What Is Demisexuality? Plus, 3 Signs You Might Be Demisexual

No, being demisexual does not mean having an affinity for Demi Lovato.

Demisexuality may sound like a desire for Demi Lovato or Demi Moore — but it's not. It's actually a sexual identity defined by a particular way of discovering and cultivating sexual attraction.

Intrigued? Read on for the exact definition of demisexuality, plus some signs you might be demisexual, according to sexuality educators.

What Does Demisexual Mean, Exactly?

Let's start with the definition of the word: Demisexuality is an orientation named by a person's capacity to experience sexual attraction only after they've established a connection with someone, explains Jesse Kahn, L.C.S.W., C.S.T., director and sex therapist at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in NYC. (Fun fact: The prefix demi- means "half.") For many demisexuals, that connection must be emotional — but for others, the connection could be established mental, intellectual, or spiritual intimacy, says Tara Suwinyattichaiporn, Ph.D., a professor of sexual communication at California State University, Fullerton.

In this dating age, it's common for someone to choose to save certain sexual acts for people with whom they have an emotional bond. But simply choosing to wait to act on sexual attraction is different from having a sexual orientation defined by the inability to have sexual attraction until after an emotional bond has been established, says Suwinyattichaiporn.

Usually, demisexual is a label used in conjunction with other identity labels. For instance, someone who is a demisexual lesbian may only experience attraction to other women, femmes, and non-binary people after forming a bond with them. "Someone who is demisexual can be of any gender and sexuality," notes Kahn.

As is true with any label, the exact demisexual definition will vary based on who is doing the defining. Likewise, "each demisexual's experience with attraction can be different," says Kahn. So ultimately, to know exactly what someone means when they share that they're demisexual, you'd have to ask.

Demisexual vs. Asexual

As far as definitions go, demisexuality is not synonymous with asexuality. However, there can be some overlap — and in some cases, quite a bit of it.

As a sexual orientation, "asexuality is where someone feels little to no sexual attraction and/or interest in sex," explains Kahn. But asexuality can also function as an umbrella term — much like the word "queer" does. "Asexuality can function as a broad term that includes all identities and orientations that name people who experience attraction outside of the cultural norm," says Suwinyattichaiporn. This is known as the asexuality spectrum. (See More: What Does It Really Mean to Be Asexual?)

"The asexuality spectrum ranges from people who have no sexual desire to those who are ambivalent about sex to those who enjoy sex, but only when there is an emotional bond (like demisexual folks)," explains somatic psychotherapist and empowerment coach Elmo Painter-Edington, L.P.C. Because demisexuality falls on the asexuality spectrum, some people who are demisexual identify as both demisexual and asexual, she says. However, other demisexual folks do not feel that the term asexual adequately represents their lived experience.

Yes, Demisexual People Can Have Happy, Healthy Relationships

For the record: "Demisexuals can definitely have happy and healthy romantic and sexual relationships," says Suwinyattichaiporn. Sure, people who are demisexual may take longer to invite the sexual side of things into their relationships. But with enough time (and effort), "demi folks can flourish in both monogamous and polyamorous/non-monogamous relationships," says Painter-Edington. As a reminder: Sexual orientation has no inherent bearing on a person's relationship orientation, or preferred relationship structure.

The relationships a demisexual person chooses to enter can sexual or non-sexual, says Painter-Edington. Indeed, sometimes demisexual people choose to have sex — just as someone who is not demisexual might — only after forming an emotional bond.

But "some demisexuals might choose to find creative ways to have sex, including kink play (role-play or bondage), energy play, and just experimenting with touch and sensation," says Painter-Edington. "Not only can this be a healthy and happy way to relate, but even for a non-demisexual person, dating in this way can be really empowering," especially for people who have historically had their sexual boundaries ignored or crossed, she explains.

In other words, not only can someone who is not demisexual romance and romp with someone who is demisexual, but they also might really enjoy and learn from it, says Painter-Edington.

Signs You Might Be Demisexual

You can recognize when a stranger is attractive, but don't experience sexual longing.

Think back on the last time a hottie walked into your regular coffee shop. Did you fantasize about leading them into the bathroom for a little rendezvous? Or, did you simply admire their style or the way their eyes glinted in the light?

Now, think about your relationships with celebrities and influencers. Do you ever think about them while you masturbate? Or, do you prefer to admire their beauty from an objective perspective?

If you chose the less sexual options in both of the above examples, you might be demisexual. It's common for many people who are demisexual to recognize beauty, without that recognition revving them up, explains Kahn.

Your past (or current) partner(s) started as friends.

"A great way to figure out if you're demisexual is to think about the context and circumstances in which you have experienced desire and attraction in the past," says Kahn. Whether on paper or simply in your head, spend some time mulling over the following questions:

  • What did you think about your current partner(s) or crush(es) the first time you saw them?
  • When did you first experience attraction of the ~sexual variety~ to your current partner(s) or crush(es)?
  • Do you ever experience sexual desire for strangers?

The label "demisexual" feels good to you.

Whisper under your breath, "I'm demisexual." Or, type: "I might be demisexual" into your notes app. Go on...try it! If any of those activities felt affirming, get curious about that — it's a sign that demisexuality may be the right label for you. "When it comes to words and labels, it's important to remember that all of it is up to you," says Kahn. "If the general definition feels like a fit, it's still your choice if you want to use any word or label," they explain.

And remember: Having a label is supposed to be liberating, illuminating, and community building, says Kahn. So, if the label starts to feel like a too-tight turtleneck, ditch it for another one. Or, opt out of labels altogether — it's all up to you. (Read: Why I Refuse to Label My Sexuality)

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