If you’ve ever felt like you were able to see someone in a sexual light only after forming an emotional bond with them, you may be demisexual. The term is a sexual orientation used to describe someone who doesn’t normally find themselves sexually attracted to people they don’t know.

There’s a good chance you’ve at least heard of it—especially after Michaela Kennedy-Cuomo, the daughter of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, recently came out as demisexual in June of this year. But Wired reports the word first came into existence on an Asexuality Visibility and Education Network forum on February 8, 2006.

Because the term can often get confused with being greysexual or having low sexual desire, here’s the breakdown of what it actually means to be demisexual and how to explore your demi feels and desires.

What is demisexuality?

Demisexuality is a sexual orientation that technically falls under the asexuality umbrella, explains demisexual activist Kayla Kaszyca, cohost of the Sounds Fake but Okay podcast. “People who are demisexual only form a sexual attraction to a person once they have formed a close emotional bond with them,” she says.

“Demisexuality is about sexual attraction rather than sexual action. And just like anyone else, a demisexual person can choose to have sex with someone they are not attracted to.”

Demisexuals are people who typically need to feel a strong emotional connection with someone in order to feel any sexual attraction to them. In other words, demisexual people are capable of sexual attraction but only in specific circumstances.

Who exactly is demisexual?

It’s common to think demisexuality is a blanket statement for anyone who doesn’t like one-night stands, but that’s actually not correct. “Lots of people feel sexual attraction to people they don’t know, and I have friends who genuinely don’t get why I don’t enjoy casual sex,” says demisexual writer and artist Essie Dennis. “I don’t feel sexual attraction to people I don’t know…and I don’t really have crushes of a sexual nature. It’s just a different way of experiencing attraction.”

Again, demisexuality is about sexual attraction, not sexual action. So it’s important to keep in mind that being demisexual is different than making an active choice to abstain from sex.

“While it may be true that many people wait until they have a bond with someone to have sex, it is not true that everyone doesn’t experience sexual attraction until there is a bond,” explains Kaszyca. “There is a difference between forming sexual attraction and deciding to participate in a sexual act.”

Is being demisexual the same as having a low libido?

Another way people often get demisexuality wrong is by thinking it’s the same as having a low libido or sex drive. However, just because you are demisexual doesn’t mean you’re averse to the idea of sex or sexual pleasure. “Libido and attraction are two different things,” says demisexual writer and activist Elle Rose. “A person may have a drive for sexual pleasure without experiencing sexual attraction to another person.”

It’s also important to note that while demisexuality indicates potential interest in sex, some demisexuals might be repulsed by the idea of sex—and even if they feel a sexual attraction to someone, they might not necessarily want to act on that urge.

When talking about demisexuality, it’s a good idea not to focus so much on whether or not the person is willing to or wants to have sex. Choosing to have sex or wanting to have sex for emotional or even physical reasons isn’t the same as being sexually attracted to someone.

“Those of us who are favorable toward having sex are not not demisexual or asexual,” Rose says. “[Demisexuality] centers on what we experience first rather than our attitude toward the act of sex itself.”

What’s the difference between demisexual, demiromantic, asexual, allosexual, and greysexual?

While “demisexual” falls under the “asexual” umbrella, they’re not interchangeable terms. An asexual person experiences no sexual attraction to anyone of any gender. Even though some demisexuals can live a mostly asexual experience, there are usually a few exceptions for that rare or conditional attraction, says Rose.

“Demi people and asexual people are physically capable of having sex, and although they may not be sexually attracted to anyone (or not until they have a close bond), that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in sex,” says Kaszyca. “Again, it’s a lack of sexual attraction, not a lack of sexual desire.”

While greysexual people (or gray-asexual, grey-ace, gray-ace) rarely experience sexual attraction, they don’t necessarily need to have the emotional closeness that a demisexual individual does.

