Amatanormativity, Romance, and Partnership: My Problem with “Cupioromanticism”

Some months ago, a new term and identity emerged out of the aromantic/asexual communities on Tumblr: cupioromantic, denoting a person who is aromantic (does not experience romantic attraction) but desires a romantic relationship. Several asexuals (aromantic and alloromantic) in the Tumblr community seemed to disapprove of the term/concept or disagreed with the idea of it being necessary as a sub-identity under the aromantic umbrella. “Cupioromantic” is supposed to be the romantic orientation version of “cupiosexual,” which describes asexuals who want sexual relationships—although most asexuals who like sex don’t bother using any other label except for “asexual.” Most asexuals, including ones who don’t like or have or want sex, believe that you can be asexual and still want sex to be a regular part of your life and relationships. I’m not interested in touching that subject in this post, although I will say that the idea of an asexual wanting sex is a lot more reasonable and justifiable than cupioromanticism.

As an aromantic-spectrum asexual and a radical relationship anarchist, I take major issue with “cupioromanticism” as a concept. I think it’s a mostly useless identity, although if you want to use it, no one can stop you. But the idea behind the identity is what’s so problematic, and that’s what I want to dig into in this post, because it’s connected to other issues in aromantic politics.

So, first let’s set a foundation. In order to understand why cupioromanticism is problematic, you need to know about amatonormativity, which is a word coined by professor and philosopher Elizabeth Brake in her book Minimizing Marriage: Marriage, Morality, and the Law. She defines amatonormativity as: “the assumption that a central, exclusive, amorous relationship is normal for humans, in that it is a universally shared goal, and that such a relationship is normative, in the sense that it should be aimed at in preference to other relationship types.” Amatonormativity perpetuates romance supremacy, or the belief that romantic relationships and love are superior to all relationships and love and should not only be desired above all relationships but prioritized above everything else by default. Amatonormativity is a paradigm installed and institutionalized into our culture, primarily perpetuated by the mainstream media, that teaches us to idolize, desire, and depend on romantic relationships and view ourselves as either loved or unloved through our status as someone else’s romantic other.

Understand that aromanticism is a very recent concept and identity, and the dialogue going on within and because of the aromantic population is extremely new. Aromantic identity originally cohered in the asexual community, but it has since become clear that aromanticism is not exclusive to asexuality and describes people of all sexual orientations. The vast majority of mankind doesn’t know aromanticism exists. This is not popular knowledge. Aromanticism is not represented in the media, in text books, in sexuality classes, in the mainstream LGBTQ movement, or anywhere else. Aromanticism is pretty much only alive online and in asexual education efforts, at this point. Most people, who are predominantly romantic, are completely ignorant of aromanticism and everything connected to it, and they have not yet been challenged or presented with the opportunity to deconstruct or even critically think about amatonormativity, romance supremacy, or common ideas of romance in general.

Aromanticism—aromantic love, feelings, relationships, emotion, identity, sexuality, and experience—is invisible in our culture. In every culture. It is imperative that you understand that, whether you’re aromantic or romantic and especially if you’ve ever even remotely identified with “cupioromanticism.” Invisibility is disempowerment. While aromantics don’t experience specific, directed, and intentional oppression and violence at the hands of the romantic majority or their cultural hegemonies, the total invisibility of aromantics is representative of their disempowerment, and that invisibility does nothing to protect them from amatonormativity. In fact, the invisibility of aromanticism is essential to the survival of amatonormativity.

As far as I’m concerned, the idea of cupioromanticism, of aromantics wanting romantic relationships, comes from a misguided place of internalized amatonormativity and romance supremacy. It comes from unquestioned adoption of mainstream relationship norms. It comes from anti-aromanticism. And it is perfectly logical that some aromantic-spectrum people carry enough of that baggage, that they’re telling themselves and the world that they want “romantic” relationships even though they don’t feel romantic attraction. If you don’t do the work of breaking all this social conditioning down in your own mind, you will be controlled by it. Aromantics who think they want or need romantic relationships aren’t much different than asexuals who believe they have to be okay with sex, that they should be willing and able to have sex in romantic relationships. Both sets of people are expressing their social programming, their internalized amatonormativity and compulsory sexuality.

Cupioromanticism, the idea that someone could be aromantic but want romantic relationships, is extremely problematic because it rests on the belief that there are unalterable criteria that separates “romantic” relationships from “nonromantic” relationships,” “romantic” love from “nonromantic” love, that certain emotions and behaviors can only be experienced in romantic relationship. Cupioromanticism invalidates queerplatonic friendships, passionate friendship, and primary nonromantic partnerships, even if unintentionally.

Cupioromanticism doesn’t make any sense because the only thing that defines romantic relationships as romantic is romantic attraction. That’s it. The feeling of romantic attraction. Not love, not prioritization, not emotional intimacy, not touch, not commitment, not cohabitation or coparenting or anything else. The only thing that makes a relationship romantic is romantic attraction, and romantic attraction is a completely subjective feeling that varies by person. The only way that you could be aromantic and want romantic relationships is if you specifically want to “date” someone who is romantically attracted to you, if you want your primary partner in life to be someone who is romantically attracted to you. You can find everything else except for romantic attraction outside of romantic relationships, if you look and if you want it, so a desire for closeness or love or primary partnership cannot be reasons you specifically want romantic relationships as opposed to queerplatonic relationships or any other kind of nonromantic friendship.

If you are aromantic but want to have a partner who’s romantically in love with you, I would think long and hard about why. Again, that desire—while technically the only good reason for identifying as “cupioromantic”—is pretty much rooted in romance supremacy. If you’re aromantic but the only kind of partner good enough for you is someone who’s romantically attracted to you, you must believe on some level that romantic love is better than nonromantic love. And that’s fucked up. You should work on scrapping that belief.

I can see how some aromantics who very much want a primary partner, a life partner/long-term partner, some kind of relationship that is very close and intimate and loving and meets their needs for touch, quality time, and priority would believe that the only way to get that kind of connection and commitment from someone is to enter into romantic relationship. In other words, I can see how a desire for romantic relationship may come from fear of having no significant relationship or partnership at all. We live in a world where most people are romantic, and in accordance with amatonormativity, most if not all romantic people do believe that romantic relationships are not only superior to friendship but the only kind of relationship that matters and the only kind that can be a primary/committed partnership. It’s always going to be easier to find someone who wants you for romantic partnership than it is to find someone who wants you for nonromantic/queerplatonic partnership or committed, passionate friendship.

But this fear shouldn’t and doesn’t need to be the basis of an identity. Convincing yourself that you need to get involved in a kind of relationship you don’t naturally feel interested in, just because you think there’s nothing else available, is a bad idea and not a reason to create some new label. Yes, some aromantic people get into romantic relationships with people they care about, who have romantic feelings for them, because they do want a partner and don’t mind if their partner is technically into them romantically. But unintentionally ending up in romantic relationship—especially if you’re sexual and want a steady sexual partner anyway—is not the same thing as actively wanting romantic relationship, as an aromantic person, because you think it can offer you something you can’t get anywhere else.

