Demisexuality - What is it? What does it mean?

Last Updated: 12/10/2021
12 min read
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Demisexual flag

Demisexuality is a type of sexual orientation or sexuality. In general, the term applies to people who only experience sexual attraction on occasion. More often, however, demisexuality refers to the sexual orientation whereby a person only feels sexual attraction when there exists a strong emotional bond.

What this emotional bond exactly means can vary from person to person: some demisexual people require authentic connections, other demisexuals feel sexual attraction only to people you could consider close friends. In other words, how a demisexual person experiences sexual attraction may depend on that person's personality.

It is important to understand demisexuality only talks about a person's sexual feelings and the specific circumstances under which a person feels sexual attraction.

Demisexuality does not say anything about gender preferences for romantic relationships, about who demisexuals may feel sexually attracted to, or about a person's sexual activity in general.

A demisexual person can be gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, or be questioning their sexuality in this regard.

Demisexuality also does not say anything about a person's gender: people who identify as demisexual can be male, female, non-binary, agender, or of any other gender identity.

There are also no defining tertiary references to being demisexual, such as that person showing particular sexual behavior, as we will come to discuss later.


Table of contents

Terminology

Demisexuality is a sexual orientation. To understand the term, we must look at where it comes from. The word demisexual comes from the Latin word "demi," meaning "half" as in "demigod" (half-god) or "demi-sec wine" (half-dry wine). This means that demisexual literally means "half-sexual."

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, demisexuality can be described as “feeling sexual attraction towards another person only after establishing an emotional bond with that person.”

Amanda Finn, a demisexual lifestyle and arts writer/critic, says “demisexuals typically don't do one-night stands or have flings. We build our physical relationships from pieces of our emotional ones.”

History

According to The Guardian, the term demisexuality was first used in 2006. The term was coined online, on an LGBT forum, where it was used by a member of Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN). By doing this, AVEN created a term to describe something that had already existed for a longer time, but that didn’t have any words yet. Now, with this new word, people who experienced the feelings described by the term demisexuality, could finally talk about these feelings in a way that could be understood by others.

According to scientific research, the term demisexuality only became widely used in academic discourse in the 2010s. The term became used mainly in the fields of sociology and gender studies.

Demisexuality is also an often-used trope in romantic novels, in which the romantic interest is not sexually interested in anyone other than the main character. This is, of course, a gross misrepresentation and over-simplification of demisexuality and, because of that, is often called “compulsory demisexuality.” The trope is most commonly applied to female characters who become the love interest of the protagonist and, as a result, are only sexually attracted to the protagonist.

Flags and Symbols

Demisexuality is a sexual orientation that falls under the LGBTQIA+ community. Specifically. demisexuality falls under gray-asexuality, which is the gray area between asexuality and sexuality. Demisexuality falls under the asexual umbrella, and demisexuals are part of the asexual community. 

Because demisexuality is quite closely affiliated with asexuality, the demisexual flag is also clearly inspired by the asexual flag; the demisexual flag uses the same colours as the ace flag, although reoriented into a different configuration: A white banner on top, a darker grey banner on the bottom, a thing purple banner between the two of them, and a black triangle on the left.

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There is also a demisexuality symbol. It looks like a white circle with a black band around it and a black triangle inside the circle from the left side, taking up a bit over a third of the circle.

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According to peer reviewed studies, other sexualities of the ace community that are closely related to demisexuality include "semisexuality" or being "sexual-ish" or "asexual-ish." A term that is often used to describe these sexualities is Gray asexuality, which covers a spectrum of identities under the asexuality umbrella.

Although demisexuality can be seen as quite close to some of the sexualities listed above, there are clear differences. Here, we explain the key differences between people who identify as demisexual and other sexual orientations, including other forms of gray-ace.

Demisexuality vs

Demisexuality vs Asexuality

Asexual people do not experience sexual attraction, although they may engage in sexual activities. Demisexual people differ from this in that they may be sexually attracted to someone after but only after they have developed a strong emotional connection. Just like others in the asexual spectrum, being asexual or demisexual says nothing about your romantic feelings.

Demisexuality vs Gray-asexuality

Gray-asexuality, also referred to as gray-ace or Gray-A, refers to the entire broader spectrum between asexuality and sexuality. As such, demisexuality can be seen as part of Gray-A. The main difference here is in how specific the term is: every demisexual can be said to be a gray asexual, but not vice versa.

It is important to know that the relation between asexuality, gray-asexuality, and demisexuality is a topic of debate in many Facebook groups and there is not always a clear consensus.

