Earlier this year, when Michaela Kennedy-Cuomo, the daughter of then-New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, declared herself “demisexual”, she was greeted with public condescension. Many mocked her demisexuality, a lack of sexual attraction to others without a strong emotional connection.
Few recognized demisexuality as “real”. But although demisexuality is not very well known, it is a sexual orientation like any other, which applies to people all over the world.
Demisexuality, which falls on the asexual spectrum, differs from simply wanting to wait for a deep bond to form before having sex with someone; Rather, it is more like the experience of being asexual until that kind of connection is formed, at which point the sexual attraction extends only to that person.
For all sexuals, on the other hand (people who are not on the asexual spectrum), waiting to have sex until you form a deep connection is more of a preference and less of a necessity to develop sexual desire.
Kennedy-Cuomo’s announcement had positive effects, says Kayla Kaszyca, demisexual co-creator of the Sounds Fake But Okay podcast, in which she and her asexual and aromatic co-host Sarah Costello discuss love, relationships and sexuality on the asexual spectrum. . In some cases, Kaszyca says the Kennedy-Cuomo statement raised the profile of demisexuality, fueling “more talk about it”.
On the other hand, the broadening of the discussion also attracted detractors and spread disinformation. “I think the word [demisexuality] is definitely more familiar, but the proper definition might not be clear to a lot of people”, says Kaszyca, 24 years old.
For example, many still reject demisexuality, insisting that it is “normal” not to be sexually attracted to someone until a deeper emotional connection is formed with them. “Someone might say to you, ‘Isn’t everyone like that?’” so, says Kaszyca, “you have to start breaking the myths”.
People who identify as demisexual, such as Kaszyca and others who share content related to their orientation, are actively working to clarify that definition.
It is an especially difficult task when talking about an orientation that has not even had a name for so long and whose definition often confuses people.
But his work is making a difference, and over the past few years, discussion of demisexuality has proliferated in Facebook groups, Instagram posts, Discord servers, and among asexual spectrum organizations around the world.
Asexuality: the rise of “invisible” sexual orientation
“It took me a long time to accept it”. People often trace the origin of the term demisexual to a 2006 post on the Asexual Education and Visibility Network (Aven) forum.
“I think it is a word that came primarily from the Aven site and asexual advocates, not necessarily academics,” says Anthony Bogaert, a human sexuality researcher and professor at Brock University in Ontario, Canada, who has written several articles on asexuality.
At the time, the people on Aven’s site were discovering just how diverse the asexual spectrum could be: New terms began to emerge as people who had previously identified as asexual noticed unique circumstances in which they could experience sexual attraction.
“There is a tradition of allowing people with different types of identifications and a lot of variability to come to the Aven site,” says Bogaert. These people helped advance the discussion about asexuality by identifying various aspects of the asexual spectrum. In doing so, they offered information that was not available anywhere else on the internet.
However, asexuality was, and still is, more disputed than demisexuality. This is partly because the former is easier for people who are not asexual to conceptualize.
Someone who is asexual “experiences little or no sexual attraction,” says Kaszyca. “It’s a pretty easy slogan to use.” But if you add to that, “except when they develop a deep emotional connection,” it can sometimes leave all sexes scratching their heads.
Elle Rose, a 28-year-old living in Indiana, USA, began identifying as demisexual after describing her sexuality to a friend of hers a few years ago. “She looked at me and said, ‘Elle, you’re describing demisexuality,’” says Rose. “It took me a long time to accept it.”
Fearing the complications of her love life if she was overtly demisexual, Rose often described herself as “pansexual”, neglecting her demisexual identity.
“People can see themselves represented, finally”
Rose attributes dismissive attitudes toward demisexuality in America in part to the “culture of purity,” in which women are both highly sexualized in the media, but are also expected to be reserved for the right person (or marriage, particularly in religious settings).
Conceptually, this aligns perfectly with abstinence until a deep bond with a partner is formed. But ultimately, it is still a preference that demisexuals do not identify with. This lack of understanding often creates loneliness.
“After all, we are many”
Cairo Kennedy, 33, from Saskatchewan, Canada, grew up “not experiencing sexual attraction in the same way as my peers, and you feel a bit broken,” she says. “She became a great secret and source of shame.”
When she discovered only a few years ago that there was a name for her sexual orientation, she felt “a little better, but then there was no information,” she says, at least no one talks about demisexuality from the perspective of someone with lived experience.
There were enough Aven posts for her to read and think, “Oh, this is me”, but not so much, “oh, there are a lot of us”. Kennedy decided to fill this void by starting a “demisexual lifestyle” blog.
Through her blog, she has been contacted by many other demisexuals, people ranging from teenagers to 50-year-olds, living primarily in the United States and Europe. “I was very surprised at how many people seem to relate,” she says. “I think the term is more popular because of social media”, says Hawaii-based human sexuality therapist Janet Brito.
She first heard the term demisexuality during her postdoctoral studies at the University of Minnesota, USA, in 2014, “even though she describes [a sexual orientation] that has been around for so long”.
Although Brito acknowledges that demisexuality spans all age groups, her openly demisexual clients of hers tend to be in their early twenties. “They have more exposure to social media”, she says, “[where] it is more acceptable to talk about this spectrum”.
That exposure generates validation. “Social media opens the door to many other voices that we would not have been exposed to in the past,” she adds. “[People] can see themselves represented, finally”.
Thanks to the Internet
Klaus Roberts, 30, who lives on the outskirts of Helsinki, credits the internet with helping him name his orientation about five years ago. “Finland is a bit behind on many of these things, because we are a relatively small country”, he says.
He had identified as asexual, but meeting people in multinational LGBTQ+ communities online helped him realize that demisexual best described him. “People who know something about these terms find it easier to understand me when I use them”. When traditional establishments fail to provide information on a variety of sexual orientations, then these online voices become crucial for education.
Kaszyca and co-host Sarah Costello started their podcast while they were college students at the University of Michigan, USA, where only their friends listened to support them. Today, its reach has expanded to other English-speaking countries and Europe. Kaszyca estimates that Sounds Fake But Okay now has around 7,000 listeners per week.
She adds that not only those on the asexual spectrum tune in, their parents, partners, and friends tune in as well, so they can learn. “Our most listened-to episode is ‘Asexuality 101′”, says Kaszyca. “People have said that they have sent it to their friends or family after coming out, to help educate them and… facilitate the educational process”.
This education also helps demisexuals navigate other parts of society, such as dating. For example, Kaszyca says the apps have made dating easier for demisexuals, because you can include your targeting on your profile. This avoids an otherwise heavy first date conversation.
“A first date is supposed to be casual”, she says, “then you say, ‘hey, let’s have an in-depth conversation about my identity, and I will probably have to teach you what it’s all about because demisexuality is so unknown’.
In general, talking about and learning about “the variability that exists in the broader asexual community”, says researcher Bogaert, is crucial to avoiding alienation from sexual minorities. But it is also crucial because it “allows us to better understand the nature of sexuality” as a whole.