There is NOTHING that you can get from romantic relationships, that you can’t get from nonromantic friendship, except for your partner’s romantic attraction to you. I’m going to say it until you accept it. No behavior is inherently romantic. Love is not inherently, exclusively romantic. A primary partnership is not definitively romantic. You can have sex with a nonromantic partner, you can be committed to a nonromantic partner, you can kiss and cuddle and hug a nonromantic partner, you can live with a nonromantic partner, you can raise kids with nonromantic partners, you can mutually put each other first in a nonromantic relationship. Everything and anything you could possibly do or feel can be experienced in friendship and nonromantic partnership, except for romantic attraction.

Now, obviously, for many romantic people, certain things are romantic to them and therefore will only happen in their romantic relationships. But an individual’s perception of specific behaviors, relationship orchestration, and feelings as “romantic” never, ever functions as universal truth. Our personal feelings determine what is “romantic” and not romantic, nothing else. We cannot even define what romantic attraction is or feels like, in a way that applies to all human beings. Different romantic people experience romantic attraction differently, and what is “romantic” for some romantic people is nonromantic for some aromantic people. The pursuit of a singular and official definition for romantic attraction is futile. It doesn’t exist. It’s an emotion, and like all emotions, it’s totally subjective and internal and ultimately indescribable. Be skeptical of anyone who tries to tell you that their personal definition of romantic attraction is universally applicable. Romantic attraction is an abstract, instinctual sensation—not one you can define with a checklist of certain desires, interests, or physical symptoms.

Where so many romantic people tend to fuck up is in their assumption that romantic attraction is universal and experienced in just one way, that certain behaviors can only be motivated by romantic attraction—for all people—and therefore are defined as romantic in and of themselves. Instead of investigating a person’s feelings, apart from their behavior, we assume what their feelings are by looking at their behavior.

“A kiss is romantic, so if you kiss someone, you’re romantically attracted to them.”

“Primary partnerships are romantic, so if you want to be someone’s primary partner, you must have romantic feelings for them.”

This erroneous logic is based on a false premise: that both romantic behaviors and romantic feelings are uniform throughout the human species and that romantic behaviors are romantic independent of individual intent and attraction. In addition to the invisibility of aromanticism, romantic society doesn’t acknowledge these nonromantic phenomena because it teaches that certain behaviors and ways of relating have global romantic meaning regardless of anyone’s actual feelings. In reality, no behavior has meaning outside of personal intent, perception, and feeling—and the meaning of any given behavior changes according to individual and circumstance.

When aromantics desire, participate in, or feel things that are coded as romantic by mainstream society, romantic people falsely interpret the aromantic person’s feelings and intentions as romantic in nature. Romantic people are superimposing their own feelings, their own experiences of relating to others, onto aromantics and suggesting that aromantics are confused or in denial about who they are and what they want.

“You can’t be aromantic if you want a partner, if you feel strong emotion toward someone, if you love to cuddle and kiss people, if you love anyone who isn’t family, if you want to live with someone in a committed way, etc, etc—because all of that stuff is romantic.”

This is erasure of nonromantic love, nonromantic partnership, nonromantic touch and intimacy, and it is closely connected to romantic-sexual supremacy. It is very much in the interest of amatonormativity and romance supremacy to create the illusion that many desirable experiences can only be accessed through romance, because if they can be accessed through nonromantic relationship, all of a sudden romantic relationships are not so worth coveting or glorifying as extraordinary. By making positive emotional and relational resources scarce and limited to romantic relationships, society ensures that nonromantic friendship is continually subordinated to romance and devalued, which serves the patriarchal heteronormative capitalistic political machine in various ways. Deromanticizing and desexualizing love, touch, intimacy, commitment, and partnership would not only empower and liberate aromantics, but destroy amatonormativity and dismantle the romantic-sexual relationship hierarchy on a broad cultural scale.

When romantic people attempt to deny aromantic experiences that contradict the premise of loving connection only existing in romance, they’re performing a kind of orientation centrism: the refusal to acknowledge socio-emotional experiences outside of one’s own orientation(s), believing in the superiority and exclusive normalcy of one’s own experiences and practices, and believing that everyone else should be and live and feel like you. Forcefully romanticizing other people’s nonromantic relationships, love, intimacies, and identities is relational and emotional imperialism, an extension of the cultural, linguistic, ontological, and historical imperialism that goes on in the international political arena and the academic world. There is an ongoing tradition of distorting relationships, sexuality, and ways of loving in other time periods and parts of the world, for the purpose of making them fit into mainstream, contemporary, white, Anglo-Saxon, romantic-sexual realities—and most everyone is guilty of it to one degree or another, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Instead of accepting that there are realities different, even incompatible, with our own and trying our best to see them for what they are instead of what we want them to be, we often filter them through our personal biases for the purpose of serving and reinforcing our own desires, our own experiences, our own identities. All romantic-sexual people—straight, gay, bisexual, queer—have done this to friendship, to nonromantic and nonsexual relationships of the past and the present, in their own countries and in other countries. Instead of looking at other people’s feelings, relationships, and behaviors in the context of their time and place, romantic-sexual people assume romantic and sexual attraction and involvement are behind any non-familial love, intimacy, partnership, touch, and strong emotional connection because they themselves believe that romantic-sexual relationships are superior to nonromantic and/or nonsexual friendship.

Romantic people erasing, denying, and romanticizing aromantic relationships, love, and desire for connection is similar to English speaking societies ignoring and erasing words and concepts in other languages that cannot be directly translated into English, which is linguistic imperialism. It is similar to spreading English into other societies without bridging or encouraging a bridge between language differences, and dismissing the legitimacy of other languages’ unique features. The attitude is, “If it doesn’t exist in English, it doesn’t exist or it isn’t relevant,” because English has become the default “normal” language, the language that ought to be universal. Likewise, there is an attitude in romantic-dominated society that anything out of sync with the romance paradigm and its supporting constructs doesn’t exist, is illegitimate, abnormal, or confused. Any feeling, relationship, or person that doesn’t fit into romantic society’s amatonormative reality is buried in invisibility and inaccurately repackaged as romantic. Romantic society has no interest in learning how to speak aromanticism. It only insists on spreading the language, the culture, of romance, and just like with English-speaking white nations and their otherized counterparts, many aromantics actually find themselves willing to submit to their own erasure, seduced into a desire for assimilation into the powerful and visible normative majority. If romantic relationships are superior to nonromantic relationships and if romance is the only source of love and if romance is the defining characteristic of a person’s humanity, then pretending to be romantic and entering into romantic relationships after convincing yourself that’s what you want become logical acts of self-denial.

Speaking of language, it must be understood that power and freedom do not exist without the ability to effectively communicate and express one’s truth, which is why the labels and other words aromantic people use to describe their feelings, desires, and relationships are necessary and important. Funnily enough, English—which has become the one and only global language—includes a handful of sexualized and romanticized words that linguistically create and support the actual system of relationships normative in English-speaking nations, a system that is intensely amatonormative and saturated with compulsory sexuality and romance supremacy. Our own language erases and shuts down aromantic and asexual experiences, lives, relationships, and emotions. As we speak it on a daily basis, we are reinforcing the very romantic-sexual paradigm that denies our existence as aromantic people. The words we invent to describe and navigate our feelings and relationships and even the identity term “aromantic” are not just silly internet neologisms that have no real meaning. They are tools aromantics need to assert our own reality and the realness of our selves. They are a form of resistance to amatonormativity, romance supremacy, the idea that all people are romantic and only romantic relationships are legitimate sources of love, intimacy, and partnership.

