What Does 'Demisexual' Mean?

Demisexual relationship

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

What Is a Demisexual?

A person who is demisexual experiences sexual attraction only when they feel a true emotional bond with another person. For instance, they may not feel sexually attracted to a person they randomly see at a coffee shop, but if they were to start talking to that person and form an emotional connection, they might then become sexually attracted over time.

As is the case with any type of sexuality, there’s much room for nuance here. For that reason, any definition of demisexuality isn’t absolutely concrete. It’s up to the individual to truly define what their own sexuality looks like and how it presents itself.

The earliest instance of the term demisexual dates back to 2006, according to Dictionary.com, when it was coined in the Asexuality Visibility & Education Network forums. By 2008, the word ‘demisexuality’ had become more mainstream in the modern lexicon, likely as a result of others closely identifying with the term. Even some dating websites, such as OkCupid, allow people to select 'demisexual' when indicating their sexual orientation.

“We are now learning that being open to fluidity with respect to lifestyle and preference is the best approach,” said Dr. Margaret Seide, a board-certified psychiatrist and faculty member at New York University.

An Important Distinction

While it's true that many people do want to experience an emotional connection to another person before engaging in any sort of sexual intimacy, this isn't considered the same thing as being demisexual.

The difference is that those who identify as demisexual cannot feel attracted to people they don't already have an emotional bond with or know on a deeper level. For example, a demisexual person wouldn't find themselves attracted to a famously "sexy" celebrity or even a classically attractive person on the street—in other words, they tend not to feel that same intensity or longing the way others might.

Another way to look at it: A demisexual person doesn't feel sexual attraction toward someone until they've bonded, whereas someone else might develop an emotional bond only after they've experienced that spark of sexual attraction.

If you want to hear more about what it's like to be demisexual from a firsthand perspective, this video features four people who identify as demisexual explaining what it means to them and how it impacts their dating life.

Where Demisexuality Falls on the Sexuality Spectrum

Many demisexual people consider themselves to be on the asexual spectrum. While they may become attracted to another person over time, they don't feel primary attraction, which is the initial attraction based on appearance, voice, or smell. However, other demisexuals feel that the term "asexuality" doesn't fit their personal experience.

Demisexuality describes the circumstances in which a person experiences attraction. Who the person is attracted to can vary. Demisexuals may consider themselves heterosexual, bisexual, gay, lesbian, queer, polyamorous, or pansexual. Regarding gender, a demisexual person might identify as male, female, agender, or otherwise nonbinary.

Margaret Seide, Psychiatrist

With something as complex and multi-layered as human sexuality, it makes sense that one word doesn’t capture someone’s full experience as a sexual being.

— Margaret Seide, Psychiatrist

Again, the primary difference that sets demisexuals apart from others is that they almost always (if not always) find themselves sexually attracted to a person only once they’ve bonded with them on a more intimate, emotional, or spiritual level. It’s also worth pointing out that a person might consider themselves demisexual at one point in their lives and feel differently at another point. People are ever-evolving and fluid.

“If that seems confusing, it may be because human sexuality is not easily labeled, defined, and put into a neat category,” Seide said. "With something as complex and multi-layered as human sexuality, it makes sense that one word doesn’t capture someone’s full experience as a sexual being."

The Difference Between Demisexual and Sapiosexual

The terms demisexual and sapiosexual are sometimes conflated. Though somewhat similar, they are actually two very different terms.

Whereas a demisexual is someone who feels sexual attraction to someone only once they’ve emotionally bonded, a sapiosexual person finds themselves especially attracted to someone they view as intelligent.

Intelligence is a characteristic that you can assume about a person without knowing them at all or only minimally. For example, a sapiosexual person can feel captivated by someone based only on finding out they are a Rhodes Scholar or a nuclear physicist. This wouldn't be in line with a demisexual, who requires more emotional depth.

So why are the terms often merged?

