What is demisexuality, the sexual orientation that's changing dating?

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A demisexual is someone who is only sexually attracted to people they have an emotional connection with. When I first came across the term on OkCupid, I executed one of my most epic eye-rolls. There are 22 gender and 13 sexual orientation options on that dating site, alone. If my math is correct (and it’s probably not), that means there’s almost 500,000 possible gender and orientation combinations. That many options feels exhausting. Also, demisexuality has a feminine undertone — it feels like a sexual orientation created to reinforce the idea that women are ruled by their emotions and don’t have the capacity to compartmentalize. Like we can’t tell love from a fun, casual one-night bone-fest.

I discovered several male-identifying demisexuals on Reddit discussing this very topic, so I decided to get curious about demisexuality before writing it off. It turns out that demisexuality has real revolutionary potential, especially in the world of dating apps.

"Dating apps, which are how most people meet now, are predicated on not caring. I see demisexuality as a reaction against that,” says Dana Berkowitz, professor of sociology and women and gender Studies at Louisiana State University. “Demisexuality is a way for people to say, ‘I want to be nice to people and I want them to be nice to me, too.’”

Berkowitz’s point about the inherent coldness of dating apps struck a chord with me. It has always felt kind of cruel to shop for potential partners as if they’re roller skates on eBay. Either you end up someone’s sexual shopping cart or get literally swept aside, never to be thought of again. It feels unnatural for everyone involved.

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Those who identify as demisexual, Berkowitz contends, could be seen as a making a revolutionary move against the commodification of relationships. “Demisexuality is a direct consequence of the hook-up culture we have created,” she says. “In a world that tells us not to care, demisexuality is subversive.”

Demisexuality can also be a tonic for toxic masculinity. “It’s feminist. Think about the rewards and penalties we have created for people for acting in ways that conform to norms in sexual identity,” she says. “We basically told men they don’t have to care, caring has been feminized. So a man identifying as demisexual is really subversive.” In other words, men can use demisexuality as a way to step out of prescribed gender roles and still maintain a sense of inclusion within a community.

What about women, though? Are female demisexuals just stepping back in to that throwback logic? No, Berkowitz argues. “Girls are allowed to play to play with masculinity, but this is a way for women to say, ‘I’m bored of being told to act like a man,’” she says.

A few weeks ago a friend used demisexuality to describe me. At the time, I was kind of offended.

“But, I’m not a demisexual,” I said. “I will totally have sex with random Tinder dates.”

“Yeah,” my friend said, “but you want to have conversations with them first.”

I laughed at the reductive connection of that action to demisexuality as a concept, but it’s true. Sex without banter and eye contact is boring to me. Even if only spend one night with someone, I always do a morning after emotional check-in.

I have always felt a little ashamed of the way I approach dating and hook-ups, like it’s somehow unfeminist or old fashioned. Getting schooled on demisexuality made me feel better, like there’s something radical about how I approach relationships. Demisexuals may be changing the dating landscape one emotionally engaged hook-up at a time.