Dear Mistress Matisse,

I'm an asexual who's interested in experimenting with a (nonsexual) BDSM relationship. Can you tell me how to address my particular needs in such an arrangement?

Asexuals seem to have hit something of a tipping point in the sexual-minority community lately, visibility-wise. It's not a completely new thing—I've always known some people who identify as asexual. I admit it has sometimes puzzled me that people who define themselves as not experiencing sexual attraction would choose to socialize in the BDSM community or the poly community. It doesn't bother me—it just seems like a vegan hanging out at a Texas barbecue competition. Surely it must get tiresome to have all these people continually offering you a taste of their brisket?

I presume the odd kinship springs from the fact that some members of the asexual community feel asexuality should be regarded as a distinct sexual orientation. The emerging asexual community clearly has drawn some language and imagery from the queer community, most notably their symbol, a grayed-out (instead of pink) triangle. I'm fine with asexuals getting inspiration from sexual-minority political activism, but I think there's occasionally some confusion about our goals versus their goals. For example, there was a much-remarked-upon blog post recently about how the term "sex positive" is oppressive and insulting to asexuals, because sex is not positive for them. Apparently, people who've previously called themselves such should instead say they are "sex nonjudgmental." Uh, no. If you don't want to have sex, then I support your right to make that choice, but that's not a term I am going to be adopting.

Here's what I can say to the person who wrote to me: In spite of our insistence on viewing sex as a positive thing, nonsexual BDSM is common in the kink community. Especially with a pickup scene that's negotiated and conducted at a kinky social gathering, it is most often assumed that sex will not be part of the program. Still, if it's your first time playing with someone, you should probably specify, "No sex, please." If it's necessary to elaborate, you would say something like "I don't want to do anything sexual, and to me, sex is..." (kissing, being touched here, touching you in these ways, penetration—whatever behaviors you don't wish to engage in).

I cannot advise you about asexuality. But I can advise you as a person who wants to have a relationship, and my advice is: Don't get too bogged down in labels. I've had sex with lots of women who weren't lesbians, and I've spanked plenty of people who weren't kinky. Saying "I'm an asexual" is the beginning of a conversation, but it's not the end of one. It's good to have language for yourself, but what matters more is knowing and communicating what you want to happen when you and your partner are in a room by yourselves. That makes labels unnecessary. recommended