Demisexuality is one of the latest labels that’s been in the public eye over the last year.
Sadly, it’s not always been the recipient of considerate or compassionate responses. Lots of people simply don’t understand what demisexuality is about, or how it fits within the LGBTQ+ community.
For those who identify as demisexual, it’s a sigh of relief to have a word and a community that matches your experiences. For non-demisexual folks, it’s a little more confusing. I’m here to untangle those neurons, and hopefully, make things clearer in the process!
Romantic Orientation & Sexual Orientation
Before we start getting into the nitty-gritty of demisexuality, let’s talk briefly about the concept of the “split attraction model”. It’s the concept that when we commonly discuss sexual orientations, we’re actually speaking about two different types of orientation: romantic and sexual orientation.
Romantic feelings are hard to define, and they’re influenced by our cultural and social upbringings.
Generally, they encompass deep passionate feelings towards someone. You want to date them, you feel a magnetic attraction to being around them, and want to show your intense affection for them. It’s what so many people call “falling in love”.
For some people, romantic love isn’t something they experience. If romantic love is a spectrum, they’re on the end that’s labeled “aromantic” (#NoRomo). For other people, love is basically bursting out of every pore in their skin, and they’re constantly falling for new people. First, it’s the barista, next their neighbor, and even the guy walking across the street. Cupid has hit them with a machine gun, essentially.
Sexual orientation is a little easier to define. Sexual feelings are those full-body/mind desires to be sexual!
There are folks who just don’t feel sexual attraction towards people, and they’d be somewhere on the asexuality spectrum. Asexuals aren’t all sex-repulsed, though! It can even be broken down further into asexuals who are sex-repulsed (“ew never!”), sex-neutral (“meh”), and sex favorable (“I’m not into it, but if you like it, sure!”). You can have sexual desires (like wanting to fulfill your own sexual needs) without feeling sexual desire for someone in particular.
For many people, romantic and sexual feelings are the same: you like men, you see a “hot” guy and you’re instantly turned on (sexual attraction). If you go on a date with them and see you’re compatible, then suddenly romantic feelings develop as well (romantic attraction).
For other people, these two orientations don’t always match. They might be someone who’s sexually attracted to people of the same gender, but not romantically attracted to them. They might be asexual, but extremely romantic to every gender!
There’s a bunch of different types of romantic and sexual orientations, and in the words of Vulcan philosophy, “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations”. It’s like an alignment chart!
Now… where does demisexuality fit into this?
Demisexuals are people who feel sexual attraction to someone, but only when they form an emotional bond with that person.
It’s a sexual orientation that’s on the asexuality spectrum, and can be combined with other sexual orientations like heterosexual or pansexual. For example, if a woman only feels sexual desire to other women once she gets to know them, she’d be a demisexual lesbian.
“But wait, Zack, isn’t that just like everyone else? How’s that different?”
Well, good question, critical disembodied voice #139. You are a beloved friend, especially in these virus-filled, socially distant times.
So when I say that demisexuals feel sexual attraction to people only after becoming emotionally close to them, I really do mean only. Demisexuals won’t ever see a hot person on the beach and go, “damn this hottie with a body really revs my engines, I’m gonna turn up my flirt dial to 100 and talk to them”.
Instead, they might see a gorgeous stranger and experience another form of attraction, like aesthetic attraction to their overall style and look. They might talk to them, and want to know them better as friends or acquaintances. They won’t feel sexual desire towards that stranger, not until that stranger becomes someone they know well and feel emotionally secure with.
“But still, this sounds a lot like regular dating. Maybe they’re just not into hookup culture!” Thank you again, critical disembodied voice #139. You help keep me on my toes.
You know those “freebie” lists monogamous couples have that include their favorite celebrities? The list where the couples agree that if they ever meet this person in real life, they get to have sex with them without it being seen as cheating? Demisexuals don’t have those. They don’t ever want to have sex with a stranger (minus demisexual sex workers, of course).
Not all Sunshine and Rainbows
To demis, engaged and enthusiastic sex can only happen with an emotional attachment.
You can probably see this already, but this creates a few problems for demisexuals. Since demisexuals don’t immediately fall in lust with a stranger, they need to take dating a little bit slower than non-asexuals might. At times, they can be seen as a bit prudish or cold, when they’re just truly following their own inner sense of desire and attraction.
Another issue for poor demisexuals? The trend to have crushes on their friends. It’s a curse for a lot of them, as most people tend to separate their romantic/sexual prospects from their close intimate friends. Demisexuals have to get comfortable maneuvering around these romantic and moral dilemmas: do they tell their friends about their budding feelings, and risk their friendship? Or do they hold those feelings inside, and try to digest them instead?
It’s not easy being demi!
Why do we need all these different labels, anyhow?
The acronym “LGBTQIA+” is getting bigger and bigger, but that’s not a bad thing! While it can be difficult for people to adjust when the only two identities they’ve known have been gay and straight, there is a reason for the rapid expansion of the umbrella term of “LGBTQ+”.
Some people have felt alienated by how different their feelings have been in comparison to others. They might not have understood how they could be sexually attracted to one gender, but not feel romantically attracted to them. They’ve potentially spent their lives forcing themselves into a box that simply doesn’t fit right, like a pair of shoes that keep pinching and chafing.
Finding out that there was a label for their feelings is a major sense of relief, but then finding out that there’s a whole community who also feel that way, and who come together to share their experiences (and memes)? That’s a load off someone’s shoulders! They’re not different or strange or broken anymore but simply didn’t have the proper way to articulate and encapsulate their innate preferences.
Words are a form of technology. They help us pinpoint certain feelings in an extremely precise way. If a new word or label doesn’t resonate with you, you don’t have to use it for yourself! Just respect that there are people who do find community and identity through these terms.
Stay queer and stay kind, folks!
Here are some fun links to demisexual merchandise or more resources if you’re struggling to understand demisexuality!