If you find it tricky to deal with swipe-and-scroll dating culture, this could be why.
By Annie Hayes
If you just don’t feel attracted to someone before a friendship develops – and the idea of a one night stand with a total stranger makes your blood run cold – you could be demisexual. The term is a relatively new way to understand and identify your sexual orientation, and refers to people who need to foster a deep, meaningful connection with a potential lover before they fancy them.
Demisexual differs from gender-related terms like homosexual, bisexual or pansexual, because it refers to the nature of the relationship to the people you’re attracted to. The emotional bond doesn’t necessarily involve love, or even romance – it could be platonic friendship. But without that connection, demisexual people won’t feel any attraction, sexual or otherwise.
We spoke to psychological therapist, counsellor and author Michael Padraig Acton about what demisexual means, how to figure out if you’re demisexual, and the impact it can have on dating and relationships:
What does demisexual mean?
Demisexual people only feel sexually attracted to someone once they have developed an emotional bond with that person. ‘Demi’ means half, referring to being halfway between allosexual (experiencing sexual attraction) and asexual (experiencing little or no sexual attraction). For demisexual people, that strong emotional feeling is a prerequisite for getting physically intimate, which can make it tricky to find a partner in the swipe-and-scroll dating arena.
‘Demisexual is a term used for people who do not become attracted by aesthetics, gender, power, kindness etc, but instead are attracted by an unconscious and profound emotional connection,’ says Padraig Acton. Demisexuality is not a casual preference or a personality trait. It describes psychological attraction, not physical behaviour.
Demisexuality is not a casual preference or a personality trait. It describes psychological attraction, not physical behaviour.
‘Imagine being at a bar,’ Padraig Acton continues. ‘Conventional attraction would see several people that one could find attractive – sexually – even a turn-on. But not so if we are demisexual. Demisexual needs familiarity, closeness and a bond, long before any idea of intimacy may occur.’
It’s believed that demisexual people don’t feel primary attraction – an instant attraction to someone based on their physical appearance or smell – only secondary attraction, which develops over time. Demisexuality can sometimes come under the greysexual umbrella, which describes a person who tends to experience sexual attraction only occasionally, or regularly feels sexual attraction but isn’t very interested in sex.
Since an emotional bond is key to sexual attraction, a demisexual person may develop feelings for another person regardless of their gender identity or sexuality. In addition, a demisexual person might consider themselves to be gay, bisexual, polyamorous or pansexual. They may identify as male, female, trans or non-binary.
Why does the demisexual label matter?
‘Hang on’, you might think. ‘Don’t most people wait to feel an emotional connection to someone before having sex? Why bother putting a label on it?’. But there’s a difference between wanting to get to know someone before having sex and being demisexual.
Demisexuality isn’t a choice about having sex. It’s about the ability to feel sexually attracted to someone. Sexual attraction is out of your control – you either have sexual feelings for someone, or you don’t. A demisexual person cannot feel sexual desire towards another person until there is an established and intimate bond. They won’t lust after Idris Elba or Timothee Chalamet – or a ‘hot’ waiter at a restaurant – because the feelings of attraction just aren’t there.
It’s up to you as an individual to define what your sexuality feels like, how it presents, and how you choose to use that information.
The term demisexual isn’t a way to pigeonhole your sexual identity, but to make sense of it. If you’ve always wondered why you’ve never had a ‘crush’ on a celebrity or stranger, feel uncomfortable when people flirt with you, and can’t bear the thought of casual hook-ups, demisexuality can help to provide an answer to those questions.
Just like any other sexual orientation, there’s plenty of room for nuance and personal interpretation. Ultimately, it’s up to you as an individual to define what your sexuality feels like, how it presents, and how you choose to use that information going forward.
Demisexual vs sapiosexual
For a demisexual person, sexual attraction depends entirely on an emotional bond. A sapiosexual is sexually attracted to highly intelligent people, to the point where they consider it to be the most important trait in a prospective partner – more than looks or personality.
You don’t need to know someone well to know whether they’re intelligent. For example, a sapiosexual person may be attracted to someone after finding out they’re a surgeon, scientist or lawyer. Meanwhile demisexual people require an intimate connection, regardless of a person’s IQ.
8 ways to tell you might be demisexual
No one can tell you whether you’re demisexual – 0nly you know whether the label fits your past experiences and current feelings. And even if the label does fit, you don’t have to use it. Fostering a better understanding of your personal wants and needs can help you better navigate future romantic encounters, whether you tell people you are demisexual or not.
‘Growing up, we all develop differently,’ says Padraig Acton. ‘Some people do need more of a connection before having sex. Others can hook up for sex and find a connection in mutual and consensual pleasure. If you are wondering whether you are demisexual, you could well be.’
Below, you’ll find 8 common thoughts and behaviours associated with demisexuality. Being demisexual looks different to different people, so you don’t need to identify with each and every statement – it’s not a checklist, just a guide:
- Your relationships start as friendships
When you look back on previous relationships, most – if not all – were forged from friendships. You might find that you frequently develop feelings for your close friends, or people you have known for a long time. Some demisexuals may feel comfortable having sex with their friends, even if they aren’t interested in them romantically.