I have to emphasize that romanticizing emotion is just as harmful and ridiculous as romanticizing behaviors and language, and this act on the part of romantic society explains why so many romantic people make assumptions about aromantic people’s emotional lives. It’s pretty common for aromantic people to see and hear romantics objecting to the existence of aromanticism with comments like: “You mean you don’t have feelings?” or “These people must be sociopaths.” As if romantic attraction is the sum total of human emotion. (Frankly, we should be more disturbed about what that says of romantic people than offended as aromantics.) As if romantic love is the only kind of love that exists. As if romantic attraction is the only thing that enables a person to be warm, kind, friendly, passionate, deeply emotional, and empathetic.

Aromantics are not emotionally stunted. We don’t have a shorter emotional range than romantic people do. We just don’t experience romantic attraction. That’s it. That’s the only categorical difference between aromantics and romantics. Romantic attraction has nothing to do with love, emotional attachment, empathy, fear, anger, desire, sadness, sensitivity, or even sexuality. There are aromantics in every sexual orientation and just as much variety in the aromantic population, in terms of social and emotional style and tendencies, as there is in the romantic population. An aromantic’s preferences and desires when it comes to having a partner, being a parent, engaging in emotional connection, talking about feelings, engaging in physical affection and intimacy, and everything else under the umbrella of personal relationships vary from person to person.

As for the debate about what makes “romantic” relationships vs. nonromantic relationships and where an aromantic person’s desires for closeness and partnership fall, I have to hammer home this fact that nothing is naturally romantic except romantic attraction, and that aromantics can participate in any behavior they like with a friend or partner, regardless of the absence of romantic attraction. The aromantic section of the asexual community created the word and concept of queerplatonic relationships precisely because many aromantic people want relationships that go beyond common friendship but are not romantic. Queerplatonic friendship can include anything typically found in romantic relationships, and their defining characteristic is that no romantic attraction is present between the two friends in the relationship. Queerplatonic relationships can be anything you want. Some of them are primary partnerships, and some aren’t. Some are physically affectionate, and some aren’t. Some are exclusive, and some aren’t. Some are even sexual, though most are not.

The idea of queerplatonic relationships, of aromantic love and partnership, is so radical and significant—more than any of us who have become used to the concept realize—for many reasons but particularly because it illuminates the truth that there is indeed love, intimacy, connection, and partnership outside of romance. Romance is not the source of these things and never has been. That’s what is so important to understand, for cupioromantic-identifying aros and people who support that identity. If you can access everything you desire from a friend or partner in queerplatonic relationship or other forms of friendship, except for romantic attraction, why would you want romantic relationships as a self-identified aromantic person? If you acknowledge that queerplatonic and passionate friendships exist and are possible, if you acknowledge that nonromantic primary partnerships can happen, why would you want a romantic relationship as a self-identified aromantic person? If you, as an aromantic person, were presented with the options of a conventional romantic relationship and a queerplatonic partnership, both of them offering everything you want in a significant relationship, the only difference being the presence or absence of romantic attraction from your partner, why would you choose the romantic relationship?

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Aromanticism Discussion on HuffPo Live!

This is so AMAZING. An open and respectful conversation about aromanticism on HuffPo Live! Aromantic and asexual interviewees! Discussion about queerplatonic relationships!

I am so happy that aromanticism is finally being discussed in the mainstream media!

 

Aromantics Want to Be Friends, But Not Asexual

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Vice Publishes Article on Aromanticism!

An article about aromanticism was recently published on Vice.com! And I’ve gotta say, it’s pretty damn good considering it was written by someone romantic and posted on fucking Vice of all places. There are a few spots that made me wince–like the idea that only romantics want “a loving relationship” as if “love” is exclusive to romance; or the line that says aromantics don’t consider physical affection “an expression of emotion” even if they like doing it–but overall, it’s pretty well-done. So much better than it could’ve been. I wish the author hadn’t brought up Tumblr and was a bit less tongue-in-cheek, but I can let the flaws slide because

a) she talks about aromantic sexual people! Aromanticism as something distinct from asexuality!

b) she talks about queerplatonic relationships!

c) she interviewed an aromantic lesbian, in addition to other aros!

d) she acknowledges that aros can enjoy cuddling/kissing at all!

 

Seriously, it is awesome to see aromanticism finally surfacing in the mainstream media and being presented in a mostly accurate/neutral or positive way. I hope this is the first of many more articles on aromanticism to come.

:)

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Recommended Reading: Stigma Against Aromantic Allosexual People

Anagnori wrote a fantastic and very important post a while back about the prejudice against aromanticism and specifically aromantic sexual people that is deeply embedded in our society. I think everyone should read it and become aware of this stigma, because it is harmful not only to aromantic sexual people but to other sexually active/allosexual people too.

Read the post here.

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Resources for Aromantic Sexual People

While there are some resources for aromantics of all sexual orientations listed on my Helpful Links page, I wanted to compile a list for aromantic sexual people specifically, because you guys really need all the support and community you can get.

 

You Might Be Aromantic If…. – A really long list of potential signs of being on the aromantic-spectrum.

Handy Words for People Questioning if They Are Aromantic

Awesome Post About Aromantic Sexual People Caring About Their Sexual Partners

Aromantic Aardvark — This is an excellent blog devoted to aromanticism, all sexual orientations welcome, and you can ask for advice anonymously. The blog runner is actually an aromantic homosexual man.

Aro Ramblings – blog dedicated to aromanticism, run by an aromantic pansexual

Queerplatonic and Aromantic Advice - blog run by several aromantic-spectrum people, some of whom are allosexual. You can ask for advice anonymously about queerplatonic relationships, aromantic relationships, or just being aromantic.

Fuck Yeah Queerplatonic Zucchinis – blog devoted to queerplatonic relationships; everyone’s welcome, regardless of romantic or sexual orientation, but the person who runs the blog is an aromantic sexual person and definitely can give advice to other aro sexual people.

The Romantic and Aromantic Orientations Subforum on AVEN – A small handful of aromantic sexual people have found their way to AVEN’s boards, looking for support. You are always welcome there. While most aro people on AVEN are also asexual and most sexual people are romantic, many aromantic aces are happy to connect with you over aromanticism, and there’s plenty of discussion about aromantic relationships, queerplatonic relationships, etc.

Aromantic Talk Facebook Group – This is a private group you have to join, and there’s a pretty even spread of sexual and asexual aromantic folks from all over the world.

Aroplane – aromantic message board

AroHQ – blog dedicated to aromantic interpretations of characters in media. Headcanon submissions welcome!

Aromantic Nerd – general aromantic-spectrum blog, definitely friendly to aro sexual people. Another place you can ask for advice anonymously. Run by three mods, one of whom is bisexual.

Aromantic and Kinky – a group for aromantic kinky people on Fetlife, obviously many of whom are sexual

A Teeny Tiny Linkspam on Aromanticism - if you want to read up on aromanticism, this a great place to start!

Allo Aros – blog for aromantic allosexual people

Anagnori’s aromantic allosexual tag – anagnori is actually an aromantic asexual but they’re very smart, articulate, and knowledgeable in all things MOGAII, so feel free to ask them questions (anonymously) if you’d like input or just browse their general aromantic tag.

