Gareth May | Contributing Writer | Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Are You Demisexual?

The Debrief: Demisexuals only fancy people once they've formed a close emotional bond. Imagine how boring that would make your commute...

Can you imagine what it feels like never to crush? Never to look across a crowded room at a stranger and melt quicker than a snow cone in Tennessee? Never to go all gooey-eyed and jelly-legged at the sight of someone you’ve never met before, someone new and exciting, someone who makes you hornier and hotter than a crash of rhinos in a nuclear explosion? 

Sure, you might feel those things in time. Down the road, once you’ve talked, digested each other’s life stories and bonded, dated over weeks, maybe months even; you might start to get that tingle in the belly, that firework display in the pant-region. Ignited by emotional connection, the cogs of lust might start turning. Slowly.

But before all that, the idea of kissing them ‘there’, rubbing them ‘here’ – the notion of hopping aboard for a ride on the sausage wagon or eating a bowl full of groin – is all just a little bit ‘eww’.

Welcome to the world of the demisexual – a sexual orientation in which one is sexually attracted only towards people with whom they have a close emotional bond. 

A rare term to most, demisexuality is considered part of the asexual spectrum, as demisexuals tend to be sexually attracted to only a handful of people, and most, but not all, have little to no interest in sex.

'Very basically, asexuality is when someone doesn't feel sexual attraction, and demisexuality is when they only feel sexual attraction after forming a close emotional bond,' Divya, a 24-year-old woman from Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, tells me via email. 'One doesn't feel sexual attraction and the other does.'

It was this distinction, this penumbra of asexuality if you will, that led Divya to discover demisexuality. 

'The first time I started to realize something was off was when my friend and I would attend parties in college in search of attractive potential hook ups. She always found people. But I ended up incredibly frustrated when I found absolutely no one sexually attractive,' Divya says.

'It got to the point where I started wondering what the deal was because we went to so many parties and I thought I would have found someone, but I never did. I saw people who had cute faces, but the thought of doing something sexual with them was gross.'

Eventually Divya hooked up with a couple of people but the ensuing heavy petting was just ‘weird’ probably due to the fact that she didn't actually find them attractive. 'I just thought that was how it was for everyone: you're single, you want to have sex, and you just grit your teeth and do it with a rando,' she adds. 

It was during this time that Divya stumbled upon the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) – an online forum for asexuals –and it was here she discovered the orientation ‘demisexuality’, a term first used on the site back in 2006.

'I had always thought I was just a quirky but average heterosexual, so when I found that what I previously thought was a personal quirk was an actual sexuality, I was pretty amazed,' Divya says, adding she didn’t feel that asexuality ‘fit’ because she liked sex and most asexuals don’t. Demisexuality on the other hand fit that 'perfect middle ground where I felt almost asexual but not quite.'

The dominoes started to tumble and Divya began to understand her sexuality for the first time in her life recognizing that all those hook ups she’d witnessed her mates get hot under the collar for weren’t the hell zone she believed them to be. She’d had an epiphany: People are actually attracted to the people they pick up at the bar!

'It was strange to realize that most people don't function the way I thought they did. I would have loved to be able to find people sexually attractive at all those parties, but no matter how hard I tried, it just didn't happen. I have only found three people sexually attractive in my life,' she says. 'I asked my friends how many people they find sexually attractive on a daily basis and realized that I really was different. It was a revelation.'

So how does sex ‘work’ for a demisexual? Findings from the 2014 AVEN Community Census found that one third of demisexuals enjoy sex, another third are ‘sex repulsed’ and another ‘indifferent’. Divya considers herself in that first third.

'There is a huge variety of attitudes towards sex among demisexuals,' Divya explains. 'I personally don't see a difference between how I experience/think about sex and how most other people do. I like sex. I have a pretty average libido for my age. However, while I would like to have sex eventually, it doesn't appeal to me until a few months into the relationship.'

She adds that she built a friendship first with her current boyfriend (who she met on OKCupid) before they were emotionally engaged and, even then, he gave her time to develop what she calls 'sufficient emotional intimacy.'

Wishing to educate others in her position, Divya has since set up Demisexuality.org. An online forum for any one with unanswered questions about their sexuality. She regularly receives emails from people – including those over the age of 40 – who are 'amazed to finally discover their true sexuality.'

Divya is part of a growing online community of demisexuals; from Redditors to YouTubers to bloggers, demisexuals are finding a place to be listened and to have their voice heard. 

Even so, they are still met with much opposition. In fact, before Divya agreed to be interviewed she asked me about the angle of the article: ‘Will it be positive or negative in slant? A lot of people do not believe that demisexuality is even a real thing...’ She was also keen to point out that she is ‘South Asian’ so that ‘people know that South Asian demisexuals exist.’

It doesn’t take much to discover the anti-demisexual advocates. The top rated comment on this video explaining demisexuality reads as follows

“Okay, we are REALLY getting a bit carried away with these labels. Demi-Sexual? Are you fucking kidding me? Some people just don't get sexually aroused until they actually have some sort of connection with someone. Nothing bad with that at all. It's not something that requires a new label, but if it did, you should call it "Having Standards"”

Divya says this is a common reaction when attempting to explain demisexuality. 'People don't understand how fundamentally different demisexuality is from simply waiting for feelings to appear before wanting to have sex,' she says. 'Those latter people will feel sexual attraction initially, but will choose to wait to act on it because they want to reserve the act of sex for people they love. Demisexuals don't feel sexual attraction initially at all, and there is no choice involved.'

She also says some people just want to 'invalidate”' demisexuality as a 'unique phenomenon.' Some just say it’s ‘normal’ failing to make an effort to understand why it is different. Others, 'throw up their hands and say "youngsters these days! Why do they need so many labels?"'. And others just say, 'It's a preference, not an orientation.'

She says such views are dangerous. 'These people don't realize that labels help people feel less alone and less broken. Demisexuals generally don't claim to be oppressed, and they have little interest in "invading" queer spaces unless they are also trans or experiencing same gender attraction.' 

The truth, Divya says, is that many demisexuals feel alone and afraid before discovering that there are others like them. Under pressure from their peers in those formative years spent sniffing out shag partners it must be pretty difficult being the one who always goes home alone. But as Divya bluntly puts it, the plight of a demisexual isn’t a choice: 'I don't prefer people I am emotionally connected to; I am literally unable to feel sexually attracted to anyone else.'

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Follow Gareth on Twitter: @GarethMay

Picture: Eugenia Loli 

Tags: Sex, Sex O\'Clock, Sex Ed