Demisexuality and demiromanticism

Demisexuals and demiromantics are individuals who need to form a strong emotional bond with someone before sexual or romantic attraction can occur.

The word ‘demi’ means half. In the context of sexuality, it refers to someone who is theorised to be partly sexual/romantic and partly asexual/aromantic.

Someone who is demisexual lacks primary sexual attraction, while someone who is demiromantic lacks primary romantic attraction.

The thing that unites demisexuality and demiromanticism is that a strong emotional bond must be formed with someone before attraction of a sexual or romantic nature can occur. Many people who identify as demisexual also identify as demiromantic, although it is possible to be one without the other.

Primary and secondary attraction

The most common theory used to explain demisexuality and demiromanticism is the Primary vs Secondary Attraction Model. This is a well-established model that has been used for decades to explain the progression of attraction and relationships. Primary Attraction is the initial attraction people feel to others. It consists of the feeling of ‘liking’ or ‘having a crush’ on someone, accompanied by sexual attraction and desire. Later a more emotional bond may be formed between two people, and this can lead to Secondary Attraction. Secondary attraction is where people fall in love and often wish to create more long-term commitments. Under this theory, a person who identifies as demiromantic and demisexual may lack any form of primary attraction, but will experience secondary attraction after forming a strong emotional bond.

Some things demisexuality is not

The ‘strong emotional bond’ component of demisexuality often needs further explanation, as many people will protest that they liked all the people they slept with too, and that demisexual people are just ‘normal’ people with ‘normal’ sex drives.

It may help to explain what demisexuality is not:

  • A moral choice to ‘wait’ to have sex. Demisexuality isn’t a moral statement about how people should behave.
  • A religious choice to wait until marriage. Whether somebody chooses to wait until marriage is irrelevant to that person’s sexuality, and many demisexual people have sexual relationships with people they are not married to.
  • Being a ‘prude’, ‘frigid’, or being afraid of sex. As with asexuality more generally, whether someone experiences sexual attraction (and how they experience sexual attraction) is not caused by people’s attitudes or morals, just as someone’s attitudes do not cause them to be straight or gay.
  • Having a low sex drive. The amount of sex a demisexual person may want after forming sexual attraction to someone is varies. Some demisexual people feel that their experience of sexual attraction is not strong enough to be worth acting on, while others may develop a high ‘sex drive’. The experience of being demisexual implies that a person is unable to feel sexual attraction before a strong emotional bond has been formed, after which sexual attraction may be felt in a way that could be anything from ‘low’ to ‘average’ to ‘high’. Other demisexual people may find that their experience of sexual attraction fluctuates over time, even after forming an emotional bond.
  • Being a ‘normal’ woman. There is also a misconception that all women are demisexual, or that all women should be. This is of course, counteracted by the evidence that men can also be demisexual, and most women are not demisexual. This myth seems to be a hangover from Victorian ideals that saw all women as asexual. Once Freud (predominantly) broke that myth, it appears that some people reluctantly accepted that women can desire sex, but only with their husbands. This myth tried to perpetuate the idea that any woman who desires sex outside of a strong romantic relationship is a ‘bad’ woman. The last several decades have seen a reversal of that thinking to some extent, but this idea still occasionally gets thrown at women who chose to describe themselves as demisexual. It can also be used as an insult to demisexual men by implying that they are acting ‘like a woman’.
  • Only experiencing primary sexual attraction with primary romantic attraction. A lot of people find that they only experience primary sexual and romantic attraction together (synchronized attraction), so they don’t experience sexual attraction to someone unless they also experience romantic attraction. For example, some people will say that they have never been interested in having sex with someone that they didn’t also want to be in a relationship with. This is different from people who sometimes experience non-synchronized attraction (i.e. can experience sexual attraction with no accompanied romantic attraction, or vice versa). Someone who experiences non-synchronised attraction may say things like, “I really enjoyed the sex, but didn’t really want to be in a relationship or spend time with them”, or “We had a great relationship, but I was never really that into them sexually”. It seems that demisexuality often gets confused with synchronised primary attraction. The difference here is that demisexuality refers to a lack of primary attraction, while maintaining the possibility of secondary attraction. Synchronised attraction is where primary sexual attraction is experienced together with primary romantic attraction. Romantic demisexuals experience a form of non-synchronised attraction, as primary romantic attraction will not be accompanied by primary sexual attraction. Likewise, for demiromantic people who have a typical experience of sexual attraction; they will feel primary sexual attraction, but not primary romantic attraction for people.
  • Having sex with people that you’re in love with (or having meaningful sex). While many demisexual people who experience romantic attraction will only choose to have sex with people they are in love with, being in love with someone is not necessarily a prerequisite for sex. The ‘strong emotional bond’ component of demisexuality does not always equal falling in love. Some demisexual people are aromantic, meaning that they do not experience either primary or secondary romantic attraction. A strong emotional bond may lead a person to fall in love, but this will not necessarily happen for everyone. Another good point to make is that alloromantic and allosexual people can (and often do) have sex with people that they are in love with. Whether someone’s sexual encounters are meaningful to them depends on the circumstances in which they are having sex. Demisexual people are not the only people capable of having loving, meaningful sex!

