October 7, 2020 - 10:46am

I guess I’m old now. Not because the things young people do shock me with their novelty, but because I’m incredulous that they think any of it’s new. You’re “genderfluid”? Oh you mean you only wear makeup when you feel like it, is that an identity now? I used to call it “Saturday” – and so on, crankily, through the entire list of pret-a-porter, online-bio-friendly descriptors from which one may these days assemble a self.

But my least favourite of all these labels is “demisexual”. A demisexual — in the words of a HuffPo piece currently doing the rounds – is “someone who exists in between asexuality and sexuality, someone who needs a strong emotional bond to feel attraction.” Congratulations, goes my chippy old-person inner voice, you have invented “fancying people”. Liking someone before wanting to have sex with them is so stunningly banal, so epically un-noteworthy, that the need to turn it into an identity suggests something very wrong in our sexual culture.

And let me surprise you: young people didn’t invent our horrible sexual culture either. The “asexual to sexual spectrum” is a 21st-century do-over of the old “frigid or whore” dichotomy. Female sexuality has always been treated as a problem that needs nailing down — and I say female because the people who “come out” about their demisexuality are, as far as I’ve seen, all female.

The male default gets everywhere, even sex. If you don’t have the horn of a testosterone-drunk adolescent boy, you must be deficient. Meanwhile, pornography promotes a vision of the sexual woman as abject. Porn doesn’t show women as desiring subjects. It shows women who can’t say no.

Demisexuality is an opt-out. As one woman told The Guardian, discovering the label allowed her to feel “normal” about her lack of interest in one-night stands. Before she found it, she says, “I forced myself into situations that just ended up giving me a lot of emotional distress.” In other words, she had a bunch of sex she didn’t want because she felt obliged to. Is it really progress to replace “lie back and think of England” with “lie back and think you’re broken”?

So yes, I’m cranky about demisexuality. But I’m sad about it too. Wanting the sex you actually want and not the sex you don’t isn’t half-sexuality: it’s all of it, the whole deal, everything that matters. Women shouldn’t need a label to win special dispensation for their own desire.

Sarah Ditum is a columnist, critic and feature writer.