“It’s not like we never have sex. We do have sex at times—I get horny and I am just like "do me". Instead of just masturbating, I’ll be like "help me out".
“I had this conversation with Shams and she told me how romantic and sexual attraction are different. For me, for the longest time, they coincided stereotypically. The best part about dating Shams is I don’t have any sexual performance pressure. Like, I don’t have to do certain things in order to please her.
Once I was having sex with Shams, and I realised she was not at all into it. I asked her if she was not into it, she can say it! Sex for me is like watching a movie, if both of you are really not into that movie, why would you make the other person watch it.
*Shambhavi wants to be identified only by her first name; her partner is pseudonymous.
Correction: An earlier version of this story included identifying details that a source wanted removed after publication.
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