Many who are navigating the current landscape of dating would likely agree that the new order of operations includes intimacy and sex more toward the front end of getting to know one another. And if sex on a first date or anywhere near the beginning of a relationship works for you, that’s amazing. After all, there’s no wrong way to cultivate a relationship so long as everyone involved feels good about it. But, this model simply doesn’t serve everyone. Like, let’s say you identify as demisexual, and don’t experience sexual attraction at all until an emotional bond has been established—then what?
First things first, the online-advocacy platform Demisexuality Resource Center describes demisexuality as a sexual orientation in which doesn’t someone feel sexual attraction with someone until an emotional bond is formed. It falls under the asexuality umbrella, but with the key difference of the word “until.” “While folks who identify as asexual never (ever, ever!) experience sexual desire or sexual attraction, demisexuals do have the capacity for sexual desire,” says clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD, author of Joy From Fear.
And according to the DRC, the specifics of that established emotional bond looks different for everyone. For Tillie Eze, founder of women’s wellness retreats company Moon Me who identifies as a demisexual lesbian, it looks like this: “It’s the kind of relationship you have with the person you would call no matter what. It’s deeper than what I feel for my best friend or parents. It’s a synergy. It’s an unspoken or spoken love.”
Demisexuality wasn’t coined until 2006, which is one strong reason there’s very little data by way of how common it is. (Experts say other reasons include research on sexuality being hard to fund and the obvious fact that you can’t decipher someone’s sexuality by simply looking at them).
“Someone who is demisexual can have a low or high libido once that emotional connection turns sexual.” —Carlos Cavazos, sex coach and counselor
It’s worth noting that since sex drive and sexual orientation are different, so too is being demisexual and having a low libido. “Someone with a low libido does not need an emotional connection with someone to feel sexual attraction. They might just be experiencing that attraction at a lower frequency or feel less motivated in acting on that attraction,” counselor and sex coach Carlos Cavazos, LPC. “Someone who is demisexual can have a low or high libido once that emotional connection turns sexual.” And FYI, “demisexual folks can absolutely still masturbate,” says sexologist Jill McDevitt, PhD, who also identifies as demisexual. (After all, you probably have a cultivated relationship with yourself.) That said, there are some signs of demisexuality you can be aware of.
4 questions to ask yourself about demisexuality
As with any sexual or gender orientation, whether you subscribe to a label is entirely up to you. And if you think or feel that you’re demisexual, you are. While there’s no printable PDF of required prerequisites for identification, there is value in clarity and self-reflection. That’s why experts suggest conducting a quick Q&A with yourself:
1. Have I been experiencing these feelings my whole life, or does it feel like it suddenly came on?
If it’s the latter, you may be unknowingly conflating low libido with demisexuality. In this case, Dr. Manly suggests seeing your health-care provider to learn whether an external factor (like medication, lifestyle choices, stress, menopause, or a number of other possibilities) may be affecting your libido. “Demisexuality is an identity and is usually a lifelong experience. If it feels like it came on suddenly, it could signal a dip in sex drive,” says Dr. Manly.
2. How do I feel about hookups, friends with benefits, one-night stands, or summer flings?
“Most demisexuals think the idea of hookups or casual sexual partners is okay for others, but find it very unappealing for themselves,” Dr. Manly says.
3. Do I feel any level of sexual attraction once I have formed a deep relationship with another person?
If the answer is yes, perhaps you are demisexual. If the answer is no, perhaps an asexual identity may resonate with you more strongly.
4. What qualities are most important to me in a relationship (e.g., friendship, play, communication, sexuality)?
Dr. Manly says teasing out the answers to this question is particularly important, because it can provide information to help demisexual people become more aware of what they need and want in a relationship. If facets of emotional connection are high, and sexual connection is lower, demisexuality may explain why.
For Eze, that point about emotional connection resonates. “I need a real friendship within any potential partnership. I need that raw honesty that comes with a really, really true friendship.” And, when it comes to dating as a demisexual, Eze is in good company with her stance.
“Many demisexual folks will have partners that started out as a friend,” says Dr. McDevitt—which makes sense, since there’s already an established emotional baseline. Of course, if you’re interested in someone who identifies as demisexual, this may put you at a more pronounced risk of getting stuck in the friend zone—but, really, that risk does always exist in some sense. Dating apps can also be tricky to use for people who identify as demisexual. “In online dating, there is a lot of acknowledging what you are looking for. A girlfriend? A FWB? A partner? And I don’t know yet,” Eze says. “I want to take it slow and figure it out. I think that can be hard for the non-demisexual folks who are or might be interested in me because it could be six or nine months or a year of establishing emotional connection before I have an interest in more—if I ever do.”
All of that being true, Eze recognizes that her experience isn’t universal for demisexuality. She does hope that dating apps will begin to list demisexuality in its list of sexual orientation(s), so people who identify will be able to swipe without feeling pressure to know exactly what they’re looking for from the get-go. “However we meet, I really just want to get to know someone before I date or am intimate with them,” says Eze.
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