What Is Demisexuality? Plus, 3 Signs You Might Be Demisexual
Demisexuality sounds like Demi Lovato or Demi Moore fetish — it's not. It's actually a sexual identity defined by a particular way of discovering and cultivating sexual attraction (there's even a demisexual flag!)
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 demisexuality: Demisexuality is an orientation named by a persons' 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., professor of sexual communication at California State University, Fullerton. (See: What Is Intimacy, and How Can You Build It with a Partner?)
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 as been established, she says.
Usually, demisexual is a label used in conjunction with other identity labels. For instance someone who is a demisexual lesbian can may only experience attraction to other womxn and non-binary people after forming a bond with them. "Someone who is demisexual can be of any gender and sexuality," notes Kahn. (Related: LGBTQ+ Glossary of Gender and Sexuality Definitions Allies Should Know)
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," they say. 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, can some—and in some cases, quite a bit of— overlap.
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 sexual adequately names their lived experience.
Yes, Demisexuals 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 chooses to enter can sexual or non-sexual, she say. Indeed, sometimes demisexuals choose to have sex — just as someone who is not demisexual might — 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 also they might really enjoy and learn from it, she says.
Signs You Might Be Demisexual
1. You can recognize when a stranger is attractive, but don't experience sexual longing.
Think back on the last time a hottie walked onto your train car. Did you think about riding their face? 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 fluorescent train lights?
Now, think about your relationships with celebs and influencers. When they pop up on your timeline, do you ever think about taking a self-love snack break? Do you ever think about them while you masturbate? Or, do you prefer to admire their beauty from an objective perspective? (Related: Parasocial Relationships Are Super Interesting — and More Common Than You'd Think)
If chose the less sexual options in both of the above examples, you might be demisexual. As Kahn explains, it's common for many people who are demisexual to recognize beauty, without that recognition revving them up.
2. 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 you noggin alone or with a notebook and pen (hello, sex journal), spend some time mulling over the following questions:
- What did I think about my current partner or crush 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 I ever experience a hunger for strangers?
3. The label 'demisexual' feels good to you.
Whisper under your breath, "I'm demisexual." Or, text your best buddy: "I just read an article about demisexuality and I think the label might name my experience." 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."
And remember: Having a label is supposed to be liberating, illuminating, and community building, they say. 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)