What does it mean to be demisexual? How asexuality changes people’s attitudes towards dating


A new advert for dating app Hinge has appeared on UK public transport this month. It said, “I’m demisexual. What’s the best way to set expectations around waiting to have sex?”

For demisexuals, this was an encouraging and mainstream peek into their romantic lives. For other travelers, this would probably have been another term they’ve never heard of in the growing list of ways to describe sexuality. There are already more than 100 tags to describe sexual orientationfrom abrosexual, a person with a fluid sexuality whose sexuality and preferences may change throughout their life, to gynesexual, for someone who is attracted to women, women, and/or femininity, regardless of the sex assigned at birth.

In 2019, Emmerdale character Liv Flaherty (Isobel Steele) came out as asexual, but under the asexual umbrella alone, there are at least 11 terms for where you sit on that asexual spectrum, with one of them being demisexual.

According to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (Glaad), demisexuality is a form of asexuality, meaning that a person experiences some sexual attraction, but only in certain situations, for example after having formed a strong emotional or romantic connection with a partner.

Sara Hope, 30, from London, identifies as demisexual. “I find it nice to look at people, and after looking at them for a while, I might want to do more with them, but I don’t feel an immediate attraction,” he says. “I first realized I was on the asexual spectrum when I was about 25 and started seeing more about it online. At that point I had had a couple of partners and had never really enjoyed sex with them, though and that he felt expected.

Sara Hope identifies as demisexual (Photo: supplied)

“It wasn’t until I met my fiance three years ago that I realized he was more likely to be demisexual than completely asexual, as how I felt about him was completely different to how I’d felt about previous partners “.

Ellie-Rose, 29, also identifies as demisexual. “There is literally no sexual attraction experienced for me until that particular bond is formed,” she says.

Syra Lynn is also demisexual. “I’m asexual until I’m not,” she explains. “Unless I’m interested in a particular person, I’m asexual. I can’t just look at someone I’ve never met and decide I’m attracted to them and want to date them or sleep with them. It’s not a what am I capable of”.

However, how different is this from the common experience of finding someone attractive once you’ve met them? Most of us don’t want to sleep with a stranger we meet in a bar, but we might want to sleep with them once we’ve heard their hopes and dreams over a bottle of wine.

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“Many people see demisexuality as an extension of normal sexuality,” says Lynn, “as when a person makes an active decision to abstain from sex because a connection with someone before sex feels better than when not do you have any. , or if a person says they prefer to get to know someone before having sex. For a demisexual, this way of being is not a choice or a preference. We are literally incapable of being sexually attracted to anyone, ever, without first experiencing that bond emotionally, intellectually, or otherwise first. Attraction always comes later. Attraction is always an afterthought.”

For those who grew up in an era where you might identify as straight, gay, or bisexual, times have truly changed. Why are we seeing a flurry of new terms for sexuality?

sexual terms

Afrosexual

An afrosexual person is a person with a fluid sexuality whose sexuality and preferences can change throughout their life

androsexual

There are a few definitions of androsexuality, but the most common is a person who is attracted to individuals on the male side of the gender spectrum.

cupiosexual

This falls under asexuality as a person who wants a sexual relationship with a person or people but experiences little or no attraction. The term is increasing in popularity; they can enjoy the experience of sex without feeling attracted to anyone.

greysexual

Also under the spectrum of asexuality, a gray person may occasionally experience sexual attraction and feelings, but it is the exception, not the norm.

Pomosexual

For a person who is pomosexual, their sexuality does not fit into a specific category and/or they completely reject the labels associated with their orientation.

questioning

Adjective used by some people who are in the process of exploring their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Peter Saddington, a counselor and therapist at the Midlands-based charity Relate, believes the change is partly down to a greater openness about sex in general. “Sex used to be taboo,” she says. “Everybody had sex, but you didn’t talk about it. The first big change was really the prevalence of porn, when it became so readily available that people started to realize what their orientation or interest might be other people’s sexuality. The other big change is that there has been more permission to talk about, think about and question your sexual identity.”

Social media has played a colossal role in this. On TikTok, the term demisexual has 237 million views, with people posting videos talking about their experiences. “People share information much more readily and easily,” says Saddington, “and that leads to people posting things that make other people think, ‘I hadn’t thought of that before, but I feel that way too.’

It’s nothing new that humans like labels. Labels help us make sense of ourselves and the world around us. What’s new is how much is happening now with sexual identity, as society’s understanding of sex expands. “For most people, there’s a desire to identify with others, rather than think of yourself as different or not the same. So having a label can be comforting, it can give you permission to identify in a certain way and feel accepted for that,” says Saddington.

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While wanting to be part of a tribe is natural, is there also the possibility that someone feels trapped or held back by the volume of labels available? “That’s part of the fluidity we’re seeing right now,” he says. “People can identify in a certain way and then realize that that label doesn’t quite fit them, and so new labels and identities come out of that. But also, because sexual identity is going through this process exploratory at the moment, the range of labels is getting bigger and bigger. Finally, I don’t think people are so worried about identifying themselves that way. The list of labels will start to narrow again and people’s sexualities they will be better accepted, rather than feeling like they have to be something specific.”

For Hope, being demisexual changes how she comes out. “I feel compelled to disclose immediately that I am demisexual as it changes the way some people see you. I disclosed this to my current partner at the beginning of the relationship and his positive reaction is part of what reassured me that I was a long-term relationship prospect for me. There are a lot of misconceptions about demisexuality that aren’t helped by misrepresentation in the media as weirdos, socially awkward, or victims of trauma. We’re a perfectly valid sexuality in ourselves.”

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