Demisexuality vs Sapiosexual

Another sexuality that resembles demisexuality is sapiosexuality. Sapiosexuals, like demisexuals, are not attracted to people from a particular gender, but rather to the individual characteristics of a person. According to various academic research institutions, a person's subjective intelligence is the most important for sapiosexuals to be attracted to another person.

The key difference with demisexuality is that sapiosexuals are attracted to the intelligence of the other person, whereas a demisexual person focuses on whether they experience emotional intimacy with a partner.

Demisexuality vs Pansexuality

Just like demisexual people, pansexuals may be romantically or physically attracted to any person. The main difference here is that, for pansexuals, the emotional bond is not a requirement for sexual desire, while it is for demisexuals.

Demisexuality vs Demigender

The terms demiboy and demigirl (or demiwoman, demilady or a demifemale person, demifem, demifemme, demifemininity, or masculine counterparts) refer to people who primarily identify as one of two binary genders, but not fully so. For instance, a demigirl may feel mostly feminine, or may feel feminine most of the time, but never entirely. The same may be true for demiboys, and for the non-binary or neutral equivalents: deminonbinary and demineutrois, respectively.

The word "demi" may be misleading here, causing people to think demineutrois are related to demisexuals. Demigender, however, refers specifically to a person and their gender identity (or lack thereof). Demisexuality refers to the conditions for one's sexual attraction. The two are not necessarily related in any particular way; any demisexual person may also identify as demineutrois, or not.

Pronouns

As stated before, demisexuality says nothing about one’s gender identity; people who identify as demisexual can be male, female, non-binary, agender, or of any other gender identity. As such, there is no particular pronoun for demisexuals. The preferred pronoun for a demisexual person depends on their gender identity and personal preferences, which are likely to be separate from and unrelated to their demisexuality.

What is and is not demisexuality?

After reading about demisexuality and its position in the asexual spectrum, you may wonder what it means to be demisexual. Maybe your bestie only want to have sex with people she is dating, or maybe you have a friend who never has casual sex and has only ever felt sexually attracted to people they know well. Does that mean your friend is demisexual? And if not, why does there "need" to be a separate term for demisexuality?

Let's begin with the first question. Feeling sexually attracted to people you know well, or prioritising emotional connections over sex in your dating life does not automatically make you demisexual. In the same way, a woman who has had one or two one night stands with men is not automatically heterosexual.

Alternatively, if you don't enjoy sex with strangers or don't find someone's physical appearance to be the most important reason to have sex, this can have many reasons.

It is important to remember that anyone can be sexually attracted to someone else for a million different reasons. Your friend may have only ever been physically intimate with someone they had a deep emotional bond with but if they still feel sexually attracted to strangers or acquaintances, even if they do not want to have sex with them, they are not demisexual.

Being demisexual also has nothing to do with sex drive, the ability to develop an emotional bond, or a preference for first developing a romantic relationship.

Why is there a term for demisexuality?

So then, you might wonder, why do we "need" a term for demisexuality? Isn't it "normal" to want an emotional connection, or to feel sexual attraction to people you know well and like?

While the answer to both questions can very well be yes, depending on your personality, this is not the same as demisexuality. Plenty of people choose to only engage in sexual activities with their partner, spouse, or any other person or persons. And plenty of people even experience intense sexual attraction only to their partner.

The key difference here is that someone who identifies as demisexual can only ever experience sexual attraction to someone with whom they have an emotional bond, right now or in the future. This defines their sexual identity.

Anyone can have sex with someone without being sexually attracted to them, or be sexually attracted to someone without wanting to have sex. Demisexuality is not about who you choose to have sex with, but about who you are capable of experiencing sexual attraction towards.

Am I demisexual?

Ask yourself

If you want to figure out if the term demisexuality fits your sexual orientation, there are a few ways to discover this. Sex and relationship therapist Shadeen Francis says that the most important factor that decides whether people call themselves demisexual is whether or not they relate to the stories and experiences of other demisexuals. According to Francis, there are a couple of questions you can ask yourself if you are wondering whether you're demisexual or "simply" value emotional connections more than the general population. These questions include:

Is sexual attraction important to me?

  • If so, how important is sexual attraction to me?
  • Is sexual attraction important to me in a potential relationship, or when relationships start?
  • Am I generally interested in experiencing sexual attraction in people?

Have I ever felt sexually attracted to someone in the past?

