It took me a number of years to put all the pieces together pertaining to my sexuality. Most of my life, I thought that it was very straightforward and that I just didn’t know how to describe what I was and wasn’t experiencing. After learning about the asexuality spectrum in my 20’s, however, I found out that there was a name for my experiences and my sexuality: demisexual.
Asexuality is a sexual orientation in which a person does not experience sexual attraction towards anyone of any gender. This is not an illness or a lack of hormones — this is a natural and normal sexual orientation. Within asexuality there are a spectrum of orientations that capture experiences where someone may rarely feel sexual attraction, or only feel it under a specific circumstance.
Demisexuality is one of these orientations housed under the asexual umbrella. It means that a person only has sexual attraction after a close bond is formed. What this looks like is different for every demisexual — just as when discussing any orientation, it’s important to keep in mind that everyone experiences the world in their own way. For me, this means a close emotional bond needs to be formed romantically, and it also means that most of my close relationships do not involve sexual attraction. In my life I’ve probably only genuinely had sexual attraction 5 or 6 times. Because of this, I also identify with the label “graysexual”, also referred to as “gray ace”, which is when someone rarely feels sexual attraction.
Please keep in mind that these are based on my own experiences as an American millennial in my late 20’s and that your experiences may differ. Also please keep in mind that no one list or person can tell you your sexual orientation except you — this is just meant to be a helpful reflection on experiences.
Without further ado, here are 7 signs that you might also be demisexual.
When you read about demisexuality you immediately think “isn’t that how everyone is?”
It’s important to keep in mind that there is a difference between waiting for a relationship to get serious before having sex and only having sexual attraction at all if a relationship — platonic or romantic — becomes serious. Most people abstain from having sex until their relationship reaches a certain level of trust, and because of this, there is a lot of confusion about demisexuality. After all, if we’re also waiting to have sex, doesn’t that make this not worth naming?
The key thing to keep in mind is that in demisexuality, the sexual attraction is only felt after the bond is formed, and typically that means that the experience towards other people is mostly asexual. When I experience sexual attraction I do not start experiencing it in ways that my allosexual (not ace) friends talk about. Instead of it being something I feel towards people I find physically attractive, it is only towards the person I am currently sharing a close bond with.
Demisexuality is likely more common that we think — but it is not an allosexual experience of waiting until a relationship is serious to have sex, either.
You’ve spent a lot of time wondering if you’ve felt or are feeling sexual attraction.
“What is sexual attraction” and “what does sexual attraction feel like” is a question I see often asked on social media when talking about asexuality. Many of those who are ace in one way or another have spent our lives pretending that we were feeling what we saw others in our media and our peer groups feel while quietly wondering, “Is this right? Am I doing this right?”
I have had sexual attraction a few times in my life, as I mentioned earlier. It is hard to define exactly what that feels like when I’m not experiencing it (as I am not as I write this) but I can tell you that when it happens it is incredibly distinct. This is even more true if it’s not something you’re used to feeling. You’re just sitting there, thinking about the person you’re interested in, wondering if you actually want to kiss them yet or if that’s just what’s expected, and suddenly your body says that it wants to do more than kiss and you’re like “Oh… Oh.”
I don’t know how to describe it beyond that without going into more explicit detail. What I do know is that after reading about asexuality I spent a lot of time asking myself if I was asexual after all but just wanted to please my partners. To an extent, this was true — but then I remembered that a few times I had had sexual attraction towards a person and thought “No, I can’t be asexual.” The thing was I’m not — but I am living an experience related to asexuality.
You don’t understand pornography.
I know this isn’t true of every ace person; I could write an entire essay on the differences between arousal and attraction. I might at some point. Very basically arousal is response to currently happening stimuli, and attraction is the desire for that stimuli even when it isn’t present.
