Ace Tropes: Sex Avoidant Allo

This is part of a series on tropes in fiction with ace characters. To link or follow this series, please use the “ace tropes” tag on this blog.

Impotency didn’t correlate strongly with a lack of desire. Though she hated to suggest it, she said, “You may not be aware, yet I have enchanted a peculiar sort of ring to aid older noblemen.”

“It is enough to possess your time and your high opinion. I savor your fears, few and precious.” He dared to wink at her then. “Sex is a childish pastime.”

Against all odds they were in near agreement. He had to be as amazed and nervous as she, wondering how so right a pairing could be probable.

Dark Lord’s Wedding by A.E. Marling, Chapter 46 “I Have Seen Your Heart And It is Mine”

The conflict which most people consider to be implicit (and often is totally explicit) in allo/ace romance is sexual incompatibility between the ace character and the allo character. It is assumed that the ace partner will want less sex (or no sex at all), whereas the allo will want sex on a regular basis.

However, not all allo people want sex regularly, or even at all. Even people who experience sexual attraction may find that, when they run a cost/benefit analysis on sex, that the cost outweighs the benefits. This is true in real life, and it also happens in fiction. Sometimes, one of the benefits which factors into that cost/benefit analysis is ‘making this ace I love feel more comfortable’ but sometimes, even without an ace in the picture, they still prefer not to have sex.

This trope is about allo characters who prefer to avoid sex regardless of the ace character.

So why might allosexuals avoid sex?

(Spoiler warning for the novel Thaw) In Thaw, Gabrielle, who is bisexual, had just been in a very abusive personal relationship, and it is implied that she has had a long history of abusive relationships. Thus, even though she experiences sexual attraction, sex carries a lot of negative emotional baggage for her, and she feels better not having sex. She had sex with her girlfriend Abigail mainly to please her – and she later finds out that Abigail is asexual and also only had sex to please Gabrielle (yes, they had sex they would have rather avoided just to please the other).

Tyler in Finding Your Feet is also recovering from an emotionally abusive relationship, though Tyler’s situation is a bit different. Tyler is trans, and his ex-girlfriend had found various ways to undermine his self-esteem with regards to his genitalia. Furthermore, most of his sex partners had had sex with him for the novelty of sex with a transman, and to quote Tyler, he is “long over being someone else’s interesting sex story”. When Evie, an asexual who Tyler is becoming emotionally closer to, explains that she does not do sex unless she is very serious about a relationship, Tyler is actually relieved. And how does Evie, the ace, react? To quote the novel:

In Evie’s past relationships, she’d been the one to confess something unusual, to put on the brakes, to negotiate space and time. People seemed to expect relationship events to happen in a certain order, and delaying sex was apparently weird (and for some, a total deal breaker), even though she’d argue it really wasn’t. Tyler didn’t behave like those people. Which, hey, wonderful, but it was odd to feel like she was the one slowing down to his speed this time.

Lord Tethiel in the Lady of Gems series is impotent because of his magic powers, and ‘curing’ his impotency would require giving up his magic. He also loves breaking society’s rules and expectations, thus the idea of a sexless marriage appeals to him.

One thing I notice that all of these allo characters have in common is that they could be interpreted as ‘broken’ because of the reasons they prefer to avoid sex. However, instead of trying to ‘fix’ themselves by dumping/overcoming their emotional baggage or, in Tethiel’s case, impotence, they find happiness by accepting themselves as they currently are.

If the allo doesn’t want sex anyway, does that mean that the allo/ace romance no longer has any conflict? Not at all. There may still be failure to communicate one’s preferences with regards to (not having) sex (see the Thaw example again). The ace and the allo may be incompatible in ways which have nothing to do with sex (for example, Hiresha knows that Tethiel is a master of lying and deception, and she does not trust him to be honest with her). There could simply be some external challenge.

However, this trope does find a plausible way to explain how an ace and an allo may be sexually compatible. In fact, an ace may be an especially good match for an allo who prefers to have intimate relationships without sex or sexual pressure.


Thaw by Elyse Springer
Finding Your Feet by Cass Lennox
Dark Lord’s Wedding by A.E. Marling

Discussion Questions:

1. What are additional reasons an allo character may generally prefer not to have sex in their intimate relationships (i.e. reasons which are not related to the specific people the character wants to have relationships with)?
2. How is this like the ace/ace romance trope? How is it different?
3. What messages might the inclusion of sex-avoidant allo characters send to ace readers? What messages might it send to allo readers?

About Sara K.

