In the common language of asexuality, the word “compromise” is almost always used negatively, and almost always used to mean the complete capitulation of the ace partner to the desires of the non-ace partner.  Furthermore, as we all know, an ace person can never actually be willing to take part in in sexual activities, so doing anything along those lines is considered a horrible compromise.

That, of course, is utterly ridiculous.

All (ethical) sex, including sex between non-aces, is the product of negotiations and compromises.  That’s why things like “Want/Will/Won’t” lists exist:  They’re not designed for asexual people, they were designed for non-aces to communicate their desires and undesireables.  And even if everyone in a relationship has perfectly matching Yes and No lists, there’s still going to be a negotiation around timing and frequency and which piece of furniture.  So we shouldn’t see compromise as a universally bad thing, we should see one-sided and unfair compromises as a bad thing. 

On top of that, some aces actually do want to do sexual things.  So labeling all sexual activities that involve an asexual as some kind of negative compromise on their part isn’t accurate.

Sometimes compromises are trades (”I’ll have sex with you, but you have to let me win the next 20 games of Splatoon”), sometimes they’re finding a middle ground (”I don’t want penetration, but there are other ways we can get each other off a half dozen times tonight.”), and sometimes they’re getting a discount (”I don’t want sex, but I’ll give you a quick handjob and then go back to reading my book.”).  But it should never be “I’ll give you the exact type of sex you want all the time with no say in the matter and nothing in return”.  Things that are in your “No” column should never be part of the deal, even if you have 60 things in your No column and nothing in your Yes.

I have very little personal experience with consent.  I’ve had one relatively short-lived long-distance relationship, so I wasn’t really in a situation where things were continuous or spontaneous, and there wasn’t really a first date->second date->third date->nth date buildup.  There weren’t really “dates” at all.  We saw each other in person about once a month.

During the first visit, before we were “together”, but after she had made her feelings known, she sort of pounced on me, hugging me and kissing my neck.  I was not expecting it and I was not particularly thrilled by the turn of events, but I didn’t stop her and didn’t object.  Mostly, I just thought “Why aren’t I into this?”  I really don’t know where this falls in the world of consent.  I didn’t say yes, I didn’t say no, she didn’t ask, and if she had, I would have said “I don’t know”, but I didn’t really like what was happening.  However, I didn’t feel like any boundaries had been crossed.  I think I might have been too preoccupied by my own indifference to care about what was going on.  Besides, I sort of expected something like that to happen anyway…

A couple of visits later, we were sitting on my bed.  She leaned in and paused, and it was clear what she was planning, and I had enough of a chance to say no.  In that moment, I gave non-verbal consent (mostly by not backing off or turning away or screaming out in fear), and she proceeded to kiss me on the lips.  I had no idea how kisses were supposed to work, so it was a terrible kiss, but she kept at it.  A short time later, her hand wandered just above my belt, and again paused long enough to understand her intentions.  In that case, I gave a more active form of non-verbal consent, by lifting up the waistband of my pants, so she’d have easier access.  In that particular circumstance (namely the bedroom door open and not being alone in the house…), a quick exploration was all I was prepared to allow, but she stopped before I had to ask her to stop.  She would have if I had, though.  After that, she gave me non-verbal consent to touch her breasts but taking my hand and leading it under her shirt.  I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to do, so I gently caressed one of them for a few moments before withdrawing my hand.

The next visit, sitting on her bed, I, unprompted, moved my hand just above her waist, much as she had done.  Since it was similar circumstances (open door/non-empty house), a quick exploration was all I was willing to do.

In neither case was there a formal exchange of “I would like to touch your genitals.  Am I permitted to do so?”, however, in both cases, it was clear that it was a permitted and welcomed activity.