- You have mixed feelings about sex
Sex might not be high on your list of priorities, even when you’re in a relationship. You might place higher value on cuddling, kissing and showing affection as expressions of intimacy. You might find you can happily date someone for months or even years without having sex at all – or maybe you fundamentally enjoy sex, but feel anxious or awkward about having it.
- You’ve been called a ‘prude’
If you’re demisexual, you generally aren’t interested in one-night-stands and the idea of having casual sex makes you feel uneasy rather than empowered. Even in relationships, you might choose to have sex because ‘it’s what couples do’, or because you hope you’ll like it more if you try it. Maybe you focus on pleasing your partner because you find it hard to fully ‘let go’ physically. It could be that porn does nothing for you, because sex has to be connected to a significant person in your life.
- You can’t find anyone you’d like to have sex with
Being demisexual isn’t about your capacity to enjoy sex, it’s about sexual attraction. Maybe you’re the kind of person who enjoys porn, masturbates, and gets hot under the collar while watching sex scenes in films – but when you try to think of someone you’d actually like to have sex with, your brain goes totally blank. Maybe you hope to spot someone you fancy at a party or the pub, but no one ever jumps out at you as sexually attractive.
- Looks are mostly irrelevant to you
Physical appearance isn’t very important to you – semi-naked beach pics don’t start your engine. Instead, you’re attracted to personality and exploring shared interests. For that reason, you don’t tend to relate when friends point out a ‘sexy’ barista at the local coffee shop. You’d only feel sexually attracted to the barista if you formed an emotional bond with them over time. You might’ve been told that you’re ‘fussy’ or ‘picky’ for that reason.
- You don’t like or don’t ‘get’ flirting…
Maybe you’re oblivious as to when people are flirting with you, or it might make you feel uncomfortable and unsure what to say in return. Either way, flirting seems pointless to you. Why waste time exchanging meaningless back-and-forth when you can have a conversation based on deeper, more personal matters? It doesn’t mean you don’t have a sense of humour – just that you’d rather share jokes based on established interests.
- You feel a lot of pressure on first dates
If you’re demisexual, you probably like to delve into deep topics on the first date in order to truly get to know the other person. You don’t want to lead someone on by dating them unless you know you’re attracted to them – but the kicker is, you won’t know if you’re attracted to someone until you get to know them better. You might find you frequently talk yourself out of going on a date with someone.
- It’s a big deal when you’re into someone
When someone captures your attention, you feel deeply for them, and you’re not afraid to commit – most of your relationships are long-term. You may find that you couldn’t bring yourself to physically cheat on someone, because you don’t find anyone else attractive. Additionally, you may feel intense feelings of rejection if you have sex with someone and they ghost you or become emotionally unavailable afterwards.
Demisexual dating and relationship tips
If you’re demisexual you may not want a relationship – and if you do, you may not want to have sex. Alternatively, you may want to pursue a healthy relationship and sex life, but feel intimidated by the frenetic pace of online dating culture. However you feel, here’s how to navigate dating and relationships as a demisexual:
💟 Use an app with a demisexual category
Dating apps like Tinder and OKCupid allow you to list your sexual orientation as demisexual, which can be useful for finding like-minded souls.
💟 Tell people you’re looking for friendship first
Generally, honesty is the best policy. Being upfront about looking to kindle friendship first can take the pressure off prospective dates and help you filter out less-compatible people.
💟 Expand your social circle
If you’re the type of person who likes to date people you’re already friends with, make some new friends. Hatch plans to hang out with friends of friends, widen your social group, and who knows who you’ll meet.
💟 Open up, if you feel comfortable
If you’re in the early stages of seeing someone and unsure how you feel – especially if you’re part of the two thirds of demisexuals who are repulsed by or indifferent towards sex – it might help to open up about your feelings towards sexual attraction. You don’t need to use the label ‘demisexual’ if you don’t want to.
💟 Talk to your partner
If you’re already in a relationship, coming out to your partner might feel overwhelming. If it’s something you decide that you want to do, remember that your relationship remains unchanged – you’ve just found a word to accurately describe how you have always felt. You might even find it helps to bolster your sense of self and therefore your self-esteem.
💟 Be mindful of your emotions
Sex is often used as a way to measure emotional connectedness in relationships, but if your drive wanes, don’t panic – or blame yourself. ‘All healthy relationships have ups and downs, as well as changes in context and circumstances, which can impact sexual attraction for someone who is demisexual more than someone who is not,’ says Wilkie.
💟 Don’t expect your partner to ‘get it’
Have the patience to explain your needs and boundaries – don’t make assumptions that your other half will instinctively see where you’re coming from. ‘It’s best to be mindful not to expect our partners to see through our eyes, as we are all very different, and fortunately, that is OK,’ he says. ‘To be informed and accepting is the healthy way forward.’