Ever feel like your sexuality is, well, a bit muted compared to your friends? While they’re busy swiping right, gushing over hotties at the gym, and spilling the details of last night’s hookup, you’re struggling to see how they can get turned on so quickly by people they hardly know. It’s not that you never feel a spark—it just tends to happen after you’ve spent time building a strong emotional connection with someone first. Well, there’s a name for that—it’s called demisexual, and it’s totally normal. “[Demisexuality] is … a way of engaging in the world, just like being heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual,” explains Cyndi Darnell, a sex and relationship therapist in New York City. Curious about whether you might be demisexual? We sat down with Darnell to learn about the signs of this sexual orientation, how it fits into the asexual community, and tips on dating when you crave that strong emotional connection.
What is demisexuality?
There once was a time when you had two options to define your sexuality: straight or gay. Obviously, sexuality has always been much more dynamic and vibrant than that—it’s a spectrum, after all—but now we actually have the language to describe it. One such word that has been popping up lately is demisexual. But what is demisexuality? “While the name is new, demisexuality is a sexual orientation that has been around since people have been having sex,” says Darnell. “People who identify this way tend to not experience sexual attraction to any gender or any person until a strong emotional connection has been established—that’s the core thing.”
Is being demisexual the same as being asexual?
Sexual orientation and attraction aren’t black and white experiences. Picture a spectrum with sexuality on one end and asexuality on the other. Those in the space between often identify as “gray-asexual,” or not identifying as totally sexual or totally asexual. This space includes demisexual people. [pullquote align=”center”]“People who identify this way tend to not experience sexual attraction to any gender or any person until a strong emotional connection has been established—that’s the core thing.” —Cyndi Darnell, sex and relationship therapist[/pullquote] “Not strictly a variation on asexuality, demisexuals still experience sexual attraction but in a way that centers on emotions rather than lust,” says Darnell. Darnell estimates that about 1 percent of the population falls on the asexuality spectrum, and a portion of that group is demisexual. Understanding what this means for you can help give you a sense of belonging and provide meaning to your life, says Darnell. “We use these labels to help identify ourselves in a community or give context to our experiences, which is especially important for people who feel that they don’t fit into mainstream boxes,” she adds.
Signs You Might Be Demisexual
While desiring a strong emotional connection with sexual partners is a pretty common experience, there’s a difference between that and actually requiring a bond before you can feel attraction at all, as tends to be the case with demisexuals. How can you tell if you’re actually demisexual? “When it comes to sexual orientation, it’s difficult to say exactly how you know because, well, how do you know if you like pizza if you’ve never tried it?” says Darnell. “It’s really a process of coming to an awakening about yourself.” The teenage years are typically the time that people start to notice and explore their sexuality. Remember when your classmates would decorate their bedrooms with posters of the pop idols and movie stars they thought were “cute”? If you found it challenging to understand exactly how someone could feel attracted to a person they’ve never met, that might be a sign you’re demisexual, explains Darnell. Or maybe you find yourself deeply attracted to the personalities of people you’ve already befriended, putting their looks secondary. That primary attraction from a strong bond, rather than a hot bod, might also indicate that you’re demisexual. “Demisexuals tend to notice that they only have those feelings of sexual attraction once they’ve developed some sort of connection to someone,” says Darnell. “They’ll be sitting around at a party, talking about who’s hot and who’s not, and they realize they don’t find anyone hot.” A less fortunate way people tend to find out they’re demisexual is being regularly labeled as “prude” or “old-fashioned.” Your friends may have teased you that you wait too long to have sex with someone and that you don’t need to wait for “the one” to have some fun. But it’s not that demisexuals are afraid of sex or avoiding it—they just have to spend time building that strong emotional connection in order to get turned on by someone. Tapping into the asexual community can be a helpful way to determine whether or not you’re demisexual. Darnell recommends exploring the forums of the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) and related Facebook groups. “These are places you can go and hang out with other people who have been in those communities a bit longer and see what the different options are. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach,” she says.
Dating as a Demisexual
Between random hookups and online dating, it seems like the world has become increasingly casual about sex. There’s nothing wrong with that—but where does that leave people who need that deep emotional bond to feel attracted to someone? Fortunately, there are some ways to make it work for you. Here are some tips for dating as a demisexual.
Choose progressive online dating platforms.
Bumble and Tinder tend to be more focused on hooking up, which might not make them the best place for demisexuals to have dating success, says Darnell. “More progressive sites have categories where you can choose demisexual as part of your identity. Choose dating sites that will fit the expectation that you need to get to know someone first, and you don’t want to go near sex on your first few dates,” she says. Try OKCupid or Match.com, where you can include more information about what you’re looking for. [pullquote align=”center”]It will feel truly refreshing when you meet someone who not only respects your intentions but also embraces them in an effort to build a deep relationship with you.[/pullquote] That being said, you don’t have to publicly label yourself as demisexual if you don’t want to. Feel it out, and embrace the approach that feels most comfortable to you.
Be open about your needs.
Regardless of whether or not you slap the demisexual label on your online dating profile, it’s important to express your needs to people you’re dating. Be upfront about your desire to get to know someone before you want to jump into bed with them. These are totally normal desires in the dating world for demisexuals as well as people all over the sexuality spectrum. Letting potential partners know what would be a meaningful romantic experience for you helps you both evaluate whether or not the relationship is a good fit.
Stay true to your intentions.
People have all different expectations when they enter the dating world. It’s important to determine your intentions and stay strong if someone tries to sway you in another direction. “Do not allow yourself to be ambushed or bullied into doing something you don’t want to do,” says Darnell. “It’s hard, because no one wants to feel rejected, but if someone is going to rush you into something you don’t want, that person is not listening to you, and there’s a strong possibility that he or she is not going to be a good match for you, no matter what.” And it will feel truly refreshing when you meet someone who not only respects your intentions but also embraces them in an effort to build a deep relationship with you.
Consider dating other demisexuals.
While demisexuals comprise only a small school of all the fish in the sea, they might be your best bet for finding a great partner. “Finding other folks in the community and on the gray spectrum might be a better match for you,” says Darnell. “But remember, there’s lots of people who may not identify as demisexual, but value strong emotional connections. You can be many things at once.” Sexuality is a fluid thing for many people. Pay attention to what feels right for you, and embrace that—even if it changes throughout your life. “A demisexual’s responsive desire may change and shift along with the libido levels of people of many orientations. A person can have multiple orientations, so someone may identify as demisexual alongside a lot of other labels that can give definition to one’s erotic place in the world,” says Darnell.