I really don’t think it’s a binary — because almost nothing in the real world is. Not a simple either/or, lustful or asexual. Like everything else about us, my bet is that there’s a wide spectrum and we fall somewhere on it — several intersecting spectra really, from social to antisocial, romantic to antiromantic, sexual to asexual, domestic to feral, and all combinations of the above.
Take romanticism for example: Some people tend to idealise their love objects and think in terms of adoration, flowery sonnets, troubadors and ladies, red roses, waltzing under a chandelier, soulful walks in the rain… and are often drawn to mysterious strangers (even better if they seem troubled and need rescuing!). Romantics, in other words, as in the Romantic period in literature and art; seeing their dream guy/girl half-dressed, with toothbrush in mouth and severe bed-head, can be a real challenge to their feelings. Their idea of a birthday present might be a bottle of rare wine, a beautifully calligraphed poem, and a midnight row on the lake under the full moon. Others think their beloved is cutest in worn-out jammies and fuzzy slippers, peanut butter sandwich in hand, watching late night TV — and would laugh like a hyena to see the same person in white tie and tails or a sweeping ball gown, descending the grand staircase to the sound of violins. These folks hanker for domestic comfort, the charm of the quotidian, hominess, familiarity… antiromantics. They are more likely to give their beloved some nice warm socks, or a new chain saw. You can have some fun filling in some of the other spectra for yourself :-)
Some can only associate sex with True Love (romantic and/or domestic). Others absolutely cannot associate sex with love or any binding connection, but are attracted only to the unfamiliar, to good looking strangers. Getting to know each other too well spoils the buzz for these folks. Some see sex as a purely physical appetite exactly like hunger or thirst, that can be satisfied with any willing partner. Others can only contemplate sex with someone if they’ve built up hard-earned trust over time, or if they are overwhelmed with In Love feelings. Some are proud of being great at sex and like to feel valued for their skill, others feel devalued if “all s/he sees in me is sex.”
Some think sex with friends is fine, others find it wrecks a friendship. Some are happily — even enthusiastically and regularly — self-sexual but don’t feel a real need for any assistance or life partnership. Some find “gift” sex (obliging a more libidinous partner despite one’s own disinterest) no problem, others find it unbearable. Some don’t mind if their own libido goes unanswered most of the time, others find it a crushing, painful rejection. And so on and so on… so many variations of feelings about love and sex that sometimes, to me, the difference between “gay” and “straight” seems far less important than these deep variances in what we mean by love and sex.
I also suspect that if we were not so squashed into our correct little gender roles we might discover that not all men are the stereotypical male (lustful, into “functional” sex, anti-romantic, unfaithful) and not all women are the stereotypical female (romantic, clingy, sentimental, only moderately libidinous). We might discover sentimental male romantics and men with only a modest appetite; men who can easily love a woman in curlers and bunny slippers after 30 years; and women whose idea of a good time is picking up a different guy (or gal) every night at the local bar. The really hard part is, for those of us who do value partnership and want a significant other in our lives… trying to find enough common ground with our partner that both of us are reasonably happy.
If the romantic marries the antiromantic, they are both in for a lot of disappointment and crossed wires, and not just on birthdays. I sometimes think we should all fill out questionnaires periodically as we go through life, that would label us with moderate accuracy on these various axes, so that on meeting a new “prospect” for friendship or partnership, we would all know what we’re getting into!
BTW, to earlier commenter: mismatched sexual desire can be a big problem not just for straight couples. It’s a problem for any kind of couple, lesbian or gay or het. Or maybe I should say a “challenge” or “issue” — because “problem” still seems to suggest that something is wrong either with the more eager or the less eager partner.
Our society’s bogus assumption that everyone is just panting for sex all the time (nowadays porn culture includes women in this assumption as well) is no more justifiable than assuming everyone’s straight. There’s nothing wrong with people who don’t qualify as “straight,” and there’s nothing wrong with people who aren’t enthusiastically sexual either. Women get the wrong end of the stick either way of course :-) because in prior, prudish times, we were described as insane or evil if we liked sex, and now we’re described as frigid or dysfunctional if we don’t care about it much. Meh.