How I Have Sex: “I Can End Up Feeling Nothing Even When All the Right ‘Spots’ Are Touched”
In How I Have Sex, we bring you candid retellings of people’s sexual lives that explore the multidimensional nature of this human experience. In this installment, 27-year-old N. talks about how she balances emotional intimacy and desire as a demisexual.
The first time I remember thinking about sex was at the age of 15, when I started dating my first boyfriend. As teenagers, we were curious about this and started thinking about it more when there was someone else to talk to. I explored sexual behaviors like kissing, fingering, and oral sex between 15 and 18, and 19 is when I had peno-vaginal sex for the first time.
But I hadn’t realized until then that I was demisexual. So even in my early 20s, I was meeting people on dating apps and thought of sex as something you had to do as a “rite of passage” after dates. So I did meet up and have sex without really having an emotional connection. Rather, I thought I had some basic level of emotional connection with them — but I later realized that I was just grasping at straws. I was just creating a connection with somebody, but I didn’t actually have it with these people and didn’t enjoy these experiences. My friends kept talking about this amazing sex that they were having, and I realized only later that I was looking at the wrong place.
Since that time sex was something I thought about in connection with someone I had feelings for; I didn’t even think that it could be otherwise. Demisexuality, I would say, translates into kind of a conditional sexual attraction. I think a lot of people don’t know that sexuality, or any asexual spectrum identity for that matter, doesn’t have anything to do with sex drive. There may be some people who are demisexual and don’t experience any sexual attraction outside of their emotional attachment, but that’s not the case with me. Sexual attraction is like a spectrum: ‘Oh, I’ve met this person who I find really attractive’ versus ‘I am actually in love with this person, and I actually want to have sex with them.’ So I can find someone attractive but not want to have sex with them. And plus, sexual attraction occurs very selectively for me, much more selectively than for someone who’s not very sexual.
People say that everyone is a demisexual, that sex is better when you have an emotional bond. It’s not about if it’s better or bad, it’s that you don’t experience sexual attraction at all unless there is an emotional bond.
My current boyfriend and I, we started out as friends — which turned into friends with benefits. After some time, I felt attracted to him, and I wanted to have sex with him, even though we weren’t romantically involved. We had an emotional bond as close friends, but it got better when we got romantically involved because it added another layer of depth to the emotional connection.
It doesn’t matter if my partner is demisexual or not, it’s just the emotional connection between us that counts. In my current relationship, it was emotional, romantic, and considerate. Realizing that I no longer ‘had’ to do this pointless casual sex rigmarole, and incidentally getting into a monogamous romantic relationship where I had deep emotional feelings for my partner, all made it so much better. I was lucky it all happened together.
I would say I feel a lot more agency when it comes to sex life, ever since I came out as demisexual. Instead of going along with the other person’s wishes, I’ve become more confident in vocalizing what I want and saying no when I want to. Earlier, I used to always be like: Okay, I’m not feeling it in this moment, but that’s not how I’m supposed to feel and the other person is expecting me to say yes, so I would just go along with that. I don’t do that anymore.
Building anticipation is the most important aspect of foreplay for me. It’s not so much about the specific acts done during it, as it is about creating that mood and the anticipation, and building up to that moment of urgency where you feel like you can’t wait anymore! One time that I particularly remember enjoying was when my partner made it completely about me and took it really slow. When I tried to reach out to reciprocate, he gently stopped me and told me to let him do what he wants to me. That made me feel like my pleasure was important and cared about, and the intimacy of that feeling made it the best foreplay I’ve ever experienced!
The usual pleasure centers do the trick for me. Nipples are particularly important — just stimulating them alone, without touching any other part of me, can suffice as foreplay if I’m sufficiently in the mood that day. Also, it’s very important for me that attention be paid to the less ‘usual’ erogenous zones—neck, back, torso, thighs. Simply being held like I’m important and desirable to the person is just as important as specific erogenous zones being touched, if you know what I mean. I can end up feeling nothing even when all the right ‘spots’ are being touched if the person doesn’t make me feel like they desire me (as opposed to simply wanting sex). I don’t think this deprives me of any pleasure — as someone who has had sexual experiences without emotional part, I didn’t enjoy them anyway. So I don’t think I’m missing out on anything.
Exhibitionism appeals to me — being watched while engaging in sex. Maybe because the thought of involving someone else in the bedroom feels exciting, but at the same time I’m not fully comfortable with the idea of actually having someone join us in the activity. So someone watching us is the perfect middle ground. I’ve tried clitoral and vaginal stimulating sex toys individually as well as in partnered sex. Clitoral stimulation from a vibrator is the fastest way for me to climax — probably the first time I ever climaxed with a sex toy! Four times in a row was a new feeling for me.
I would say I’m on the higher end of a normal sex drive, contrary to what people believe about demisexuals. People don’t understand the difference between sexual attraction and sex drive: sex drive is the desire to have some kind of sexual experience whereas sexual attraction means wanting to have sex with another person — and those things are not mutually exclusive.
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On the whole, lust and love exist as separate frames. Sex drive, for me at least is completely independent of my sexuality. Because sex drive can exist independent of a partner, I can personally have a sex drive alone as well. But the drive to do it with somebody else, that only really occurs if I have a deep emotional attachment with them. But I do have to say that I’m more satisfied with partnered sex because there’s foreplay involved, which I typically get lazy and skip when it’s just me.
Physical attraction matters very little to me — if you compare it with the emotional connection, the physical is insignificant. I prefer people without a gym body. As somebody who has struggled with body image issues all my life, I was once involved with someone who had a six-pack and was a model. It was very intimidating to me and I couldn’t see past that exterior and engage with him as a person. I wanted someone who looked like a regular Joe.
People who actually end up falling in love and having serious relationships and sex within that relationship, and being monogamous with each other, it’s uncommon nowadays. I value monogamy — but I’m not 100% sure if my monogamy is connected to my demisexuality or not. But I am demisexual, and I am also monogamous. You can be monogamous or polyamorous — that’s independent of your sexuality.
Over time, the novelty factor around sex has, of course, worn off, because it can’t stay forever. I also find that I share some of the same thoughts about sex as before: the desire to feel intimate with your partner, when I experience emotions with someone, those things have remained constant. It’s just that the language I use now to talk about it is more evolved. Over time, I have become more comfortable in how I feel and how I view sex: I don’t feel this pressure to conform and think of it and approach it in the same way other people do. And I realized that your personal and social identity don’t have to be homogenous; everybody doesn’t have to be the same. That’s the most dominant change that I’ve experienced.
As a demisexual and bisexual, it can be kind of tricky to deal with which part of me is more important, so to speak. Am I equally both things? Which of it makes me more queer? There is also the whole aspect of a lot of queer people who don’t think that demisexuality makes you queer — which makes me feel like we’re being nudged away. There may be demisexual people out there who choose to say that ‘I am demi, but I don’t feel like I’m queer, I’m still straight,’ and that’s their prerogative. But the problem is that a lot of people who are LGBTQ tacitly assert that you don’t have the right to identify as queer just because you are demisexual. That makes me feel unseen and sad.
I understand that the whole thing of slotting ourselves into a certain sexuality or gender. It’s not a strict label, but rather just a rough way to understand whereabouts on the spectrum a person might be. And that ultimately, to understand a person better, you need to ask them because they are the only ones who can answer those questions for you, because everybody is completely unique — even two demisexual people could be completely different. I’ve had this conversation with somebody else who was also a woman who was demisexual, and bisexual like me, and we still differ so much in how we approach sexuality and love and sex.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.