Sara K. is an aromantic asexual from California who previously lived in Taiwan. She blogs at the notes which do not fit, has previously been a contributor at Manga Bookshelf, and has written guest posts for Hacking Chinese. She enjoys reading, travel, live theatre, learning languages, and gardening.
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22 Responses to Ace Tropes: Sex Avoidant Allo

  1. Carmilla DeWinter says:

    No insights on questions 1 and 2, but as to 3: A message that things do not have to happen a certain way. People are different, all relationships are different and they are still valid. Do not make yourself fit the relationship escalator just to please others. Etc. (A lot of fiction does this in various ways. It is, however, obviously still necessary to repeat this message over and over and over …)

  2. Siggy says:

    I like this trope, at least in small quanitities. I think ace/allo relationships often sound tough because people imagine the typical allo person (and allo people often imagine themselves to be typical). But there’s a large range of allo experiences, and ace/allo relationships more often than not involve allo partners on one end of that spectrum. Some will be very far on that end, not wanting sex at all.

    1. Maybe the allo character doesn’t know why. E.g. maybe it’s because of gender issues, or it’s because of mental health issues, but the allo person isn’t sure which one.

    2. Both ace/ace romance and sex avoidant allos can function as wish fulfillment. However, I think ace/ace romances are a bit more in line with common expectations. Like, whenever aces talk about how difficult ace/allo relationships can be, there’s often that person who suggests that the solution is to meet other aces, like it’s just that easy.

    For many creators and readers, countering expectations could be a plus. On the other hand, it might make the sex avoidant allo trope come off as less believable.

    • Sara K. says:

      I also like this trope in small quantities. I think right now it makes up just the right proportion of all ace fiction. There are enough examples that I was able to write this post, but it’s still a minority of the allo/ace romance stories out there.

  3. Rivers says:

    I think a lot of times we tend to forget that allo people are part of a spectrum too, in terms of how much they desire/want sex, or how much libido they have (in other aspects as well, but these are the ones that seem relevant to the discussion). Allos don’t need a “reason” to not want/like sex. It could simply be a part of them.

    You don’t have to find people sexually attractive to like sex.

    You don’t have to like sex to find people sexually attractive.

    It just goes both ways.

    • Sara K. says:

      I was strongly considering putting a paragraph in the post about how this could be reframed, that allos need a reason to want sex, not a reason to not-want it. However, in practice, ace fiction does tend to explain why the allo character is avoiding sex, which is justified in a) it helps clarify the differences between them and the ace character and b) it helps the ace character feel more confident that they are sexually compatible.

      • Rachel says:

        These are genius posts in how many things they highlight. The way we aces frame sex in relationships involving allos, regardless of whether ace-participation, tend to generalize allos as inherently interested in/desiring sex: that sex for allos is inherently opt-out rather than opt-in. That might be true in broad cultural terms, but does not hold up when applied to individuals, and displays a case of ace community out-group bias that this post has revealed.

        Still, I agree that there is tremendous value in differentiating why an allo and ace person might not want sex. A disinterest/aversion to sex is, for many aces, the natural and inevitable consequence of not being attracted to anyone. For many aces (myself included), it’s a core feature, not an addon. By contrast, a disinterest/aversion to sex in an allo person is going to take a different shape by necessity. Asexuality and allosexuality are different in how they operate and that difference needs to be shown.

        • Sara K. says:

          And these are all reasons why I like this trope in fiction (though I can see there could be problems if sex avoidant allo became the dominant narrative of allo/ace romance).

          • Rachel says:

            Tbh, this has got me wondering about the framing of reasons-allos-might-not-want-sex… The examples provided for why an allo might not want sex (abuse, mental health, dysphoria, sensory issues, magical shinanegans etc.) are outside factors that make sex undesirable, which works in contrast to the lack of desire for sex as a core, internal feature for asexuality. Rather than always frame it as an outside influence, it would be a great angle for some allo love-interests to just not be motivated by sex all that much. No external baggage or issues or whatever. They just aren’t that into it, regardless of their attractions.

          • Sara K. says:

            The closest example I can think of to an allo character who simply lacks the motivation to have sex (yet still experiences sexual attraction) is Gus from How to Be a Normal Person.