A good analogy is hunger. Arousal would be looking at a doughnut and realizing “Oh, I really want to eat that, even though I didn’t want it earlier. It looks so good.” Hunger would be “Two weeks ago I ate a doughnut and I keep thinking about how it tasted and I really want another one, and I need to buy it at the second bakery on Maine Street because they’re the place that makes the doughnuts I like best.”
Porn, though — porn is something I have just never understood. I have seen some. I’ve tried to figure out the appeal. I’ve heard my friends talk about it and joke that “well everyone watches porn!” and when I told them no, I don’t actually, they gave me funny looks and insisted I was just embarrassed about watching it. The idea of watching strangers have sex is just so odd to me and always has been that I still don’t know what to do with myself when the topic is brought up in conversation.
I have talked to aces who do watch porn, so I don’t want to say that this is a definitive sign that you’re asexual or demisexual. For me, looking back, it was a pretty big indication that I wasn’t allosexual. It might be a sign for you, too.
The only times you’ve had sexual attraction it was when you were close to the person.
I think this was the biggest indicator for me. I sat down one day and thought about it and the only times I could remember being actually sexually attracted to anyone was when I was very, very close to the person. I couldn’t think of an instance where my sexual attraction outside of that situation wasn’t just me trying to pretend so that I didn’t feel like the odd one out.
This is essentially the definition of demisexuality — only being sexually attracted to people when you have a close emotional bond with them — but it’s not something I had ever thought about until the idea was presented to me. If this is the only time you can recall being sexually attracted to another person, you may be onto something.
You don’t understand sexual attraction to strangers and celebrities.
One of the biggest indicators that I was demisexual was realizing that while I like looking at people, and I find people attractive, I am usually not attracted to them in a way that goes beyond just liking how they look to me. This is called aesthetic attraction, and for me it’s usually as far as my feelings go. There is no desire to become close, there is no physical desire. It’s like looking at a painting or a sunset — pleasant to the eye, but otherwise neutral.
I didn’t really realize that when people talked about being sexually attracted to people on TV they weren’t joking or exaggerating until I was in my 20’s. That’s a little embarrassing to admit, but it’s true. If that’s something you relate to, you may want to read up on asexuality and the asexual spectrum.
Sex isn’t something you care that much about when you start dating someone new.
You might enjoy sex. You might not. You might feel utterly neutral towards it. Regardless of how you feel about having sex, one sign that you may be demisexual is that sex isn’t a part of your dating plan — sometimes for the entire relationship.
One of the first indications I had that I was demisexual was talking to an ex about how I perceived sexual attraction. I told her that sex wasn’t the most important thing for me, and that it wasn’t something I thought about for my first, second, or third date — I kind of just wanted to hang out and have a good conversation. She told me that this sounded to her like demisexuality. At the time I brushed it off, but it stuck in my head. She was onto something, and now I understand what.
What you want in a relationship, what your relationship needs are, can sometimes be hard to pin down. Most people know, however, if they want sex to be a part of that relationship. If sex is just not on your table, or you feel neutral towards it when the relationship begins and only care about it if a close bond develops, you might be demisexual.
Finally: You’re reading this.
If you’re reading this because you’ve been trying to figure out who you are and how your sexuality relates to the world around you, there’s probably a reason for that.
You might not be demisexual. You might have just read this and thought “Well, this just confirms that I am not demisexual.” And that’s okay. The purpose of this is not to tell anyone definitively what their sexuality is or isn’t.
If you’re reading this and thinking “Wait, I really feel like this describes me and my experiences,” I would encourage you to check out resources like The Demisexual Resource Center, Indian Aces, AZE Journal, and the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network, or AVEN.
Whatever you decide, whatever you find, know that it’s something you’re allowed to be. There is nothing wrong with you. And if you are demisexual, welcome to the club.
Elle Rose, also known online as secretladyspider, is a freelance writer and demisexuality advocate specializing in LGBTQIAP+ education and issues. She also creates YouTube videos about the intersection between pop culture and mental health. Help her advocate by becoming a patron today.