“People Who Don’t Want to Fall In Love” video – great little video about aromanticism!

How to Be a Better Ally to Aromantic People – this is an excellent post written by anagnori on how to support aromantic people regardless of their sexual orientation. You may want to bookmark to pass along to people you know, if and when you come out as aromantic.

Aro Amazing – general aromantic blog run by an aromantic lesbian

What a Poly Aromantic Relationship Looks Like” – this is a fantastic post written by an aromantic heterosexual man about his nonromantic sexual poly relationship!

 

 

And don’t forget to browse my aromantic tag! :)

 

 

 

 

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Unconditional Love and Long-Term, Committed Relationships

Longevity has always been really important to me when it comes to relationships. (I mean, interpersonal relationships generally, not romantic relationships specifically.) I want passionate friends who I can happily live with and love for the rest of my life. I want deeply loving friendships that last until death and continue to grow stronger and more meaningful over time. I want commitment from my domestic partners. I want loyalty from every friend I love. I want to know that if I love someone, that person is still going to be in my life 30+ years from now, still connected to me, still caring about and loving me—just as I expect myself to do for them.

I’ve had discussions with people of all ages online about the topic of relationships (not just romantic ones) ending in break-up, and I’ve often been at odds with many of them. I see a severed relationship as a failed relationship. Something went wrong, and that’s why it dissolved. I define “successful relationship” as one that lasts happily until death. People who disagree with me believe that a relationship’s success is based only on how well it served its purpose however long it lasted. They also argue that a relationship that is unhappy but continues is not successful at all, which I agree with. To me, both happiness and endurance define a successful relationship. To the people who disagree with me—and there seem to be a lot, particularly in my age group—happiness in the moment is the only thing that defines whether a relationship was a good one or a successful one. Commitment and loyalty aren’t important or necessary to them.

These people likely don’t understand why I place such an emphasis on longevity. If they knew me personally, maybe they would ask, “Why do you care so much about your friendships and partnerships lasting forever? Why don’t you just let go of that need and be satisfied if you get something that’s good for a couple years and when it ends, just get a replacement? Why can’t you be happy with a bunch of pretty good short-term relationships instead of a few long-term ones?”

Simple. I want long-term, committed relationships with friends because I want unconditional love. When I commit to someone, I’m not committing to the relationship itself so much as I’m making a commitment to love that other person no matter what happens. Staying with someone, a friend or a partner, is about loyalty, sure. Loyalty’s important. It’s a great character trait and one that I want to possess. But more important than loyalty, more important than keeping a promise or commitment for it’s own sake, more important than anything is love.

There are only two kinds of love: conditional and unconditional. That’s the bottom line.

Conditional love says: “Do what I want you to do, make me feel good, and then I’ll love you. As soon as you quit behaving yourself for me, as soon as it’s not effortless to feel good with you, I don’t love you anymore.”

Unconditional love is: “I love you. Not because of anything you do or say or feel. I love you because I choose to love you. I love you because love feels good to me. You don’t have the power to take my love away, nor does any event in our relationship.”

Here’s the thing: it’s easy to love someone when they’re acting the way you want and giving you everything you want and when nothing challenging is going on in your life or theirs. It’s easy to love someone when everything around you and between you is going smoothly all by itself. It’s easy to love someone when all you do is have fun together. It’s easy to love someone who’s loving you all the time, just the way you like.

But the love you feel in those circumstances is not unconditional. That love doesn’t require any focus or effort of you. That love doesn’t even necessarily coincide with loyalty or commitment; you’re there loving that person because it’s easy to do so, not because you’ve chosen to be loyal or committed.

Unconditional love is proven through the testing of it. And I’m not just talking about commitment or loyalty in times of trouble. I’m talking about loving someone when it requires your focus, your will, your deliberate intent, your commitment to the feeling of love—not just to the relationship agreement. I’m talking about appreciating another person’s positive aspects and their presence in your life, even when they’ve said or done something you don’t like. I’m talking about forgiving someone when they hurt your feelings or make a mistake. I’m talking about deciding that you’re going to feel good, about yourself and them and the relationship, without asking them to change or behave differently. I’m talking about deciding that you’re going to look at them and feel love—not just say the word, not just intellectually think you love them in the abstract—but feel the emotion of love, because you want to. Not because they did something lovable.

And I’m talking about staying tuned in to that emotion of love, even when something difficult happens in the life you share with the other person. This is especially relevant to primary partnerships/domestic partnerships. When you are someone else’s main source of support, when you’re really in this life together—financially, physically, emotionally, etc—unconditional love keeps you there even when you’re both facing a challenge that makes it harder for you to feel good on a daily basis. Anyone can bail when shit hits the fan. Bailing’s easy. Leaving the problem with your friend is easy. Moving on to someone else who’s in a better situation is easy. Staying and making the best of things and being happy with your imperfect circumstances requires love. Your love, your positive focus. Not your partner’s or anyone else’s.

If you’re young and figuring out what you want or if you don’t have any interest in long-term primary partnerships or you’re not yet ready to commit to somebody, that’s all well and good, but if you do want a long-term partnership of some kind, you need to realize that there is no perfect person, there is no guarantee of a problem-free life or problem-free partnership for anyone on the planet, and your happiness is not dependent on anyone except you. You’re not going to find someone who’s flawless, who’s always well-behaved by your standards, who never makes mistakes and never challenges your patience. You’re not going to ever find a relationship that’s sunshine and rainbows all day every day forever. You cannot prevent challenging things from happening to you or any other person in the future, so you aren’t going to meet someone whose life is guaranteed to be always smooth and easy and comfortable that you can effortlessly participate in. None of that shit exists.

So, at some point, you either decide that you’re going to be committed to someone you do love and stick it out when shit temporarily sucks, or you just never experience a long-term partnership. If you can’t be loving and loyal to another person even when it’s hard as fuck, you aren’t long-term partner material. If you’re waiting for someone else to please you all the time or most of the time and you make your commitment conditional upon that, you are not long-term partner material.

Having a happy, loving, satisfying, long-term partner isn’t about finding the perfect person. It’s about finding a person you adore who has flaws and bullshit you can live with indefinitely. Personal growth and improvement happens; human perfection doesn’t. The happy long-term partnership isn’t about bitterly resigning to the other person’s flaws or bitching about them until something changes. It isn’t the denial of romantic infatuation that goes, “This person is perfect in every way!” It’s loving acceptance that sounds like, “Yeah, I know my partner is weak in those ways, but that’s okay. Not a big deal. They have so many positive qualities, that I don’t mind the negative ones, and I’m not going to pay the negative ones much attention.”

And here’s the flaw in logic that all those people who say “leave unhappy relationships no matter what, commitment is bullshit!” fail to understand: being happy in a long-term, committed partnership or friendship is not about your partner pleasing you or life being perfect. It’s about you deciding to be happy. That’s all. The only thing happiness takes is your intent and focus. Sure, it’s easier to be happy with someone when everything’s exactly the way you want it to be, but when things are not the way you want, you still have the power and the capability to be happy anyway.