          • luvtheheaven says:

            I was hesitating before bringing up How To Be A Normal Person because I haven’t actually finished reading the book (in fact listening to the audiobook) yet. I’m not sure exactly where they’re headed in terms of sex Gus is easy for me to interpret as possibly not allo when he refuses to pinpoint down any label for his orientation while being questioned point blank about if he’s gay, gray ace, etc. Even earlier I half expected Gus to turn out to be the asexual character despite having read enough of a synopsis to know it’s about Gus meeting an asexual hipster named Casey and knew no one has ever listed this as ace/ace romance as far as I can recall. But he’s so intrinsically not bothered to pursue sex, not torn at all over the thought of having to forgo it possibly forever, and he doesn’t GET a specific reason that would make it make sense other than just having limited past sexual experiences, all 3 of which were lackluster one-time encounters so I would imagine most allosexual people, especially those who aren’t especially friendly to asexuality as a concept art all, would think Gus “just hadn’t met the right person” and being satisfied with a sex-free life would be him “not knowing what he’s missing out on” and “giving up”. Gus is written as not decidedly not ace, yes I see that, and yet his characteristics including him being “intrinsically” “just not that into sex” MAKE him possibly ace-spectrum to me, as that’s one definition of asexuality I’m familiar with. If you have attraction but you don’t want sex… That’s pretty asexual-spectrum esque and I’ve met people like this art my local ace meetup lol?? Idk. Anyway yeah Idk I’d like to read more ownvoices fiction and just non-fiction small essay accounts about allos who don’t care about a lack of sex, allos who would or DO (did?) give up sex for the sake of an ace partner, specific reasons or not… Or hear their stories in person/on video, whatever… So I can feel more confident in what could be true for non-ace (aka allo) partners of aces. Right now I’m not sure if I am open to believing in this kind of narrative, because I’m so jaded and afraid of being hurt or hurting my fellow non-open-to-sex aces… It’s likely very unfair to the allos who are like this though.

          • Sara K. says:

            Yes, Gus is very indeterminate (I think that’s intentional on the writer’s part) which is why I did not put him down as an example of this trope.

            By the way, are you enjoying How to Be a Normal Person?

          • Rivers says:

            Ultimately, I think it depends on how the individual defines their experiences. If people who experience sexual attraction, but don’t like sex identify with being a-spec, then they are. If they identify as some other allo identity, that’s who they are. I would never purposely suggest otherwise, but I think it’s easy to miss a lot of the nuances of identities when trying to talk about these things. It was a good point to bring up, luvtheheaven.

  4. Sara K. says:

    1. Religious reasons, risk of pregnancy/STDs with no access to good birth control/STD treatment, low libido.
    2. It is like the ace/ace romance trope in that it is about relationships which are sexually compatible because they want little or no sex. A major difference, at least in how the tropes are used in fiction, is that ace/ace romances tend to be vague about sexual boundaries, whereas the sex-avoidant allo trope tends to come with an even more detailed discussion of sexual boundaries than most allo/ace romances.
    3. I think there are many potential messages. Quite a few boil down to ‘don’t make assumptions about people’.

  5. luvtheheaven says:

    To answer your question above, Sara K., I’m really enjoying How To Be Normal Person and I’m really happy I chose such an asexuality focused book for my first forray into fiction with ace characters. I love how it’s a feel good story too, it’s silly and cute and quirky, simple and kind of without too much plot and instead is kind of what can be fun about fanfiction – character development and exploring relationships… I’ll be discussing it at the monthly book club the Washington DC based ace meetup has… In about a week. So I’ll finish it by then. 🙂 The ace book club reads a very huge variety of books, the vast majority of the time books of interest to at least one member that has no ace characters, but occasionally books with ace characters get chosen and because last book club was my first time actually showing up to that specific regular event, it was my chance to pick the book lol. (First time attendees usually get the privilege of choosing haha.) I’m looking forward to finding out what my ace friends and acquaintances thought of it too.

    To answer the questions…

    1. What are additional reasons an allo character may generally prefer not to have sex in their intimate relationships (i.e. reasons which are not related to the specific people the character wants to have relationships with)?

    To bring in the fanfiction perspective, Bruce Banner (The Incredible Hulk) from the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been written as compatible with an ace! interpretation of Natasha Romanov (Black Widow) at least once or twice, I should read more MCU fic, because in the MCU Bruce Banner can’t risk turning into the Hulk and losing control. Every time his heart rate gets above a certain number, this happens to him, and this is even explored in the The Incredible Hulk solo film in a sex scene. The thought that he just would rather not have sex (rather not risk it) when weighing the pros and cons could be pretty compatible with an ace who doesn’t want sex. Especially if eventually training yourself to keep your heart rate low enough during that kind of excitement doesn’t seem feasible.

