I love dating, even though sex does not bother me

How do young couples and singles experience sex and intimacy?

In the Open and Bare series, VICE engages young singles and couples – each with their own story of how they experience intimacy and excitement – to talk about their love and sex lives. They also literally take off their clothes for a portrait, made by nude photographer Jonnah Bron.

In this issue, we talk to Jens (23), who is demisexual. This means that you can only have sex with people with whom you have a romantic relationship. Jens tells us about dating without sex and what it is like to feel like an outsider all your life.

VICE: Let’s go straight to the point: how is love going?
: I always say I feel like I live in a rom-com. I’ve had a few relationships that I later realized were pretty bad. There is no hatred, but my mental health has suffered a lot. My former partners saw love primarily as a remedy for their loneliness, rather than a way to complement each other’s lives. After a while, I was no longer myself, but I became the person I was supposed to be for them.

What exactly do you mean by that?
My former partner was quite critical of my body. He also often found my clothing style inappropriate – I have always loved vintage and crazy blouses. Another ex was particularly unsure that I was going to seem ‘feminine’. I’m non-binary and I’m more in touch with what people in the West see as ‘feminine’: I like to wear earrings, for example. I changed because of that relationship: after a while, my friends said they did not recognize me anymore. Now I date primarily because I want to experience the world with different eyes, and not for the purpose of getting into a relationship. And also because I just like to build romantic relationships. I do not feel sexual attraction, I just want to meet people.

The term you give to this is ‘demisexuality’. What does it really mean?
It falls under the umbrella of ‘asexuality’ where you feel less or no physical attraction. You also have something like aromatic where you can have less or no romantic feelings for anyone. Demisexuality means that the feeling and the person are most important in a romantic relationship, and the physical attraction hardly plays a role. The physical attraction can arise from an emotional connection. The latter is often a requirement before you can feel anything physical. What demisexuality means to someone varies greatly from person to person.

Does sex eventually become important once you have an emotional connection with someone?
I’ve been struggling with this for a long time. I often saw sex as a way to be intimate with someone. Now I have found out that sex is not really necessary for me. I think it’s okay to do, but I do not feel anything about it. If someone I love wants to do it, I will do it because I want them to be happy. During sex, I often think about what I would like to eat for breakfast, what I still need to do that day, and whether I still need to answer emails. I do not mind sex, but it does not bother me.

Can you be attracted to anyone?
Yes it is true. For me, attraction is completely tied to personality. For example, I never have one celebrity crush had. I can see that a person is beautiful in theory, by the standard we have. But it does absolutely nothing for me.

By the way, you mainly like ‘male’ people, so you have a type in it.
I think it’s because women have always been allies to me rather than potential partners, even in my youth. Falling in love with them feels like a betrayal. I am very intimate with my female friends. Sometimes it feels like we could be a couple, but the dynamics are not the same as I have with male characters.

You are also on Tinder. How do you know when to swipe someone right if appearance does not matter to you?
I focus primarily on bio. Does anyone have the same taste in music as me? Or a good view of life? In addition to appearance, you can also derive other things from a person’s pictures. For example, if someone is taking nice walks or surrounding themselves with a lot of friends, it might be interesting for me to get to know them.

Eyes that radiate happiness can really appeal to me. I may be in love with someone on the train who is doing something nice or smiling in a certain way. I am very attracted to a happy aura.

How beautiful. Do you tell people in advance that you are demisexual?
Yes, absolutely. My Tinderbio is a giant wall of text. And it happens that people get turned off by it. It’s a knockout race with several obstacles: Some people drop out because I’m non-binary, others because I’m demisexual. Sometimes I get asked what exactly I have in my pants. I’ve also had someone tell me they do not know how to date me because sex is not important to me. Within the gay community, there is a pressure to be very sexual. I often want very deep conversations on dates. Many people find it very confrontational and sometimes too intense. Dutch men tend to shut themselves off emotionally.

From childhood, you learn that sex is a crucial part of romance. How did you find out that is not the case for you?
It was actually a really bad experience, a struggle with myself. When I was young, I was often called ‘gay’ or ‘fagot’. I did not understand that, because I was never really attracted to anyone until I was eighteen. I saw my friends go through phases where they developed their sexuality and therefore I felt a pressure to explore it too. But I actually did not want to, and that made me anxious.

I had the idea that freedom and sex were connected: that you have to experiment with sex, otherwise you will be oppressed. Sex is seen as an important part of feminism. And on top of that, a lot of non-sexual acts are seen as sexual, just as men hold hands. You also often think that your relationship is only good if the sex is good – sex is the way to confirm that you like each other.

Because of that pressure, I ended up having sex with people. Later, I regretted it because I was not ready at the time.

How did you end up with the term ‘demisexuality’?
When I was seventeen, I had a silly side job, potato chopping, which involved pulling potatoes off the ground on your knees with your bare hands. There was a heat wave at that time. I was depressed and I was very heavy, which made that job very physically exhausting for me. I became friends with a boy with a sun allergy who felt like he was dying every day. We were both very unhappy and bound as a result. That friend is part of the LGBTI community and knew a lot about it. When I told them about how I experience love, and asked them questions about it, they came up with very valuable information. I did not know what to look for on the internet because I did not have the words for it yet. Thanks to that friend, I got the vocabulary to express how I felt. I have my own experience with non-binary and demisexuality, but it helps to read about it. Before that, I was an unhappy child.

Did it have to do with your search for who you are?
I have been chronically depressed since I was eight, in part because of my ADD. I grew up in Dokkum, a town in Friesland, where I did not really know people like me. As a result, I have always felt very much outside. Before I knew the term ‘non-binary’, I went through a lot of different labels because I searched so much. I doubted for a while if I could be trans, but I never felt the need to change my body.

I was also very explosive. I have often sat in my room and screamed and cried, then all the pent-up sadness came out. Therapy did not really help me at the time. I was bullied a lot. When I came out, things were thrown at me. Once my house was looted with eggs. That’s why I was mostly indoors. I played absurdly a lot. I put on more and more weight until I no longer recognized myself. When I finished high school, I wanted something to change. Then I lost 23 kilos in 2 months. After that, I felt much freer.

And now?
There are times when I am still struggling with my body. I have some loose skin. Sometimes I have a hard time seeing myself as I am. On the other hand, I have come to the point where I understand that I do not have to be everyone’s taste, that I too can live happily and comfortably as I am. My body does not have to be beautiful, but to make sure I can do nice things. The depression I am struggling with has deprived me of a lot of important moments and milestones that make me want to experience and do all sorts of things now that I am feeling better. In addition, it has ensured that I have forged valuable and deep bonds with the people I now surround myself with. They make me feel strong enough to keep going over and over again. It can be such a bad experience not knowing who you are. I’m happier than ever because I’ve put so much effort into that quest. I now know much better who I am and what I want.

Thank you!

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