I’m not saying, “Stay in a miserable, unfulfilling partnership/friendship until you die.” I’m saying, “Find a way to be happy independent of the conditions and partner changing.” There’s a huge difference. Happiness is the only thing that matters, you should be happy, you deserve to be happy, but you don’t need anything or anyone to be a certain way in order to feel happiness. Most people believe that happiness is a reaction, so if something isn’t pleasing to them, they have no choice but to leave the situation and go find a better one. But we have so much more power than that—power to emotionally focus ourselves however we want, power to think better-feeling thoughts instead of wallowing in a negative loop, power to distract ourselves from conditions that feel bad, power to find the good in everything and everyone.

I want long-term partnerships and intimate friendships because I want to feel unconditional love for other people and I want to receive it from them. I want domestic life partners who I’m passionate friends with because I want the sweetness and fun and love of sharing home with them, and I want long-term loving friendships because I want to just keep mining them for more joy and more fun and more affection and more intimacy and more connection and more growth. I want my relationships to last forever because I want to love forever because love is the best feeling in the world. I want my life partnerships to last forever because I want to show myself and my partners that I can be unconditionally loving, that I can love them and be happy with them no matter what’s going on, that I can find the good in them over and over again.

I know that I am capable of being committed to my domestic life partners and my intimate friends until I die, regardless of the conditions. I know I am. And I want to do it. I am 100% serious, and I would never make a commitment to someone otherwise. Of course, I prefer it if my life and my relationships are mostly easy and comfortable and smooth, just like everyone else. But I’m not afraid of challenges in my partnerships or other friendships, because I know that I can feel love anyway, and if my partners and friends want to stay with me, I’ll never back down. I sure as hell would never abandon someone I love when they’re going through a tough time.

I’m not interested in marriage, the relationships I desire are nonromantic, but I want to say to my life partners and my other beloved friends (and really mean it):

“I love you, and I’m going to love you until I check out of this world. I adore you, just as you are. I take responsibility for my own feelings and my own happiness, so you’re off the hook there. I’m going to look for the positive aspects in you and in our relationship as much as I can, and I’m not going to ask you to change for me. I will always forgive you and I will always do my best to show you kindness and love and respect and I will promote your freedom and independence unconditionally. I love you so much that I’ll let go of things that don’t matter. I love you whether you have money or not, whether you have a job or not, whether you’re healthy or sick, whether you’re happy or unhappy, whether you agree with me or disagree with me, whether we’re together every day or not. I love you no matter what you look like. I love you, and I’m going to always make the best of everything and try to nurture positive energy between us, even if it takes work. And I will get bucked off the horse more than once, I’m sure, but I am not going to give up in a moment where I feel anything less than blissful love. If I feel bad, I’m going to find a way to make myself feel better, and then I’ll give you and our relationship my attention again.

And I want you to hold me to this unconditional love. I want you to remind me when I forget, that this is what I want and this is what I signed up for.”

So, do I think that people should stay in toxic, unethical, or abusive friendships and partnerships? No. Of course not. But there’s a difference between a rotten relationship and an imperfect relationship that challenges you sometimes. I refuse to live my life as someone who’s only committed to a partner or friend if it’s effortless to follow through with that commitment. If life wants to test my love and commitment in my partnerships and friendships, I’ll welcome it from the standpoint of wanting to master unconditional love. You never get good at anything without practice.

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A Loving Reflection on Passionate Friendship

Ever since I was a child, I’ve felt that passionate friendship is the most beautiful form of human love and relationship possible. It doesn’t matter anymore what name I use or what name other people use: romantic friendship, queerplatonic relationship, passionate friendship, primary friendship, platonic life partnership, sensual friendship, some combination of those or none of them at all.

It is the idea of a friendship between two people—without sex or sexual attraction, without romantic attraction or attachment—that is so passionate, full of overwhelming love, intimate and emotional and sensually physical, deep and powerful and spiritual, a bond so strong that it cannot be broken or resisted except through death and even death cannot extinguish the love and desire still felt by the living friend for the departed. It is a friendship that is also a partnership: a primary partnership, a domestic partnership, a family tie no different than legal or religious marriage, a relationship that is the source of committed companionship and support and care and love, a relationship that matters so much that both friends will prioritize its survival.

I just love and adore the idea of two people choosing this kind of relationship for their primary partnership or one of their life partnerships, rejecting traditional romance and even sex, rejecting traditional marriage and the nuclear family and the whole concept of primary romantic-sexual relationships, and instead living their lives in a passionate friendship that takes them to the heights of love and emotional intimacy and spiritual intimacy and even physical intimacy that does not intersect with genital sex.

I love the idea of passionate friends being primary life partners and domestic life partners, sharing a home and a future and being there for each other always.

I love the idea of passionate friendship families and networks, of people being so blessed as to have more than one passionate friend in life and allowing their friends to have other passionate friendships if they occur. I love the idea of families and tribes made of friendship, of nonromantic and nonsexual love and commitment.

I love how passionate and sensual nonsexual/nonromantic physical intimacy can be: how much you can desire and adore someone else’s body and their physical closeness to you, without sex and without romantic attraction, how much pleasure you can experience physically in a nonsexual/nonromantic relationship. I love that passionate friends can hug and cuddle and kiss and hold hands and caress each other and kiss each other’s body and even be together almost naked and experience a deep, pleasurable, sensual, intensely intimate and loving physical connection with each other from a place of nonsexual, nonromantic love. I love that they can love each other and desire each other and share pleasure and connect because of an emotional attraction, not romantic attraction, from spiritual and sensual attraction, not sexual attraction. I love that they live and prove how much love and intimacy and touch and pleasure is possible outside of sex and romance.

I love people who want passionate friendship and who want their primary life partner to be a passionate friend and who don’t need romance or who don’t even need sex to be happy. I love people who have sex but want a passionate friendship instead of a primary sexual partner. I love people whose ultimate idea of happiness is to have a lifelong passionate friend who they live with and love. I love people who see and appreciate passionate friendship as the greatest form of love and relationship because they just value and prioritize and love friendship in general that much.

I want to be surrounded by these people: by perpetually single aromantics, by people who desire and dream about and choose nonromantic/nonsexual life partners, by people who have passionate friendship and know what it is and value it as the most important relationship in their lives, by sexual people whose desire and appreciation for sex is nothing in comparison to their desire and appreciation for friendship—especially primary friendships, loving and passionate and committed friendships, queerplatonic friendship, romantic friendship. I want to be surrounded by people who revere loving friendship the way I do, who respect it and love it and prize it and desire it and create it and protect it and feel unspeakable joy flowing through them when they’re living that friendship. I want to love and be friends with these people who feel the way I do about friendship and love, who will marvel at the sacred event of true and loving friendship that reaches these levels of passion and love and intimacy and connection, who will desire me and love me and admire me and appreciate me because I am who I am and I feel the way I do about friendship. I want to love and be friends with these people whose greatest happiness is in passionate friendship and romantic friendship and queerplatonic friendship. I want to love and be friends with these people who are capable and ready and eager to experience complete emotional openness and connection, physical and sensual intimacy, love and affection, care and tenderness in friendship.