    This reminds me of some versions of Superman’s story including on Smallville which I know best..
    Where Clark Kent is a virgin and afraid to have sex with a human (and as the only alien out at least only Kryptonian on Earth has limited other options) because he quite literally might accidentally kill her. When he’s on the “drug” that makes him lose all inhibitions (red kryptonite) he seems quite willing to have sex with women, and also does act physically violently abusive on occasion, grabbing and shoving people with superhuman strength… These are odd choices in some ways on the writers’ parts… And most versions of Superman do include him eventually having sex with humans and it not being portrayed as any harder to not hurt his partner as it is in the rest of his life to not use his superpowers to injure others. But there is that hesitation, that “it doesn’t matter if I feel attraction and desire because I care about her too much to ever risk sex”, a sentiment usually overpowered by his love interest really wanting sex and just “having faith”/”trusting” he won’t hurt her and can control his incredible powers even while in “the heat of the moment”, even while in the act of sex.

    I’m not very familiar with Twilight but I think this might’ve happened there too, even just kissing might be extra tempting to drink her blood/possibly kill her, probably a lot of vampire stories grapple with this conundrum: what if a vampire didn’t want to turn, or kill, or even hurt a human, and instead fell in love and yet… Deep down that instinct because of the nature of the creature they are is there…

    I could speculate that a mismatched sexual and romantic orientation where both orientations are allo monosexual could possibly, in some cases, have the person choosing to forgo sex to the gender they’re sexually attracted to in favor of their romantic attractions, like it’s but just this one person but in general they’ve decided this matters to them more?? Maybe. This is a rare type of person to encounter but it’s still interesting to consider.

    There’s also illness or injury reasons to avoid sex in real life. At least for a time. This isn’t always related to libido. You could have a loss of libido because of your injury or illness… Or you could be afraid to hurt yourself further/get your partner infected with something/etc… Just a thought.

    2. How is this like the ace/ace romance trope? How is it different?

    I really like the observations Sara K. Just made about boundaries about sex being so differently handled depending on the trope.

    Another difference is just how ace/allo seems on the surface like it should be incompatible. So it’s about defying expectations any time they have a successful romance. Ace/ace romance by default is about characters assumed to be compatible. The only way an ace/ace romance would be about defying expectations is if it defied the trope’s norms and they ended up not being compatible despite both being ace.

    3a. What messages might the inclusion of sex-avoidant allo characters send to ace readers?

    Maybe that there are more potential partners out there than they thought/a romance for them might be found in an unexpected way…

    3b. What messages might it send to allo readers?

    That not all people with their orientation prioritize sex to the same degree? A lot of people assume everyone with the same orientation are the same… Especially “my in group is like me”… Also that there is a lot to value in relationships beyond sex, and this might be more obvious to allos in this type of story than in an ace/ace romance? Even that sexual attraction without consummation or ever having sex in the relationship can still be a very positive rather than negative. Instead of it being sexual frustration, tension, angst… These stories could share a perspective on embracing feeling sexual attraction as something that’s positive even when you know that’s THE experience in and of itself, and because of whatever circumstances it can never ever translate into true desire because instead these characters who feel sexual attraction are sex-avoidant!!

  6. Sara K. says:

    I’m glad that you’re happy with How to Be a Normal Person. If you have time/energy, maybe after your book club meeting you could write a blog post about the club’s reactions?

    On the topic of ownvoices reviews, though this is not a review written by a sex-avoidant allo, this is a review by a trans person who has experienced transphobic emotional abuse in a relationship (I just found this review today):

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  8. Tabitha says:

    When I saw the title of this post, I immediately thought of How to Be a Normal Person—but I guess it’s true that, as people were saying in the comments above, Gus is more sex-indifferent than sex-avoidant (and I definitely feel like he could be read as not actually allo). I think that could be its own trope, where the ace character not wanting sex isn’t a big deal to the allo (even if the allo isn’t actively sex-avoidant), and so after the ace character comes out, the allo is fine with ceasing to have/just not having sex, and there’s no angst/pressure/negotiation around it. (It’d be interesting to look at how that trope is used; sometimes it feels like wish-fulfillment [like in Aces by Kathryn Burns], sometimes it’s just what makes the most sense for the allo, as well as for the ace [How to Be a Normal Person, if we’re reading Gus as allo], and sometimes it casts the allo as the ace’s savior/hero for being willing to sacrifice sex for them [Tash Hearts Tolstoy].)

    • Sara K. says:

      You make a good point about how this could be classified as a subtrope of Allo Not Making Big Deal about Not Having Sex (another example of that trope would be Of Monsters and Men, in which one of the allo characters says that he can meet all of his sexual needs with masturbation).

      • luvtheheaven says:

        Brian in that television series Sirens also does that with Voodoo. I paraphrase but he says something like: I’m not having sex now regardless, I’d rather be not having sex “with you”.

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