I’ve been with my boyfriend for 2 years, known him for 3 and agreed to cohabitation a few months ago. I’m the generally monogamous leaning demisexual partner (Specifically, I have a very high sex drive once I’m emotionally attached to a partner but before that happens, I’m generally just as happy being celibate. Feeling safe is an extremely high bar for me.) and my boyfriend is a self-professed sex addict (that’s even been chemically explained, his doc told him he as 3 times the level of testosterone in his system as a normal male of his age and weight) with Aspergers.
I know he loves me, that’s not in question… it’s just emotionally, for me to get to the point where I can “not care” who else he hooks up with and be happy that he’s not a crabby man child “itching to get laid” by somebody new — it’s hard for me not to apply that same developed “not caring” attitude to sex when we have it, which in turn makes me want it less than I otherwise would. I mentally acknowledge there are genuine positives in going the polyamory route that I find intriguing.
Some of the things I value uniquely about our relationship has been personal growth that has occurred on both sides, trying new things and generally being less sheltered — I don’t want this letter to give the impression it’s all negative. However, lately, I’m realizing that as I have been working on letting go, being open and not threatened by introducing new metamours and even three way involvement I’m simultaneously feeling a very increased meaninglessness vibe around sex — an act that I used to feel very connected and protected by.
I’d really like to work past this but if I’m being honest that’s where I am at right now and I don’t know why or how to process beyond this to the point where it feels like any of it has anything to do with love anymore.
I want to find a way to think and feel past this that is not just writing the whole thing off as incompatibility because in so many ways he feels like and has been a real home to me. I know the way I feel can change based on how I think about things. I was afraid I would feel horrible after our first three way or be repulsed by seeing him f*** another woman but honestly when it happened it just felt like I was watching my dog hump one of his stuffed animal toys.
Thanks for any advice.
I could have almost written this myself in so many ways. I think for people on the asexual spectrum, including demisexuality, sex can become a really complicated thing within a relationship and I feel like ‘sex positive’ environments, which a lot of polyamorous spaces are, can turn sex into something different, which might be what’s going on with you.
Sexual differences in relationships
The first thing I want to address is the differences between you and your partner. I do worry about using terminology like ‘sex addict’ because I feel like there’s some absolving your partner of behaviour by using that terminology. It’s possible that’s not what you or him mean by it. But because of the way society has this ‘boys will be boys’ attitude, I think you should be extra vigilant about anything that which seems to ‘forgive’ his actions. He may very well have three times the level of testosterone as most men (and this is treatable, so I don’t know why it’s not being treated), but he still is a grown adult who is responsible for his choices.
That said, with or without differences in hormones, many people have differences with their partners in terms of sex drive or sexual desire. My domestic partner isn’t asexual and there is a noticeable difference between how we go about our sexual relationships. I don’t think this always has to lead to problems in so much as you learn how to respect the choices each other makes — even if you don’t understand them.
As someone who is demisexual/asexual I have to constantly check myself and my assumptions I make about what my partner thinks about who he’s having sex with. Problems arise when I assume that my partner is having sex with someone for the exact same motivations and reasons I have for having sex with people — because in my head, I would not have sex with the people he has sex with for the same reasons — and that’s okay. When I assume that he’s making choices for the same motivations I do, it can lead to me thinking he doesn’t care about me as much and that’s where my feelings come in and react and it causes a lot more drama than it needs to.
You’re not going to ‘not care’ about him hooking up. Trying to detach yourself from your emotions is the crux of your problem. You’re allowed to have feelings about your partner hooking up with people. Most polyamory advice almost encourages folks to try and purge their emotions like Vulcans — but you’re not a Vulcan. You have feelings and that’s normal.
What you need to do is try to check your own feelings and assumptions about why he’s doing what he’s doing. I feel like your description of him being ‘itching to get laid’ is a generalisation about his motivations for pursuing sexual relationships. People can enjoy sex just to enjoy sex. And it doesn’t always come with the emotions or attachments that it does for other people, and it doesn’t have to for people to see a value in it.
You might be assuming that because your partner doesn’t need what you need to enter a sexual relationship, that it means less to him. And it might be that he values your relationship “more” in a way than sexual relationships because you offer him the emotional support those relationships don’t, but it’s just different. It’s not more or less of a valuing.