I want to spend the rest of my life in two passionate friendships, with my male partner and my female partner. I want to love them with every particle of my body and soul. I want to care for them and appreciate them and support them always. I want to love them unconditionally. I want to have fun with them and always see the best in them. I want to share beautiful domestic lives with them. I want my love and appreciation for them to deepen and grow and intensify as time passes. I want to open myself completely to them: mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically. I want the bliss of physical, sensual intimacy with them: I want to hug them every day and cuddle them and touch them with love in my hands, I want to kiss their mouths and their bodies, I want to look into their eyes with pure love in my own, I want to let go and allow them to touch me and hold me and kiss me and love me and my body, I want us to sleep side by side some nights, I want us to spend hours in bed together stripped to our underwear—just touching and kissing and holding each other and basking in the love we feel for each other. I want to love them and stand by them no matter what happens in our lives. I want us to always find our love for each other, even as we evolve individually and rediscover each other’s new incarnations. I want us to be kind to each other, sweet and gentle and supportive and nurturing. I want us to love each other unceasingly, no matter what the physical or material conditions: as we age, as our bodies change, no matter what our health or wealth statuses are, no matter who else we’re friends with and who else we love, no matter how many days or months of the year we spend physically apart, I want to love them and I want to feel their love for me unchanged and sure of itself. I want these two people in my life until the day I die, and on that day, I want to look back on my life and feel blissful that I loved them so well and was so well-loved in return.

I raised myself through childhood and adolescence in devotion to friendship, and now I am an adult and my desire and passion and admiration for it is stronger than it’s ever been. I know more about it than I did when I was younger but not as much as I’ll know when I’m older. I know my incredible worth as a friend and a partner, and I want to give all of this love and affection and care I possess to my own passionate friends, my life partners, and the other queerplatonic/romantic/sensual/intimate friends I make throughout my life. I am sure that I am the passionate friend and partner that some wonderful man and wonderful woman desire more than anything, and I’m sure that there are other people who want someone like me for a loving friend too. And I am ready for them. I am so ready.

I dedicate myself to this practice of loving, high friendship the way priests and monks dedicate themselves to God. Friendship is my own way to spiritual enlightenment, to the cosmic source I believe in, to my higher self. Friendship is what will teach me love, hold me in love, call me back to love when I’ve disconnected from it. Loving friendship is my bliss, my heaven, my passion. Friendship is my holy love. The cosmic source I believe in is nothing but pure, unconditional, eternal love—and the friendship I desire and adore is that too.

I am forever thankful that my asexuality and aromanticism enhance and support and nourish my devotion to friendship, my desire for passionate friends who are also my partners, and my capacity to love and care in friendship and to treat friends as my social and emotional priority. I would not be the person or the friend I am without asexuality and aromanticism. I would not believe in and desire passionate friendship with so much intensity if I were not asexual and aromantic, and for that reason alone, I am so happy and thankful that I am exactly as I am.

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On Sex-Indifference vs. Sex-Aversion & Sex-Repulsion

This post is a response to the July Carnival of Aces, the theme of which was “sex-repulsion/sex-aversion.

I’ve written plenty on this blog about sex-repulsion/sex-aversion and its intersection with asexuality, and I will continue to spotlight those experiences and those particular asexuals because it is vitally important for sex-repulsion/sex-aversion to be supported, accepted, and represented both in and outside of the asexual community. I want sexual society to know that the majority of asexuals are sex-repulsed or sex-averse and do not want to have sex with anyone ever, and I want to live in a world where not having sex and not wanting sex are equally as acceptable as sexual activity. I want to dismantle compulsory sexuality and sex supremacy in our society, and promoting sex-repulsed/sex-averse asexuals is key to achieving that goal. I also want to contribute to an asexual community that supports, protects, and nurtures the sex-repulsed and sex-averse and celibate, because asexual spaces should be the one place where those aces are safe, heard, and empowered.

I read one of the other submissions to this month’s Carnival, and I have to respond to it because it raises a great point that is personally relevant to me. Sara K. over at thenoteswhichdonotfit pointed out how common it is for both asexuals and allosexuals to lump sex-indifferent aces in with sex-favorable aces, to the point where the sex-indifferent asexuals are expected to have sex, to enjoy it, or at least to be willing to have sex with any and every allosexual romantic partner who comes along. I confess that I’ve fallen into the habit of viewing self-identified sex-indifferent asexuals as categorically willing to have sex if they have to in order to be in a romantic relationship with an allosexual, and because of this view, I’ve generally felt like sex-indifferent aces are distanced from the experiences of sex-repulsed and sex-averse asexuals.

I think part of the problem is how we define “sex-indifferent” vs. “sex-repulsed” and “sex-averse” and “sex-favorable.” Taken at face value, “indifferent” indicates neutrality, which is very different from “aversion” and “repulsion.” Indifferent, to me (and obviously to a lot of other aces), means that you don’t have a problem with sex to a point where you would be unable to comfortably participate in it. I think of sex-indifferent asexuals as people who could certainly live without sex forever, who may prefer not to have sex, who would be happy to be in nonsexual romantic or nonromantic relationships if they get that chance, but who will pretty much always submit to an allosexual partner’s desire for sex rather than firmly refusing and who won’t be upset by sex emotionally or psychologically.

Sara makes a great point though, when she says:

“The point I do want to make is that, under compulsory sexuality, you need a *reason* to opt out of sex rather than a reason to opt-in in the first place, and the assumptions made about sex-indifferent aces are made because we have not provided a reason for opting-out.”

This is definitely true from the perspective of the average allosexual: if you can have sex without crying or having a panic attack or wanting to die, and certainly if you can have sex that is physically pleasurable/orgasmic, you should be doing it. That’s the gist of compulsory sexuality. There is no good reason NOT to have sex, as far as sexual society is concerned. Even asexuality isn’t a good reason, to a lot of people; it’s something to be “cured” and “overcome” because life without sex isn’t worth living.

I’m one of those semi-rare asexuals who tirelessly defend the asexual person’s right to reject sex, even within a mixed romantic relationship, and who thinks there is no good God damn reason why it should always or even mostly be the asexual’s responsibility to sacrifice on the sexual front to make a partner happy, instead of the allosexual partner becoming celibate to make their asexual partner happy. Sometimes, I feel like a lone voice howling in the void about nonsexual romantic relationships being possible and something that all asexuals have a right to ask for, no matter who their partner is. The default assumption is that romantic asexuals must date allosexuals because they outnumber aces and that “compromise” (I cannot express how much I fucking hate that word) amounts to the asexual having sex.

So, yes, sex-indifferent aces should be able to say “no” to sex just as often as sex-repulsed and sex-averse aces, and we shouldn’t–as a community–give sexual society the impression that you can fuck all the sex-indifferent aces.

 

I consider myself and have been telling the world for a while that I am sex-averse, because I think that’s a softer term than “sex-repulsed” and more accurate a descriptor for my attitudes toward sex. A lot of sex-repulsed aces can’t be exposed to any kind of sexual content, let alone be put in sexual or potentially sexual situations, without feeling physically ill or otherwise viscerally disgusted, horrified, etc. Some sex-repulsed aces experience dysphoria toward their own genitals or their sex drive and arousal. Some sex-repulsed aces can’t think about themselves having sex without feeling super uncomfortable. All of that is okay. I myself am nowhere near that uncomfortable with sex and sexuality, which is why I use the term “sex-averse” rather than “sex-repulsed.” I use that term “sex-averse” to communicate the fact that I am not willing to have partnered sex of any kind, and that I feel strongly about long-term celibacy. I am sex-averse because I would never remotely consider having sex to please or keep an allosexual partner.

