I’m demisexual, and the way we see love is different
By Clara How, Sep 03, 2020
For many of us, sexual attraction is so instinctive and unconscious, we don’t question it. It’s a feeling we have when we’re into someone, romantic or otherwise. But for people on the asexual spectrum, the role of sex is something very different.
In working on this story, this writer found herself confused. I had assumed that to be asexual was to be disinterested in love and sex, but thanks to our interviewee Jane*, I realised that to understand asexuality is to acknowledge that there within are multiple shades of grey. Unlike most sexualities that have a black and white definition, such as the gender that one is attracted to, the asexuality spectrum has subtle nuances, multiple caveats, and isn’t something you can easily define or put in a box.
Jane shares with us what it means to be asexual, from a demisexual’s perspective. To be asexual is to experience a lack of sexual attraction, which can range between experiencing no attraction at all, to being capable of feeling sexual attraction with conditions. To be demisexual is the latter: Jane does not experience sexual attraction to anyone except those whom she shares a profound emotional bond with. In this case, it would be just her husband.
Unlike allosexuals (people who are not asexual) who may have experienced physical stirrings for celebrities, that good-looking person at the bar, and more commonly, former romantic partners, Jane describes the lack of such feelings as a “nothingness”. Even the thought of having sexual feelings towards anyone but her husband does not occur to her. But even so, she clarifies that these feelings of sexual attraction to her husband aren’t constant. In fact, they’re rare.
Confused? We don’t blame you. This difficulty in understanding asexuality is one reason why it is so often invalidated or dismissed, believes Jane. But she wants to try to help us understand what asexuality is about, and how asexuals still crave meaningful connections and relationships. This is what she has to say, and she hopes you keep an open mind.
I first heard the term ‘asexual’ a long time ago, and I always assumed that it meant someone who wasn’t into sex or romance. I only realised I was queer much later into my marriage, and it wasn’t an earth-shaking reckoning — rather, it was very matter of fact. It was a feeling of: “Oh, I see.”
I am sharing my story because I want people to know that asexuals aren’t devoid of feeling. There exists a whole spectrum within the community.
Growing up, I didn’t think much about love and romance. I was brought up in a very Christian, heteronormative environment, so it never occured to me that I would end up in anything else other than a conventional relationship with a man. My parents would step in if there were portrayals of sex on television. I was curious, and since it seemed to be linked to romance, I hoped to experience this one day.
When I hit puberty, I started to experience feelings of sexual arousal. I would read a novel that had sex scenes in it, and would have physical responses. People around me said that these feelings were normal, which only cemented my belief that I was like everyone else.
If I had sexual feelings, then surely I couldn’t be asexual.
Before meeting my husband, I had dated one other person. There definitely was a romantic connection between us that felt intimate, and we held hands, kissed, and hugged. But none of this made me want to have sex with him — I just liked being in a relationship where I had a person to call my own. I wanted to hold hands with him because I had romantic feelings for him, but it stopped there.
How I felt with my husband was entirely different. We met at church, and started off spending a lot of time talking on MSN messenger and texting. Because there was so much written communication in the beginning, I was able to understand his thoughts and who he was as a person. He was very open, caring and sensitive, and wasn’t afraid to cry, or draw silly pictures for me. Even though he was a few years older than me, he always treated me like an equal. We started dating when I was 18, and within a month, I knew that I wanted to marry this man.
But even when I decided this, I still didn’t feel sexually attracted to him. My initial feelings, as strong as they were, were not physical. It was only when we started to become more physically affectionate, like holding hands, did I experience arousal. But it still wasn’t sexual attraction — more on that later.
It only occurred to me that this wasn’t the norm a couple of years ago, when my friends and family questioned a close friendship that I had with a male friend. My father even said that I should only meet him when my husband was present. It was a strange thought to me, and I was genuinely puzzled as to why people would assume that I would be attracted to someone other than my husband. Even this friend of mine started to distance himself.
The idea that I might have feelings or be attracted to someone other than my spouse was so foreign to me that I started to Google why I felt this way. It was my first clue that I was able to compartmentalise who I was attracted to.
I’m aware of the concept of ‘friendzoning’, but there is a subtle difference. The comparison is not exact, but I would imagine that allosexuals (people who are not asexual) are aware of the possibility of developing an attraction to a friend, but choose to reject this possibility. It could be because there is no spark between them, or no physical chemistry. But for asexuals, the thought of being attracted to a friend usually doesn’t even occur to us unless it’s been suggested by someone else. We don’t reject the possibility of a physical connection, because this option doesn’t exist.
I started to learn that to be asexual (or ace) is to experience a lack of sexual attraction, and within that is a wide spectrum. For many aces, myself included, romance can be separated from other types of attraction. It is possible to be asexual and still be capable of falling in love, and even be capable of experiencing sexual attraction and arousal. It is different from being aromantic, which refers to individuals who are not romantically attracted to anyone at all.
For myself, I am a biromantic demisexual, which means that I am romantically attracted to both men and women, and I am only sexually attracted to people I have a strong emotional connection to. This bond is a condition for the attraction to occur.
This is something that I feel like many people don’t understand about being asexual: that it is possible to be ace, and still have and enjoy sex.
I cannot speak for every asexual person’s experience, but for me, there is a difference between sexual attraction and arousal. I do have feelings of sexual desire, but most of the time, they are not directed towards anybody. It feels like there is no object of my desire.
