On Being Demisexual

“You’re 18 and you still don’t have a partner?”

“You’re 19 and you haven’t kissed even once?”

“You’re 20 and you haven’t ever had sex?”

“You’re 21 and you don’t masturbate?”

“You’re just 22, too young to know that penetrative sex isn’t for you.”

While such questions and comments did confuse me a few years ago, I have somehow gotten used to them now.

It’s been a decade since I entered my teenage years and as I reflect back upon that time, I can definitely say that I hardly ever experienced sexual attraction towards anyone. In fact, the mere thought of having to engage in any sexual activity with another person, especially a man, seemed scary to me. Even though I internalised both allosexuality and heterosexuality over time, none of them came naturally to me.

Of course, not being too sexual didn’t automatically mean that I didn’t feel romantic or aesthetic attraction towards anyone. I did develop strong feelings for a lot of people while growing up, but those feelings were far from sexual. Thus, as a person with incredible amount of emotional energy, not feeling sexual attraction always stopped me from partaking in relationships. All of that led to one-sided feelings and frequent heartbreaks becoming a normal part of my teenage life.

Something that always puzzled me was how much I craved physical intimacy without actually wanting it to turn into anything sexual. In other words, I would always look forward to small things like holding hands, hugging and kissing. But I would get extremely anxious the moment things would become even slightly sexual – even the smallest of sexual activities would trigger my fight-or-flight responses and I’d be left feeling breathless and sweaty.

After years of wondering what was wrong with me, my sexuality finally started making sense to me a few months after my 20th birthday as I realised I wasn’t physically compatible with a lot of people I’d felt aesthetic attraction towards all my life. The only sexual chemistry that I did share was with a few close friends of mine whom I’d never really been romantically or sexually interested in. That’s how I understood how important it was for me to feel emotionally secure with someone before I could share any sort of physical intimacy with them.

Also read: Coming Out as a Demisexual

I would like to specify that emotional security, for me, isn’t entirely dependent on how long I have known a person for. There have been times when I have developed a strong emotional connection and eventually a physical one with a few people upon meeting them for the first time. In such cases, things like eye contact, shared laughter and my comfort level in social settings have impacted my overall chemistry with the person. Nonetheless, if either of those people have been men, I have had to explain to them that I might be a panromantic demisexual, but feel sexual attraction solely towards women and non-binary people.

Like a lot of people on the asexual spectrum, I have a much lower libido than those who might be allosexual. Thus, as a closeted demisexual lesbian, I did feel coerced into a lot of sexual activities by my previous male partners. It was somehow impossible for the ones I dated to accept the fact that I didn’t feel sexually attracted towards them – perhaps, due to my overall sexual vibe and persona. I would get called a ‘vanilla person’ or be seen as someone too boring to know about sex. What’s worse is that my low sexual urges would cause a few of my partners to feel frustrated because even small things like sexting would never work for me.

Additionally, if someone is both ace and anxious, people often think that their severe anxiety is a result of them not having enough sex. This is, in every way, a huge myth that a lot of asexual, demisexual and greysexual people are manipulated into believing. If anything, sexual activities have only worsened my anxiety issues over the past few years. In fact, even kissing someone I did not share an emotional connection with has led me to have sleepless nights and countless panic attacks. A friend of mine who also identifies as demisexual and has anxiety agreed with the same and said, “The first time I kissed, I didn’t feel anything – it all just felt like flesh – because there was no emotional connect. Kissing my own hand feels better.”

Most of the demisexual and greysexual people I know have different sexual desires and needs from mine. Some of them might be sexually very active, some might have never had sex at all and many others might feel sexual urges once in a blue moon. All of this does make me feel that demisexuality is in itself a broad spectrum which needs to be understood instead of being dismissed. Demisexual people don’t need to watch He’s Not That Into You (2009) or become more ‘broadminded’. They simply need to be allowed to exist and make their own life choices without being ridiculed for not being able to separate their emotional needs from their physical ones.

Upasana Dandona is a master’s student at SOAS, University of London. She is pursuing a degree in MA South Asian Area Studies.

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