On my Facebook feed in recent days there have been a number of conversations around demisexuality and whether or not it’s a real orientation/why we have the label. I’ve been extremely surprised to see some of the reactions and how negative many people were towards the orientation. I think some of the vitriol is representative of many of the miscommunications that happen about labels and orientations, so here are a few thoughts that (hopefully) will clarify things.
1. What is demisexuality?
Demisexuality is very simply not feeling sexually attracted to someone until you have a close emotional relationship. It’s not the same as choosing not to have sex with people unless you’re in a relationship, or being a prude, or not being able to get laid, or wanting to emotionally like the people you have sex with. It’s on the asexuality spectrum and is simply that you have no pants feels for someone until you have emotion feels for them.
Many people disagreed on this definition, despite those who identify as demisexual specifying what it meant. Lesson: when someone else tells you the definition of their sexuality, don’t correct them.
2. Demisexuality cheapens the label of queer for those of us who have real oppression.
The oppression Olympics are not helpful, but in addition to the fact that no one has to be oppressed in order to be queer (see: well off, white, gay men), not every orientation that exists wants to be included under the queer umbrella. Some people are not trying to be political about their orientation or sexuality, they simply want a word that describes how they feel and conduct themselves in their relationships, and find this one helpful. If you think someone wants in to the queer community, maybe wait until they ask and then have a discussion about whether they’re being helpful or not.
But it doesn’t seem super useful to me to say that if you’re not being beaten to death you have no place in the queer community. This is how asexuality gets knocked out of the queer tent, despite the fact that corrective rape is a thing for asexuals, and the fact that people on the spectrum get pressured into sex and sexuality at huge rates. Even the fact that many people ridicule you for using a word that you feel accurately describes yourself is pretty harmful and invalidating. There’s no reason to ignore those things just because someone else has it worse. No one has to prove that they count or that their pain is worth attention.
3. Demisexuality isn’t about who you’re attracted to, so it’s not an orientation.
Here is one of the complaints that seems to have some merit, but the problem isn’t with demisexuality it’s actually with the dearth of words for the variety of ways in which sexuality can vary. Many people think of sexual orientation as the people you’re attracted to. That means bisexuality, heterosexuality, homosexuality, pansexuality…all of those types of orientations make sense in this definition. But there are other axes about how people conduct their relationships, like what types of attraction you feel (the asexual–allosexual spectrum), number of partners (monogamy vs. polyamory or other variants), and what needs and connections really drive your sexuality and relationships.
I think this is where some of the issues with the term sapiosexual crop up. Many people believe that it’s just a word for liking your partner to be smart, which isn’t really an orientation or identity at all. But I suspect that it’s more about what mode you connect with your partner most deeply on: some people connect emotionally, others physically, and some people intellectually. It makes a lot of sense to me to have labels for those dominant forms of connection, just like it does to have labels about attraction and number of partners. However these might not be orientations. They might be something else, other axes that also affect who you’ll end up with and how you live your life. It could be really helpful to have other words or phrases to refer to these differences in people, especially words that don’t immediately call up questions of oppression and privilege. Some of these differences may just be normal human variation, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about them.
4. You’re all just prudes who are judging people who have casual sex.
Let’s all say this together: another person’s sexuality is not a commentary on your sexuality.
The fact that I am monogamous means nothing about my attitude towards people who are polyamorous. The fact that I am straight means nothing about whether or not I accept people who are gay. And the fact that I’m gray ace/demi means nothing about whether I am sex positive or not.
A lot of people have a hard time with this, but it is actually possible to accept that other people are different without including any judgment. Different things work for different people, and the irony of saying “I don’t accept your sexual orientation because your orientation is too judgmental of my orientation” is really just overwhelmingly painful.
I get to say I like chocolate without you jumping in to say “BUT WHY DO YOU HATE VANILLA??” Identifying my own preferences does not negate someone else’s preferences.
Related is the idea that people who are demi or ace simply can’t get laid, and so they’re bitter. This is really weird to me, since most people on these spectrums are really overjoyed when they realize they don’t have to have sex or feel pressured to have sex. Just because you can’t imagine not wanting sex doesn’t mean other people are lying when they say they’re not interested.
5. Demisexuality is just being normal. It doesn’t need a word.
Hmmm. Have you ever heard of being…STRAIGHT? Guess we don’t need words for the default because it’s just assumed. No need to make it clear that it’s not just “normal,” it’s actually an identity of its own. Nope, nope, nope.
So demisexuality probably is within the scope of “average,” but there are also tons of people who like casual sex, who get crushes on people based exclusively on appearance, who have celebrity crushes, or who see someone hot and think “yeah, I want to jump those bones.”
There are lots of the smaller identities that get scoffed off as basically normal, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be identified.
Demisexuality isn’t an attack, threat, or encroachment on anyone. It’s just some people who want a word to talk about the way they feel in relationships and sex.