What exactly is demisexuality?
For people who don't identify as asexual but also aren't into hookups with people they don't know well, demisexuality ("demi" means "half" in Latin) sits in the middle of that spectrum. Simply put, demisexuals are people who identify as needing to feel a strong emotional connection with someone in order to feel any sexual attraction to them.
While demisexuality technically falls under the asexuality umbrella, it's the middle ground between having no interest in sex and being able to have it casually. Demisexuals ARE capable of sexual attraction but only in specific circumstances and not on a regular basis.
It's also important to note that while demisexuality indicates potential interest in sex, about one-third of demisexuals say they're repulsed by the idea of sex and that even if they feel a sexual attraction to someone, they don't necessarily want to act on that urge at all. Just like a bisexual person doesn't become less bisexual if they've only ever dated one gender, a demisexual isn't any less demisexual if they've never had sex.
Demisexuality is also sometimes referred to as "semisexuality" or "gray sexuality," and demisexual people might refer to themselves as "gray-asexuals," or "gray-aces" for short. Some people identify specifically as sapiosexuals, where they state that intellect in particular is what sexually arouses them.
What is it like to be demisexual?
A lot of demisexuals prefer to be friends with someone before opening up any conversations about romantic dating. Not all demisexuals come out, but they may choose to do so if it takes them a long time to want sex or they are sex-repulsed and will never actually want to have sex. But even if a demisexual chooses not to come out fully, communication (especially about boundaries) is crucial so that the pacing feels safe and comfortable.
According to the Demisexuality Resource Center, while most people begin to feel sexual attraction to others at around puberty, demisexuals don't—and they can feel left out as their friends start having crushes and fantasizing about celebrities. "They wonder if they will eventually feel [these things] too, and some even end up feeling 'broken,'" the website states.
The website also mentions some people feeling worried about being judged for their label—that they're supposedly slut-shaming everyone else or have an incessant need to "feel oppressed." Neither is true—as the site says, "demisexuality is a sexual orientation, not an opinion or moral judgment" and "most demisexuals are just pleased that they have found a word and community which describes them and helps them feel less alone or broken."
It doesn't help that asexuality and demisexuality are all but invisible in entertainment and pop culture. One of the only recent shows to broach the subject was Bojack Horseman, where Todd comes out as asexual and, at one point, grapples with the fact that Emily, his friend who he has romantic feelings for, needs to have sex while he never wants to. It's a moment that shows how tough but important it is to know your relationship with sex and stick with it, even if other people wish you were different.
"Demisexuality is about desire and arousal, not just sex and who you do it with," writer Olivia Davis put in an article for The Good Men Project. "It's not merely that I'm only interested in having sex with people that I love, it's also that I feel a complete absence of desire or sexual feelings toward everyone else....What makes me demisexual is that absence."
What do critics of the label say?
As previously mentioned, demisexuals can feel judged. Some people claim that "demisexual" is used by people who are simply choosy about whom they sleep with. Others say demisexuality is a lifestyle choice rather than a sexual orientation, and then there are those who believe that self-described demisexuals simply have low sex drives. The common message: Demisexuality is "fake," so people shouldn't identify with it.
But demisexuals describe sexual feeling outside these frameworks—they're not picky, they say, but they literally don't get turned on unless they are deeply emotionally connected with someone. Meanwhile, people who have low sexual desire—which can be the result of depression, hormonal imbalances, certain medications, and more—tend to notice and be bothered by it. They feel that something is missing or out of whack, and that causes personal distress. Not for demisexuals: They feel that how they experience attraction is part of who they are.
A version of this article was originally published in February 2015.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.