In 2008, a brand new word appeared in pop culture discourse – “demisexuality.”
That unwieldy term was meant to describe people who seemed averse to having sex with others unless they and their romantic partner had first gotten to know each other as friends, perhaps over many months or even years.
“Demisexuals,” it was said, weren’t completely averse to the idea of having sex, including intercourse. But it simply wasn’t a priority.
Back in my youth, in the early 1960s, this attitude toward sex – especially intercourse – was hardly unusual. For many it was the norm.
In those early years before the explosion of the “Sexual Revolution,” many people still thought romantic love and emotional intimacy were the pinnacle of human connectedness. Sex wasn’t an after-thought, but it was something that came later and built upon a pre-existing foundation of trust and sharing. It represented a profound deepening that was meant to be “special” and transforming for the parties involved.
For Christians, that also meant marriage came first. A woman remained a virgin prior to finding a spouse and in theory, her husband did, too. There may have been necking and “spooning” other forms of sexual contact during their courtship but presumably, the couple had refrained from sexual intercourse – with each other, and with others, too
By the 1970s, all that changed for many people. On college campuses and elsewhere, sexual experimentation and “free love” became the norm. Those that resisted the siren song of carnal adventure were often deemed “prudes.” If a woman got pregnant, she probably had an abortion. It was her “right” after all. She was the mistress of her own fate, should call all the shots when it came to her body, feminists insisted.
Christian culture has never accepted this abandonment of Godly virtue, but secular culture has with a vengeance. Chastity and celibacy are typically seen as religious straitjackets standing in the way of a person’s freedom to explore and above all, to seek unbridled personal pleasure.
So it is hardly surprising, perhaps, that this same secular culture has been forced to invent an unwieldy term to explain the desire of some people not to place sexual activity at the center of their lives. Most discussions of “demisexuality” assume that the phenomenon is closely related to “asexuality,” meaning, a profound aversion to sex. But in fact, demisexuals may well have sex – eventually — but if they do, it is focused on a single person, rather than reflecting a general orientation or practice toward others.
The closer you look at the term “demi-sexual”, and the contentious debate over it, the more it seems to represents the profound confusion of people immersed in today’s “hook-up” culture. They can’t imagine not having sex with someone else at the drop of a hat, maybe within minutes of meeting them. What’s holding these demisexuals back? They just seem to be oriented completely differently.
Yes, they are. Apparently, these demi-sexuals have the temerity to focus on a person’s interior qualities, and their deeper unfolding nature, not just on their looks or sex appeal, or their own passing desires. They are capable of genuine self-restraint, not as a self-limiting factor, but as a road to deeper freedom. Meaningful relationships that endure simply take time.
In the old days, we didn’t find this attitude bizarre or abnormal. It was grounded in a deeper wisdom about human nature and about the Divine grace that could and should guide our loving attitudes and interactions with others.
Apparently, today’s social scientists are trying to calculate just how much of the population identifies as “demisexual” or should be considered as such. One study estimates just over 1% of the population of roughly 3.5 million people fall into this category. It’s not clear how researchers actually arrived at this figure.
Self-described “demisexuals” – and apparently, such people exist – say they have often felt different from their peers and judged for not having intense feelings of sexual arousal while dating. But it’s not for lack of libido, they say.
Many demisexuals say that feeling of being overwhelmed by another person – an inescapable “in loveness” — only happens once or twice in their lives. And it may not happen right away. But when it does, those feelings are powerful and irresistible. It’s worth the wait, they say.
“When you meet the person you bond with, the heavens open up,” one self-described demisexual declares. “You see colors for the first time. Everything finally makes sense.”
Call me old-fashioned, but it sure sounds like true love to me.