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By Gigi Engle

With so many terms for different genders, sexual orientations, or sexual descriptors, it can be difficult to keep up. As a certified sex coach and educator I am still regularly astounded by the scope of human sexuality. While it’s great that there are more and more words to help people identify, it is also difficult to understand and master the vocabulary.

Human sexuality is vast and complex, and we may never fully and truly understand it—that’s part of what makes it so exciting.

And oddly enough, we didn’t even have a term for demisexuality until the 2000s. According to Dr. Jill McDevitt, Cal Exotics’ resident sexologist and a proud demisexual herself: “Humans have innate experiences sometimes millennia before we develop a word to talk about those experiences.”

“I still didn’t fully step into the identity until many years after first hearing the term, and only recently ‘came out’, maybe within the last year or so, mainly because I feared people would make incorrect assumptions about my competence as a sexologist if I’m on the ‘asexuality’ spectrum,” McDevitt says.

Whether you’re looking to find a label or word (or words!) that work for you or you are a person who wishes to understand people they love and be an ally, you’re on the right track by educating yourself. So here’s an explanation of a relatively new term: demisexuality.

What is demisexuality?

Being demisexual means you only form sexual or physical attraction to someone when there is an emotional bond or intimacy established between yourself and the other person. In other words, you are not someone who can have sex without feelings and get satisfaction from the experience. If you are a demisexual person, the idea of a one-night-stand is likely unappealing to you. You may also describe casual sex situations such as friends with benefits as empty or unfulfilling. Sex and emotion are intrinsically connected and cannot be undone.

“This [term] can confuse some people because this is something many have said for ages but which did not previously have a name [for it].” explains Kryss Shane, MS, MSW, LSW, LMSW, an LGBT+ expert and a sex & relationships expert. “It is also something that is focused on how the person experiences sexual attraction, not the gender they are attracted to.”

Shane says demisexuality is particularly common for people who find that most of their romantic relationships begin with friendship. Molly, 24, describes her experiences with being demisexual to Brides: “I’ve never been great with dating apps. They kind of freak me out,” she said. “I tried using Tinder and Bumble and those other ones, but everyone wants to get physical way before I’m ready. I’ve tried explaining that I need emotional intimacy before dates, and it’s gone OK a few times. Recently I started dating one of my best friends because she and I had this amazing friend thing, and suddenly I realized it was morphing into more.”

Basically, you have to get to know the person first.

Demisexuals are all genders and can be attracted to any gender.

One important detail to mention is that demisexuality can be adopted by any person. It doesn’t dictate the gender of a person you’re attracted to, only the emotional attachment required to ignite sexual attraction. You can be a pansexual demisexual, a straight demisexual, a bisexual demisexual, and so on and so forth.

Demisexual does not mean you’re not a sexual person; most demisexuals have rich and fulfilling sexuality, only with an emotional component required to inspire those feelings of lust. Demisexuality is often incorrectly labeled as part of the “gray ace” area of asexuality. Demi means half, which would mean the term literally translates as “half sexual.” McDevitt explains this is not a fair place to put demisexual people, and she would change the label if she could.

Where can you find resources to learn more?

An issue with many “new” areas of sexual orientation that fall outside of heterosexual is a lack of information to properly inform yourself.

“I like to read romantic novels. Before there was a term for demisexuality, I would just call myself a romantic,” Derek, 27, tells Brides. “It wasn’t until one of my friends sent me an article on it that I thought, ‘Oh, wow. This is me.’ ”

When it comes to demisexuality, there is very little out there. Shane says this is likely due to the lack of negativity surrounding demisexuality. “Resources aren’t typically needed for this, as it’s not an area in which prejudice typically occurs,” Shane says. “However, readers may wish to include this detail about themselves in their dating profiles in order to give folks a heads-up that dating them is likely to require significant time together before any physical intimacy occurs.”

In short, demisexuality is perhaps more socially acceptable because it doesn’t shake up the system. Saying you need emotional connection to experience sexual feelings isn’t something people have never heard of before. (If anything, the idea that people can indeed have sex without emotion or don’t enjoy hookup culture is the more radical concept we’re still struggling to solidify in people’s minds.)

If you have questions about your own demisexuality, that of a friend or lover, or even if you’re just curious and wish to be an ally, check out the Demisexuality Resource Center for more information.