“Intelligence is a quality that can be known from a distance by that person’s accomplishments, but intelligence is also potentially an endearing and alluring quality that can form the basis for warmth and bonding. So, being a sapiosexual and demisexual [are] not the same, but not entirely separate,” Seide said.


Confusion about demisexuality is common. Many assumptions about demisexual persons are false:

  • "It's not a thing." Many people experience sexual attraction in this way—enough to make the term useful. Like other words that people use to describe themselves and others, t's a kind of shorthand that helps clarify a person's preference when communicating with others, especially when dating.
  • "Demisexuality is the same as asexuality." Asexual people don't experience sexual attraction or desire. Demisexual people do—just not in the same way as many others.
  • "Demisexuals are gay/bisexual/asexual etc." The term doesn't describe attraction to a particular sex; it's about if and how a person is attracted to another, not to whom they are attracted. Demisexual people can be any variation of straight or queer.
  • "Demisexuals fear, hate, or feel shame about sex." Demisexuality is not a moral choice, nor does it reflect a person's view of sex itself. Demisexuals simply don't feel attracted to people they don't know.
  • "Demisexuals have to be in love to have sex." People who are demisexual require an emotional connection to feel attraction, but this isn't limited to love and is particular to the person. This connection might be close friendship, for example.

How to Know If You’re Demisexual

Call it what you will: “One-night stands,” “casual sex,” "sex buddy relationships," or simply the concept of eventually forging an emotional bond with someone through the act of sexual intimacy—it is not unusual to have sexual relations with someone before you know them well.

“[This current-day approach to sex] is so standard that it creates the need to define behavior that differs from that with a term like demisexual,” Seide said. "If you are only drawn to someone after you get to know their personality, their life story, and trust that person, you may be a demisexual."

“Someone can be a ‘closeted’ demisexual, [as well]. By this, I mean they desperately want to fit in with the modern dating climate and be that person that can just be in the moment, go with the flow, and push themselves to have sex with someone they don’t know very well,” Seide said. "To be clear, it is a consensual sex act, but not in keeping with that person’s deeper feelings about relationships."

How to Be Supportive of Demisexuals in Your Life

Maybe a friend casually mentioned that they identify as demisexual, or perhaps someone came to you in confidence to share this intimate detail about themselves. It could also be possible that someone you’re romantically interested in has told you that they’re demisexual. Whatever the case, it’s important to be sensitive, accepting, and patient.

It’s understandable if you’re not demisexual, but are dating someone who is, to feel hurt or slighted when sex is currently off the table. Patience is vital to the ultimate success of your relationship, and it's important to have a clear conversation about what your needs are and determine if the relationship is one you want to pursue.

Ultimately, in our current climate where casual sex or sex by the third date feels relatively normal, it can be easy to say something like “Loosen up!” or “Just get on with it!” or “Be spontaneous!” to someone who seems to be waiting a long time before. This isn't ideal.

“Most open-minded people would be appalled at the idea of pressuring a homosexual person to behave according to heterosexual norms. We would never tell our bisexual friend to 'pick a side,'" Seide said. “However, we might judge someone as ‘uptight’ when they express a desire to refrain from being sexual unless they are in a situation that includes warmth, support, and a deep friendship. Everyone should be free to [have their boundaries respected] and decide what they are looking for and have their behavior align with that.”

A Word From Verywell

Sexual identity has been and continues to be, an ever-evolving area. This is clear when you consider the term demisexuality, which only entered the English language in 2006 but has quickly become a widely used term. If you are demisexual, you might feel like an “odd person out” in the world, but you’re certainly not alone. Remember to be true to yourself.

“No one wants to be trapped in a box, including demisexuals, and the expansion of our vocabulary around sex and gender is reflective of that," Seide said. "We are slowly but surely coming away from the rigid binary terminology that plagued our discussion of human sexuality for too many years.”

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  1. GLAAD. Explore the spectrum: Guide to finding your ace community.

By Wendy Rose Gould
Wendy Rose Gould is a lifestyle reporter with over a decade of experience covering health and wellness topics.