What Does Demisexual Mean? FAQs About This Nuanced Sexual Identity
These days, expanding language around sexual identity has allowed for more and more individuals to discover and step into their true sexual selves. One increasingly popular term is demisexual, which falls under the asexual umbrella.
Here's everything you need to know about demisexuality and what it means to identify as demisexual.
What does demisexual really mean?
Demisexual is used to refer to someone who doesn't experience sexual attraction unless or until they've developed a close emotional connection with another person, according to sexologist Carol Queen, Ph.D. The prefix demi means "half," and in the scope of sexuality, it represents a person whose experience with attraction falls somewhere in between asexuality (which describes people who generally don't experience sexual attraction) and allosexuality (which describes people who do experience sexual attraction).
The term demisexual first popped up on the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network, Queen explains, after a user shared their experience of "not being sexually attracted to people without first forming an emotional connection."
Signs you could be demisexual.
You do want and enjoy sex, but only in specific situations.
If you're wondering whether you might be demisexual, take a moment to reflect on the last time or the last handful of times you found yourself experiencing sexual attraction. How did that happen for you? Was the attraction immediate and intense, or did it take a while to blossom as you got to know the person? Have you ever caught yourself daydreaming about having sex with someone you didn't have an emotional bond with, or does that basically never happen for you?
Your answers to these questions might give you a better understanding of your place on the sexuality spectrum. Demisexual people do experience sexual desire, but they don't tend to spontaneously want to have sex with people they don't really know or aren't that close with yet.
It takes a while for you to develop sexual attraction.
When you reflect on your past romantic partners, did you initially find them attractive? If not, you might be demisexual. According to AASECT-certified sex therapist Indigo Stray Conger, LMFT, CST, "Demisexuals typically take their time in developing relationships and may not see a person as attractive or sexually arousing until after weeks or months of knowing them."
You don't have random celebrity crushes.
"If you do not experience even mild arousal or excitation when watching movies or seeing photos of celebrities, you may be demisexual," Conger tells mbg. "Demisexuals respond less to visual arousal cues and typically only identify a person as attractive when having more than an image to base that attraction on."
You do have crushes on your inner circle.
It's incredibly common for demisexual people to develop feelings of attraction to good friends or others with whom they have a strong degree of connection or intimacy, Queen says.
"Because feelings of connection or intimacy function as the key to unlock sexual attraction, it is quite possible that a demisexual will experience more sexual feelings for their good friends than either an asexual or allosexual would—though this would not be out of the allosexual range altogether," she says.
You're probably not interested in random hookups or one-night stands.
Someone who identifies as demisexual may "find themselves turned off or entirely disinterested in hookups, sex parties, and other versions of 'sport sex' or sex with people they don't already know," Queen says.
You prefer intimate date activities.
"For a demisexual, activities that encourage getting to know someone at a much deeper level are preferred," Queen tells mbg. "For instance, going to a movie might work as long as there's good conversation and an exploration of how the movie made you think and feel about a particular subject. As emotions and bonding emerge within the context of the relationship, the inclination for sexual attraction may begin to bud, but not until there's been an ample amount of time learning about each other and waiting for attraction to build."
You don't have a "type."
While most people will immediately be able to describe the physical features of their ideal partner, this isn't always the case for someone who identifies as demisexual. According to Megwyn White, certified clinical sexologist and director of education at sexual wellness brand Satisfyer, "You may find yourself attracted to a variety of different people and find that looks are secondary to their personality, character, and how you bond together as a team."
Physical attraction might take a back seat to other forms of attraction.
According Casey Tanner, a certified sex therapist and sexpert for LELO, since physical attraction typically plays a lesser role in the development of feelings for demisexuals, other forms of attraction are often at the forefront in their relationships.
"For example, they might find themselves drawn in by the way someone thinks—a form of intellectual attraction. Alternatively, they might build a bond through repeated experiences that feel romantic. Often, there is some combination of different forms of attraction at play," Tanner says.
That's not to say demisexual people don't experience physical attraction at all; it just may not be the focus of what draws them to someone initially and what excites them about a partner.
How is demisexuality related to other sexualities?
"Being demisexual doesn't mean you can't also identify with other sexualities such as homosexuality, pansexuality, bisexuality, and even asexuality," White explains.
The sexuality spectrum holds a number of sexual identities and expressions. And as language and humans evolve, that number will only grow. As such, there are folks who easily identify with more than one sexual identity. Demisexuality describes where a person falls on the allosexual–asexual spectrum, but it doesn't necessarily describe what kinds of people you are and aren't attracted to, which is where other identity terms might come in. So, for example, a person could be both gay and demisexual, bisexual and asexual, or a completely different combination.
