“My idea of how I’d enjoy expressing my sexuality the most is at odds with me being demisexual. I’d love to be a person who can enjoy any type of “no strings attached” activity (sexual, kinky or both simultaneously) in the name of exploration and joy in experiencing each other, but me being demi implies that there are always strings attached when I’m attracted to someone (namely, emotional connection).
I’d like to know in what ways my definition is too narrow and how I can honor this in the future. All of my experience has been me being a pan cis woman partnered with straight cis men in long-term monogamous relationships, and the dominant narrative of what “emotional connection” means is hard to unwire. Romance isn’t mandatory for me to have this connection, but most of the people I’ve known are of the “friends don’t fuck with each other, romantic partners do” mindset and seems to be the only thing I can internalize, despite having read otherwise from fellow queer people. That said, I feel jealous of people who have FWBs, to mention a non-romantic example.
If it helps for nuance, there are other factors going on, namely “if desirability was a scale, I’m usually put at last place in queer spaces”. It feels like I’m not even read as a sexual person, least of all a person worth connecting with in this specific sense. I also struggle at signaling my intentions for fear of being seen as “predatory” or “too much” or to have my already pathologized struggle at social skills exposed, but on the flip side, I end up with the assumption that I’m aloof. That, in combination with me being demi, feels more like a wall than another aspect of my sexuality I can work with.
Tl;dr: how can I make demisexuality work with me instead of against me?”
There are multiple questions within this question, and I want to honor them all. First, it sounds like you’re feeling curious about the limits of your own sexual expression, but you’re struggling to clearly identify your desires. Let’s start there! Then we’ll move on to the part where you put yourself out there and experiment.
Labeling different aspects of our sexuality can help us identify our desires, share our desires with others and find community. In some parts of the LGBTQ+ community, pushing against the boundaries of those identifiers is expected and encouraged. Of course, there are those infuriating, dangerous people who insist that “real women” are assigned female at birth and that being a “gold star lesbian” is some kind of high acheivment, but the rest of us understand that some labels — especially those that pertain to gender and sexuality — are not fixed. We can subvert those identifiers. We can expand their definitions. And sometimes, if we want to, we can change them.
So is your definition of “demisexual” too “narrow?” Maybe. Definitions of “demisexual” reference a strong “emotional” connection in order to feel sexual attraction, but an “emotional” connection doesn’t have to be romantic. And you can still have “no strings attached” sex with a friend or someone else you care about if the “strings” are romance and the expectation of exclusivity. If you’re feeling sexual desire for friends or if you like the idea of a “friends with benefits” situation, then it seems that most widely-accepted definition of “demisexual” still encompasses your experience. But the more important questions here are: what do you want and why do you want it?
In order to uncover those answers, let go of “demisexual” as an identity word for the sake of a mental exercise. I’m asking you to do this because while identity words can be playful and fun, they can also be suffocating and prevent us from recognizing our true wants and needs. You might find that you’ve been repressing some of your desires to fit demisexual expectations, or you might find that the “demisexual” identifier fits you perfectly. You might decide to continue embracing a demisexual identity while simultaneously exploring aspects of your sexuality that stretch the fabric of the demisexual umbrella. There’s no right answer to any of this. The most important thing is that you feel comfortable with your sexuality and feel free to embrace your desires in healthy, satisfying ways.
OK — now that the way you feel desire is label-free, it’s time to use your imagination. You said you’d “love to be a person who can enjoy any type of no-strings attached activity.” When I refer to “no strings attached sex,” “casual sex” or “FWB sex” throughout this article, I’m referring to sex that happens with anyone who is not a romantic partner. When you picture yourself engaging in casual sex, how do you feel? Do you feel turned on? Excited? Anxious? Curious? How do you feel in your body? Do you feel floaty? Buzzy? Sweaty? Then ask yourself why you want to be a person who enjoys casual sex. Would it fulfill your curiosities? Would it make your life easier or more exciting? Would it grant you some kind of social currency?
