Hello! Last year for Pride Month, I posted about how, after years of research and thought, I’d figured out that I’m not just straight-up straight: I’m actually demiheterosexual and biromantic. For Pride Month this year, I’m sharing that post again here on this new blog!
If you’re unfamiliar with the terminology used for different kinds of attraction, that might sound like a confusing collection of random syllables. Human attraction is complicated, like most things related to humanity. The fact that we have the language now to better explore and understand it is amazing! So thank you for taking the time to learn.
My journey in discovering my attraction orientations began early on in writing #OCDStory. I knew that I wanted one of the side characters to be asexual because it’s important that stories appropriately represent people with different orientations. Not only is it unrealistic to exclude them, it’s also hurtful and can leave them feeling unmoored and rejected. I chose asexuality in particular because it was the marginalized orientation that I’d always found myself most interested in.
Asexuality is a sexual orientation where a person does not feel sexual attraction to people of any gender. Asexual people do not have a medical or psychological problem, and they are not just choosing to be celibate. In fact, some of them aren’t celibate. Asexual people can still respond to sexual contact. They just don’t feel any of that attraction or desire the way allosexual people do when they see or are near an attractive person of their gender(s) of interest. Some asexual people are sex-repulsed, meaning even the idea of engaging in sex is repulsive to them; some are sex-favorable, meaning that they’re interested in engaging in sex despite not specifically being attracted to anyone; and some are sex-neutral.
One thing many allosexual people don’t realize is that sexual attraction and romantic attraction are two different things. Most people’s romantic orientation aligns with their sexual orientation, but that’s not always the case. The asexual community is where this divergence is most obvious. The split attraction model is a common topic of discussion among asexual people, many of whom do have romantic attraction. However, while sexual attraction is a concept that is fairly easy to describe and understand, romantic attraction can be a lot more confusing.
When I wrote the first draft of #OCDStory in late 2014, I didn’t understand what made romance different from friendship other than sexual attraction. Because of that, I left my asexual character’s romantic orientation undetermined. I revisited the idea a few times in editing, but I could never make enough sense of my own romantic orientation to feel comfortable writing about hers. I’ve always been a very romantic person; while sex is something I’ve struggled to be comfortable with, I adore the concept of romance and all its intimate, affectionate commitment. But I still couldn’t explain romantic attraction.
In April 2019, I realized that I needed to focus in, do some research, and make the necessary edits. Leaving Phoebe’s romantic orientation unexplored wasn’t right. So I embarked on an adventure through the asexual community online. For a while, it only left me more frustrated. Most people who knew their romantic orientations couldn’t describe the experience clearly. Some listed specific non-sexual things they wanted to do only with romantic partners, but that didn’t fit my experience. Some said romance was just “different” from friendship in a way they couldn’t explain, that it was “something extra.” I discovered that a whole segment of people call themselves things like quoiromantic or wtfromantic because they have no idea what romantic attraction even is.
Then, out of the blue, something clicked. I remembered a roommate, my best college friend, from late 2015. She and I had connected right away and became devoted to each other within days of meeting. She’s a wonderful person in so many ways, and she’d done so much for me. For example, her influence had helped me become more comfortable with sexuality and bodies in general. Multiple people had commented on our unusual closeness, including my mom, and for a while after that semester, I had questioned whether I might actually be bisexual. But I had never felt actual sexual attraction to her, the way I sometimes had with guys, and I hadn’t wanted to do anything with her that I didn’t want to do with my other friends. (I did often think that I would totally marry her if she were a dude, though.) She’d since come out as pansexual, but I’d had no explanation for what I had felt.
Now, four years later, I understood. I hadn’t been sexually attracted to this girl, but I had been romantically attracted to her. Like people said online, it was “different” and “extra.” My feelings for her had been brighter and more obsessive in a positive way. It was friendship, but also not. Thus, I now knew despite being heterosexual I was also biromantic. Like most bi people, I had a “preference,” leaning more towards men, but here was one example of romantic attraction towards a woman too. With that knowledge in hand, it felt right for Phoebe to mirror my own journey to discovering my romantic orientation.
I was quite comfortable with that label for myself. There were a few questions still lingering, but I didn’t pay much mind to them until May 2020. One night, I was lying in bed like usual, letting my thoughts whirl their way around my head however they pleased until they slowed into sleep. For whatever reason, I started thinking about asexuality. I thought about how I’d always been drawn to it as a concept, and most particularly, demisexuality. Demisexuality is a sexual orientation that lies in between allosexuality and asexuality, where a person only feels sexual attraction to people with whom they are emotionally close. A person can be demiheterosexual, demihomosexual, demibisexual, etc.
I thought about how multiple online quizzes I’d taken had put me somewhere in the asexual spectrum. I thought about how my counselor sometimes questioned why sexual attraction was an afterthought when I talked about my crushes. I thought about the time in AP Literature when the teacher asked us all to share one thing we found physically attractive and everyone thought I was so “pure” because I couldn’t answer.
I had been operating on a few assumptions: I’d assumed that my interest in the asexual spectrum was because of my OCD-fueled fear of sex. I’d assumed that my OCD-fueled fear of sex had also caused me to become very good at suppressing my own sexual feelings, which was why it was so easy for me to brush them off. I’d assumed that demisexuality always worked like a light switch, where you hit a certain point of closeness and suddenly it’s on. But that night in May, with my OCD now well-managed, I found myself questioning those assumptions.
What if those sexualities spoke to me for a reason? What if my fear of sex was, in fact, partly caused by me being less interested in sex than others, not the other way around? What if demisexuality sometimes worked more like a dimmer, where sexual attraction slowly ramped up the more one got to know an attractive person?
Suddenly, things started clicking in my head again, leaving me wide awake. I thought first of the only guy I’ve ever been sexually attracted to strongly enough that I couldn’t push the feelings away. He was also the closest guy friend I’ve ever had. I hadn’t been interested in him that way at first. The attraction had grown slowly over time until, eight years after I’d first met him, I understood for the first time why people in stories felt the urge to throw themselves at each other. The strength of it startled me because I’d never felt anything like it before.
Next, I thought of the guy I’d always used as an example when I told myself I couldn’t be demisexual. I wasn’t that close to him, and yet I had felt sexual attraction towards him. Thinking about that now, though, I realized that the sexual attraction I’d felt had been easy to push away and had only existed after I’d gone to school with him for seven years. There were a number of other examples that fit that pattern.
I realized all at once then that I was demisexual. A bunch of other things started making sense: I understood now why I’d always been confused by one-night stands, celebrity crushes and “freebie lists,” by people who got married after knowing each other for less than a year, and by religious people who struggled with sexual “temptation.” I understood why I’d felt so uncomfortable when I’d tried using dating websites and apps. I understood why I sometimes had a hard time deciding whether there was relationship potential with certain guys. Suddenly, so many things made sense!
Today, I’m pleased to be able to say that I’m demiheterosexual and biromantic. It’s possible that future experiences will cause a shift in that label, but it’s the right fit for my life so far. Some people might not understand the power in having that knowledge because, in practice, I basically look straight. But knowing the subtleties helps me to better understand myself and others. It’ll certainly help me to better navigate future romantic relationships! I’m also thrilled whenever I find the words to better communicate and understand different concepts. That’s why I’m glad complex labels like these exist. Knowledge is power, and I hope this story helps you to understand different kinds of attraction better, too.
Thanks for reading, and happy Pride!
Images via my own files, OurAceSpace on Wattpad, Hafuboti on Wikipedia, and Eugenex on TeePublic.