Apparently some people are still having trouble grasping the concept of demisexuality as a sexual orientation. I was trying to come up with a way to explain how demisexuality could be a sexual orientation, when it suddenly struck me! Figures! Figures make everything better! So now I present to you two ways to visualize sexual orientation (and how demisexuality fits into the picture, pun entirely intended). Badly drawn figures ahoy.
(Note that all of this can also be used to apply to demiromanticism, if you replace every instance of “sexual attraction” with “romantic attraction,” every instance of “sexual orientation” with “romantic orientation,” and so on.)
First, let’s say that your sexual orientation determines the people you have the possibility of experiencing sexual attraction toward. I say “the possibility of experiencing sexual attraction,” because I think most people don’t experience sexual attraction to all people of a certain category (whether that category is defined by gender or otherwise).
Anyway, here’s our base figure:
Imagine there are infinitely many possible other “same gender” (for people who identify as having two or more genders) and “different gender” circles, which have unfortunately been cropped out of the picture. For the sake of this figure being somewhat easy to interpret, let’s assume that our Example Person has a single gender and is not genderfluid.
Now, let’s fill in the figure for someone who’s homosexual:
The same gender circle is highlighted, because someone who is homosexual would have the potential to be sexually attracted to people of the same gender. So far so good.
How does demisexuality come into this?
We’re gonna need another circle.
So now we’ve added a circle* for people who Example Person has an emotional connection to.
Let’s shade in the figure for someone who’s demisexual and homosexual:
As you can probably tell, the only part of the figure that’s shaded in is the bit that’s “same gender” and “people you have an emotional connection to.”
Oh hey, it’s almost like demisexual homosexual people only have the possibility of being sexually attracted to people of the same gender who they have an emotional connection to!**
As you can probably tell, if you define sexual orientation as determining the people you have the possibility of experiencing sexual attraction toward, demisexuality is clearly a sexual orientation. Who can you experience sexual attraction toward? People you have an emotional connection to. Cool, our model maintains its internal logic.
Okay, model #2!
Let’s define sexual orientation as the manner in which you experience sexual attraction. (I’ve used a similar way of defining romantic orientation in this post.)
Here’s our base figure:
As you can probably tell, we have our Example Person in the middle, surrounded by a whole bunch of different genders. (Once again, there should be infinitely many gender markers, but I have decided to only include a few in order to keep from using the world’s tiniest font. Same assumptions about Example Person’s gender as in model #1 apply.)
Let’s fill in the figure for our example homosexual person again:
If we’re defining sexual orientation as the manner in which you experience sexual attraction, all we have to do is draw an arrow toward the same gender. How does Example Person experience sexual attraction? Toward the same gender.
Simple enough, right?
So let’s look at the demisexual and homosexual person again:
Maybe you understand my beautiful figure or maybe you’re left scratching your head, so let me explain. There are two things going on here.
Thing #1: Our Example Person is being sexually attracted toward people of the same gender.
Thing #2: Our Example Person is experiencing that sexual attraction in a demisexual manner (demisexually?), which I have indicated with the squiggly arrow. I.e., unlike our first example, where the person can experience sexual attraction without any prerequisites (indicated by the straight arrow), our second person can only experience sexual attraction after forming an emotional connection with the other party (indicated by the squiggly arrow).
Here’s another way to think of it:
“Homosexual” defines the “direction” of the sexual attraction–what gender(s) our Example Person is attracted toward–while “demisexual” defines the manner in which that sexual attraction is experienced–only after forming an emotional connection.***
Anyway, I showed the above figures to my partner, and he said, “NOW DO MORE COMPLICATED SEXUAL ORIENTATIONS TO PROVE BOTH MODELS STILL WORK!”
Well, I won’t back down from a challenge.
The first orientation he challenged me to do was bisexual and demisexual. Easy enough.
(It’s worth noting that I picked “different gender” circles/markers pretty arbitrarily for all of these. Don’t read too much into their placement.)
Our Example Person has the possibility of experiencing sexual attraction to people of the same gender and people of a different gender, but only when they have an emotional connection to the other party. So far so good.
Example Person experiences sexual attraction toward people of the same gender and people of a different gender, and experiences that sexual attraction demisexually (only after forming an emotional connection with the other party).
Looks like both of those work!
The second orientation he challenged me to do was someone who is demi-homosexual and heterosexual.
Example Person has the possibility of experiencing sexual attraction to people of a different gender (with no other prerequisites), but people of the same gender only when they form an emotional connection with the other party.
Example Person experiences sexual attraction toward people of both the same gender and a different gender, but experiences sexual attraction toward the same gender demisexually (only after forming an emotional connection with the other party).
BAM. Both models still work with polysexuality and more complicated sexual orientations.
Obviously, each model has its strengths and weaknesses. Model #2 separates the gender attraction from the non-gender-related prerequisites for that attraction, which means that it’s easier for modeling non-demi grey-asexuality than model #1. (How would you illustrate grey-As in model #1? Cross-hatching…?) On the other hand, that could be seen as a downside, since people could argue that demisexuality is not a sexual orientation, because the model treats it differently than, say, homosexuality or bisexuality. In model #1, demisexuality is treated as basically the same as gender-based sexual orientations (i.e. it’s treated as a prerequisite condition for attraction), which means that it’s much harder to argue that it’s fundamentally different than gender-based sexual orientations.
Anyway, that is what happens when you give me Photoshop and I can’t find the circle-drawing tool. (I’m pretty sure it exists…somewhere…) I’m sure that both models can be drastically improved, so if you have suggestions, let me know!
*…okay, so it looks like a mutant potato. I did warn you these figures were badly drawn.
**As metapianycist helpfully pointed out when I showed him an early draft of this post, this assumes that demisexual folks are attracted to people of a certain gender or genders, which may not be true of everyone. Some people identify as demisexual without any other gender-related descriptor of their sexual orientation. This would make their figure very simple, as it would only have to have the “people you have an emotional connection to” circle. I have opted to focus on the more complicated scenario(s) in which someone identifies as having multiple sexual orientation descriptors, at least one of which is gender-related.
***As with model #1, this assumes that someone is demisexual and [gender-related descriptor of your choice]sexual. For someone who only identifies as demisexual without an additional gender-based sexual orientation descriptor, you could simply replace the “same gender” and “different gender” markers with a marker that says “people” (or something similar) and then draw the arrow as before.