With all the different labels, identities, and abbreviations for sexualities, one can easily get confused. So what exactly does it mean to be demisexual? How do you know if you are demisexual? If you’re feeling confused about your sexual identity and the way you experience desire, read on to find out just what demisexuality is, indicators that the identity might fit you, and how to date as a demisexual.
A person who identifies as demisexual needs to feel emotionally connected to a person before they feel sexually attracted to them. Kate Sloan, sex educator and author of the forthcoming book 200 Words to Help You Talk about Gender and Sexuality, identifies as demisexual herself. Sloan tells O.school that demisexuals “do not, and indeed cannot, develop sexual attraction without a preexisting emotional connection.” This differs from allosexuals — people who can feel sexually attracted to strangers or those they’ve just met.
Most sexual identities, like bisexuality, heterosexuality, or pansexuality, are about who you are attracted to, often being associated with being attracted to a certain gender or genders of people. Demisexuality, though, is less about who you are attracted to, and more about how you experience that attraction. For example, a demisexual person may not be attracted to someone until they have known them for a long time, or it may take sharing some emotionally intimate moments together before they feel that spark.
Because demisexuality is more about how the attraction happens than who one is attracted to, it is common for a demisexual to also have additional sexual identities. For example, one might identify as demisexual-queer, demisexual-heterosexual, both demisexual and pansexual, etc.
Demisexuality is different from asexuality and gray-ace
You may hear these terms used interchangeably, and while there are similarities between all three identities, there are also some notable differences.
Asexuality is used to define people who don’t experience sexual attraction or experience it in very limited ways. As such, the identities of demisexuality and gray-asexuality (also referred to as gray-ace) may fall under the umbrella of asexuality. According to Sloan, demisexuality is “considered an identity on the asexual spectrum, because it exists somewhere between asexuality (experiencing little-to-no sexual attraction to anyone) and allosexuality (experiencing sexual attraction regularly, i.e. what most people are).” The prefix “demi” means “half,” after all.
Also on that spectrum is gray-asexuality. There are numerous things that may make someone identify as gray-asexual, according to the Demisexual Resource Center, including feeling sexual attraction infrequently, having no desire to act upon sexual attraction, or even just having confusing feelings about sexual attraction. Some who identify as gray-asexuals may also identify as demisexual, although certainly not all do.
Indicators that you may be demisexual
Everyone’s experience with sexual attraction is unique. However, there are a few indicators that may help you determine if the label “demisexual” feels right for you. Note that this list may also resonate with people of any sexual orientation to a degree as sexuality exists on a spectrum.
- You can’t relate to finding strangers sexually attractive. The idea of finding strangers sexually attractive, or having hookups with people you don’t know well, may feel strange or unrelatable for you. You may also not be able to relate to media portrayals of relationships or sexual attraction because you feel emotionally disconnected from people you see on-screen.
- You feel confused or conflicted about sexual experiences with partners you didn’t connect with on a deep emotional level first. Some people enjoy random hookups, or can enjoy sexual activity with partners they don’t know well. This isn’t the case for others, however, and especially not for those who identify as demisexual. If you’ve had sex with someone you didn’t desire emotionally, you may be left feeling confused. If you feel conflicted after (or during!) the sexual experience specifically because there was a lack of emotional connection, it may indicate that you’re demisexual.
- You tend to “take things slow” when you date, or only date those who you already know well or are friends with.Because demisexuality requires a level of connection before feeling those tingles, it often will take a bit of time to develop a sexual attraction. The emotional connection needed for physical attraction will be different for different people, but may include things like needing to have spent a lot of time with someone, having connected over deep topics, or having shared an emotionally vulnerable moment together.
- You may feel horny or want to have sex, but you can’t think of anyone you want to have sex with, nor does meeting someone for the purpose of sex sound good. Demisexuality doesn’t necessarily mean you have a low sex drive or don’t want to have sex. However, when you consider who you’d want to have sex with, you may come up short if you aren’t emotionally crushing on someone at the moment.
Ultimately, only you can determine if you are or are not demisexual. Even if all of the above are true, the label may not feel right to you, or you may choose to identify with another identity or identities. Sometimes it is helpful to know, though, that there are words out there for what you are feeling and others with similar experiences.
6 tips for dating as a demisexual
If you’ve realized you are demisexual, you may be wondering what is next. How does this realization change your dating and sex life?
- Spend time thinking about your boundaries. If you’ve recently realized you’re demisexual, consider what helps you feel attracted to someone or what leads to an emotional connection with others. Think as well about sex and what you want sex to look like for you. There may be some sexual activities you’re okay with doing even if you’re not emotionally attracted to another person, while there may be other activities that you’ll only do if there is a strong connection present. These boundaries are completely up to you to decide, and as Sloan says, “[A]ll answers are valid, but it’s good to check in with yourself about this so you can try to pursue experiences that will make you happy and avoid ones that won’t.
- Connect with others on the spectrum of demisexuality. As with any other identity, it can be helpful to connect with other demisexuals or folks on the asexual spectrum to talk about your experiences. The Asexual Visibility and Education Network has a lot of information about identities on the asexual continum, including demisexuality, as well as forums where you can ask questions and connect with others. There are also a number of groups on Facebook where you can chat with other demisexuals, or ask questions if you’re still exploring your identity. Check your local MeetUps as well, as many larger cities have opportunities to connect in person.
- Be transparent on your online dating bio or when talking to a potential date. Let potential partners know that you’re not looking to hook up right away, but want to get to know a person first. This will allow you to see if you’re able to make that emotional connection with them. The Demisexuality Resource Center seconds this, adding that online dating allows for those on the asexual spectrum to talk to multiple people at once, seeing if there is the potential for an emotional connection to grow with any of them prior to making the commitment to meet in person. While there are not currently any dating apps specifically for demisexuals, both Bumble and OkCupid allow you to select the orientation of demisexual and search for other demisexuals to connect with.
- Plan dates where physical contact won’t be as expected.Planning dates in places or at times that don’t have an implication of potential sex afterwards can help slow the pace. You might consider daytime dates, like going for a walk, a picnic at a park, or going for coffee, as opposed to a night out for drinks.
Regardless of your identity or orientation, set a pace in dating that feels comfortable to you. “It’s okay to put the brakes on things,” Sloan tells O.school. “Any decent partner worth dating will be more than happy to wait if it means you’ll be comfier and will have a better time.”
- Develop ways to intentionally create an emotional connection with a date. “I often like to ask people about their passions, values, and things they find funny,” says Sloan, “since these are details that can jumpstart my attraction in many cases.”
- Be gentle with your date’s feelings. It can be hard to hear that someone isn’t attracted to you, especially if you’re attracted to that person. Consider phrasing your feelings so they focus less on your potential lack of attraction and more on how you’d rather know the person better first, or want to take things slow because it makes the physical aspects better for you in the long run.
The bottom line
There are many identities that make up each of us, including our sexuality, with all of these things being in flux as we change and grow. Regardless of how you experience attraction, and however you choose to describe it, your sexual identity is valid and unique to you.