Need to feel an emotional bond to experience sexual attraction? This label might feel right for you.

By Maressa Brown
Mar 26, 2021 @ 5:11 pm
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What is Demisexual? Demisexuality 101
Credit: Cavan Images/Getty Images

Whether while swiping through profiles or socializing out in the world (you know, as we did pre-pandemic), some people find themselves sexually attracted to a variety of traits, whether that's a potential match's eyes, laugh, hot new sneakers, or love of sci-fi. But this isn't the case for everyone. For someone who identifies as demisexual, getting hot and bothered requires more — specifically, an emotional connection.

"Demisexuality is a sexual orientation wherein a person is only sexually attracted to people once they feel an emotional bond," explains Casey Tanner, certified sex therapist and expert for LELO.  

Sure, some people might opt to wait to have sex with a partner until they feel like they've adequately gotten to know them and have established a certain level of intimacy. But for demisexual individuals, it's not a choice. "They cannot experience sexual attraction without that bond," says Tanner. 

Here, the basics of demisexuality and how to know if you identify with the orientation. 

How "Emotional Bond" Is Defined for Demisexuals

When it comes to establishing the type of bond required for sexual attraction, demisexual individuals might connect verbally — think discussing shared interests, hearing stories about a partner's past, or learning intimate information about a partner's dreams and desires, explains Tanner. 

Or perhaps they'll grow closer through shared experiences, such as cooking meals together, playing sports together, or having shared identities. "Bonding typically involves spending quality time with the other person," says Tanner. 

Of course, that doesn't mean every emotional bond a demisexual individual forges will illicit sexual feelings, points out Tanner. "The same way that gay people aren't attracted to everyone of the same gender, demisexual folks aren't attracted to everyone they're emotionally investing in," she explains.

What Dating and Relationships Look Like for Demisexual Individuals

"In dating, demisexuality might look like taking things slow or preferring to form a friendship before assessing further attraction," explains Tanner. "Like folks of any orientation, some demisexual individuals prefer to wait until after a commitment is made to engage sexually." 

Then, when demisexual individuals form partnered relationships, their experiences vary just as much as those of queer or straight people, says Tanner. 

The main difference is that attraction is more about connection as opposed to appearance, pheromones, and other forms of initial attraction, says Amy Baldwin, sex educator, sex and relationship coach, and co-host of the Shameless Sex Podcast

The Main Misconceptions About Demisexuality

Dictionary.com notes that the earliest instance of 'demisexual' dates back to just 2006 when it appeared on the forums of The Asexual Visibility & Education Network (AVEN). But Tanner says that research shows demisexual individuals have always existed. "We just haven't had a word for it until recently," she explains. 

Nonetheless, given how new the word is, there's confusion about what the orientation actually looks like in practice. A few of the most common myths, busted:

Demisexual individuals won't engage in casual sex. Because sexual attraction typically isn't immediate for someone who's demisexual, a common assumption about them is that they're not one to have a hookup. But identifying as demisexual doesn't negate other values that might set the stage for an impromptu romp between the sheets. "A demisexual person might still choose to have casual sex if it aligns with another one of their values, such as spontaneity, physical pleasure, or just for fun," says Tanner.  

Sex with a demisexual might be rare or complicated. Just because demisexual individuals take some time to warm up to the idea of sex with a new partner, they're still capable of full, exciting, and wide-ranging sexual dynamics, says Tanner. 

It'll take a while to have sex with someone who identifies as demisexual. It's not necessarily true that lengthy amounts of time must pass in order for sexual attraction to develop, says Anne Hodder-Shipp, an American College of Sexologists (ACS)-certified sex educator. "But it does mean that emotional connection and emotional safety is an important part of a demisexual's relationship process and that it deserves prioritization and attention by all partners involved."

Demisexuality is feminine vs. masculine. This stems from the gender stereotype that women and femmes require emotional or mental connection to want sex compared to the gender stereotype that men and masc folks want and are ready for sex all the time, says Hodder-Shipp. 

Demisexual individuals just haven't found their match. "It's also common for folks to invalidate demisexuals as though they 'just haven't found the right person yet' or that they simply haven't found someone that they lust over at first sight," says Hodder-Shipp. 

Demisexuality is the same as asexuality. There are various identities that fall on the spectrum of asexuality (the absence or low interest in sexual attraction and activity), and demisexual is one of them. "Because demisexuals feel zero sexual attraction toward others unless they've built a strong emotional bond, demisexuality is commonly considered on this spectrum," explains Hodder-Shipp. 

But others feel that because demisexuality describes experiencing sexual attraction without limitation and only under the condition of emotional connection, it isn't appropriately represented by the asexuality spectrum, she says.

The fact is that sex may not be rare at all for demisexual people. "Demisexuality refers to the circumstances under which one feels attracted, not the frequency," shares Tanner. "Demisexual individuals who frequently experience emotional bonds might also frequently have sex."

Baldwin sums it up: "Demisexual folks are sexual beings who seek out relationships, but connection is the primary motivator for interest as attraction as opposed to instant or primary attraction based on first-time impressions."

Demisexuality is the same as graysexuality. Graysexuality, which also appears on the asexuality spectrum, is marked by limited sexual attraction or sexual attraction that occurs only under certain conditions or contexts. Some graysexual people might only feel it once or twice in their life. Hodder-Shipp warns against people confusing or conflating demisexuality with graysexuality. "They're not the same sexual orientation by any means," she says. 

How to Know If You're Demisexual

Wondering if you're demisexual? Consider the following steps. 

Reflect on previous experiences in which you experienced sexual attraction. Ask yourself questions like: 

  • Was that attraction there immediately, or did it build once you felt an emotional connection?
  • Can you think of a time when you felt sexual desire for someone with whom you did not share a bond? 

And perhaps you've never seen someone from across the room or met someone at a party and immediately wanted to get it on in the coatroom, adds Hodder-Shipp.

Think back on times when your non-demisexual friends were expressing attraction. For example, perhaps they were describing sexual desire for an actor in a movie or feeling certain about whether or not they desired physical touch after a first date. If you couldn't relate, you might be demisexual.

You find the "honeymoon" phase of a relationship to be less about lots of sex and spontaneous arousal. Instead, it's more about non-sexual connection and bonding activities, says Hodder-Shipp. This phase might also involve uncertainty or unsettledness.  

"Ultimately, if the label 'demisexual' feels validating and helps you communicate your style of attraction, you have the right to embrace this label regardless of whether or not you're 100% sure it applies," notes Tanner. "While sexual orientation is not a choice, language is imperfect, and sometimes it helps to try on a specific label to see if it feels right for you." 

If you're looking for more information on demisexuality, Tanner notes that the Demisexuality Resource Center is a good place to start.