In an age in which we are constantly one swipe away from our next relationship, the idea of romance is often rushed and convenient in a way that it never has been before. The hope is that you are able to follow your gut or some mystical inner voice that tells you whether you're right for that person on a dating app or who you just met in a bar. However, some people simply don’t operate that way. If you've ever found yourself wondering what it means to be demisexual, and whether or not the term applies to you, then read on.
When dating in a city or online, the primary way to meet people is through apps, followed by meeting up in person. The current dating climate often demands (or at least pushes people to believe) that at the end of one or two dates, you know whether you're in or out in terms of attraction. Demisexual people are different in that they won’t be sexually attracted to someone at all without the element of friendship and trust already in place.
There are a lot of misconceptions about demisexuality and demisexual people, most of which stem from a lack of understanding. Whether you are wondering about your own sexuality, looking into it because a friend or partner identifies as demisexual, or just curious, it can be helpful to learn more about what demisexuality is from experts. So, what does demisexual mean?
What Is Demisexuality?
As Jennie Steinberg, LMFT, LPCC, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle, "The broad definition of demisexual is that you only experience sexual attraction in the context of a close, emotional bond. In other words, a demisexual [person] is a person who, unlike asexual people, experiences sexual attraction, but needs to form an emotional relationship first.” Put into layman's terms, it's the lack of feeling sexual attraction to someone you're not emotionally connected or friends with first. The term applies no matter what your sexual orientation may be — for example, you could be both heterosexual and demisexual, bisexual and demisexual, pansexual and demisexual, and so on.
It can be hard to explain to someone who doesn't feel this way, because demisexuality is actually quite subtle if you're not aware of it. Most people agree that they need to establish somewhat of an emotional bond with someone before they enter into a romantic relationship with them, but demisexual people only feel romantically and sexually attracted to someone when they have emotional intimacy. If you're still unsure whether or not this applies to you, there are some “hallmarks,” so to speak, of being demisexual.
How Do You Know If You Might Be Demisexual?
Even with a definition, it can sometimes be difficult or confusing to recognize demisexuality within oneself. However, there are certain signs that might clue you in to how you feel. “As far as ‘signs’ go, you would notice that you must have an emotional bond first prior to feeling attracted to someone,” sex therapist Dr. Donna Oriowo tells Bustle.
Here’s a deeper breakdown of how those signs might play out.
Most, If Not All, Of Your Relationships Have Started Out As Friendships
One of the trickiest parts of demisexuality might be that a lot of your crushes have been born of friendships — ones that you embarked on without any other agenda. As Dr. Oriowo says, one big signifier of demisexuality can “look like you’ve only ever dated folks who were first your friends.”
You're much more attracted to someone long after you know all the little details about their lives, how they feel about things, and what makes them tick. For you, emotional connection is a precursor to attraction, so friendships may naturally lead you in that direction. And that can be confusing, particularly in friendships involving the gender(s) you're attracted to.
You Take Relationships Relatively Slow
Of course, there is no such thing as a normal relationship timeline, but compared to many of your friends or traditional relationships in media, you take the beginning phase a bit slower. That’s mostly due to the fact that it takes a while for you to even be attracted to someone romantically and sexually.
As Indigo Stray Conger, LMFT, CST, a certified sex therapist, tells Bustle. "Demisexuals typically develop relationships over weeks or months before seeing a person as attractive and associating that person with arousal cues. “There is likely no traditional ‘honeymoon’ phase in relationships for you, because what other people typically refer to as a honeymoon phase is more of your ‘uncertainty’ phase where you’re still figuring things out. And in terms of sexual activity, you are less likely to jump into things without establishing an emotional bond first.
You Usually Don’t Feel Sexual Attraction To Strangers
Another major sign of demisexuality is that “you don’t find yourself attracted to strangers or others you don’t know,” according to Dr. Oriowo. A misconception about demisexuals is that they only feel one kind of attraction toward best friends, but the truth is that they can feel other kinds of attraction, too. For instance, there is "primary" sexual attraction — the attraction to what you see first, like a person's looks, aesthetic, or the way they carry themselves — and secondary sexual attraction, which is more rooted in personality and the way you connect with someone.
In relationships, demisexual people operate almost solely on secondary attraction, while most other people are typically drawn in by primary attraction (re: love at first sight). This is why you might not be able to relate when your friends talk about a hot celebrity or point out an attractive bartender, Steinberg says. "If you can't imagine what it would feel like to want to have sex with a good-looking stranger, you may be demisexual," she adds. "You might even feel like you need to agree or invent attractions in order to 'fit in."
That doesn't mean that you won't occasionally see a hot person on the subway and think, “Wow, that person is beautiful” or “I like the way they carry themself,” but you likely won’t think of them with much sexual attraction. And if you do, it's fleeting — if you ever actively pursued it, chances are the attraction would be gone almost immediately.
How Does Demisexuality Affect Your Relationships?
With a lot of emphasis in modern dating being on dating apps and meeting strangers on nights out, demisexual people may run into some difficulty in the current dating environment. “Folks don’t really understand what it means to be a demisexual, so instead of noting who they are and how they operate, we judge them from our own lenses, imagining judgment where there may be none and passing judgment on what they do or don’t do,” Dr. Oriowo says.
For example, demisexual people may use dating apps and go on dates with people, but take a while to get to know someone enough to a point where they find them attractive and want to engage in anything romantic or sexual. And this might confuse the people they are seeing, based on societal expectations of what multiple dates might mean in terms of level of interest and attraction.
However, just because a demisexual person isn’t actively attracted to someone yet doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in getting to know them more. “Because demisexuals require the emotional connection before there is sexual attraction, if they are not feeling it, it can be harder for them to fake, so the other person may notice it,” explains Dr. Oriowo. “Additionally, some folks may feel a way if they are ready to move to a physical relationship, but the demisexual they are with is not there yet.”
Of course, no one should feel pressured to move into a physical relationship if they aren’t ready or don’t want to. But demisexual people, in particular, won’t feel an urge to be physically intimate until there is a certain level of emotional intimacy with someone. This can sometimes be misconceived or problematically labeled as prudish, and that misconception can lead demisexual people to feel like they need to fake physical attraction. “This judgment of them being ‘prudes’ can lead some folk to faking the funk so they won’t be judged,” Dr. Oriowo says.
Some people certainly do refrain from sex for their own personal reasons or beliefs, and some (including demisexual people) just have a lack of interest, be it altogether or with particular people. Regardless, such labels aren’t just inappropriate and offensive, but inaccurate — no matter what reason a person has for refraining from physical intimacy.
In the end, though, you can only do what feels right for you, even when other people project their own feelings and insecurities on your choices, be it because of lack of education and understanding or just plain bigotry. The romantic world is difficult to navigate, no matter how you feel or don't feel about sex and attraction, so the best thing you can do for yourself is educate yourself, trust your gut, and stick to it.
Jennie Steinberg, LMFT, LPCC, licensed marriage and family therapist
Dr. Donna Oriowo, sex therapist
Indigo Stray Conger, LMFT, CST, certified sex therapist
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