A few visits later was the first sleepover.  We had planned it for several weeks, so we had discussed what could potentially take place.  Would there be kissing?  Yes.  Would there be fondling?  Yes.  Would there be nudity?  Yes.  Would there be genital involvement?  Yes.  Would there be orgasms?  Probably, one way or another.  Would there be intercourse?  No, absolutely not.  It was at her place, her parents would be there, and she didn’t want to get caught.  (Although, it wasn’t quite clear what the major difference between getting caught naked with hands on each other’s private bits and getting caught naked in a genital intermingling would have been…)

When the time came, she came downstairs and climbed into the fold-out sofa bed with me.  We knew in advance generally where things were going to go, so there weren’t a whole lot of “May I?”s required.  I was open to trying pretty much anything, even though I wasn’t particularly driven to do any of it.  I think the only thing that got vetoed was when I started kissing up her leg.  She stopped me before I got to the top.  “I mean, it feels good, but it seems so tiring”, was what she said, but I also got the sense that she was not a fan of performing oral sex and would not have wanted to feel obligated to reciprocate, even though I wouldn’t have minded if she hadn’t.  During a different activity, she lamented “I wish we could go further”, which I took as the possible beginning of an invitation for penetration, but I didn’t have a condom, so that was strictly off-limits from my perspective, so I didn’t follow up on that comment, and she didn’t take any actions toward it, either.  I guess technically, we did both eventually revoke consent for genital stimulation, because neither one of us knew what we were doing, so it wasn’t really a pleasurable experience for the other.

The following visit was at my place.  It was overnight and we had the place to ourselves.  It was clear that this would be an opportunity, so we decided that we would do the do.  Specifics were worked out regarding time of day and lighting considerations.  Condom and lube acquisition plans were finalized.  One extremely important detail to me was that I would have the ability to back out at any time, because I wasn’t really sure that I wanted to go through with it.  We’d done those other things, and I was fine with them, but I didn’t know if I’d be fine with the next thing.  In general, though, we were agreeing to a blanket upfront grant of consent, which we were free to revoke at any time.  As long as we weren’t doing anything we knew the other would dislike (Primarily, no mouth contact downstairs for her, no tickling for me, and positively no entry without protective covering), we were free to do whatever with each other. (And that blanket grant was put to the test when she unexpectedly decided to make sure I’d “fit”…)  We even pre-agreed to the overnight dress code and a shared shower the next morning.

So, I guess what worked for me was having a plan going in, and not really having to decide in the moment.  That let me prepare and deal with any doubts I may have had.  I don’t know if this will work for anyone else.

I will say that I was largely indifferent and uninterested in sex, rather than repulsed or afraid.  That’s why I took my time, that’s why I followed her lead (at a glacial pace) rather than initiating most of the time, that’s why I missed some very obvious (in hindsight) hints.  But, by the time we did get around to things, I did genuinely want to have the experience (because I was curious, because it would feel good, because she really wanted it, because I was supposed to want it so maybe I would want it if I tried it), so ultimately, that’s why I said yes.  But I was probably never completely “enthusiastic” about it.  More “Yeah, that could be fun, I guess, whatever” than “Yes!  Yes!  Please yes let’s do that!”

I do have to wonder what would have happened if things had lasted longer.  I get the feeling that I would have started saying no to certain things, after it became clear that I wasn’t a huge fan.  Even in my limited experience, I discovered that I’m not a fan of deep kissing, and I probably would have become bored to death with intercourse, unless there was some technique that made it worthwhile (doubtful, but possible).  I think I might have been fine doing things for her, as long as I’d been given clear directions and not have been expected to just figure it out.  And if more “adventurous” things had been suggested, I’m not sure what I would have done.  Probably gone along with it and been bored…

Since that relationship, my experience with consent has been very limited.  There was the friend who was just a friend, so no hanky-panky, let’s be clear about that.  Hugs were all, maybe a kiss on the cheek once.  Then most recently, there was an interested coworker, who I let hug me and give me a kiss on the cheek after they poured their heart out, but a couple days later I did not give consent to enter a relationship.  And I think that’s about it.