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Mixed-Orientation Couples Include Ace-Allo Couples

What we are learning about asexuality.

Key points

  • Asexuality is not a choice. An aceflux is someone who moves through all the expressions of sexuality.
  • Ace-allo relationships exist and should not be pathologized.
  • Labels can help people take control of their identities and feel good about themselves.
Source: Motortion/iStock by Getty
Ace-allo relationship.
Source: Motortion/iStock by Getty

As a sex therapist for many years, I’m frequently surprised and humbled by discovering something about sexuality that only a few years ago I would have misdiagnosed or not even imagined.

If a couple sees a therapist, and one partner complains, “We never have enough sex,” and the other partner admits they are not that interested in being sexual with their partner, the therapist will ask that partner, “Do you masturbate?” If they say, “Yes, I do it regularly,” therapists look for pathology, psychological, or relationship issues with that person—maybe early trauma—not understanding that they may just be asexual or not interested in sexual contact the way their partner is. If a hormone panel check is done and their medications are checked, and nothing is found wrong there, therapists assume something was wrong in their past, often immediately looking at trauma, not realizing that a small percentage of people actually are asexual, also known as “Ace,” and that this might be their natural state.

Sexual labels

I’ve heard many complaints in recent years about the proliferation of labels by which people identify their sexuality. Not so long ago, people were labeled on a binary, either straight or gay, with no nuance or gray areas. Now, in a relatively short time, we’ve been introduced to so many new labels that we’ve had to put a + sign at the end of LGBTQ; otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to pronounce it!

Many people in our culture are frustrated with and dismissive of this evolution. But think about this: As a culture, we didn’t seriously examine our beliefs about sexuality before Masters and Johnson began researching it in the late 1950s. Now, nearly 70 years later, sex therapy has slowly inched closer to mainstream therapy, after being locked out for many years (though still not in some quarters) and, like looking through a microscope for the first time, we’ve found worlds we never knew.

I’d like to address the world of asexuality here.

Asexuality: It’s not just one thing

Like other aspects of sexuality, it’s a spectrum. An asexual:

  • Can be someone who is not at all sexual and not by choice. It is an inherent disinterest in being sexual, much like being gay is an inherent interest in being with someone of the same sex. This is different than choosing to be nonsexual or to be celibate for religious or purity reasons.
  • Can have a robust sex life, just with themselves. They have a strong desire and masturbate frequently but have no desire to be sexual with another person.
  • Might be in a relationship that began really hot and sexual but slowly changed into seldom having sex. What happened? At the beginning of most relationships, we get a big rush of hormonesdopamine, serotonin, phenylethylamine, and such—which diminishes over time. This is also known as limerence or, as young people call it, “love bombs.”
  • Might be “graysexual.” That is, they are mostly sexual with themselves and can be sexual with others, a sort of gray area between being sexual and asexual. When therapists do a sexual history with them, they say it’s always been this way.
  • Might be “demisexual.” That is, they are only sexually interested in people they have an emotional bond with. Without that, they do not have sexual desire or interest.
  • Is able to fall into romantic love but not have sexual desire. They can be and remain romantic without sexual interest with a partner or anyone else.
  • Might be “aceflux,” someone who fluctuates among the asexual spectrum. They go between asexual, graysexual, and demisexual.

Asexual relationships

Ready for even more labels? How about “allosexual”? These are people not on the asexual spectrum. When they fall in love with an ace, these sexual mismatches are being called “ace-allo” relationships.

Gay and asexual? Within the gay male community, asexuality is a problem as well. Typically, gay men are perceived as sexually active, very sexually open, hooking up regularly, and so on. But what happens to a man who is attracted to men but not in a sexual way? Can he still think of himself as “gay?” Does it create shame?

I have had many gay men come to me, riddled with shame that they are not like “other gay men” who are out and about having a lot of sex. They feel disenfranchised, lost, and worried that they will never have a partner. Some are partnered and worry they will lose their partner if they don’t open their relationships.

Why labels are important

Despite the fact that many people get upset about all these labels—the reason these are becoming part of our cultural conversation is that we’re getting more and more informed and sophisticated all the time about these sexual ranges in us—this spectrum. Sex therapists are learning more every day about these nuances and how to work with people on their issues. Sexuality was confusing enough for our culture to accept in the past. As a whole, we far prefer simpler answers to complex problems, don’t we?

But for the many people struggling with their sexuality, discovering a label that fits their inner mystery really helps them to consider that they may be normal after all, that they’re not alone in their confusion or with their problem. When we go to a doctor, we want a diagnosis, a label that can define what we’re feeling going on inside our body. In ways we don’t yet understand, naming something helps us to feel as though we have some power over it, or at least lessens our anxiety over not knowing.

It may take a long time before the general culture stops dismissing this growing awareness of who we are as sexual human beings and begins to understand why labels matter. Meanwhile, those of us in the sex therapy business continue to research and allow our once-static ideas to evolve in the service of a healthier culture.


If you would like to hear more about asexuality, visit my latest podcast with Cody Daigle-Orians, an asexual writer and educator.