For a while now I have noticed that I don’t experience sexual attraction to people I don’t know fairly well. That moment when you see someone across the bar and feel a spark? Never happened to me. Meeting someone sexy at a party and going home with them? Ew. Going on a first date and wishing you could just kiss them right now? Never.
At some point I learned that there’s a word that people like me use to identify themselves: demisexual. It’s as if we’re “half” asexual–usually ace, but in some situations not.
For a long time I did not use that label because people shamed me out of it. People online love to hate on demisexuals because they think we’re sitting here claiming that being demi makes us as oppressed as Black people or trans people. I’m sure someone somewhere can be found claiming that, but as for me personally, I don’t give a fuck where I fall on someone’s Oppression Olympics ladder; I just care that this changes my life in a number of ways and having the language to talk about it with people is helpful.
But people make me feel like a pathetic broken idiot for using the word, so I stopped. There, I stopped Boxing Myself In With These Useless Labels and Inventing Silly New Words For Things That Don’t Need Words Anyway. Happy now? Well, I wasn’t. I felt like an anomaly, a fuck-up.
Using the word helps me remember that I’m not the only one who’s like this; it’s not an individual quirk but a way of experiencing sexuality that many other people share, including a few of my friends and partners.
That said, I hate being demi. Unlike other identities I have, like queer or atheist, it adds absolutely nothing positive to my life. It does not make my experience more colorful or interesting in any way. It only makes things harder.
I feel like all of these experiences and feelings that most people get to have are something I’m completely cut off from. Sexual negotation and communication becomes fraught as I try to articulate that I’m not sure if I want sex, or don’t know when I will, or might want to try it or might not depending on my mood or fatigue level or number of remaining spoons.
More often than not, I start to panic–not, thankfully, because I worry that people will disrespect my boundaries, but because often I don’t even know what they are.
(I’m aware, though–how could I not be?–of how lucky I am to be in the types of social circles that I’m in. If I were friends with normal people, this would all be a nightmare.)
Here’s what I do know: if I followed the “standards” of affirmative consent when it comes to my own boundaries, I would’ve never had sex with anyone at all, and I would’ve missed out on a lot of great times. Because the first time I have sex with someone is usually less “I NEED YOU NOW” and more “I’m kinda curious, let’s try it.” I’m grateful that my partners respect my agency enough to hear that as the “yes” that it is.
After I’ve slept with someone once or a few times, my brain seems to learn to associate the pleasant sensations of that with actual, sexual desire–in the sense that I think about them when I masturbate or have the urge to send them sexy texts or otherwise behave like someone who wants to have sex with them. And then it’s great. But until then, it’s quite awkward.
One thing that is basically impossible thanks to my demisexuality is dating. How does dating typically go? You meet an Intriguing Stranger, at a party or on OkCupid or whatever. Someone asks the other out. You go on the date to Find Out If You Have A Spark and want to keep seeing each other.
Well, I have never felt any spark with anyone I barely know. (Actually, not entirely true–the first time I fell in love at age 14 happened that way, and that experience was so uniquely horrible that my brain seems to have kept me from repeating it.) That hasn’t stopped me from loving many people and sleeping with even more people, but the fact is that if I’ve just met you, I probably don’t really care about you.
So dating becomes tricky. How do I decide if I want a second “date” or whatever? What do I tell them if they ask me where I think this is going? All I can say is, “I feel no sexual attraction towards you, but you’re the sort of person that I might get attracted to with time, but I also can’t guarantee that, so I understand if you don’t want to stick around and wait”? Hot.
Therefore, I don’t really date; I make friends online and sometimes those friendships develop into more. The distance means that there’s no pressure to decide whether or not I want to fuck them, at least not for a while. By the time I finally see them in person, we’re usually close enough that I’m interested in experimenting with sex, and usually I like it and keep doing it.
But that means that my partners are basically always long-distance, since I’m not willing to date in any sort of “traditional” way. OkCupid (which I consider traditional at this point) is even more useless than other ways of meeting people to date, because there’s even more of a pressure to Decide What This Is. Is it Friendship? Is it Friends With Benefits? Is it Dating? God, who the fuck cares.
In general, it’s impossible for me to predict when sexual/romantic feelings will happen, and with whom. Once I became interested in my best friend after we’d known each other for four years. Another time I became interested in another best friend after we’d known each other for two and a half years. Once I had an online acquaintance that I honestly couldn’t stand at first but then they changed or I changed or something happened and we fell in love.
So when I’m sitting across the table at the coffee shop with some random person who’s basically a stranger to me and they want to know What This Is, who am I to say?