By Arf Gray:
Not a lot of people know much about demisexuality, an orientation on the asexual spectrum. Because of that, they have a lot of misconceptions about what it actually is. Most of the questions demisexuals receive are invalidating or clearly show ignorance about the orientation on the asker’s part. This is how I deflect them.
Plenty of people prefer to only have sex with people they love or are romantically involved with. But that doesn’t make them demisexuals. Demisexuals only feel sexual attraction when they form a deep emotional connection with someone. That connection can be romantic or platonic in nature. People who only have sex with people they love may still feel sexual attraction, even if they choose not to act on it immediately. That behavior pattern is not the same thing as demisexuality, which is an orientation based on feelings of sexual attraction.
While some individual demisexuals might be distrustful or have a past history of abuse, demisexuality, like other sexual orientations, cannot be pathologized. But even if external factors like trust issues or abuse contribute to how they experience their sexuality, their identity as demisexual is still valid. Sexualities do not exist in a vacuum—if a person finds that they experience sexual attraction in a certain way, then they may want a label for their orientation regardless of why their sexuality is the way it is.
Demisexuals often consider themselves asexuals with exceptions or somewhere between being asexual and non-asexual. They usually find more shared experiences in the asexual community than outside it. Finding only a handful of people sexually attractive, and that too only under specific circumstances, is pretty far from the normative sexuality, in which people can feel sexual attraction without an emotional connection and often do on a regular basis.
Demisexuality was first coined in 2008 on the AVEN (Asexual Visibility and Education Network) forums. While it is popular on Tumblr because of the huge asexual community there, it did not originate there. But the origin of the word doesn’t matter—what matters to demisexuals is that they’ve found a word that helps them understand themselves better.
Some people think that demisexuality is an inherently “slut-shaming” orientation because demisexuals require an emotional connection to find people sexually attractive. However, most demisexuals tend to be socially progressive and sex positive, meaning they don’t judge others for having casual sex (some may engage in it themselves). How they experience their individual sexuality is not a moral judgment on others, any more than a heterosexual person’s orientation is a judgment against homosexual people.
Demisexuals usually find their way to the asexual community because they feel significantly different from the people around them and want to find out why. They may relate to some of the experiences of asexuals, but not fully, so demisexuality gives them a place to be between. Demisexuality is not just a preference—it’s a valid sexual orientation because it describes the set of people an individual is sexually oriented towards. For demisexuals, that set is people with whom they have a close emotional bond.
Demisexuals on the whole do not experience structural oppression and I personally have never seen a demisexual claim that they were oppressed (though they might be because of other intersections or facets of their sexuality). However, they do experience specific problems and issues pertaining to their sexuality, so the label gives them a way to connect with others who share the same experiences. Also, like asexuals, they are affected by heteronormativity and compulsory sexuality.
Many demisexuals have other LGBTQ identities—for example, they might be transgender or they may experience same gender attraction—so they might feel connected to the community because of that. On the whole, though, the asexual community is mixed on whether or not it wants to align itself with the LGBTQ community. Some asexual people think it makes sense to do so, while others would prefer to remain separate. Demisexuals choose their label because they want to find a place with others like them, not because they want to be seen as LGBTQ.
Ultimately, demisexuals just want a place to belong so they can feel less alone, like everyone else. They deserve the same respect that people of other sexual orientations get and need more visibility, so others like them can learn about demisexuality too. As more people learn about demisexuality, fewer people will feel broken and alone.