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.
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?