The Semantics of Sexuality

There are all sorts of ways to describe your sexual proclivities. Here's a guide.

Awhile back I dabbled with the Polyamorous crowd. These lovers of multiples have always been some of the most generous and lovely people I’ve known. But I was a bit pedantic about wanting to understand their definition of poly (Greek for ‘many’) amory (Latin for ‘love’). Weren’t they just single, getting their rocks off with multiple people?

They were quick to insist that loving more than one person sexually and emotionally simply makes sense and it’s not difficult if you can simply get over jealousy and the Judaeo-Christian tradition. One man I know is part of a ‘Poly Pod’, which sounds like loads of fun on a Saturday night, though I’m not so sure about the daily grind of life and how that pod might meet my emotional needs, not to mention help with the laundry.

Don’t get me wrong. I do believe there are plenty of people living a polyamorous lifestyle with the same success monogamist are living theirs. Which is to say, hey, good luck with that! It hardly matters what kind of relationships you’re having these days. None are necessarily easier than any other, though all seem to be vying for, if not societal superiority, than at least acceptance.

When considering the relationship choices we now tolerate in the 21st century – homosexuality, bisexuality and trans-gendered identities – it’s clear that love comes in as many different varieties as spaghetti sauce; we just need to become more familiar with their unique ingredients. When using dating sites, the new vernacular of love can help us filter out the narrow-minded and define where our proclivities lie.

So, let’s talk about these labels that OKCupid and Facebook allow people to tag to their profiles. Even if you’re like me, and well into a half century of living, this guide might help you seem almost sophisticated when penning that first message to the delightful ‘Demisexual, Homoflexible, Cisgendered Sapiosexual.’

Ethically Non-Monogamous: More than ever, I find men in their dating profiles using the term ‘ethically non-monogamous’. I’m still waiting to come across someone who proudly proclaims him or herself as ‘unethically monogamous’ because their dear spouse isn’t aware of their quest for a dalliance. Or ‘unethically non-monogamous’ because, really, they hate using condoms and will easily ghost you on date night if someone hotter comes along.

This term is the darling of the midlife sexual progressive. People who label themselves such can either be fully committed to a long term relationship without monogamy, or recently out of a sex-starved marriage and terrified of committing to one person for sex ever again. For those who are partnered, each person is allowed to be sexual with others, though the boundaries around those activities are something each couple determines themselves. For instance, is it just sex and no overnights? Is it movies, dinner and weekends away with the other lover? You make your own rules. But the bottom line is, you’re not hiding anything. Your partner either knows, fools around with, or happily tolerates your other lover. But at no time are you making up excuses for why your ‘movie night’ went so long.

One thing I suggest you think about when you’re leaning towards non-monogamy: Don’t use the term ‘ethically non-monogamous’ in order to sound virtuous when, really, you have no interest in doing anything but playing the field. If you’re genuinely interested in finding a long-term partner but not sure monogamy is necessarily a virtue, just say you’re ‘open to non-monogamy.’ If you eventually shack up with someone, then you can continue to explore others sexually using the term ‘ethical’.

Demisexual: Don’t be intimidated by this word. I love this word. It describes a zone of sexuality which lies between the overtly sexual and contentedly asexual (Also sounds like menopause to me). Demisexuals are essentially incapable of becoming sexually aroused by a random stranger or having casual hookups. These are people who don’t feel their pulse ratchet up watching Daniel Craig rip off his shirt. On a dating site, it’s code for, ‘You’re not going to get into my pants until I feel truly interested and close to you.’ Demisexuals don’t jump into bed to test the ‘chemistry’ after date one. Arousal happens only when a deepening emotional relationship has developed. And often gender has no bearing on this attraction.

Heteroflexible/Homoflexible: This term speaks to our loosening attitudes and curiosity around our own sexuality. It’s being mostly straight or gay but not shutting down to the possibility of dallying with the alternative. Unlike bisexuality, where a person is almost equally interested in sexual encounters with both men and women, a heteroflexible man will be open to trying out another man’s cock. It might not be a huge turn on, but it’s definitely not a turn off. In my own experience, women don’t arouse me the way men do, but I’m not adverse to attempting to pleasure a woman. It’s a matter of opportunity. It’s also an indication that you’re comfortable with your body and occasionally sharing it with people you’re attracted to even though you wouldn’t regularly want to sleep with them.

Pansexual: This is confused with bisexuality but pansexuality is much more fluid. A pansexual is probably the most accepting and curious human being on the planet. They can become sexually attracted to any person no matter what sex or orientation, including those who are transgendered, transexual, and non-gendered. I don’t know if a person who is pansexual wants, in general, a committed, long-term partner. Regardless, I think this is a kind of sexual ideal, an attitude that embraces the physical lovability of any human no matter their genitals or orientation.

Sapiosexual: I’d never seen this word before I got onto OKCupid. The quick and dirty definition is that a person’s brain, and the way they use it, is a big turn-on and a precondition to sexual attraction. I jumped on this idiom immediately (and made it an imperative before jumping on a man at all). The Sapiosexual will be attracted to intelligence before all other qualities, meaning a true Sapiosesual will easily look past an unattractive facade in favor of a stimulating conversation. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that brains are all that matter. Most people who call themselves Sapiosexual are really saying, ‘Brains are really important to me, but you’ve also got to make my pupils dilate.’

Cisgendered: I have a friend with a fluid sense of sexuality who started using this term in my presence. I was embarrassed to admit to him I didn’t know what he meant, but assumed it had something to do with his feminine side, since it sounded like ‘Sister’. But I was off by a mile. Cis simply means that a person identifies with the gender they were born as. It is used more frequently these days because it serves to differentiate from transgendered in terms of psychological orientation. In 2013, Oxford Dictionaries added ‘cisgender’ to their ranks. And in February 2015, Facebook added no less than 10 “cis” terms among their expanded options for gender, ranging from plain cis to cis male and cis woman. The vast majority of us are cisgender. I identify as a woman, I have a vagina, ergo I am a cis woman.

When I start to get testy about why we would need all these labels to differentiate our little tribes of identity, I need to concede that resisting change is the mark of age. I don’t want to be turning into my parents yet! Though I might not use any of these labels to describe myself, I think they’re generally an important trend along our evolution to new relationship styles. Heterosexual monogamy might still be the norm, but it is being challenged more than ever. So, use the labels, challenge the status quo. But most importantly, live and love an authentic life, true to your nature and accepting of others.

Love, Karin

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