For many of us, the mere sight of an attractive stranger standing at the other end of a tube carriage or the waft of scent as somebody walks by can set our hearts aflutter. That unmistakable wave of attraction can happen as often as your train is late.
But what if you never, ever feel it? What if you can’t even imagine what it feels like to find a stranger attractive? Well, it turns out there’s a name for that: demisexuality.
According to Wired, the term was first coined in 2006, by a user on The Asexual Visibility & Education Network’s forum, to describe his experience of not feeling sexual attraction without a previously existing emotional connection.
Denoting a person’s position on the spectrum of asexuality rather than their sexual orientation, a person who identifies as demisexual may be attracted to either sex and may in fact be a very sexual person, but they cannot feel sexual attraction without first developing an emotional bond with a person.
Speaking to Women’s Health, Holly Richmond Ph.D., a certified sex therapist and marriage and family counselor, explains that whereas “the typical person is going to meet someone and there is usually some degree of physical attraction... within seconds, [for demisexuals], there’s no physical pull at all.
“Feelings of sexual attraction and desire would come only come second to romantic feelings, love and friendship.”
Simply put, in the words of Jenni Skyler, Ph.D., a certified sex therapist and board-certified sexologist, a relationship with a demisexual person is “a friendship that catches fire.”
It isn’t clear how many people in the UK identify as demisexual but it falls under the umbrella term of asexual, which is estimated to include 1% of the population, according to the BBC.
While the proportion of demisexuals may be small, the increasing understanding of the characteristic over recent years is a welcome development, especially to those left feeling ‘abnormal’ and even “broken” for not being attracted to anyone as they went through their formative years.
One teenager spoke to the Huffington Post about her experience and said she’d assumed something was “wrong” with her: “I honestly can’t feel attraction towards people unless I already love their personalities and minds along with a few other special snowflake qualities.
“I didn’t know what was wrong with me. That I seemed the only person in my high school who didn’t want sex for the sake of sex itself, and I struggled a lot with that until I went to college and learned more about the different sexualities.”
Forming an emotional bond does not guarantee that sexual attraction will follow, but it is a prerequisite and the level of connection required in order to feel sexual attraction varies from person to person. For some individuals, it may take years of close friendship before any sexual feelings develop, whereas others find that attraction can brew after a short but intense experience, such as travelling together.
Being demisexual bears no indication on a person’s desire for sex, but rather who they have that desire for. As Wired explains, demisexuals experience varying degrees of sexuality, with some occasionally experiencing desire, some being indifferent to sex and some who experience a high level of sexuality and regularly masturbate.
While sceptics have been quick to compare demisexuality with a mere preference for a romantic relationship before having sexual relations, Olivia Davis, a demisexual, explains that the difference is that it is about a physical reaction, about “desire and arousal, not just sex and who you do it with.”
“It’s not merely that I’m only interested in having sex with people that I love,” she explains in a blog for goodmenproject.com. “It’s also that I feel a complete absence of desire or sexual feelings toward everyone else. Ever.
“What makes me demisexual is that absence.”