“Essentially, demisexual people only form sexual attraction in certain circumstances. Grey-aces can form sexual attraction under any circumstances, it just doesn’t happen often,” Kaszyca explains.

“Demisexual” is different than “allosexual” because that term is used to describe anyone who feels sexual attraction at all. And again, demisexual people need to form an emotional bond first before experiencing any sort of sexual attraction.

“Demisexual” is also different from “demiromantic” because the former talks about sexual attraction and the latter talks about an emotional/romantic connection—and neither term discusses the lived-in experience.

Related Terms:

Can you be demisexual and another orientation?

Not only can you be demisexual and have another sexual or romantic orientation, but there’s often a lot of overlap. Because demisexuality simply describes the fact that someone can form a sexual attraction only if there’s a strong emotional bond, it doesn’t describe gender preferences (or lack thereof).

“Their sexual attraction could end up leaning more toward men, women, or any other gender, and the extent to which that occurs would influence whether they’d be something like demi-bisexual,” says award-winning asexuality activist Yasmin Benoit.

Some people simply don’t feel the need, whereas others like to get as specific as possible. There’s no wrong way to label (or not label) yourself. “Labels are tools to help you describe your experience, not a test to live up to,” notes Rose.

What being demisexual looks like

Because being demisexual is on a spectrum, what it means might look and feel a little different for everyone. Some demisexual people prefer to be friends with someone before opening up any conversations about romantic dating. Others may never feel any sort of sexual attraction to anyone at all.

Rose explains that while some people’s sexual attraction can happen very quickly, for other people, the sexual attraction could take a period of years. “Sexual attraction can also fluctuate within demisexuality: Maybe you experience it once the bond is formed, and then it goes away,” says Rose.

What are some signs you may be demisexual?

Because being demisexual looks and feels different for everyone—and can get confusing when compared to other sexual orientations like greysexual and asexual—here are a few common experiences the experts say might point to your demisexuality:

Just like any sexual orientation, figuring out whether you’re demisexual comes down to experiences and self-reflection. Consider experimenting with different types of relationships, media, or activities to see if sexual attraction develops.

Dennis also suggests having open conversations with people you trust. “It was very freeing for me to have honest chats with my friends about sexual attraction in order to realize that I was different [from] them,” she says. “Nonjudgmental spaces are so important.”

Ultimately, if the term feels valid—or close—it’s okay to use it. In fact, Rose explains that sometimes figuring out if it correctly identifies you is as simple as trying it on. “[Even] if you decide later that it wasn’t for you, it doesn’t invalidate the time you thought that it was or invalidate your experiences that come after,” she says. “Labels don’t have to be stagnant. People certainly aren’t.”

How to find community as a demisexual person

If you are looking for a more affirming demisexual community or just want some additional resources, there are a lotta options. In addition to The Trevor Project and TrevorSpace, there are a number of Facebook groups that offer demisexual support, such as The Demisexual Safe Space, The Demisexual Group, Demisexual Social Community, and Agender, Aromantic, and Asexual.

Also, there’s a flag! The demisexual flag is similar to the asexual flag of black, gray, white, and purple horizontal stripes, but instead of the black stripe, it has a black triangle on the left side.

How to be a better ally

The first step to showing your allyship is simply to listen to your friends and partners who are demisexual. “Demisexuality can be difficult to understand, and we know that,” says Kaszyca. “Even if you don’t understand something at first, don’t discount it or write it off. Do your best to listen to the experiences of demisexual people and take them in. In the end, believe people at their word. If someone tells you that they are demisexual, believe them.”

It’s a good idea to take the time to educate yourself on what it means to be demisexual rather than assuming your friend or partner will be your educator. This allows you to have more informed conversations. Try subscribing to a newsletter like Ace Week or looking for different demisexual and asexual activists you can follow on social media. While some of the resources may seem like they’re focused on asexuality, they’ll still give you a good starting point for your journey to understanding demisexuality.

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