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The Demisexual Phenomenon

When sexual attraction comes only after knowing someone deeply, problems arise.

It seems like every week, we're hearing new terms for people that are on a fluid sexual scale. The latest to make headlines is the term "demisexual."

Demisexuals define themselves as people who become sexually attracted to someone the deeper and longer they know them. Demisexuals need to be close to a potential partner; they need the element of friendship in order to access their sexual desire. A recent article in The New York Times talks about the experience of identifying as a demisexual and how they negotiate relationships and friendships.

It harkens back to the 1950s, when people "went steady," gradually developing their attraction to their partner and falling in love over time. The notion of "love at first sight" or chemistry, in the way that we think about it—an instant dopamine hit—does not exist for this population. Our culture puts a great deal of pressure on people to be hot and attractive and sexual immediately—so fast that it leaves out a whole group of people sitting on the sidelines saying, "I'm not that." And unfortunately, these people become pathologized and feel abnormal, when really, there may be more people like them out there who have always been around.

So what possible downside is there to this perfectly normal-seeming/healthy relationship to sexuality? The conundrum for demisexuals is that this gradual development of sexual feelings can disrupt their existing friendships.

Let's say a female demisexual in college makes a male friend; they study together in biology class, they hang out and watch movies together and he thinks she's just a friend, but over time she begins to feel a sexual attraction to him as a result of their friendship. For people on the receiving end of attraction from a demisexual, they may not even know it, as they thought the terms of engagement were simply friendship. That woman from biology class didn't just see a guy across the room and feel her heart beating. So for individuals who find themselves engaged with a demisexual, the evolution of the friendship into something romantic can feel like a bait-and-switch.

Varied categories for all things sex, love, and gender will continue to be defined as we realize that our preferences and expressions are as unique as fingerprints.

More from Alexandra Katehakis Ph.D., MFT
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