But I’m also an asexual with an active libido, who masturbates on a regular basis, who is totally comfortable with my own body, my genitals, the fact that I experience arousal, etc. I’m an asexual who’s been using porn since I was a kid, in all of its forms. I’m an asexual who can be around other people engaging in sexual activity or who are talking explicitly about sex and not have a problem at all. I can talk about and think about and imagine sex in graphic terms and be comfortable. Even sexual or erotic type acts that I find off-putting—like open-mouthed kissing with tongue or blow jobs or BDSM sex—don’t make me all that uncomfortable, certainly not to the point of panic or tears or strong disgust. (Making out’s pretty gross, but I’m not going to freak out if I see it.) I can have sexual fantasies involving myself and enjoy them as arousal material for when I need to masturbate.

I’m also really, really interested in heavily sensual physical intimacy, in the context of intimate and loving friendships. I want to explore physical affection and touch to a point of nonsexual/nongenital eroticism. I don’t know what I’ll like or how much I’ll like it or what I’ll be comfortable vs. uncomfortable with, but I’m open to pretty much everything under the umbrella of “nongenital/nonsexual physical intimacy” except for making out. Hugging, cuddling, caressing, massages, co-sleeping, kissing the body, maybe kissing the mouth, nonsexual body worship, etc. I’m significantly more open and enthusiastic to sensual physicality than a lot of other asexuals and aromantics are, as far as I can tell. (Assuming, of course, that I’m with a friend I can trust not to pressure me into sex, either because they are asexual or not sexually attracted to me/my gender.)

Yet I won’t have partnered sex. And I have several reasons for this.

First and foremost, sex is obviously not intuitive to me because I’m asexual. I’m not naturally motivated to seek it out. I don’t need it to be happy or to feel connected to another person or to feel loved. It’s like any other activity that I have no interest in: why the hell would I say yes to doing something I’m not interested in? I wouldn’t go skydiving to please a friend, and I sure as hell won’t fuck to please a friend either.

Second, I can easily satisfy my libido through masturbation, and masturbation is infinitely easier, safer, and more comfortable than partnered sex could ever be. Masturbation happens on my terms, and I never have to worry about STDs/STIs or unwanted pregnancy. Not having sex with other people makes life easier. It’s also much safer, as far as I’m concerned, when it comes to avoiding sexual abuse and assault by partners; fuck if I trust sexual people on the whole to be consistently ethical and respectful toward asexuals in a sexual context. That trustworthiness must be proven on an individual basis, and until it is proven, I wouldn’t recommend any asexual who is less than sex-favorable all the time to give an allosexual the impression that they are sexually available in the same way that allosexuals are.

Third, there are definitely some sex acts I know I would not want to perform on another person or with another person, because they do gross me out a little bit. Making out, which isn’t even sexual, grosses me out, and there’s no way I would want to do that with anyone.

Fourth, having nonsexual relationships is really important to me. I’m somewhere on the aromantic spectrum, and friendship has always been the ideal love to me. I know sexual friendship is a thing that exists, but I’ve always conceived of perfect friendship as this nonsexual, nonromantic relationship that has the most passion, love, intimacy, emotion, touch, and commitment possible between two human beings. That, to me, is the most beautiful and desirable relationship that could ever exist. I would never want to be in a traditionally romantic relationship, and I would also never want sex to be part of the most important and emotional relationships in my life. The ideal friendship, in my mind, is special in part because it is nonsexual. To be profoundly connected and intimate with someone, emotionally and physically and spiritually and mentally, without wanting or needing sex (or romance) in that relationship is really special and unique. Romantic-sexual relationships are the most common in the world, but a passionate friendship is rare to the point that I don’t believe everyone capable of it. I don’t want to be friends with someone who loves me because they want to fuck me or because they do fuck me, and I don’t want sex to be a reason that my important friendship(s) are important.

Fifth, sex cannot be used as a tool to build the relationships I actually want. This ties in with my desire and definition of ideal friendship. Maybe if I wanted traditional romantic relationships, I would be more willing to use sex as a tool, because it is a tool for building and securing romantic relationships. But I want passionate friendship and other queerplatonic friendships. Sex is totally antithetical to passionate friendship, and while it can technically exist in other QP friendships, in a world dominated by alloromantic allosexuals only aware of and interested in normative romantic-sexual relationships, sex is only something you use to build those normative romantic relationships, not to build a QP friendship.

Basically, the benefits of celibacy far outweigh any benefits of having sex. There’s no good reason for me to bother having sex with anyone.  Having sex can’t give me anything I actually want, that I can’t give myself anyway.

 

Now, given my reasons for celibacy and my feelings about sexuality, maybe “sex-indifferent” is a more accurate label for me than “sex-averse,” according to some people’s definitions. But the fact is, most sex-indifferent aces I’ve encountered in the last 8+ years are having sex or will have sex in romantic relationships, and most sex-repulsed/sex-averse aces aren’t having sex and won’t have sex ever, even if that means forgoing the relationships they want. So, I gravitate significantly to the “sex-averse” term and to the portion of the asexual population that’s sex-repulsed. There are a lot of reasons why I feel unable to connect or relate to large portions of the asexual community, and my celibacy is one of them, though not necessarily the most divisive difference. I just feel like there’s no way any sexually active ace, whether indifferent or favorable, can fully understand what it’s like to be a person who doesn’t have sex and won’t have sex and specifically wants nonsexual love and relationships in this hyper-sexual world. Even if sex-repulsed people, asexual and allosexual, are a lot less comfortable with sexuality in the abstract than I am, they know what it’s like to be celibate long-term and to want nonsexual relationships and attempt to form them.

That said, I do agree with Sara K. that people should understand a lot of sex-indifferent aces don’t want to have sex and won’t have it, and that for them the term “sex-indifferent” means being comfortable with sexuality as a concept or as content exclusive to the self, rather than “indifferent to participating in sex with other people and therefore open to it.”

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Filed under Celibate Asexuality, Language & Terminology, Personal, Sexuality

Information and Resources for Cousin Couples and Sibling Sexuality

So, on several occasions, people have found my blog through Google search terms about sexual attraction to cousins, sexual behavior with cousins, and even sexual attraction/behavior with siblings. (They’re clicking on my post about passionate/queerplatonic/romantic friendship between siblings and cousins, I’m sure.) In light of this, I thought I’d briefly post some resources for people who have these experiences.

 

Please note that when I say the following, I’m talking about consensual, ethical sexual relationships between adults who have a completely safe and healthy dynamic between them psychologically and emotionally. Plenty of sexual interactions between cousins, siblings, and other family members are abusive in some way: emotionally, physically, psychologically, etc. They are unethical because of power imbalances that make enthusiastic, ethical consent impossible or because there is manipulation, codependency, emotional blackmail, etc. That is NOT the kind of sexual relationship between cousins and/or siblings I’m discussing here, nor do I support such relationships–because of the abuse and the fundamentally unethical status of them, not because of the biological relatedness.

If you think you’re being abused by a relative, please seek help as soon as you can. If you are underage and being sexually victimized by an adult sibling, cousin, or other relative, please tell someone you can trust and report the abuse to police if you can.

That said, it is possible to have a non-abusive, consensual sexual relationship with a cousin or even a sibling. People have been having romantic and/or sexual relationships with first cousins (and every other degree of cousin) since the beginning of time, all over the world. They’ve been very, very common throughout history. Romantic/sexual relationships between cousins became taboo in the Western world during the 19th and early 20th centuries because of shitty science and scary propaganda, basically.

