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What is demisexuality? ‘It’s the same as asexuality but with an asterisk of exception’

By Monica Athnasious

Oct 3, 2021

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The LGBTQIA+ community largely encompasses a whole host of wonderfully various identities, with our knowledge of sexuality and identity only continuing to grow. Terms like asexual, pansexual and abrosexual (just to name a few) have positively widened our understanding of sexual and romantic experiences. And yet, they very seldom get a spotlight in mainstream media. One of those woefully underrepresented and misunderstood is demisexuality.

In order to highlight and explain this identity as accurately and ethically as possible, Screen Shot spoke to users of the r/demisexuality subreddit (which hosts over 50,000 members) to discuss the identity and its misconceptions, hardships that demisexual people often face and why representation is so important.

Before we get into the details of what demisexuality stands for, it is important to note that the information provided in this piece is not an indication of how every demisexual feels around their identity. Sexuality is a unique, complex and individualised experience—it is not a monolith—and so, the details below should not be viewed as generalisations of such an (or any other) identity. Alright, let’s dive in.

What is demisexuality?

The simplest way of defining demisexuality is that it is a sexual orientation whereby a deep bond or connection needs to be established for people to feel sexual attraction. According to the Demisexual Resource Center, demisexual people experience sexual attraction to another person quite rarely in relation to the general population. Now that’s the simple Google definition, but it is definitely more complex than that.

Every single sexual identity expresses how people specifically feel attraction. Heterosexuals are attracted to those of the opposite gender, bisexuals are attracted to two or more genders, and this continues to be seen in the asexuality spectrum as asexuals are attracted to no one. Demisexuality is the same as asexuality but with an asterisk of exception,” writes demisexual user slightlysheepie. It falls somewhat in the spectrum of asexuality until such an exception is made, and for some demisexuals, this exception also comes in varying strengths and degrees.

The time it may take to form such a bond can change from person to person and even when such an emotional connection does occur, it does not guarantee sexual attraction. The users of the subreddit highlighted to Screen Shot through their knowledge that this identity is based really on how demisexual people experience attraction and not just comfortability around physical sexual intimacy. Slightlysheepie continued that attraction itself is complicated, “There’s aesthetic attraction, romantic attraction, and also ‘sexual attraction’, which is in quotes because I feel it’s more accurate to say physical attraction.” This lack of detailed information around the identity has led to much misinformation.

What are the misconceptions around demisexuality?

Due to the lack of prevalent and mainstream conversations about this identity, there are large swathes of misconceptions around what it means and how demisexual people are viewed. These can then manifest as unfair attitudes to this valid sexuality. It is important to counter and correct these misconceptions so that demisexuality can be better understood.

Perhaps the biggest and most common misconception is that demisexuality is just a ‘normal’ way of experiencing and engaging in sexual attraction. That they simply just wait and see whether they want to become intimate with someone, however, this is not the case. According to thegaytay, the above misunderstanding is simply “false” as once again, a distinction must be made when using the word attraction. Sexual attraction does not necessarily equate into a need for physical sexual intimacy.

“An allosexual [those who experience sexual attraction of any kind] might feel sexually attracted to a certain person, but might not be ready to get intimate with them. This is a choice they make, not their sexuality. A demisexual might find a person aesthetically attractive (beautiful, handsome, etc), but they would not feel aroused by this person until there is an emotional connection,” thegaytay continued. Again, this varies for many demisexuals, as some may still choose to engage in sexual activity despite a lack of attraction or vice versa, having a sexual attraction but not wanting to engage.

This is a misconception that users paigem9097, BluntopiaDarkstar and WatcherOfStarryAbyss further explained to me; the idea that demisexuals don’t experience auto-eroticism either—that they can’t feel urges—is simply not true. Some demisexuals are ‘sex-favourable’ and may want to engage physically but don’t have the feelings associated with sexual attraction, some are ‘sex-neutral’, meaning there may be an indifference and some can be ‘sex-repulsed’, where there is a ‘disgust’ associated with sexual activity.

User WatcherOfStarryAbyss provided an enlightening analogy, “For demisexuals, we usually require dozens of hours together to reach the same point. Saying we’re the same is like saying three bricks stacked neatly is the same as a brick wall. From our perspective, a wall requires hundreds of bricks and lots of mortar. Anything less … simply isn’t a brick wall. No matter how much we want it to be, and pretend that it is, it just isn’t.”

The challenges demisexual people can face

The above examples of some of the misconceptions around the sexuality can lead to several challenges in the day-to-day life of a demisexual person. The most common challenge mentioned to me was the dating sceneit’s just simply harder to date when people don’t take the time to understand demisexuality. User Bridge-etti wrote that “people don’t understand my prioritising of platonic relationships [in which they have a bond] and often accuse me of stringing them along.”

The difficulty comes in finding a partner because often some allosexual people are unwilling to wait months or even the years it can take for some demisexual people to form that emotional bond for physical intimacy. However, here again, this may not be the case for everyone.

Slightlysheepie also puts forward the challenge of imposter syndrome in the community, “Some consistently question if they really are demi, if they belong in the asexual spectrum, if they belong in the LGBTQIA. Unfortunately, we face a lot of gatekeeping and exclusion.”

The importance of demisexual representation

The importance of representation often goes without saying and the case is the same for demisexual and asexual people alike. Valuable representation of such an identity can only better help dispel the misinformation demisexual people can face. User KeyAcanthocephala942 feels that such representation is “very important, I didn’t know demisexuality was a thing until high school and my mom talked to me about it a bit. I hardly see any demi representation in [the] media and I feel if I had, then I would recognise how my attraction works [much] sooner.”

WatcherOfStarryAbyss highlighted to Screen Shot how more accessible representation can better aid that imposter syndrome challenge and help young people struggling with their identity to better understand it, “Even if they learn about asexuality, often there’s still a disconnect because ‘I’m not fully asexual, so that’s not what I am. What am I then?’ [Thus] it’s important because people need to internalise the idea that there’s no one way to be. I think that asexual-spectrum communities, especially those who are a gray-asexual subcategory, emphasise that really well.”

Widening the sphere of representation in mainstream media in order to create a valid space for demisexual people would only positively aid the perception of sexuality in general; it would diversify the currently limited knowledge on how attraction can be and is experienced. It wouldn’t just be incredibly helpful for demisexuals or those struggling with their identity but it would also open the seemingly closed minds of many, making the world a more inclusive place.