Being different doesn’t make you incompatible so long as you can respect each other’s differences and still meet each other’s needs. And it does sound like you do, but it sounds like you’re trying to force yourself into being okay so much that you’re losing touch with any feeling at all. That brings me to my next point.
Sexual hierarchy in polyamory
You are who you are and no amount of emotional suppression is going to change that. I honestly believe you feel increased meaningless around sex because you are trying to conform yourself with your feelings and your motivations to your partner’s sexual habits and behaviours.
I feel like this is something a lot of demisexual people in polyamorous situations might find themselves trying to do. Being asexual or demisexual can be a source of a lot of frustration, shame and confusion. One of the reasons why it enrages me so much when people act like demisexuality is ‘normal’ and ‘common’ is because of how frustrated I have felt my whole life with feeling so different from other people. There’s something different about you and you’re surrounded by a very highly sexualised environment which doesn’t make sense to you.
On top of that, I feel like some of us can fall into either feeling like freaks because we aren’t having sex as other people or, in my case, I fitted quite snugly into very anti-sex whorephobic dialogue against anyone having sex, doing sex work, and anything like that. People who hated sex workers and sex made me feel ‘normal’, so I meshed with them in a lot of ways when I was younger. After all, I had the Bible telling me how good of a person I was for not wanting to have sex and that’s a lot more self-affirming than being a freak with no interest in sex.
People in the polyamory community will go on and on about how ‘there’s no one right way to do polyamory’ and the same people who rail against ‘relationship hierarchies’ never once seem to consider that hierarchies they have where they clearly value sexually based relationships over others. I wrote about this hierarchy in the past. The result I feel is that a lot of asexual people in polyamorous relationships feel like they have to ‘compete’ with other people their partner dates.
While it might be nice to think that no one person can meet any other persons needs totally, sex in particular is a very personal thing. It’s intimate for many people, especially demisexual people, and to be told that the sex you and your body provides is not ‘enough’ for somebody can reinforce the environment that’s been telling you that you’re the odd one out since you were a teenager.
The result, in my experience, is an overcompensation. Even within monogamy, I feel like a lot of asexuals and demisexuals have sex because their partner wants it. That’s not necessarily a huge problem for all of us. What can be a problem though is when a demisexual or asexual person is trying to force themselves into the mindset of someone who is allosexual (not asexual). In order to do that, sex has to fundamentally change it’s meaning and be redefined.
It really feels like in your case, because you have the emotional attachments to sex that make you demisexual, in order for you to be ‘okay’ with some things, you have to detach that emotion from it. And as a result, it’s detaching emotion from *all* sex you’re involved in and it’s creating this problem.
Here’s the thing though, you do not *have* to participate in threesomes to be polyamorous. You don’t have to be into it. I wrote previously about not being ‘into it’ within sex positive communities and how the pressure to be into all of these things made me do things I just didn’t care about or sometimes flatly didn’t want to do. Your partner can be with as many other people as he’d like and it doesn’t mean you have to be involved in it.
Your description of watching a dog hump like… really matches me completely. But actually, I’m about ten times more anxious because I’m so afraid of having a jealous reaction that my anxiety is heightened about a million times. I get so worried about either not being into it or being jealous that I make the situation uncomfortable for myself from the start. Over time, I’ve been able to overcome this anxiety — but I can’t force myself to be sexually into something I’m not, and neither can you.
Difference is not incompatibility
You and your partner are not incompatible, but you are different. You have different needs and different motivations for the things you want — and that’s okay. What’s really important is for you to try and work through your assumptions about yourself and your partner. You really don’t have to be involved in threesomes or do anything other than support your partner to be polyamorous.
I feel like if you go back to your own motivations for having sex and stop forcing yourself to be involved in things that just don’t interest you, you might feel the emotions come back. What might help is if you and your partner maybe take a bit of a vacation together, even if it’s a staycation, spend some time together and do things together that make you feel loved and valued. Being reminded of how much your partner cares for you might re-ignite your emotions and if the focus is on how you feel about each other rather than trying to do sexual things with others, it might make you feel a bit better.
I hope this helps and good luck!
Note: I wrote this column in 2017, so it’s possible my perspective may have shifted or changed. Please feel free to send in a similar question.
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