Note: this post discusses sexual consent.
Ilsa summoned her voice with difficulty. “I just assumed you wanted to sleep with me.”
“Well… yeah, I mean. I definitely want that, too.”
“Kai, I’m not… I don’t… You get that that’s never going to happen, right?”
“Never?” Kai echoed, fading hope on the cusp of heartbreak.
“Never,” Ilsa repeated firmly.
– Open Skies by Yolande Kleinn
Some aces are willing to have sex under some circumstances. Some aces, however, have made up their minds that they are never going to consent to sex, period. They are aware of their own asexuality, even if they do not use the word ‘asexual’ because they come from a culture which has different vocabulary to describe (a)sexuality. And they communicate this very clearly when they think it’s necessary.
This is mostly a trope of ace fiction focused on close relationships between ace and allo characters. That makes sense, since those are the situations in which the potential for receiving sexual advances are particularly high. By contrast, in stories focused on ace/ace relationships, the ace characters never seem to draw the line – either they assume that the other ace also does not want sex, or they briefly communicate to each other that they do not want sex, so neither feels the need to establish a clear boundary.
However, this is not exclusively a trope of ace/allo romance. Open Skies uses this trope, but it is focused on an ace/allo queerplatonic relationship, not a romance.
Clariel has an example of this trope in a story which is not focused on an ace/allo relationship. Even though Clariel does not have any partner, she sometimes finds it necessary to state very clearly that she is not going to consent to sex again with anyone.
So who are the allo characters who accept a close personal relationship where sex is permanently off the table? For the most part, they tend to be weird characters, considered by the other characters of the story to be far more quirky than the ace character. For example, in Breakfire’s Glass, Nikolai seems to be a goofball who does not take his duties to the empire seriously, even though he’s the emperor’s heir. In How to Be a Normal Person, Gus is … Gus. In Of Monsters and Men, Jeremy is not quite so weird in the personality department, but given that he is gay and a werewolf when coming out of the closet as either is risky, he is doubly queer.
Some allo characters find it harder to accept the no-sex line, and since the ace characters who draw the no-sex line in the first place are generally very firm in their convictions, that means either a break-up or the relationship not getting to the point where a ‘break-up’ is possible in the first place.
Are the ace characters in these stories sex-repulsed/sex-averse? In my opinion, yes, some of them are. However, in ace fiction, labels such as ‘sex-repulsed’ are almost never used. Thus, it is up to the reader to consider the character’s behavior, and draw their own conclusions.
That said, given the lack of ace characters who are explicitly labeled as sex-repulsed in the narrative, the stories which use this trope are some of the best representation of sex-repulsed/sex-averse aces I’ve seen in fiction so far. Even if they are not strictly sex-repulsed/sex-averse, I imagine that their experiences in forming close relationships with allo characters without compromising their personal boundaries are relevant to sex-repulsed/sex-averse aces.
Clariel is an outlier in that it is not about an ace/allo personal relationship, and Clariel, in my opinion, is sex-indifferent rather than sex-averse. Nonetheless, she definitely draws the no-sex line.
Breakfire’s Glass by A.M. Valenza
Open Skies by Yolande Kleinn
How to Be a Normal Person by T.J. Klune
Of Monsters and Men by Caitlin Ricci
Clariel by Garth Nix
1. Is it really unnecessary to draw a no-sex line in ace/ace relationships? Is it realistic to assume that not explicitly setting sexual boundaries in ace/ace relationships will not lead to problems?
2. What do you like or dislike about the variant of this trope in which the allo character is totally okay with the no-sex line? What do you like or dislike about the variant of this trope in which there is a break-up (or the ace and allo character never commit to each other in the first place) because of the no-sex line?
3. Does this trope have a positive message for aces? A negative message? Why or why not?