What if you could only have sex with someone once you'd formed a strong emotional connection? Stuggling to identify with her sexuality for years, best-selling author CJ Skuse shares her journey about finally recognising the life-changing signs
Nowadays, the rainbow of sexualities is more vibrant than ever – from abrosexual, pansexual to sapiosexual and back again, if you live in a free-thinking country anyone’s invited to try labels on and see which one fits. And I’ve recently found one that fits me too. Demisexual. According to demisexuality.org, the meaning of 'demisexuality' can be defined as: 'A sexual orientation in which someone feels sexual attraction only to people with whom they have an emotional bond.' Brian Langevin, executive director of Asexual Outreach, stated in 2019: "Demisexuality is a sexual orientation like gay or bisexual."
I felt like an oddity
There are those who whine, "But why does everything need a label? Why so many letters in that acronym?" but I’ve taken great comfort in finding a tiny part of that acronym that fits me. I have felt less of an oddity, less of a ‘freak.’ Call it bandwagon jumping if you like but it’s a demisexual bandwagon that’s playing a song I know all the words to for once.
In my younger days, my peers couldn’t wait to have sex. They pined for soulmates and sprogs and if you weren’t hooking up every weekend on some sticky dancefloor in the pursuit of all that, you may as well have lived under a rock in a pond on the far side of the moon. Conversations were devilishly hard to penetrate and so, as it turns out, was I. Dating, for me, was frightening and confusing.
Sex was an ordeal
For a long time I put this down to being molested on a school trip when I was ten. Sex in any form, was less of a thrill, more of an ordeal; something to get over and done with. When I did eventually have sex on my own terms, it was a crushing disappointment anyhow. I threw my virginity away like a soggy tissue while bunking off sixth form - the whole event lasting barely longer than an ad break.
This experience seemed to pave the way forward. Let’s Get This Over And Done With became an unsaid mantra. I knew I was not The Norm, whoever Norm was, because adults were supposed to enjoy sex, not endure it. I overheard two colleagues talking about me once – surmising that I was “a bit of a freak” because I didn’t have a boyfriend, nor seem to be actively looking for one. And I believed that for a long time. In truth, I was in a tailspin of wanting a connection with someone of the opposite sex but not having a clue how to go about making one without It – aka The Be All And End All - getting in the way. ‘It’ – the sex seemed impossible.
Was I asexual?
Then I discovered ‘asexuality,’ which, according to AVEN (The Asexual Visibility and Education Network) applies to people who don’t experience sexual attraction or desire to act upon it. Maybe that’s what I was, I thought. But that label didn’t quite fit either. I did want a relationship, I did want decent sex too eventually, just not the quick fixes or ‘nice enough’ guys on offer at that time. I wanted true connection.
Into my twenties and thirties, I swerved relationships as much as I could and though the option of asexuality loomed like a giant spider behind me all the while, I didn’t want to class myself as such. How could I make anyone understand it? I’m from the deepest darkest part of the West Country. You say the word ‘asexual’ round here, the best response you’ll get is ‘A sexual what?’ or a joke about lumpless cargo shorts. I didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. So I wrote books. I made books my life, my love, my deeper connection.
My demisexual 'eureka' moment
When I stumbled upon another label under the same umbrella as asexuality to which I felt more aligned - demisexual. That was my eureka moment. “I’m not a freak!” I thought. “Other people feel this way too!” But just because you can define yourself, doesn’t mean it gets easier to form bonds. Not yet anyway.
It still gets lonely. And tiring, overthinking relationships, wondering why I can’t just pick someone and fall in love. I vacillate from craving company to settling for solitude. Now and again I’ll venture forth into the murky shallows of The Dating App. I know looking on a dating app for meaningful truths is like looking for insightful political commentary in an episode of Made in Chelsea. And in a pandemic, my options have become more limited than ever. But even after all, I’m glad that at least I have some kind of identity now. I'm demisexual. It's one that fits me better than ‘freak’ anyway.
Maybe demisexuality isn’t the final square I will land on in this game of life - sexuality, after all, is a fickle little gruber, but for now, it fits me like a disposable glove. Ask me again at fifty and perhaps I’ll be singing a different tune. Maybe Mr Right or even Mr Right-I-Suppose-We-Better-Get-A-Joint- Mortgage-Then will have rocked up and flipped that game of life high into the air. In any case, I’m so grateful demisexuality exists. I know who I am now and it will explain things better to guys I date so they know going in (if they get that far) what to expect. Turns out Judy was right – somewhere over the rainbow, dreams really do come true.
Could you be demisexual? Five questions to ask
According to sex and relationship therapist Shadeen Francis, you should be asking yourself these questions if you're wondering whether you might be demisexual...
1. Is sexual attraction important to me? 2. Do I ever feel attraction to strangers or people I don’t know well? 3. Are intellect and sense of humour - a person's personality - more important to me than how they look? 4. Do I come across as 'intense' on first dates? 5. Have most of my relationships started out as friendships?
Identifying as demisexual doesn’t change how you experience sex, claims Francis. The therapist said: "it just makes it clearer when or how you might be interested in sex. Sexual attraction is possible but it might take a little longer to develop for demisexuals than for most people. It's about the need for emotional intimacy to feel attraction."
* The new thriller from C J Skuse, Dead Head (HQ), is out now in paperback, ebook and audio
Marie Claire Newsletter
Celebrity news, beauty, fashion advice, and fascinating features, delivered straight to your inbox!
Maria Coole is a contributing editor on Marie Claire.
Hello Marie Claire readers – you have reached your daily destination. I really hope you’re enjoying our reads and I'm very interested to know what you shared, liked and didn’t like (gah, it happens) by emailing me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
But if you fancy finding out who you’re venting to then let me tell you I’m the one on the team that remembers the Spice Girls the first time round. I confidently predicted they’d be a one-hit wonder in the pages of Bliss magazine where I was deputy editor through the second half of the 90s. Having soundly killed any career ambitions in music journalism I’ve managed to keep myself in glow-boosting moisturisers and theatre tickets with a centuries-spanning career in journalism.
Yes, predating t’internet, when 'I’ll fax you' was grunted down a phone with a cord attached to it; when Glastonbury was still accessible by casually going under or over a flimsy fence; when gatecrashing a Foo Fighters aftershow party was easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy and tapping Dave Grohl on the shoulder was... oh sorry I like to ramble.
Originally born and bred in that there Welsh seaside town kindly given a new lease of life by Gavin & Stacey, I started out as a junior writer for the Girl Guides and eventually earned enough Brownie points to move on and have a blast as deputy editor of Bliss, New Woman and editor of People newspaper magazine. I was on the launch team of Look in 2007 - where I stuck around as deputy editor and acting editor for almost ten years - shaping a magazine and website at the forefront of body positivity, mental wellbeing and empowering features. More recently, I’ve been Closer executive editor, assistant editor at the Financial Times’s How To Spend It (yes thanks, no probs with that life skill) and now I’m making my inner fangirl’s dream come true by working on this agenda-setting brand, the one that inspired me to become a journalist when Marie Claire launched back in 1988.
I’m a theatre addict, lover of Marvel franchises, most hard cheeses, all types of trees, half-price Itsu, cats, Dr Who, cherry tomatoes, Curly-Wurly, cats, blueberries, cats, boiled eggs, cats, maxi dresses, cats, Adidas shelltops, cats and their kittens. I’ve never knowingly operated any household white goods and once served Ripples as a main course. And finally, always remember what the late great Nora Ephron said, ‘Everything is copy.’