To explain this further: I experienced arousal since I was a teenager, and in fact, my sex drive is higher than my husband’s. When I am aroused, there are three options: I take care of it myself, I ignore it, or I have sex with my husband. Most of the time, I initiate sex not because I am sexually attracted to him per se, but the arousal stems from biological needs (such as when I am ovulating) or a response to something I might have watched, like a raunchy movie.
There are times when I look at him and do feel sexual attraction that is specific to him, but those moments are rare.
I would distinguish them by saying that one is a hunger for sex, versus a hunger for the person.
Even if it was the former, sex is still an intimate act to me. A married allosexual may be unable to imagine herself having sex with anyone but her partner for several reasons, such as being deeply in love, and choosing to commit to them.
But for demisexuals, sex with our partners doesn’t stem from fidelity, or a motivation or choice. I have sex with my husband because he happens to be the only person I want.
I came across the term ‘demisexual’ when I was Googling for answers, and when I looked back on my history of who I felt attracted to, I realised that it fit me. I’m able to compartmentalise my feelings of attraction. I’m capable of feeling sexual attraction, but only to one person at a time. I don’t always pick up on romantic cues, even though I do consider myself a romantic person. It has always seemed like I had some kind of filter.
Because asexuality is such a complicated thing to explain, most of my family and friends aren’t aware that I am ace. I don’t fit into the image that most people think asexuals are: unmarried and without a sex life.
My friends know that at one point, we were actively trying to have a baby. How do you tell them, “I have sex with my husband not because I love him, it’s because sometimes, I just need to have sex?”
When I found out I was demisexual nine years after we were married, I shared this with my husband. Not only did it not bother him, in fact, it only affirmed him — I have only been attracted to him my entire life! It doesn’t change our relationship and how I interact with him. To him, I’m just me.
There are some who might think that in a way, I am an ideal partner because I am more likely to be committed. I suppose that it’s fair to say so. However, being asexual does come with its struggles. There are many preconceptions and misunderstandings about being asexual, so many asexuals don’t share about their sexuality because of a fear of erasure.
People make statements like, “That is not a real sexuality”, “How do you know if you haven’t experienced sex”, or “You just haven’t met the right person”.
I know people who have had to end friendships because they came out to people who did not accept them. This hasn’t happened to me, but even my close queer friends whom I have come out to have not always responded with empathy and understanding. What helps me is to read forums and articles about asexuality, and knowing that there are people like me makes me feel less alone. I haven’t interacted with anyone in real life who truly understands, but the knowledge that we exist and some are sharing their stories is enough.
Their stories are important, because when erasure happens, it can make us feel like we are not real. For me, an ace person who is capable of sexual attraction, I do wonder if I am ‘queer enough’. We are so invisible, because even though we know we are different, people don’t see us as such unless we make it known.
Another challenge we face is that demisexuality doesn’t inform — it’s something that you have to find out by yourself. I didn’t know that I was demisexual until my late twenties. To be asexual is to experience an absence, which means that I had to keep asking myself questions about how I felt.
It’s an internal struggle of coming to terms with how compartmentalised or layered your sexuality is, because things might not be clear cut. For example, I realised that I was biromantic when I wondered why I felt romantic connections to women, but lacked a physical attraction. Further reflection led me to realise that I lacked the same physical attraction to as many men as women. It’s a lot harder to discover the absence of something, rather than a presence.
I am fortunate to have found my husband, but I can imagine that if a teenager was to discover that they were ace, it can be a very scary and lonely prospect. Because most people’s understanding of a partner is that of someone you are romantically involved with, they might feel like they will never have a long-term companion.
What I think would greatly help the community, or anyone who has a less conventional idea of love, is if there was more diversity in how relationships are portrayed in the media, and that you don’t need romance or sex to commit to a relationship.
Mainstream portrayals of love often equate the feeling with physical affection, and there is also the concept of casual sex. There is nothing wrong with this, but for people like myself, we can’t relate to either. When I watch action blockbusters and see a kiss between the male and female lead, I just wonder why this scene is relevant or necessary in a film with guns and car chases.
I gravitate towards stories about couples who have a strong connection, but it isn’t necessarily physical or romantic — for example, couples who are deeply in love but who don’t have sex. I once read an article about an asexual gay married couple, who were asked what was the difference between being best friends and being married, since they were not having sex. Their answer was that you don’t bring your best friends to meet your parents, or share finances. They are just as married as any other couple — they just happen to be asexual.
As for solid platonic relationships, some examples I can think of are Meredith and Alex’s friendship in Grey’s Anatomy, or Black Widow and Hawkeye in the Marvel universe. It’s firmly established that these characters have their own romantic partners, but they are each other’s person. That’s friendship to the ultimate.
If these stories about building connections without romance or sex were to be more popularised, it would give so many people hope. These examples may not represent all asexual relationships, but seeing them in the media might make the idea of a relationship without romance and sex more acceptable.
I want people to know that even though we are ace, we know how to love. It’s just a different kind of love that might not be romantic or sexual, but it’s not empty. It’s strong, and it’s intimate.
When I think about a relationship without sex or physicality, it’s about things like: who do I want to go home to? Who do I miss when I travel? Who do I want to take care of me when I am sick? It’s always about ‘who’, whereas physical attraction is a ‘what’.
If the 32-year-old me were to project into the future, when my husband is 80 years old, I doubt he will be physically attractive (at least, in the conventional sense). But I like to think that I will still be in love with him. Even if he passes on before me, I think I will still be in love with him.
*Jane has requested to remain anonymous.
My name is Clara, and you can find me at @clarahow on the Dayre app. On my personal account, I’ve shared my thoughts on love, friendship, and being in a relationship that has been questioned because of an age gap.
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