"In many ways, sexuality is a fluid process in learning through the experience of connection. There are so many ways to be intimate that go beyond sexual, and in many ways, demisexuality orients you toward wanting to experience a broader spectrum of intimacy than just sexual," White adds.
Having sex when you're demisexual.
Since demisexuals require an emotional connection, there's a common misconception that these individuals won't have sex until they're "in love." However, Queen says this isn't always the case. "Many demisexuals can and do have sex without this connection—but lots of people wind up having sex without much attraction because we, demisexuals included, have sex for so many different reasons."
When it comes to sexual pleasure and demisexuality, the overall approach will vary from person to person. But the more time you spend connecting with yourself and discovering your feelings around sex, the better you'll be able to please yourself and openly communicate your needs to your partner(s). This will also help you to articulate what you don't want when it comes to sexual pleasure.
"You absolutely should not feel obligated or pressured to engage in a sexual experience that you are not comfortable with," White says. "Remember to do what you feel works best for you. With that being said, don't be afraid to try new things in the bedroom with yourself or a partner, if you're up for it. Make sure to set boundaries with your partner and also yourself."
She also points out that masturbation could play a bigger role in the life of a demisexual individual since the deep connections they require with their partners may not always come quickly. She suggests taking it at your own pace.
What to do if your partner identifies as demisexual.
If your partner identifies as demisexual, it's important to honor their boundaries and not pressure them around having sex.
If your partner has a lower sex drive than you or simply isn't interested in sex just yet due to their demisexuality, White recommends approaching with an "'I' perspective, accompanied by a specific desire, as well as a bridge statement wanting to understand the way they feel as well."
- "I" statement: "I feel sad that we haven't had sex, and I miss that type of intimacy."
- Desire statement: "I'd love to create a time when we can be alone and get really sensual and see where it takes us."
- Bridge statement: "Does that make sense? Curious to know how it makes you feel hearing this desire."
- Reflection statement from the demisexual partner: "I appreciate you sharing your feelings. I'm hearing that you are wanting physical intimacy, and also that you'd like to create more space for that and would like to explore ways we could make that possible. Is that right?"
By using this framework, you will be giving your partner the "chance to hear how you feel while getting invited into a vision of how you'd like to explore intimacy together," says White. "This also takes the pressure off and allows them to mirror back a response so that you have both been heard."
White says it's worth keeping in mind that you don't always need to immediately find a solution during these conversations, but your focus should remain on deepening your connection with your demisexual partner. And remember, there's no rush. Take your time to allow your intimacy to naturally emerge. Especially with demisexual people, building your emotional connection as a couple will be key to building a sexual connection.
In the meantime, it can be helpful to find other ways of exploring intimacy together. White recommends using love languages to understand how to best do that.
"Your love language is essentially how you and your partner express appreciation and love. Just like sexuality, the way we communicate our love can vary," she says. "Having a better understanding of how you are building intimacy in various ways can help encourage more gratitude and appreciation for your connection, as well as minimizing hurt."
A note on labels.
Assigning a label to sexuality may feel a bit arbitrary or like being trapped inside a box for some people. For others, these labels are very important.
"For folks with marginalized identities, having a shared language can create a sense of community and safety in a world that is often unsupportive of diversity. Whereas straight, cis folks can move through the world feeling fairly certain that the majority of people they meet will share those identities, folks who have marginalized sexual identities cannot. Furthermore, these identities are often invisible, so appearance alone does not indicate whether or not an identity is shared," Tanner tells mbg.
Labels also have the power to "give you more confidence in creating boundaries and expectations in your relationships that feel loving and supportive to you," according to White.
And as you evolve and grow in your sexuality, it's totally acceptable to explore new labels. "Stay open and honest with yourself, and utilize labels in service of confirming who you are as a sexual being in that moment," White says.
The bottom line.
If you realize that your sexual attraction for another human being is always rooted in a deep and meaningful emotional connection, you might be demisexual—but there's no rush to fully adopt the label until you're ready. Take your time and explore what feels right for you.
Stephanie Barnes is a freelance writer from Kingston, Jamaica. She studied Information Technology from the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean and spent several years as a front-end/iOS engineer. Her work has been featured at The Huffington Post, Healthline, The Lily, HelloGiggles, Business Insider, and more. She's passionate about all things mental health, technology, and binge-worthy television.