A few days ago this gem of an advice column from Dr. Ruth (@AskDrRuth) came across my virtual desk:
Q: I’m a 25-year-old heterosexual woman with absolutely zero libido. I have never cared about sex, and it is beginning to be a serious problem with my boyfriend. I’m not on any medications, I’m in great health and I don’t have any sexual trauma in my past … I just think sex is kind of pointless.
Orgasms seem like a lot of work for very little reward. I’d rather read a book! This is my first serious relationship, so I’m just now realizing how little I care about sex. (I only had one-night stands before.) I don’t know what to do to make myself like it. We’ve tried everything — books, positions, toys (we can’t afford counseling). Am I one of those asexual people?
A: Since it seems you do have orgasms, you’re not asexual. But perhaps you aren’t fully sensing the entire orgasm, and are experiencing more what is called missed orgasms. Or, it may be that this relationship isn’t the right one for you.
If you’re feeling very little passion for him, then that’s not going to make you very aroused. But before you do anything drastic, I want you to spend some time every day thinking about sex. You may require a long time to become aroused, and if you’re thinking too much about it when you are in bed with your boyfriend, that also could be preventing arousal. But if you think about sexual situations during the day, for a couple of minutes maybe three to five times a day, that might permit you to become more easily aroused when you’re with him at night.
Also, if he’s not being very romantic, he needs to do a better job of that. Try that for a while and see if it helps, even a little.
I’ve tried posting my response several times and with various phrasings but every time it tells me that it cannot be posted due to “profanity” but I can’t figure out what they are deeming profanity, so I’ve included my response(s) below.
For the person who asked this question:
First, let me say that “asexual” does not mean “incapable of having an orgasm” – it’s an orientation label used by people who (generally speaking) are not sexually attracted to anyone. They may or may not have a libido, they may or may not masturbate, they may or may not have sex, they may or may not experience other types of attraction (romantic, aesthetic, etc), all it means is that generally they don’t look at other people and think “oh yeah, I’d like to have sex with them!” There are also variations within the asexual spectrum which I mention below.
From your brief description your experience sounds very similar to the experiences I’ve heard from many people in the asexual/ace communities. You are not alone in what you’ve described. You may or may not decide that identifying as asexual is right for you but you owe it to yourself to look into it since it probably wasn’t explained in any sexuality education you’ve had so far. You may also consider looking into gray-asexuality and demi-sexuality, you may or may not identify with those terms, also. You mentioned one-night stands and if you enjoyed those and were sexually attracted to those partners maybe gray-a would ring more true than demi but a) your question didn’t give a lot of details and b) no one can “diagnose” you as asexual (or gay, or straight, or bisexual… etc) we can only help you find the language that you feel accurately describes your experiences. I do wonder a little if those one-night stands involved “bad sex” – ie you didn’t enjoy the sex you had or didn’t orgasm and felt cheated?
The AVEN (Asexual Visibility and Education Network) Forums would be a great place to find people (of all orientations) who share your concerns and who would be interested in discussing them with you. There’s even a whole forum dedicated to the non-asexual partners of people who identify as asexual – what you’ve described is not at all uncommon.
In regards to your libido – is it a problem for you? If so, is it a problem for you only because it is a problem for your partner? How much does it really bother your partner? Is this a deal breaker for your partner? And if this is something that’s really important to your partner and not important for you, is that a deal breaker for you?
Some people who identify as asexual don’t have sex with their partners because they have decided that for them it’s a deal breaker, others have sex out of duty, and some do find ways to enjoy sex with their partner (for instance, when you masturbate – whether to orgasm or not since you said orgasms seem like a lot of work – is there a particular fantasy that turns you on? Is there an activity that’s traditionally considered “non-sexual” that you find arousing?). If you can think of *anything* that gets you turned on (physically and psychologically) try incorporating that into sex to see if it makes it more enjoyable for you (if having sex regularly is what you want). Also consider that maybe you just aren’t going to want to have sex as often as your partner (or maybe never) and why does your partner’s level of desire trump yours? He’s a big boy, I’m sure he’s figured out how to take care of his erections by himself by now or maybe you’d rather get him off in some other way sometimes.
You did mention that you think orgasms take more effort than they’re worth but I will say that some women find that orgasms become easier to achieve with practice (you have to learn what you like first before you can tell your partner and you can’t expect your partner to be able to get you to orgasm very quickly, or at all, if he doesn’t have any guidance about what you like). I would definitely recommend masturbating, by yourself, without your partner around, practice with the toys you purchased and some lube – do you like direct clitoral stimulation, or through the labia? A little to the left or the right? In circles? Constant vibration? Just some gentle stroking? And what about your G-spot? Can you find it? Is it a little to the left or the right? It may be higher than usual but generally you’ll find it within a finger’s reach so don’t think you need to stick some really long toy up there looking for it or you’ll go right by it. I’m sure this sounds like even more work for something you think may not be worth it but would it be worth it for you if you learned just what you liked and the best/quickest ways for you to achieve orgasm and could communicate that to your partner (which is kind of an important step #2, don’t leave that out!) and could achieve orgasm more consistently? There’s a book on the topic of masturbating that I really enjoyed reading called Sex For One by Betty Dodson which you might like to check out.
Clearly I’m just throwing out some ideas based on the hints I got from your question because there are so many ways to interpret what you’ve said and so many follow up questions I would have for you but I hope you’ll explore some of the suggestions I’ve provided and by all means feel free to comment or to e-mail me and I’ll do my best to offer you more resources in whatever direction you’re interested in pursuing at this time.
Now… on to Dr. Ruth…
Dear Dr. Ruth,
Your flippant comment associating sexual orientation with capacity for orgasm was out of line and misrepresented both people who identify as asexual and people with low or no capacity for orgasm.
First of all, people who cannot achieve traditional orgasms are not inherently asexual, they may be any orientation and their needs and desires should not be ignored (as they have been for so long by medical and helping professionals). It is possible that they would be asexual but I wouldn’t expect more people in that category to be asexual than in the general population (about 1%).
Second, people who identify as asexual may or may not be particularly orgasmic, for information about how asexual women compared in levels of arousal and frequency of masturbation relative to straight and bisexual women I suggest reading Lori Brotto’s study “Physiological and Subjective Sexual Arousal in Self Identified Asexual Women.” (Spoiler: asexual women were all over the charts, just like the straight and bisexual women – some masturbate a lot, some a little, some never, etc.)
I strongly suggest that you update your understanding of asexuality by checking out the latest research, articles, and presentations (Brotto, Bogaert, Hinderliter, Chasin, Carrigan, and others). The outdated and flippant response you wrote was not just careless but harmful and directly contributed to the already massive amount of misinformation out there not just about asexuality but sexuality in general … and isn’t that what you’re trying to prevent?