PLEASE NOTE: USGA seeks to create a respectful dialogue that encompasses multiple view points on the topics of faith and sexuality. The views and opinions of the following article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect USGA’s official policy or position.
I remember clearly the first time I realized I was different from the other boys in my school. I was fourteen and my family had just moved from a large city to a small town in the middle of nowhere, the kind of town where everyone has known each other since the day they were born. Being the new kid in school made me interesting. It made me exciting. It made me the target of what I’m sure was an unspoken and unplanned competition to see which girl could get me to like them first.
There was one girl in particular who was very forward about her attempts to get me to like her. It was clear to me that she had no real attraction to me, but she was, I’m told, the ‘hottest girl at school’ and as such was accustomed to all of the guys liking her. She needed me to keep that true. Her advances became progressively more aggressive for about a week before I became irritated and told her in no uncertain terms to leave me alone.
When I was finally free of her, another, equally annoying barrage began. The other guys at my school began to chide me. Was I blind? Couldn’t I see that she was the hottest girl in school? How could I pass up a relationship with her? Any of them would have given anything for that chance.
All of these questions confused me. The hottest girl at school? I thought she was hideous. I gave a non-committal answer about not dating until I was 16 and the whole thing blew over within a few weeks. There were other similar instances throughout my years in high school that confirmed to me that I was different, that I just wasn’t attracted to girls in the same way that the other boys were, but this one has always been the strongest to me.
By the time I was eighteen I had figured out what was different about me. I describe it as my eyes working differently. I realized that how attractive a girl was to me was directly linked to what I thought of her as a person, how close I was emotionally to her. I didn’t have a name for it, and I didn’t know that anyone else would experience this same phenomenon, but I finally understood my sexuality.
Or so I thought. My next personal shock came when I realized that I had begun falling for one of my LDS mission companions. We were only together for a short while, but he was and is a wonderful person, one of my best friends to this day. I didn’t realize it while we were serving together, but I had begun to develop feelings for him. It was then that I finally understood that I was not straight with a weird perception of beauty. I must be something else. It wasn’t until I was 21 and married that I found out that there are others like me, enough so that we have a name: demisexuals.
According to urban dictionary, “[d]emisexuals are characterized by a lack of sexual attraction toward any person unless they become deeply emotionally or romantically connected with a specific person or persons. The level of connection it takes for sexual desire to form is dependent on how close the relationship is rather than initial attraction.” I feel like this is a pretty accurate description. It’s much better than the Wikipedia one, anyway, but more on that in a moment. With the definition out of the way, I can move on to talking about my experience with being a demisexual.
First things first, I actually don’t like the term demisexual. I’m glad to have a word that is growing in the public knowledge that I can use to easily identify myself to others. But the word just rubs me the wrong way and has since the moment I heard it. I am not ‘half sexual’. I do not feel that my orientation makes me any less sexual than my heterosexual or homosexual friends. I mean, if you picture the stereotypical ‘always-wants-sex’ man, that’s me. It’s just that it’s all directed at one person: my spouse. I don’t know what else I would prefer it to be called (maybe thymosexual from the Greek word for emotions), but I just don’t like demisexual very much as a word.
For much the same reason, I don’t particularly like being viewed as a subset of asexuality. Wikipedia doesn’t even have its own entry for demisexuality. We get about two sentences in the entry for asexuality. Again, I do not feel like asexual describes me: the sexual attraction and sex drive are still very much so there for me, they just have a different set of triggers. If demisexuality has to be a subset of another sexuality, I’d feel much better about being a subset of bisexuals (ideally we’d be our own thing, since there are hetero-demisexuals, homo-demisexuals, bi-demisexuals (like me), etc). That would resonate more with my experience.
That being said, I do share one of the big problems both asexuals and bisexuals face: a lot of people think that my sexuality doesn’t exist. When I talk about being a demisexual, people will try to figure out if I’m really straight or gay. They try to figure out if I really like men or women, which is totally missing the point. It’s like people asking if I prefer books or movies, when I’m talking about enjoying stories with cool magic systems. Whether it’s a book or a movie isn’t just a matter of not having a preference. It’s irrelevant. In terms of my sexuality, it’s not that I like men and women: gender is irrelevant, not even part of the consideration. This is particularly annoying when my spouse is around, which is most of the time, as people will assume I’m of the sexuality implied by my relationship and won’t believe otherwise. But even when zhe is not around, I still face this more often than not if people haven’t heard of demisexuality before. (As a side note, my spouse does have a traditional gendered pronoun that zhe prefers, but zhe agreed to let me use a gender neutral pronoun to illustrate my point: everyone wonders whether I married a man or a woman).
Being a married demisexual has its own quirks. My spouse likes knowing that I won’t have wandering eyes (demisexuality does not make someone immune to affairs, but my particular combo of demisexuality and extreme introversion makes it highly unlikely), that zhe is the only one for me; however, that also means that when zhe is feeling like zhe is not very attractive, me saying that zhe is means next to nothing. How would I know? I think zhe is attractive because I love zer.
There is a further aspect of my demisexuality that can make life in modern society uncomfortable. In reading more about asexuality for reference in writing this I came across the term “repulsed asexual”, an asexual who is repulsed by the idea of sex and having sex. I would call myself a repulsed demisexual, as I feel much the same way toward anyone who is not attractive to me through emotional connection. Given how prevalent sexual imagery is in the U.S., this leads to many awkward moments for me. The most common example occurs whenever my spouse and I go to our local mall. There is a Victoria’s Secret that we have to walk past to get to many of the stores, and I always have to look at the ground or pointedly away from the store, because the explicitly sexualized depictions that are common in the store are repulsive to me. They say that sex sells, but for me seeing anything sexualized that isn’t my spouse drives me away. And it’s not for religious or moral reasons like a lot of men from a Judeo-Christian upbringing. I just naturally find it highly appalling.
In rereading what I’ve written so far, it feels like people could get the impression that being demisexual is hard, or that everything about it is negative. Perish the thought. As far as LGBTQ+ life goes, I feel like I’ve got it pretty easy, and there are good things about my experience too. For one thing, it’s really hard to judge people based on their appearance when almost everyone looks the same to me. On a scale of -5 to 5, everyone I don’t know is a 0. Everyone might as well be department store mannequins in terms of beauty. This means that I can be more free to see inner beauty, as inner beauty becomes outer beauty for me.
I am very glad to have come to terms with my sexuality and to have found so many people who have been supportive of me. Even if it puts me in uncomfortable situations from time to time, demisexuality is a part of who I am, and embracing that has made me happier.