Demisexuality isn't what you might think.
Most demisexual people experience sexual attraction as a gain in their relationship(s) — for themselves or their partner(s) — and as a result of an intense, emotional connection.
There are so many labels and identities in sexuality! Even with clear, concise definitions there are a lot of misunderstandings.
However you feel about labels, hopefully we can agree that they can be useful tools. They help us access the vocabulary we crave to have productive, inclusive conversations about ourselves and across differences.
Here’s an example: Most asexual people share that rather than “realizing” they were asexual, they discovered the asexual label, and found that it applied to them. However, the terse definition of asexuality has some people asking, “Am I still asexual if…?”
Ironically, “the definition of asexuality is the least useful to those who are asexual; after all, if you've never experienced sexual attraction, how do you know you're missing it?”
As a result of the commonly-held definition of an asexual person — “someone who does not experience sexual attraction” — being too limiting, asexuality is often described as a spectrum. Our conversations about sexuality can no longer support stark contrasts like black and white — hence gray.
I wonder, what might happen for demisexual (or asexual) people if we turn our focus toward what relationships contain, rather than what they’re missing?
One example of grayness is demisexuality. I recently found myself explaining demisexuality to a friend. If you’ve ever tried explaining demisexuality to someone, I imagine you can relate to my experience; they could intellectually understand, but ultimately they struggled to wrap their head around it.
A demisexual person, as defined by the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, “can only experience sexual attraction after an emotional bond has been formed.” Demisexuality.org explains that “the thing that makes them different from asexuals is that they are capable of feeling sexual attraction — it’s just that it only happens after they form a deep emotional bond with someone.”
Most demisexual people experience sexual attraction as a gain in their relationship(s) — for themselves or their partner(s) — and as a result of an intense, emotional connection. It’s frustrating that most identities on the asexuality spectrum are qualified by a “lack” of something — desire, intimacy, attraction. I wonder, what might happen for demisexual (or asexual) people if we turn our focus toward what relationships contain, rather than what they’re missing?
Luckily, Sternberg's Theory of Love can help with this! [Warning: This is about to get a bit technical — I promise it’s worth it!]
The theory posits that in the context of interpersonal relationships, there are three components of love: intimacy, passion, and commitment.
It’s important to note that the “asexual community is vocal about the idea that intimacy doesn’t have to be sexual and sexual intimacy isn’t somehow better than non-sexual intimacy.”
That works well because in this theory, intimacy is identified by the emotional feelings of attachment, closeness, and connectedness. Passion is recognized as the drive that leads to romance, physical attraction, and sexual experiences. Finally, commitment can be explained as the decision to remain with your partner and is often distinguished by the presence of future plans.
Sternberg identified eight kinds of love in which different combinations of these components are present. The “ideal” or “complete” relationship is comprised of intimacy, passion, and commitment — that’s consummate love. Sternberg explains consummate love as “a kind of love toward which many of us strive” (1986, p.124).
At this point you may be asking, “What does this have to do with demisexuality?”
Here’s my logic: Often people who identify somewhere on the asexuality spectrum describe their experiences with sexuality as feeling like something is “off” or “wrong” about them. This theory can be one way to explain how demisexual people experience sexual attraction and relationships (it might work particularly well with your analytical friends).
Based on the theory, companionate love is the combination of intimacy and commitment in a long-term relationship. For demisexual people this type of emotional, consistent relationship may lead to sexual attraction.
It follows that demisexual people may achieve consummate love after experiencing companionate love for some time.
This theory supports the experiences of demisexual people. It reiterates that there are multiple components to love and intimate relationships – this stuff is complicated!
As with any theory, there are certainly some drawbacks. First, four types of love are reliant on the presence of passion — the sexual stuff.
More importantly, in order to have consummate love, you must have all three components present in your relationship.
This perspective requires that a relationship is not complete, and some types of love are not even possible without passion (i.e., sex). Therefore, this may not accurately depict how asexual people view or experience intimate relationships.
However, for demisexual people, this theory may help individuals who feel broken, “off,” or misunderstood gain access to some tools, resources, and vocabulary to feel more confident discussing their sexual identity.