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Aced Out

If calling yourself asexual is useful, do it



You often mention asexual people. I believe I may be one. I'm a 51-year-old woman. I've been separated from my opposite-sex partner for nearly nine years. I've been approached by a variety of men, each one interested in becoming "more than friends." I haunt Craigslist's "platonic m4w" section, but each time I reach out to someone, he turns out to want a FWB or NSA relationship. It's frustrating! That part of my life — the sex part — is really and truly over! I had many sex partners for many years, I had a good run, and now I'm done. When I find someone attractive, I admire them in a nonsexual way. But I do masturbate. Not often. I can go two or three weeks without needing (or thinking about) release. When I do masturbate, it's more of a "stretching activity" than a passionate requirement. Do true asexuals masturbate? Am I correct in identifying as asexual instead of heterosexual? Or am I a straight person who has simply retired from the field?

No Need For Sex

"There's some handy-dandy research on this topic," said David Jay, founder of the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN). Jay is the world's most prominent asexuality activist and widely acknowledged as the founder of the asexuality movement.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia studied the masturbatory habits of asexual individuals and compared them to the masturbatory habits of people with low sexual desire ("Sexual Fantasy and Masturbation Among Asexual Individuals," Morag A. Yule, Lori A. Brotto, and Boris B. Gorzalka, the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality). "[They found that] the majority of asexual people (about 56 percent) masturbate on at least a monthly basis," said Jay, compared to 75 percent of individuals with low sexual desire. "For a sizable chunk of us, this is about a sense of physical release rather than about sexual fantasy. Masturbation and partnered sex are very different things, and desiring one doesn't mean that we automatically desire the other."

So, NNFS, the fact that you masturbate occasionally — as a "stretching activity" (ouch?) — doesn't disqualify you from identifying as asexual. And while the fact that you were sexually active for many years, presumably happily, and always with men could mean you're a straight lady with low to no sexual desire, you're nevertheless free to embrace the asexual label if it works for you.

"If you're not drawn to be sexual with anyone, then you have a lot in common with a lot of people in the asexual community," said Jay. "That being said, there's no such thing as a 'true' asexual. If the word seems useful, use it. At the end of the day, what matters is how well we understand ourselves, not how well we match some Platonic ideal of our sexual orientation, and words like 'asexual' are just tools to help us understand ourselves."

All those crazy labels — bi, gay, lesbian, straight, pansexual, asexual, etc. — are there to help us communicate who we are and what we want. Once upon a time, NNFS, you wanted heterosexual sex, you had heterosexual sex and you identified as heterosexual. That label was correct for you then. If the asexual label is a better fit for you now, if it more accurately communicates who you are (now) and what you want (now), you have none other than David Jay's permission to use it.

"I also feel NNFS's pain about Craigslist 'strictly platonic' ads," said Jay. "But I've found there are plenty of people out there who are interested in hanging out if I simultaneously say 'no' to sex and 'yes' to an emotional connection."

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