For me, touch is complicated.
I enjoy touch. I like soft caresses, I like warm embraces, I like kisses. To be physically close is to feel warm and safe and cared for. But at the same time, touch means being wanted. And sometimes, I do not want to feel like I am wanted. When my partner’s hands wander over my body a little more intimately than I’ve made clear I’m comfortable with, my entire being tenses. I feel wanted in the worst sort of way. “Wait, no-” Touch is not safety anymore. It’s feeling that hanging expectation in the air. Caresses and kisses are no longer enough. They are wanting — they want more.
And, the thing is, it isn’t that I’m not open to “more.” But, at the same time, it was obvious that I was missing some sort of piece to this issue of touch that everyone else seemed to get so naturally. I had known that for a long time. Ever since I was younger, I watched in mild confusion as my friends got anxious and giddy around certain people — they called it a “crush.” I never got crushes like they did. They would eagerly show me pictures of people — celebrities, fictional characters, our own classmates — gushing: “Look, he is so hot!”
I would look over and nod solemnly. “Yes, that is definitely a picture of a conventionally attractive person.”
That’s not what they wanted to hear. “But isn’t he hot?” my friends would insist. And they would talk on and on about how they wanted this person to touch them — hugs, kisses, sure, (?) but there was some sort of difference between their sense of “touch” and mine. I did not find him hot. I did not want him touching me in any way. And somehow, because of this, I was the outsider.
When I learned the term “asexual,” I wish I could say it all made sense to me then. But even with the knowledge of the spectrum, I still wasn’t sure of where I was on it. I liked touch. I was open to the kind of touch that maybe I’d never fully understand but wanted to. And yet, at the same time, I could never be the same as everyone else around me, whose crushes were based upon some initial feeling that I simply never felt.
Of course, I’ve been struck by someone’s appearances before and thought, “Wow, they’re cute.” But that was all it was to me. They were cute, and that was just a passing thought.
Because I can’t be attracted to strangers. I just don’t understand that sort of thing at all. If I don’t know them as a person, I can’t fathom having an even more intimate relationship with them.
I found the term “demisexual” and “graysexual” a little afterwards. But I was working against my ingrained ideas of heteronormative attraction. To the partners I’ve had before, this sort of attraction seemed to be the only one they knew. “Touch” was more than just feelings of safety and love and care to them. And it was under these expectations of heteronormative attraction where I found the most anxiety. Was I still ace if I wanted touch? And why was it so intimidating to want it in the first place?
It was the expectation of sex. That’s what was scary to me. To have it expected of me every time. To have every cuddle, every kiss, every hug, just be seen as a path to sex — I didn’t want that. I remember the frustrations of my old partners. I simply wasn’t enough to them. One jokingly called me a “monster” because I couldn’t possibly be human if I didn’t experience attraction like he did. Sex has been so overblown as something that’s so “essential” to the human experience that people joke that it’s a necessity for living — for being human. And I don’t think that’s the case at all. Thinking that way only limits how people can express their affection for others. There’s so many other ways. Why should one act be the apex of showing one’s love?
I want to be close. I want to have something like that, but on my own terms. But I don’t want to ever be expected to have my want for closeness always, without fail, end in sex. Because sometimes I just want to cuddle. Sometimes just “touch” is fine. Discovering being ace-spec and navigating my want for physical intimacy — discovering where my boundaries lie — has been challenging. Being ace-spec doesn’t mean I don’t want to experience the happiness that touch can give me. I just want my body to feel like my own, and I want to feel intimacy the way I want to.