While the idea of a sexuality spectrum is becoming more accepted, many of us may have grown up understanding sexuality as more black and white. When you hit puberty, you start becoming more aware of your sexuality and begin to develop sexual feelings and a desire to experiment with them. That’s just how it is—at least for those who can easily define their sexuality. But as we become a more accepting society, people are beginning to realize that sexuality is fluid and exists on a spectrum, not in neatly labeled boxes.
One spectrum, known as the asexuality spectrum, runs from non-asexual to asexual and allows us to view the shades of gray in between. Somewhere in the middle, there is demisexuality. This is where I fall, and it wasn’t until my early twenties that I understood I was not abnormal.
What is Demisexuality?
When I was in middle school, I had my fair share of crushes on boys. The difference between my experience and those of my friends is that, if you asked me if I wanted to kiss them, I would probably have said no. What made me crush on them then? I found them attractive but I also just really liked their personality. Maybe I was unsure of exactly what my feelings were, as is the case with most middle schoolers. Looking back, I still am a little unsure of what made me say I had a crush on one boy over another. Labels, while not important, sometimes help to define what you’re experiencing. For me, it was when I was in my early twenties when I learned there was a term for how I felt: demisexuality.
Demisexuality is described as “a sexual orientation defined by a lack of sexual attraction towards other people unless there is an existing emotional and romantic connection. The occurrence of sexual desire is dependent on the closeness of the relationship, as opposed to an initial attraction.”
The key to moving into that deeper, sexual attraction is becoming friends first. I have never had a sexual attraction to someone whom I did not first consider a friend. Friendship provides a base that leads to trust, which, for some demisexuals, can eventually lead to romance and sexual attraction.
Some that define themselves as demisexual feel no sexual attraction at all. Others do feel sexual attraction, but only after they have made an emotional connection. “Many demisexuals are only attracted to a handful of people in their lifetime,” according to Demisexuality.org, which is where I learned that, in my case, it takes a long time to develop that connection.
Sexuality’s gray area
I’ve never been comfortable defining myself as demisexual to other people. I think it may be partially because the definition is such a gray area. Constantly I am questioning if I am actually demisexual or if I am just looking to define myself as something different because I am so picky when it comes to dating. Just as I was starting to think that I was just a weird one and not on the scale at all, I realized that there is no black and white definition of demisexual.
The word “many” is vital because, much like sexuality as a whole, not all those who define themselves as demisexual describe themselves exactly the same. The main similarity is the focus on secondary sexual attraction over primary sexual attraction. According to The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality by Julie Decker, the primary sexual attraction is defined as an attraction that is based on “looks or voice or chemistry or charisma,” where secondary sexual attraction is defined as “more gradual.” It is a sexual attraction that comes about only after “ an emotional bond is formed. This can be something that occurs simultaneously, or one may feel primary sexual attraction followed by secondary. However, for someone who would consider themselves demisexual, there often is no primary sexual attraction.
When I see someone for the first time, I may initially think that person is attractive but there is no sexual attraction. I don’t know that person. Why would I feel sexual desire for them? I thought that was how everyone felt until I learned that my friends often felt sexual desire based on primary attraction.
Demisexuality is one area on the asexuality spectrum that is overlooked because of its vague, loose definition. In Let Them Eat Cake: On Being Demisexual, Cara Liebowitz argues, “people don’t have sex unless an emotional bond is connected.” She states that by this standard, one-night stands would not exist. There are plenty of situations that call for leading with primary sexual attraction rather than secondary.
In Getting Familiar with the Sexual Spectrum, Bri Griffith of Carlow University, explains that while someone who is not on the asexual spectrum may feel sexual attractions to those they find attractive, whether the person is a classmate, a coworker, or a stranger, someone on the spectrum may develop a sexual attraction after forming that emotional bond. Even then, they may choose to have sex or they may still not have an interest in it. Because it is a spectrum, it is hard to pin down a definite definition as everyone experiences it slightly differently.
Understanding Who We Are
Labels are not always necessary but can be the key to understanding. With labels, we are able to dive into definitions and others’ experiences and discover if we relate to them. I had to do a lot of research to fully commit to the idea that I identify as demisexual. Through that ability, I have discovered a lot about myself.
In my 25 years of life, I have had true feelings—past my middle school crushes—for two people. My first real “crush” was in college. I found this guy attractive but didn’t truly think anything of it until we became friends. I fell hard but he didn’t share my feelings. But, I had spent so much time developing those feelings that turning them off and moving on was not easy—I was emotionally invested.
Years later, I became friends with another guy for whom I fell hard. Even after I developed feelings and experienced a sexual attraction towards him, I still had no interest in having sex with him. I wanted to be next to him and to cuddle with him but that was it. Maybe if we had continued to get to know each other that would have changed. I don’t lack interest in sex, I just don’t feel that urge the way a lot of people do.
My lack of sexual interest at that time is best explained by Jessica Wendroff in I’m Demisexual: You Have To Seduce My Heart Before You Can Seduce My Body. She states that “In contrast to those who can “hit it and quit it,” demisexuals choose sexual partners very, very carefully. We want to look into the eyes of a partner and see someone worthwhile staring back.” It is a very vulnerable act that involves trust and, for me, to establish that trust means taking a lot longer to get to know someone and ensuring a foundation of friendship.
At that age, I had only cuddled with one person before and had one person try to kiss me. I was drunk in the first instance and the second, I froze because I did not find him attractive in that way and I could not seem to make myself fake it. It felt like it was something I should do and I was very frustrated that I could not and did not feel that way. I have spent a long time just wishing I could be “normal.”
Freedom to authentically experience your sexuality
Just because it is difficult to do studies on asexuality and demisexuality or the spectrum as a whole, does not mean it lacks normalcy. Especially if going off the idea of just focusing on your normal. According to CJ Deluzio Chasin in Theoretical Issues in the Study of Asexuality, “difficulties arise when participants are inconsistent in their self-identification as asexual.” That can be the issue with trying to pin down a label. Even within the scale, there is still another scale. The only thing that is normal is what you make it.
There should be no norms when it comes to sexuality. As with most things, it is important to just be who you are and not feel apologetic. Life is not black and white and neither is sexuality. Whether you feel primary sexual attraction before secondary, both at the same time, or no sexual attraction at all, what matters is that you allow yourself the freedom to experience your sexuality in whatever way feels right to you, without the pressure of defining it to make someone else feel comfortable.