Written by Jessie Sage, originally published in the Pittsburgh City Paper.
The term “demisexual” was coined in 2006 on the forums of the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), but it’s only been in the last year or so that I started to see it commonly embraced as an identity, especially on social media platforms and dating apps.
In simple terms, demisexual is used to describe folks who do not experience a strong sexual attraction to someone unless or until they form an emotional bond with them. When I first learned this, I remember feeling both seen (I can’t remember the last time I crushed on someone I wasn’t already close with), and a bit confused. Is this really remarkable? Enough to be an identity marker?
Then I remembered the countless conversations that I had growing up, and that I occasionally have now, with friends who would list the celebrities they wanted to have sex with, the coworkers they are secretly fantasizing about, and the sexy waiters and bartenders that make them stumble on their order, making me wonder if my own sexual indifference to strangers and acquaintances isn’t something worth examining though a demi lens. So, I asked some folks who identify as demi to tell me how they experience their own sexuality and how they relate to the label.
Christina G, a graduate student in the mental health field, also has come to realize that her sexual attraction is different from that of many of her peers. “I never felt attraction the way my friends did growing up, and I never really realized that difference until much later on,” she says. “Sure, I can see when somebody is conventionally attractive or hot, but it doesn’t affect me the way it does my friends.”
Dulcinea, a professional dominant, has had similar experiences. “I started masturbating when I was 11 or 12, and I have always had a really high physical sex drive. But I was never boy crazy,” she says. “I kinda had crushes, but only romantic ones. I wanted all of the beautiful, romantic aspects of having a boyfriend.”
The word demi itself means half. In this context, someone who is demisexual is somewhere halfway between sexual and asexual. And yet, as Dulcinea points out, demisexuals enjoy sex, just sex within particular contexts. “It is easy for people to confuse demisexuality with having zero desire for sex, I have an extremely high sex drive, but if I don’t have the fundamental of mutual respect and foundation, then I take it upon myself to be responsible for my body feeling pleasure,” she says.
Calista Roxxx, an adult entertainer and performance artist, says that while she enjoys sex (and makes a living from it), she needs much more of a connection in her personal sex life. “I feel very strange in intimate situations with people that I am not 100 percent comfortable with,” she says. “I can’t just have a simple date or hookup with someone I don’t know, it feels fake and inauthentic.”
Christina G points out that the emotional connection needed in order to experience sexual desire comes in different forms. “When I do have sexual attraction, it is always with somebody I have an emotional connection with,” she says. “Though that emotional connection may be from clicking well on a first date, or from getting to know somebody over months. It can be vastly different types of emotional connection and time spans.”
So back to my original question, is demisexuality remarkable? It seems worth mentioning that hookup culture leads us to believe that no strings attached (NSA) sex is the norm (despite some evidence to the contrary). In this context, it is important for those of us who don’t readily identify with hookup culture to have a framework to be able to talk about where our sexual desires come from and what sort of sexual relationships we are interested in cultivating.
Jessie Sage is a sex worker and writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s also the co-founder of Peepshow Magazine and the co-host of the Peepshow Podcast. Her words can be found in the Washington Post, VICE’s Motherboard, Hustler Magazine, Men’s Health, BuzzFeed, and more. She’s currently writing a book on sex work, motherhood, and illness called An Unexpected Place (forthcoming on West Virginia University Press).