  • If so, who did I feel sexually attracted to? What was our relationship?
  • Did I feel sexually attracted to them when we just met?
  • Did I feel sexual attraction to them when I started getting to know them better?
  • Did I start feeling sexually attracted to them after we had developed or started developing an emotional connection?

Do I ever feel sexual attraction to strangers?

  • Have I ever felt sexual attraction to people I don’t know as well?

How close do I have to be with someone before I experience sexual attraction towards them?

  • Is this different for physical attraction or romantic attraction?

When I imagine what my future will look like in ten years, do I imagine relationships to be a big part of my story?

  • If so, what kinds of relationships am I in? Are these purely familial or platonic, or do I have romantic, emotional, or sexual relationships as well?
  • How often do these coincide? How often do they exist separately?

The answers you give to the questions above may help you in figuring out your sexual orientation.

Remember that only you can decide who you feel attracted to and that there are no wrong or right answers to the questions above. Take your time to figure out what feeling sexual attraction means to you, and how having a close emotional bond with someone ties into that.

Look for the signs

Another way to figure out if you may be demisexual is presented by Washington Post writer Meryl Williams who, in 2016, shared with the world how she came across the term 'demisexuality.' She found the term on Twitter and instantly felt a strong attraction to the concept. After a long soul-search, Williams shared these 5 signs you may be demisexual:

1) You've probably been called a 'prude' at some point

2) Looks are not the most important factor for you

3) Relationships often seem to start out as friendships

4) First dates are important to you, and you put a lot of pressure on them

5) You have a sex drive and usually enjoy sex, but you don't find it as important a factor as many other people

Again, these signs do not form some sort of tell-all comprehensive list that determines whether you are demisexual or not. All it should do is help you figure yourself out. You can read Williams' article here.

How to support someone who is demisexual

If your friend, a family member, or a close acquaintance of yours is demisexual, there are a few ways you can help them. Coming out can be very challenging for some people, and if you know someone who is struggling to come out or is considering doing so, you can support and encourage that person to take their time and do what is best for them. However, don’t push them to do something they don’t feel comfortable doing!

Another way to support demisexual people is by showing yourself to be an ally, supporting LGBTQIA+ organisations and events, and supporting Pride activities. You can also show your support for your demisexual friends by celebrating International Asexuality Day on April 6th, as demisexuality is seen to fall under asexuality, or by remembering that, during Pride month, June 8th is demisexual awareness day.

Dating a demisexual person

Is your partner demisexual, or do you fancy someone around you who identifies as demisexual? In this section, we'll help you figure out everything you need to know about forming, having, and developing your relationship with a demisexual person.

Before we get into the do, don't, and other specifics, let's get one thing clear first. This article should help you on your way to understanding some of the differences between dating demisexual people and dating someone who is not demisexual. It is not a complete guide on how to date any demisexual person!

Keep in mind that everyone is different and a person's personality may affect their dating life or other preferences much more than their sexuality!

That said, here are some frequently asked questions, with answers:

So for demisexuals, does sexual attraction arise for everyone they have a close emotional bond with?

No. While having an emotional bond with someone is necessary before feeling sexually attracted to them, it is not a guarantee that it will happen.

You can compare this to a heterosexual man: just because someone has to be female for the straight man to feel sexually attracted to them does not mean that they are automatically attracted to all women.

The same goes for demisexual people.

Do demisexuals have lower sex drives than other people?

Not per se. Demisexuality only describes who you are attracted to, not how much you like sex or how often you would ideally have sex.

Again, you could compare it to how different lesbian women may have wildly different sex drives; who you feel sexual attraction towards does not dictate all aspects of your sexual behaviour or your sexual relations.

My partner is demisexual and I am not. Should I feel guilty for being sexually attracted to others when my partner is not?

This is a very understandable question, as it is a thought that many people have. The truth is, compatibility in your sexual activity is something to discuss between your partner and you. While a difference in sexuality between you two may mean that you two will never feel exactly the same about this, it does not have to be a problem.

Your partner and you should communicate openly about this and figure out what works best for you two. In other words: this is influenced by your partner's (and your) personality much more than by their demisexuality.

The demisexual flag

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Julia Sotska is a former Senior PR Manager at Taimi. She hails from Toronto, Canada where she studied Communications and Journalism Broadcasting. Julia is an experienced journalist, TV producer, editor and communications manager. Her work has been featured in prominent publications in Canada, the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, and more. Julia is passionate about LGBTQ+ and disability rights, mental health, wellness, and parenthood.

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