The development of gray asexuality and demisexuality as identity terms

This post is about the history of the usage of these and related terms on the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN).

Gray asexuality is a term describing a very diverse set of experiences of sexuality where a person’s understanding of their own sexuality is enriched by the concept of asexuality, but they do not quite fit the definition of asexuality. (For people interested in reading more about what “gray asexuality” refers to, Siggy at Asexual Agenda, himself a gray asexual person, wrote an excellent post about the multiplicity of ways to see oneself as between “asexual” and “sexual.”)

The earliest mention I could find on AVEN of a theoretical identity-space between (or outside of) “asexual” and “sexual” was this post from October 2003 by AVENguy:

If anyone wants to play a fun game, go to some queer-ass conference (called something like “transcending boundaries”) and play a game where you try to think up a term/identity for every letter of the alphabet.

When you do you’ll be forced to think up new, interesting ideas like:

Semisexual

It occurs to me that we’ve got a spectrum of sexual intensity, but we don’t yet have a word for those who are halfway in between asexual and full-force sexual. I’d say that this is extremely important: right now we don’t have a way to talk about people who are asexual but maybe feel like being sexual once a year, or sexual people who are just relatively uninterested and don’t know what to do about it.

At the time AVENguy made that post, it was just speculation that there were people who could be described as semisexual. The specific term gray asexual did not come about until almost three years later in April 2006, when the user KSpaz explicitly self-identified as gray-A and defined it as descriptive of people occupying the “fuzzy” space between “asexual” and “sexual,” referencing the gradient in AVEN’s triangle logo. (It is worth noting that according to AVEN’s wiki, a proposed sexual orientation model from 1979 implies such a continuum.)

The term gray asexuality (sometimes referred to as gray sexuality) has been in usage since then in the asexual community.

The term “demisexuality” was coined a few months before “gray asexual,” by user sonofzeal, in a thread from February 2006 where he wondered if asexuals could still enjoy sexual activity. He stated in the thread that without an emotional bond with a person, he experiences no sexual attraction to the person, and he proposed “demisexual” as a term describing that phenomenon.

According to sonofzeal, with whom I recently exchanged private messages on AVEN, “demisexual” didn’t become a well-known identity term on the forum until the user OwlSaint began popularizing what it meant. In February 2008, OwlSaint wrote:

A demisexual is, in my book at least, someone who does not experience sexual attraction to people in general. I’ve yet to see a single person and think “hot” or “10 out of 10” or “I’d like to hit that”. Sex with someone rarely crosses my mind and when it does it’s usually more along the lines of “could i force myself to with…. ew no”.

In that respect, I can and do identify as asexual.

However, with someone I’m in love with, it’s completely different, and I might as well be a “full fledged” sexual, but only with that one person. Full fledged meaning actually desiring sex, both for the physical and emotional aspect, being attracted to that special someone, and feeling sexual arousal in terms of wanting to do something on multiple levels instead of simply the biological reflex or “ugh not again”.

That to me is the definition of a demisexual. The person who invented the word may have a different definition, but that’s what it means to me. (http://www.asexuality.org/en/topic/29621-demis/#entry820575)

Sonofzeal’s definition from earlier differs slightly from OwlSaint’s: sonofzeal wrote in 2006 that he conceived of himself as essentially a sexual person whose sexual attraction requires having an emotional bond with a person first, and OwlSaint conceives of themself as an essentially asexual person who has rare periods of sexual attraction triggered by emotional bonds. Ultimately, their definitions describe people who experience sexual attraction to a person only after an emotional bond has formed with that person.

The term “demisexual” has persisted in the asexual community since then.

Persons of both gray-asexual and demisexual orientations find asexuality to be a useful concept in understanding their own sexualities, and that is why they are often referred to as on the asexual spectrum. Asexuality is not a 100% accurate description for them, but understanding the concept of asexuality is necessary in understanding the concepts of demisexuality and gray asexuality.

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