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T hese should be boom times for sex. New cases of HIV are at an all-time low. Most women can—at last—get birth control for free, and the morning-after pill without a prescription.

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In a year when sharing space and air with people is potentially dangerous, one would think that dating would be particularly dismal, perhaps even put on hold. Singles in America surveyed 5, Americans and found that 58 percent of people who use dating apps say they have shifted toward more intentional dating since the pandemic.

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In many relationships with a libido mismatch, the lower-desire partner believes that they are solely to blame. I was waiting for those feelings to come, for this magical experience when suddenly everything would fit into place. As American culture has become more expansive in its understanding of sexuality, so has sex therapy.

Multiple lovers, without jealousy

Ruth, a civil servant in Ireland, was 28 when she decided to see a sex therapist. A few sessions later, Ruth ended the counseling relationship. Decades ago that meant: straight, monogamous, within marriage, private, nothing too kinky.

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Discovering asexuality and the ace community came with feelings of relief and permission, and also sadness that the option had not been presented before. It seems that many well-meaning therapists who learn about asexuality adopt a two-part framework: If someone is ace, leave them alone; if someone is not, encourage them to have more sex.

The five years that changed dating

In Subscribe. Activists and educators have shaped culture so that options beyond straight, monogamous, vanilla sex feel more acceptable.

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It made her question whether being asexual was compatible with being a sex educator. Now that Whitney knows herself better, she wants to be an example of a sex educator who advocates for a more expansive understanding of desire and connection.

The ‘dating market’ is getting worse

So Ruth took the advice and ed up for dating apps. Whitney grew up in a religious environment, where the only discussion of sex was an explanation of anatomy and she was expected to remain a virgin until marriage. For sexuality experts, understanding and accepting lack of desire should be as worthwhile a project as cultivating desire.

Afterward, she kept to herself for about a year, both obsessing over the experience and trying to avoid thinking about it—until she happened to see an article about an asexual couple. The way they spoke about themselves resonated with her, and she wondered if she might be asexual as well.

Why are young people having so little sex?

Several sex therapists and therapists-in-training interviewed for this article both AASECT-certified and not said they did not receive detailed information about asexuality in their training. In the end, this framework misses the forest for the trees. Such an approach has made a big difference for Lisa, a library associate in Washington, D. Although awareness has increased around asexuality as an orientation, discussions often lack depth or nuance.

You can have a good life without sex.

Most people i know date online because they want love, not sex

She instead works with the client to envision the many possibilities of a happy life, including a happy life without sexual desire or sexual attraction or sex at all. Whitney, who educated herself in part by finding resources online, told me that most of the information she found about asexuality was clinical and confusing.

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Sexuality is complicated, multifaceted, and often shifting. The key is to figure out what clients truly want versus what they think they should want, and then keep digging. But true sexual freedom must both celebrate consensual sex for those who want it and avoid pathologizing those who are not interested.

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Ruth requested that I use her first name only so she could speak candidly about sex therapy. When notions of health and normality require the desire to have sex, it can be hard to untangle cultural pressure from what is right for you.

The limits of sex positivity

Over time, Whitney developed a framework that prioritizes sensuality for its own sake and not as a means to penetrative sex and that focuses on the desire someone actually has, not what they are supposed to have. Her sex therapist asked Ruth whether she was attracted to, say, Brad Pitt, and Ruth said yes because she thought he was handsome.

Ruth remembers that the therapist seemed very sure what she needed: to keep going on dates, putting herself out there, and to not be so shy.

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Plus, plenty of people have low desire, and not all of them are asexual. Though she feels guilty about not presenting asexuality as an option to past clients, she hopes she still helped them by moving them away from sex tips that were goal-oriented without questioning the value of the goal. Ruth had, in fact, fallen in love with a woman but felt no sexual attraction toward her, so she continued forcing herself to date men.

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The Atlantic Crossword. More important than categorizing clients is starting from a place where everyone is okay. A couple of weeks later, she told a friend she was ace.

Read: Do women need their own Viagra? Read: Life without sex: The third phase of the asexuality movement.

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That personal reckoning was accompanied by a professional one. Furthermore, sexuality experts are still only beginning to challenge the broader idea that not wanting sex is a problem.

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Whitney reached out to me after reading my book and recognizing her experience in my descriptions of my own asexuality. Nobody is frigid; nobody is broken. Everyone around her knew what she should want, and Ruth tried to want that too.

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As she approached 30, she felt strong pressure from her family to marry and have children, but had never had a serious boyfriend. I do have low desire. Aces ask ourselves this, too, because of course a wide variety of factors can affect how sexual attraction and sexual desire are experienced.

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It can take a long time and a lot of self-knowledge to realize that the answer is often not cut-and-dried—that you can be anxious and also be asexual, that you can have OCD and also be asexual. That experts can be wrong and you can be right. Popular Latest.

What the pandemic has done for dating

To test her theory, Ruth went on a date to observe what she felt. A question hangs in the background of these stories. The date confirmed what she suspected. It did not explain that asexuality exists on a spectrum, that some ace people want and enjoy sex for reasons unrelated to sexual attraction to any given person, and that asexuality and low desire overlap but are not the same.

This means allowing people to experiment without making sexual attraction or desire a requirement for health or happiness or a good life.