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: I’m actually demisexual 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, “demisexual and biromantic” 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 own sexual and romantic orientations began early on in writing #OCDStory. I knew that I wanted one of the side characters, Phoebe, 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. Asexual people don’t feel physical desire the way allosexual people do when they are around 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.
What many people don’t realize is that sexual attraction and romantic attraction are two different things. Most people’s romantic orientations align with their sexual orientations, but that’s not always the case. The asexual community is where this divergence is most obvious. The split attraction model (which also includes other kinds of attraction like platonic and aesthetic) is a common topic of discussion among asexual people, many of whom experience romantic attraction without the sexual aspect. However, romantic attraction can be difficult to describe.
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 Phoebe’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 someone who adores the intimate, affectionate commitment seen in romance stories (though I was not nearly that comfortable with sex), but I still couldn’t explain what romantic attraction felt like.
In April 2019, I realized that I needed to do some research. Leaving Phoebe’s romantic orientation unexplored wasn’t right. So I embarked on an online adventure. For a while, the information I found only left me more frustrated. Most people who knew their romantic orientations couldn’t describe the experience clearly. Some of them listed specific nonsexual things they wanted to do only with romantic partners, none of which fit my experience. Some of them said romance was just “different” from friendship in a way they couldn’t explain, that it was “something extra.” I discovered that a segment of people call themselves things like quoiromantic or wtfromantic because they have no idea what romantic attraction even is.
Then something clicked. I remembered a roommate from late 2015. She and I had connected right away and became devoted to each other within days of meeting. Multiple people had commented on our unusual closeness, and for a while after that semester, I had questioned whether I might actually be bisexual. But I had never felt sexual attraction to her, 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 had been a guy, though.)
Now, four years later, I understood. I had been romantically attracted to this girl. Like people said online, it was “different” and “extra” without being sexual. My feelings for her had been more vibrant and focused than friendship. And that meant I was biromantic. Like most bi people, I had a “preference,” leaning slightly more towards men, but here was one example of romantic attraction towards a woman. Later, I came to recognize more women I’d once been romantically attracted to. With that knowledge in hand, it felt right for Phoebe to mirror my own romantic orientation journey.
A few questions still lingered, 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, to demisexuality. Demisexuality is a sexual orientation halfway along the asexual “spectrum,” where a person feels sexual attraction only to rare people with whom they already feel a special emotional connection.
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.
Up until now, I had assumed that I was repressing my feelings out of an OCD-related fear of sex I’d had since childhood. Now that I had worked through and almost entirely moved beyond that fear, I started considering whether it might be the other way around: that I’d been afraid of sex partly because sexual attraction was so rare for me. I remembered the intense emotional connections I’d had with the only two guys I’d ever been physically attracted to enough to consider really kissing. Though the romantic attraction had started earlier, the sexual attraction hadn’t appeared until I had known them already for months. Its strength grew like a dimmer switch directly in proportion to my emotional interest. The peak intensity in both cases startled and confused me because it challenged my existing assumptions that people shouldn’t struggle to “control” themselves with this sort of thing.
As I now recognized myself for the first time as demisexual, many other things that had once confused me started making sense: the existence of one-night stands, celebrity crushes, and “hall passes”; my discomfort with dating apps; my consistent failure to actually have any romantic relationships. I understood for the first time that when it came to sex and romance, I really wasn’t like other people, and they weren’t like me.
Some people might not understand the power in being able to identify myself as demisexual and biromantic because, in practice so far, I basically look like a (quite unsuccessful) straight person. But knowing the subtleties helps me to better understand myself and others. 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 increases yours too!
Images via my own files, Hafuboti on Wikipedia, and Eugenex on TeePublic.