Sit with these feelings and investigate them. That investigation might look like journaling, masturbating, talking to a friend, talking to a therapist or just thinking. Take your time and trust your gut before deciding how you want to move forward. Maybe you’ll decide, “Nope! No-strings-attached sex is not for me — I didn’t want it for the right reasons,” and that’s ok! Maybe you’ll decide, “I definitely want a FWB” or “I actually want to try having casual sex with total strangers.” That’s ok, too! Of course, your gut might not give you a clear answer, especially if you’re a hands-on learner, so in that case, you just might have to try some “no strings attached” flirting and/ or sex and see how it feels. If you’re looking to try something new, read on.
Since you said that your friends aren’t down for FWB arrangements, I’m assuming that you’ll be seeking new friends with whom you can share some sexy benefits. But if you find an existing friend who’s down for some sexual exploration, approach the situation with care caution. Mixing sex and friendship can blow up in your face if you don’t communicate clearly about the arrangement. I highly recommend Carolyn’s article “How To Be Friends With Benefits” for tips on how to pull this off without losing a long-term pal.
But let’s assume that you’re seeking some “no strings attached” sex outside of your existing social circle and you’re not sure how to initiate it. First, it’s ok to feel awkward and lost! Since your sexual history happened in the context of long-term, monogamous romantic relationships, this is new for you. It can be hard to try something new in your sex and dating life, especially when you don’t feel desirable. Well, you’re in luck — being sexy and desirable isn’t some magical inherent quality. It’s a practice, and you can choose to embrace that practice whenever you want. For tips on how to do just that, I’ll steer you towards one of my favorite advice pieces in Autostraddle history — “Assume Everyone Thinks You’re Hot, I’m Serious,” in which Vanessa reveals how to put your sexiest foot forward. Vanessa reminds us that we might have to “fake it til we make it” sometimes, but the practice still works.
So let’s say you’ve taken Vanessa’s advice, you’re full of bravado and you’re ready to hit on all the hot queers (or maybe just one hot queer). You said you’re worried that you’ll come off as “predatory” if you express your desires. You can get your flirt on and avoid predatory behavior if you follow these rules:
1. Be clear about your intentions
Somehow we decided that flirting has to be vague. Wrong! Tell the person you’re flirting with you think they’re a babe. If you’re silently hanging around them or staring at them across the room while you attempt some kind of sexy telepathy, that’s creepy. Plus, if you’re upfront about your interest, it gives the other person an opportunity to turn you down if they’re not feeling it.
Also, be clear about the fact that you’re not looking for a romantic partner (and make sure this person knows that before you have sex). If you think you’re getting casual sex with this person and they think you’re on the road to marriage, then feelings are going to get hurt. If you’re seeking FWBs on dating apps, include that in your profile so that the folks who swipe right on you know what you’re looking for in advance. It might also be a good idea to lay out exactly what a “FWB arrangement” means to you, since FWB expectations vary from person to person.
2. Don’t get attached to a particular outcome
Flirting and FWB arrangements might not go the way you expect. The other person might be into it at first and then change their mind. Maybe you’re ready for sex right away and the other person needs to take it slow. Maybe they decide that they only want sex but you’re craving an emotional connection. Maybe you’re already in an established FWB situation and one or both of you catch feelings. If the situation doesn’t meet your expectations, don’t pout about it. Accept that your desires don’t align and move on.
3. Pay attention to all forms of “no”
When you initiate flirting, a “no” isn’t always going to sound or look like a “no.” A “no” might sound like short answers to your questions. A “no” might look like physically leaning away from you, avoiding eye contact, directing their attention to their friends or going days without answering questions in your Tinder chat. This kind of behavior usually means that the person is trying to let you down easily or they’re scared that a firm boundary will seem rude, but it can be really confusing! If you notice any form of “no,” back off, and if you’re not sure if this person is signaling “no,” it’s ok to ask for clarification.
Remember that your sexuality is yours. It can shift and change and grow, and experimentation can be really rewarding! Ideally, we can all get to a place where we feel sexy, confident and comfortable asking for what we want, and I hope you can find that sense of ease within yourself.
You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.