As far as I’m concerned, if you’re an adult and your cousin or even sibling is an adult and you have no history of abuse between you, there’s no power imbalance in your relationship, and you’re mutually sexually attracted to each other, it’s your business if you want have a sexual and/or romantic relationship. There is no rational or even scientific reason why consensual sex between cousins or siblings is problematic. If you’re not hurting each other in any way, if you both want it, then there’s no good, objective reason why you shouldn’t do what you want or why you should feel guilty about it.

Keep in mind, however, that you are likely to be rejected and severely judged by other family members, friends, and society in general if you tell anyone that you’re sexually and/or romantically involved with a cousin or sibling. Unless you know it’s safe to be open about your sexual relationship with a cousin or sibling, I don’t recommend telling other people about it, if you can help it.

 

People who object to consensual incest and consensual cousin sexuality usually cite genetic mutations in offspring as a reason why it’s a bad idea or immoral, but this misses several points:

1. Not all cousin/cousin or sibling/sibling sexual relationships are heterosexual.

2. There’s this cool thing called contraception.

3. Some cousin/cousin or sibling/sibling sexual relationships don’t even start until after the people in question are past childbearing age.

4. Cousins who want to have children can go to a genetic counselor prior to trying to have kids, just like anyone else. You can find out pretty easily what the odds are of you and your partner conceiving children with physical and/or mental handicaps, then make an informed decision about whether or not you want to try conceiving.

5. In reality, for first cousins who are a heterosexual couple and have children, the general chance of their kids being genetically sick or handicapped is 5-6%. Compare that to the odds of an unrelated couple having genetically sick/handicapped children, which is 2-3%, and you can see that the increase is not at all significant or dramatic. At least 95% of all children born to first cousin couples will be healthy, physically and mentally. (Fun fact, according to geneticists, cousins don’t share enough genetic material in common for their sexual relationships to be labeled “incestuous.” No, not even first cousins.) Source 1, Source 2, Source 3

6. There are first cousin couples who are actually together, married or unmarried, all over America. Most of them are in the closet, meaning few people know they’re cousins. They have healthy kids, normal lives, etc. You wouldn’t even know they’re related, unless they told you.

7. Sexual exploration between cousins and even siblings in childhood is more common than you think–and I’m talking about non-abusive, consensual exploration between kids who are in the same age group. There are even first cousins who first feel sexual attraction to each other in youth and later on in adulthood still feel it and end having a sexual relationship of some kind.

 

The general public basically knows jack shit about cousin/cousin sexuality and sibling sexuality, from a scientific and genetic perspective. Most of what people believe about this sexual behavior is false and based on nothing other than popular assumption. A lot of people experience sexual attraction or interaction with cousins in childhood and adulthood and just don’t say anything about it because it’s taboo in our society; if more people admitted to it, I think we’d all be surprised how often it happens. Sibling sexuality is a lot less common in non-abusive contexts, but there are adult siblings out there who are sexually attracted to each other and having sex, typically in a situation of genetic sexual attraction occurring after childhood separation.

Something important to understand here is the Westermarck Effect; Wikipedia describes it this way:

The Westermarck effect, or reverse sexual imprinting, is a hypothetical psychological effect through which people who live in close domestic proximity during the first few years of their lives become desensitized to later sexual attraction. This phenomenon, one explanation for the incest taboo, was first hypothesized by Finnish anthropologistEdvard Westermarck in his book The History of Human Marriage (1891). Observations interpreted as evidence for the Westermarck effect have since been made in many places and cultures, including in the Israelikibbutz system, and the Chinese Shim-pua marriage customs, as well as in biological-related families…..

When proximity during this critical period does not occur — for example, where a brother and sister are brought up separately, never meeting one another — they may find one another highly sexually attractive when they meet as adults or adolescents, according to the hypothesis of genetic sexual attraction. This supports the theory that the populations exhibiting the Westermarck effect became predominant because of the deleterious effects of inbreeding on those that didn’t.

So basically, if you and a cousin or you and a sibling do not grow up together, particularly if you were not together during the first 6 years of your life, there is a much greater chance that if you meet each other as adults, you’ll be sexually attracted to each other. It’s happened that adult siblings who grew up apart and didn’t even know they had a sibling ended up meeting each other, falling in love, feeling sexually attracted to each other, and becoming a couple–all without knowing they were related. (Source 1, Source 2, Source 3) And even once they do know, their attraction–sexual, emotional, romantic–remains in tact. According to a study published in 1980 that surveyed 796 college students in six New England schools, 15% of females and 10% of males reported having some kind of sexual experience with a sibling, and of those sexual experiences, only 25% could be described as “exploitative” based on use of force (lack of consent) or a large age disparity  between siblings. (Source) If we could actually do a large national study across age categories, who knows how common sibling sexuality would prove to be.

If you find yourself sexually attracted to a cousin or sibling, or if you’re already in a consensual sexual relationship with a cousin or sibling, you are not a freak and you are not alone. You’re not crazy or sick. You’re certainly outside acceptable social norms, but that doesn’t mean you’re abnormal as far as nature’s concerned. If genetic sexual attraction were truly abnormal, it wouldn’t be as common as it is and always has been.

 

There aren’t too many resources for cousins and/or siblings who are sexually attracted to each other or involved, but here’s what I can offer.

Books:

Forbidden Relatives: The American Myth of Cousin Marriage by Martin Ottenheimer

I haven’t read this book yet, but it’s supposed to be a pretty good argument in favor of cousin marriage becoming legalized and generally accepted by society. The author is a social anthropologist who examines both the laws against cousins marriage and the genetics of cousin procreation.

Cousins: A Unique and Powerful Bond by Johanna Garfield

This book is one of my favorites; it covers the full spectrum of cousin relationships, good, bad, neutral, etc. There is a chapter that focuses on sexual attraction between cousins, but that’s not the primary focus of the book. It does a great job of portraying how wonderful, powerful, and loving cousin relationships can be (nonsexually and nonromantically).

 

Websites:

Cousin Couples — A lot of resources and information for cousin couples here. There’s a message board too.

Full Marriage Equality Blog — I don’t necessarily agree with everything the author of this blog believes in and supports, but there are some resources on the website for people who are sexually attracted to/involved with a cousin or sibling. If nothing else, it will show you that you’re not alone in your experiences.

 

 

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A Gospel Truth Quote

Romantic love, as we understand it, is a colonial construct. It is an all-consuming, possessive, lifelong, monogamous endeavor that works to sustain capitalism and white supremacist heteropatriarchy via the nuclear family. We are told that this romantic love is essential, shaping it as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Were we to sustain ourselves on self-love, platonic love, and love of community, what could change? We could see the beauty of our interdependence, rather than individuals competing for higher wages and standards of living at the expense of each other. The formation of families, rather than communities, creates hierarchies of which people are worthy and deserving of our attention, protection and devotion. With a restructuring of romantic love as comparable to community/platonic/self-love, we begin to prioritize the care and livelihood of entire larger groups of people as equally important as our romantic partner/s.

 

– Caleb Luna, “On Being Fat, Brown, Femme, Ugly, and Unloveable”

 

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July 23, 2014 · 4:56 pm