A definition: Your guide to demisexuality

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Our resident sexologist explores the term “demisexual” and what it might mean for you.

Demisexuality has been on the rise in search engines these days. Maybe you think you might be demisexual, maybe someone you like has told you they are demisexual and you’re trying to understand it so you can be an empathetic partner, or maybe you’re just a curious cat who wants to know more. Either way, we should talk about what it means to identify as a demisexual.

Sexuality offers many options

Sexuality has finally begun to fall off the binary. Purely identifying as heterosexual or homosexual are no longer the only options you have. And, frankly, they don’t work for most people. This is no new thing. Pioneering sex researcher Alfred Kinsey researched and figured out that sexuality falls on a spectrum back in the late 1940s. This has been a long time coming, my friends.

While many places (and people) are still anti-progress, in more progressive circles, there is a more open understanding of how sexuality can present itself. It is unique to every single person. While people can fall into “boxes” such as homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual, for others it just isn’t that simple. The lines are not drawn in concrete, fixed and unchanging, but rather the lines are drawn in the sand, easily shifted or erased with a passing wave. Many people find their sexuality shifting or existing in a grey area that is not strongly defined.

You might be wondering how demisexuality fits into my semi-rant on the fluidity of sexuality. Demisexuality is one of these “grey area” sexualities. It isn’t a new or unusual experience of sexuality, but is new in our cultural lexicon. So let’s take a closer look at demisexuality in order to better understand it. Everyone deserves to be seen, understood, and accepted for who they are, right?

It’s a term, so let’s define it

First things first, demisexual a form of sexual identity, yes? So let’s define it so we can better understand it going forward. The term ‘demisexual’ was defined by The Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) in the mid-2000s to denote a person with a certain level of sexual interest, but only in certain contexts. It falls on the “grey scale” of asexuality. Much like the Kinsey Scale, asexuality falls on a spectrum. As with all things sexually-based, there is no black and white.

‘Demi’ is French for the word ‘half’. A person who is demisexual doesn’t feel sexually attracted to someone without a deep emotional connection. In short, you need feelings for someone to get horny.

At the same time, Dr. Lanae St. John, a board certified sexologist and author of Read Me: A Parental Primer for “The Talk”, says that demisexuality can be thought of as a sort of “add on” for many people, meaning it can fit in alongside other identities as well. “A Demisexual begins to feel sexual attraction when there is an emotional connection with another person. However, a person who is demisexual can also be straight, gay, or bi and may not have a gender preference when it comes to who they do feel sexual attraction to,” she explains.

It’s all about emotional connection

Don’t get me wrong, you can identify with as many or as few labels as you’d like and that is perfectly valid, but what sets demisexuality apart is that it has nothing to do with gender in any formal sense. All it means is that you require emotional connectedness in order to feel sexually interested in someone. Who you have that emotional connection with is only relevant to your individual preferences. “A good way to consider [demisexuality] is to remember that not all sexual attraction is physical,” says Moushumi Ghose, MFT, a licensed sex therapist.

Another important thing to consider is that an emotional connection does not guarantee that you’ll be sexually attracted to someone. “A demisexual could have an emotional bond with someone BUT they still might not feel sexual desire towards them. Think of the emotional bond as a type of prerequisite to feeling any sexual attraction”, St. John explains. Demisexuals need emotional connection to have sexual stirrings, but that doesn’t mean everyone they like hanging out with is going to get them hot. Get it?

How demisexuals build intimacy

How does anyone build intimacy? It is up to the two people creating an environment between them. Just because you don’t want to have sex with people you don’t care about doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy sex, feel attraction, or want long-term love. It also doesn’t mean you can’t have casual sex in many cases.

For the most part, demisexual people don’t center their intimate lives around sex. A demisexual person often doesn’t experience spontaneous desire (when you become randomly turned on without any external stimuli). Intimacy is not defined as getting down in the bedroom. Intimacy is defined as creating trusting emotional bonds with your partner – or, at the very least, having the capacity for such bonds.

If you’re interested in having sex with a demisexual person, you’ll need patience and true emotional feelings. A demisexual does not necessarily need a relationship to have sexual feelings, but they do need to feel emotionally taken care of and heard. Basically, being demisexual means needing to be treated like a human and deserving of care before they want to bone you. (Sidenote: I think we could all learn from this, regardless of sexual preference).

“If you are with a person who doesn’t have the patience for building intimacy, then they are not your people,” St.John says.

Why it’s important that we validate demisexuality

When it comes to demisexuality, people often get it wrong. Demisexuality deserves a place at the table and it’s time we get that as a society. People are quick to label this term as “not real” or as something that is obvious for some people.

Of course some people need emotional connection to want to have sex, that doesn’t make it an identity.

Women need emotional intimacy to want to have sex, but men don’t.

Some people need to know they’re going to be in a relationship before they “give it up”.

Any of these sounding familiar? This isn’t anything new. My own mother told me that being bisexual was a “stop on the way to Gay Town” growing up, leaving me to keep my identity to myself until my late-20s.

A question of tolerance

We absolutely must understand and accept demisexuality as part of normalized sexuality because the only other alternative is to start cherry-picking what we think is “legitimate”. No person has the right to say how another person feels about anything, let alone sex.

Ghose says that considering demisexuality as a valid form of sexual expression is foundational to understanding sexuality as a whole. “This is a very important construct because as a society we often things think of things as static. That everyone is the same. And or that things are very binary.  It is really important that we recognize that sexuality is fluid, and that it lies on a continuum. We are not all the same. We do not love the same. We do not feel sexual feelings the same,” she explains.

Gigi Engle is Womanizer’s resident sexologist and author of All The F*cking Mistakes: a guide to sex, love, and life. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @GigiEngle.

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Author

Gigi Engle is a sexologist, certified sex coach, and feminist author. She teaches about pleasure-based sex education, masturbation, and the magical wonders that are sex toys. Engle's work has appeared in many publications her articles have been shared over 50 million times. She also writes a popular advice column called Ask Gigi, and her first book, All The F*cking Mistakes: a guide to sex, love, and life, debuts in January 2020. She has a degree in both English and Journalism from Fordham University College at Lincoln Center. Engle is an original member of The Women of Sex Tech and a certified member the World Association of Sex Coaches.