Now my life makes so much more sense.
I came out as bisexual when I was 23 years old.
Deep down inside that space where you keep all of your most precious and vulnerable and frightening truths (you know the one), I had always known that I was attracted to more than one gender. But when you grow up evangelical, you learn how to bury your queerness as far down as it can possibly go. (Ironically, my first crush was on a girl in my Sunday school class, although I didn’t recognize it as a crush at the time; I remember thinking how pretty she was and how I ‘really, really wanted to be friends with her.’) My final ties with the church were broken at age fourteen when a close friend came out as gay. I witnessed the hate he received from our classmates in school and the way that his own mother looked at him with shame. I thought, This is not a choice like I’ve been taught my whole life. Nobody would ‘choose’ to be treated this way. And any god who would throw someone into hell for something they didn’t choose and can’t change is not a god I want to follow. Despite everything I had been told as a child — that Queerness was unnatural, that Queer people had been led astray by the Big Bad Devil, that they could change if they would only accept Christ into their hearts and it was our solemn duty as Christians to save their souls from eternal hellfire — I recognized, then, that it had all been a lie.
I became a staunch “ally,” even going so far as to risk expulsion when I helped some of my friends stage the first annual Day of Silence protest at our high school. But it took another eight years for me to recognize — or rather, acknowledge — my own Queerness. I initially came out as pansexual, but later decided that I preferred the term bisexual. The word has a very rich history, and using it makes me feel more connected to the Queer ancestors who came before me and risked so much in order for people like me to be out and have the opportunities available to us today, even though there is still a long road ahead for achieving full equality and acceptance in Western society.
(That isn’t a dig at folks who prefer the term pansexual — it’s a 100% valid identity. To me, bi and pan are different terms for the same thing: attraction to more than one gender. Different folks feel connected to different words for different reasons, and that’s okay.)
Since coming out as bi almost five years ago, I’ve continued to learn a lot about my sexuality and the rich rainbow of human sexuality and gender identity. And one of the recent discoveries I’ve made is that in addition to being bi, I am also demisexual.
If you are unfamiliar with the term, here’s a nutshell explanation: demisexual people only experience sexual attraction after establishing an emotional bond with someone. We do not necessarily have to be “in love” in order to develop sexual feelings, but there needs to be a certain level of emotional connection and intimacy in order for sexual attraction to develop. What this level of connection looks like will vary from person to person. It’s also important to note that forming an emotional bond with someone does not guarantee that sexual feelings will follow.
Demisexuality is widely considered a part of the asexuality spectrum, although some folks prefer to think of it as a halfway point between asexuality and allosexuality. Demisexuality isn’t the same thing as celibacy, which is when a person desires sex but makes the conscious choice to abstain for moral, ethical, or health reasons. Demisexual folks require an emotional connection in order to feel sexual desire. In other words, if you’re looking for a hookup or casual fling, we’re probably not your cup of tea — and you probably aren’t ours, either.
While demisexuals do not experience sexual attraction without an emotional bond, we can experience other forms of attraction to folks we don’t know or don’t know well, including:
Romantic attraction — having romantic feelings towards someone
Aesthetic attraction — finding another person beautiful or physically attractive
Platonic attraction — wanting to be friends with someone
Sensual attraction — desiring non-sexual physical contact with someone (i.e., cuddling, holding hands, playing with hair, or other forms of non-sexual touch)
Demisexuals can and often do enjoy masturbation, porn, erotic fiction and art, consensual kink, striptease, and other forms of adult entertainment. Demisexuals can be monogamous, nonmonogamous, or polyamorous. Demisexuals can get married, have children, and enjoy frequent or infrequent sex with their partner(s). Demisexuals can experience attraction to one gender or multiple genders. Some demisexuals consider demisexuality to be their primary sexual identity, while others consider it secondary or don’t assign a rank to it at all. For example: I am demisexual and bisexual. Demisexual refers to how I experience sexual attraction, and bisexual refers to who I am sexually attracted to. Both are integral parts of who I am.
I may be an out-and-proud demi-bi now, but for a long time, I thought that something was wrong with me. I’ve only ever had sexual contact with two people in my entire life (yes, you read that right — two partners by 28 years old) and my first relationship as a teenager was toxic and abusive on multiple fronts. I ended things when I turned eighteen, and I didn’t have sex again until I met my now-spouse three years later.
During that entire time, I had no desire for a sexual partner.
Sex wasn’t even something on my radar. (Admittedly, this made me a bit of a buzzkill at the few college parties I attended.) Whenever I felt horny, I was perfectly content to satisfy myself with masturbation (which I got very good at) and reading as well as writing erotica for fun (which I also got very good at). I learned a lot about my body and my preferences, and — blessing among blessings — went to therapy to deal with my sexual trauma. By the time I was ready to enter into a sexual relationship with my partner, I already had a strong understanding of what I liked, what I wanted, and how to set proper physical and emotional boundaries. And that is something that I will forever be grateful for.
But while I was still in recovery, I thought that I owed my lack of interest in sex to the past abuse and lingering religious trauma from my childhood. (Like many, many people who grow up in conservative Christianity — and especially in the American South — I wasn’t exactly given accurate or positive information about sex in my formative years.) While this offered a viable explanation, it also made me feel guilty. I am a staunch feminist and consider myself a sex-positive person; wasn’t I feeding the stereotype that women don’t like sex? Was I frigid? A prude? Was I truly not as liberated as I thought I was because I didn’t crave sex the way that most people seemed to do? To this day, I am often met with expressions of shock when I mention my three sex-less years to allosexual people: “Oh my god, how did you survive?!” “You’re much braver than me!” But I wasn’t being brave. I was just being myself.
I didn’t feel like I was asexual (and still don’t) so I assumed that I was an allosexual person with a low libido. But that wasn’t a satisfying explanation either. (Again with the whole “women don’t like sex” stereotype.”) When I first heard the term demisexual, something resonated in me: “Hey, that sounds right. I have never been interested in sex with someone I don’t know or don’t know well, even though I may find them physically attractive.” But I was uncertain of claiming the term for myself. I felt like I was too inexperienced in the relationship department to really know. This sounds silly in retrospect — after all, I knew that I was bisexual even though I had only been in straight-presenting relationships — but given the heteronormative world we live in, it can be difficult to parse out the details and complexities of our sexualities even under the most ideal circumstances.
Ironically, it took getting married for me to finally feel comfortable enough to claim demisexual as a part of my identity. When I feel emotionally disconnected from my spouse —if we’ve had an argument, if I’m in the middle of a mood episode, or any other reason — I lose all interest in and desire for sex. I still find my partner aesthetically attractive, but it takes talking through whatever is going on and re-establishing emotional intimacy for me to experience sexual desire for them again. Admittedly, this has caused some conflict in our relationship. But there is a lot of power in knowing thyself for all your intricacies, even if they don’t always make sense to other people. Even if the world still has a hard time accepting them as real.
I no longer feel guilty or ashamed for any part of my sexuality. Neither my demisexuality nor my bisexuality has to do with my trauma, nor do they detract from my feminism or the way that I find personal sexual liberation. I experience love and desire differently from most people, and I’m okay with that. Sexuality is fluid and complicated and messy and endlessly fascinating, and there is always more to learn about ourselves and others with whom we share this planet.
In our learning, may we find liberation.