(A)sexuality 101

11 Jan

I seem to be working backwards, here. My last post assumed you knew what asexuality was, which many of my poly and kinky readers probably don’t. This post will fill that gap.

The generally accepted definition of asexual is:

A person who does not experience sexual attraction.

AVENwiki defines sexual attraction as:

A feeling that sexual people get that causes them to desire sexual contact with a specific other person.

I’m pretty sure my sexual readers will have an intuitive grasp of the concept. ;) Note that this isn’t the same as libido. Some (though not all) asexual people have a libido, and may even masturbate. The definition relates solely to sexual attraction.

This is simple enough so far, but it’s still important. Asexual people are often misunderstood and ignored. People often assume that an asexual person is psychologically repressed, or “hasn’t met the right person”. Recognizing the validity of asexuality as an orientation is an important step, for the same reason we accept other people’s sexual preferences.

Asexuals have lots of reasons to think about the structure of sexual attraction, however, and have done a pretty thorough job investigating it in a way the sexual community never had a need to. One crucial discovery is the existence of “demisexuality”. AVENwiki defines a demisexual this way:

A person who does not experience sexual attraction until they form a strong emotional connection with someone, often in a romantic relationship.

This is often phrased in terms of “primary” and “secondary” sexual attraction: primary attraction is the instant attraction you feel towards a stranger, while secondary attraction is the attraction you feel towards a long-term emotional partner. Demisexuals have secondary attraction but not primary.

I don’t think I initially appreciated the brilliance of this concept, until I had multiple people come out to me as demisexual in the two weeks since I’ve been researching asexuality. My impression is that this is a very common orientation, and that many demisexuals don’t realize that anyone else feels differently.

Self-knowledge is an important part of any relationship, especially polyamorous relationships. Learning about the asexual-demisexual-sexual continuum, and figuring out where you and all your partners fit on it, can only help.

The primary/secondary attraction distinction also seems useful on its own right. Poly people already acknowledge the difference between NRE [New Relationship Energy] and longer-term forms of attachment, but we don’t often think about differences in sexual attraction. Based on my introspection, I feel like they are rather different phenomena, and recognizing that seems important.

When sexual relationships “lose their spark”, a common tendency is to blame it on things like gaining weight, or other superficial changes. It’s common wisdom that this is rarely the problem, and the primary/secondary distinction explains why. The relationship lacks secondary attraction for some reason, and things like weight are the realm of primary attraction. Investigating this distinction, and learning more about what fuels secondary attraction, seems like a fruitful project for sexual people to explore.

My last thought is entirely speculative, but it intrigues me. Demisexuals can have a gender preference. You can be demihomosexual, or demiheterosexual. On the general principle that any given set of labels applies to someone or other, I wonder if there are people who are heterosexual and demihomosexual, or vice versa. If so, this would be a very interesting discovery for us straight or gay people! In normal society, such a person probably would never realize his demi half, and happily date one gender forever. I wonder if polyamory can help identify those people and allow them to more fully explore their own sexualities.

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7 Responses to “(A)sexuality 101”

  1. slightlymetaphysical January 13, 2011 at 2:16 am #

    “I seem to be working backwards, here.”

    Nothing wrong with working backwards. My godmother always reads books backwards, she says it’s the only way to read.

    It interests me that you’ve had a lot of people come out to you as demisexual. It probably is much more common than we assume. I’m really glad you’re getting all this terminology out there, in some way, where it can actually be actively used.

  2. Siggy January 14, 2011 at 6:15 pm #

    On the commonness of demisexuality:
    In visibility efforts, I actually consider this somewhat of a problem. It’s nice when people are excited about finding an experience they can relate to. But others would express cynicism. Demisexuality plays into a lot of narratives (eg all women are demisexual), and it resembles the way a lot of people would like to see themselves. If it’s so common, does that mean we’ve all missed something really important, or does it mean that we’re making something out of nothing?

    I, too, would express cynicism, but of a different sort. Some people just idly say, “yeah, demisexuality sounds like me”, perhaps because they’ve never had crushes on celebrities, or they’ve never understood the appeal of one-night stands or something like that. But I’m not sure that such people fully appreciate that demisexuality can come in much greater degrees and different flavors.

    • semiel January 14, 2011 at 6:34 pm #

      Yeah, the two people I am talking about in my post are probably legit, in my opinion, but I can totally see that happening.

      • Siggy January 14, 2011 at 8:21 pm #

        Well I’m being careful to avoid saying that they’re not legit. That’s up to them, not up to me. What I fear instead, is that people who see some of demisexuality in themselves are too quickly assuming that all demisexuals are exactly like them.

      • semiel January 14, 2011 at 8:25 pm #

        What do you mean? I’m not skeptical, I’m just not sure I catch your meaning.

      • Siggy January 15, 2011 at 12:36 pm #

        I want to avoid telling anyone that they are wrong about their identity. If someone self-identifies as demisexual, I won’t deny that unless I have a very very good reason to.

        On the other hand, just because a person identifies as demisexual does not mean that they are the same as all other self-identified demisexuals. That would be like an aromantic asexual assuming that all asexuals are aromantic just because they are.

  3. 2 cents February 14, 2011 at 3:17 am #

    I think some people (no one in particular) don’t fully “get” the concept of demisexuality. They think it just means “I don’t want to have sex outside a relationship” when really it means that no sexual attraction is even experienced outside of emotional connection…

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