Signs that you may be demisexual

  • You don’t experience sexual attraction towards strangers, ‘hot’ celebrities or anyone else that you don’t know very well.
  • Often have romantic crushes which involve wanting to have romantic relationships, but with no or little sexual interest in the other person.
  • Very occasionally find yourself sexually interested in someone, but only after a significant emotional bond has been formed, usually over a long period of time.
  • You may spend a long time confused over whether you experience sexual attraction, as sexual attraction occasionally appears, only to be conspicuously absent for long periods of time (often months or years).
  • You may be confused about how to have a relationship with someone where you can really get to know them and enjoy their company before worrying about sex, when other people seem predominantly focussed on sex right at the beginning.

Some signs that you may be demiromantic

  • You may find sexual attraction happens readily, but the romantic part of relationships and crushes is a bit confusing.
  • You typically prefer ‘friends with benefits’ type relationships if you experience sexual attraction.
  • You find that you only tend to fall in love with people who you already consider to be close friends.
  • You find it hard to understand how someone could be so intensely interested in a stranger, when you’d rather be friends with interesting strangers than go on a date with them.
  • You may spend a lot of time wondering if you have a problem with falling in love, as it happens only very rarely and only after developing a significant emotional bond with someone over a long period of time. 

Some signs that you may be demisexual and demiromantic

  • You have never had a ‘crush’ on someone, or had any romantic or sexual feelings for strangers or acquaintances.
  • You may have only had ‘those’ sorts of feelings for someone (or very few people) that you had been very close friends with for a long period of time.
  • You understand the idea of falling in love with someone, and then wanting to have sex with them and share your life with them. The idea of having butterflies or tingly feelings for strangers or acquaintances seems a bit odd to you.
  • You may struggle to form relationships with people, as when you do feel attraction to someone, they have already decided that you are ‘just friends’. This can leave you feeling a bit confused about how to go about having relationships with people.

Intersections

As well as being an alloromantic demisexual, a demiromantic allosexual, or a demiromantic demisexual, there are plenty of other combinations that can occur. Some demisexual people identify as aromantic, meaning that although though they can experience sexual attraction after forming a close emotional bond with a person, they do not experience romantic attraction of any nature. Some demiromantic people identify as asexual, and do not experience any sexual attraction to a person, although they may fall in love with someone after forming a strong emotional bond. In a similar manner, a person may identify as a grey-romantic demisexual. Orientation terms can also be added, so that the previous person might also refer to themselves as grey-romantic hetero-demisexual. For some people, the amount of terms that they need to explain their sexuality may start to seem a bit unwieldly in conversation, or when talking to people unfamiliar with them. These people may choose to say things like ‘I’m gay, but I prefer to be single’. What terms people chose to use and how they describe their sexuality depends on what they feel comfortable with in any situation.

People who identify as demisexual can and do sometimes have romantic relationships with other people. Depending on the other person’s sexuality, these relationships may require a lot of communication to help both people find something they are comfortable with. Sometimes allosexual partners may be confused or upset to find out that their partner was not sexually attracted to them from the beginning, as they expected. Demisexual people often struggle to understand how their partner manages to feel sexual attraction to acquaintances outside the relationship, when they can only feel sexually attracted to people they have a significant bond with. Demisexual people can also feel confused about why other people would consider cheating on their partners for a one-night stand, for example. These situations can be made a lot easier for both people in a mixed-sexuality relationship if both parties are willing and able to communicate their desires and experiences in a non-judgmental manner.


Learn more about demisexuality and demiromanticism elsewhere.

  • AVEN has wiki pages discussing both demisexuality and demiromanticism, albeit with somewhat limited coverage of the topics.
  • The Demisexuality Resource Center is the primary web based centre for information on and discussion of demisexuality. It offers considerably more comprehensive discussions of demisexuality, and to a lesser extent demiromanticism, than AVEN.

The Asexuality New Zealand Trust has no control over, accepts no responsibility for, and does not necessarily endorse the content of external websites.